'Why' Art of Retreat
Five minutes into my first breakfast with Art of Retreat’s director - Caitlin Pontrella - I was not holding up well. She had managed to neatly summarise my highly researched thoughts on inclusive practice in a couple of sentences before giving an overview of how it affected different problems arising in the US Parkour community and then recommended a few books to me on the issue. A black hole opened up in my chest as I began to suspect my clever and groundbreaking approach to parkour may not be quite as innovative as I first thought...
This is one of my first memories of Art of Retreat. And far from my only humbling experience when meeting parkour professionals from across the USA. Art of Retreat is a parkour leadership conference that has been running in the US for the past 5 years. 2019 marks the launch of the European retreat and we’ll be hosting it here in Scotland in April. I have been asked to talk a little bit about the ‘Why’ of Art of Retreat.
Art of Retreat focuses on business, education, culture and the science surrounding parkour. It aims to bring parkour professionals and community leaders together to confront big questions surrounding the discipline.
But why organise a parkour event without any parkour? It seems a little redundant.
Art of Retreat isn’t a parkour event. It’s a dream. A dream of a better way of doing business and of rejecting societies’ stories claiming we’re all selfish people out for ourselves. We are all individuals seeing everything we do in the context of improving as many lives as we can. We didn’t start these businesses and communities to make money. We believe in a world where parkour is accepted, normal and improving lives. We believe in creating communities that help people overcome the challenges in their lives. We believe in the capacity of humans to be strong and useful in effectively contributing to the world around them.
And because we believe these things – we started companies and communities. We started teaching and helping wherever we could. We built all the cosmetic trappings of business. We followed the rules. We found clients, insurance and invented qualifications. We filed paperwork and hired others. We became responsible for buildings, equipment and other people’s livelihoods. And sometimes, when you get caught up in all the day to day things you have to do – the reason you are doing it starts to get a little fuzzy.
You start to think the reason you are doing is to increase profits, income, client numbers, or to become a recognised sport. You worry about your coaches pay, quality of life, and their pension plan. If you are easily distracted you begin to worry about your follower count on Instagram and whether you’re retweeting enough people on Twitter or not. All these other easy to count and measure parts of your life sort of get in the way to distract you from the reason you started all of this.
Art of Retreat is a desire to get back to that ‘why’.
Art of Retreat is, functionally, a rejection of 21st century society and an attempt to build a better world. The parkour companies and influential individuals need to remember that goal. Every decision we make needs to be with the eventual aim of redrawing societal norms. We need to reclaim public spaces and change society's relationship with fitness and exercise. We need to build better value systems that rely on community and friendship and family. We need to become happy and help others be happy. We need to communicate in a way that makes those around us feel valued. We need to build for win-win and avoid conflicts wherever possible.
And we need to do all of this while fighting against a creeping corporate drum beat. We need to do it while rising above the skeptics and the indoctrinated. We need to do it while millions of people tell us not to bother. Just roll over – become the next action sport and get paid to be a spectacle. Or a thirty second distraction on the news feed of whichever target demographic is the most profitable this week.
My breakfast with Caitlin clearly didn’t go quite as badly as I remember because Caitlin and I have remained fast friends ever since. I remain in awe of her intellect and appalled by her sleeping habits. I returned to the 2018 retreat and when the opportunity arose to organise a european version of the event I jumped at it.
Can a four day retreat in a busy April weekend change the world? Of course not. The event doesn’t need to. It just needs to remind every single one of the attendees WHY they do what they do. It sends the leaders back with a wider, more cosmopolitan perspective. It reminds them that there are more people like them out there – building a better world. It gives them the contacts and the expertise they need to do the job better. We are not alone. Ours is a war worth winning. Lets leave the world a better place than we found it. Because what else are we going to do with our lives?
John ‘Hedge’ Hall
Art of Retreat
Art of Retreat Europe was a four-day conference held in Scotland, UK from April 26th - 29th, 2019. The event brough together a national community with a deep shared interest in the growth and development of parkour. To learn more about the event, please visit ArtOfRetreat.com.