On Friday the news broke that The Federation International de Gymnastique (FIG) is co-opting an odd mix of Parkour and Obstacle Course Training and submitting it as a potential sport to be included in the Olympics in 2020. The format is being provided by APEX Movement and the Mouvement. 1
Parkour is a non-competitive physical discipline focused on self-improvement.2 It teaches its practitioners to be strong and to be useful. And it teaches them that they can solve anything they set their minds to. It is in equal parts sport, discipline and philosophy. It is also the UK’s newest recognised sport and it is rapidly formalising here in the UK.
Parkour is uniquely placed to help change Physical Education around the world. Its focus on improvement and physical problem solving allows its students to interact positively with physical activity without the focus on competition seen in other sports. It prevents the desire to win compromising other values, such as integrity, health or technique.
Parkour practitioners learn and practice natural movement that the human body has evolved to perform in natural environments. They learn to jump, swing and vault. Climb and descend. They learn to do all of these things safely in concrete environments. Real environments, with real consequences. This makes Parkour healthy physically, as it makes you move in natural manner, and mentally, as it lets you learn about risk while developing coordination and learning to overcome each and every obstacle in your path.
In short, Parkour is wonderful and unusual and an incredibly positive thing. It has moved far away from the extreme sport media distortion we saw 12 years ago when it first broke into the national consciousness.
Parkour is certainly not Gymnastics. A completely different discipline focused on creating spectacular movements in padded and safe environments. With a strong focus on competition, it is a very different beast.
So why does the Federation International de Gymnastique want a Parkour Competition? Easy. Parkour is popular. And seen as “an innovative concept which should appeal to target youth groups”.3 It will “broaden even further the appeal of our sport”4. This isn’t rocket science. They are trying to make money by misappropriating Parkour.
Yes, of course it is possible to create a competition out of the physical components of Parkour. Whether you want to do it via a skill based system like gymnastics or use a time trial athletics focus makes no difference. All it means is that you have completely missed the Point.
The Point of Parkour is that it provides a safe space where a person learns what they are capable of without being told that the aim of physical exercise is to win.
Parkour’s remit is Movement. There is such a wide variety of movement involved that it can be used for a wide range of educational purposes. It helps teach Values through movement. Values such as confidence; determination; self-discipline; self-expression; teamwork and the importance of play; discovery and risk analysis.2
All of this could be wasted if Parkour is reduced to a sport all about getting from one point to another as fast as possible.
Why? Because the moment you make Parkour competitive is the moment you tell every single practitioner that the Point is only to win.
This concept is corrosive. It’s piled on to us in so many parts of our lives. If you are not the best at something then why even bother trying? If you aren’t first then you don’t matter. It’s all about the goal, about the pay-off. It encourages many of the most negative aspects of our culture. Not caring enough about the process encourages us to cheat and to game the system. Looking for ways to be the best at all costs can be at the cost of our integrity and health.
I don’t for a second doubt that APEX have good intentions, and from their public contributions so far I’ve seen a conciliatory tone of those trying to grapple with difficult questions. However, they are making statements that Parkour isn’t competitive while simultaneously running competitions in their gyms based on the same movements. That’s hypocrisy. Pure and simple.
Here’s a simple test: Do the children they teach understand the complicated distinction invented by APEX that separates the discipline (Parkour) from the competitions (OCS) they are promoting and teaching them to look up to? Of course they don’t. How could they?
If you frame the entire argument in terms of what is best for our students, not ourselves, then the answer is clear. Competition has no place in our gyms, it has no place in our community and it has no place in Parkour.
How do we stand against it? Easy. Say no. Don’t host competitions. Don’t partner with big companies looking to take advantage of you. Don’t go to competitions. Practice Parkour. Becoming better. Rise above the petty desire to beat others and focus on improving yourself.
Director & Dreamer