In part one of our blog series Limen – Filling the Void Between Parkour and Everything Else we spoke about how to use the idea of the limen to look at the Parkour industry. How to innovate from within it and highlighting places where it’s happening/already being done.

Read – Part 1 – Bridging the Gap Between Parkour & Industry

In part two we take a closer look at the practice of Parkour, its universally shared qualities and methods of ingraining it deeper into our societies.

How does our liminal perspective, or traceur vision, help make the world a better place through the practice of parkour?

Let’s start by celebrating coaches and grassroot gyms who are already doing good work. Through increasing awareness of Parkour, creating accessible points of engagement and ultimately increasing the movement potential of the general public. Both coaches and grassroots parkour gyms have a commonly shared goal to instill movement competency into as many people as possible using the practice. And this goal makes sense, if you made a list of disciplines that everyone should do at least one in order to be healthy we think parkour would be high up on that list. For those living in cities, parkour could arguably be at the top of that list.

Movement is an essential ingredient for a healthy human.

So why is parkour so high on our metaphorical list? Let’s dive a bit deeper. If you are just going to choose one discipline to improve your health then you are best to choose one that is natural for the body and contains quality benefits that cover the widest range of things possible. The reason is, on the other end of the spectrum, far too many people are being injured during “simple” exercises while practicing sports, activities and fitness methods that aim to create specialists. An example, outside of Parkour, would be comparing yoga and football. People have a much higher chance of remaining healthy with a lifelong practice in yoga compared to those who play football.

Être et durer – To be and to last

Unless you are a professional athlete/performer or you are practicing other things then the reality is that pursuing a specialism when you choose just one practice has a higher chance of leading to injury, a lower chance of lifelong practice and provides fewer benefits than a holistic activity would.

The reason activities like Parkour provide more bang for their buck is that they develop more useful movement patterns such as climbing or jumping, over movement such as kicking a ball. It’s varied practice generally contains all of the elements that’ll keep a person healthy, physically and mentally.

In nature, I doubt a fish would ever sprain a fin swimming, nor a bird would twist a wing whilst flying. As humans, we have so much more movement potential that could be utilized by the average person and all we need to do is inspire them to tap into that.

Ukemi Project

Parkour tuition or Parkour influenced tuition, particularly at a young age, could completely counteract this movement illiteracy issue. Understanding the fundamentals of balance, jumping, landing, twisting and swinging before engaging in any form of competitive sports would only improve competency, decrease injury rates and improve participation within these sports. Not only that but it would decrease random injuries caused by slips or trips and it would likely decrease health issues often associated with immobility. 

The question then becomes how do we get everybody along to classes, jams? Or, further, how do we get them moving without ever attending one?

Beyond tuition, we need to see the potential of injecting parkour vision into everything else – using the holistic ideas and benefits of the practice and applying them. To provide more opportunities to move by finding existing spaces, objects, games, legislation, etc that could be improved simply by a parkour vision.It starts by finding commonality between parkour and other things. This space between often lowers the threshold to participation and collaboration. Simply put, it gets things going.

However, before we can really start injecting a Parkour mindset, or any new activity, into day to day life it’s good for us to have an open and mouldable view of what Parkour can become. As well as having a solid view of what it is and where it’s going. Going back to our analogy in Part 1. You have to be able to understand the community, the practice, its history and your place in it before deciding what direction to walk down the corridor. What doors to look through and what common ground to explore. Also, thinking about what is the most positive thing that can happen to parkour in the next 10, 20 or 50 years and take a step towards that – even looking at other young sports/activities which have taken similar steps.

Learn about the past, engage in the present and create the future.

Parkour has entered into a liminal space, where it is no longer just one thing, but isn’t anything else either. Each of us at Ukemi has different views of what Parkour is and I imagine a lot you reading this do too. I bet if we told you each of them you would likely regard at least one of them as “wrong”.

A vision of the future that the Ukemi team does share is that it gets so integrated with human locomotion that parkour is less of a thing to do, and more of a thing you have, like emotions or proprioception. It’s almost become a description of movement efficiency for a lot of people. Particularly those who live in cities. Given that 2/3rd of the planet is expected to live in cities by 2050 this is another reason why parkour is top of our list as the most beneficial single practice. To go even further, we would say that parkour is so innate in humans that’s it’s as important as other foundational skills such as maths or language.

“parkour is so innate in humans that’s it’s as important as other foundational skills such as maths or language.”

Ukemi Project

For example, you could have strong Parkour, or adaptable Parkour, or my Parkour may be lacking, but everybody does and is doing Parkour. In the same way, 99.9% of people have a language and use maths, those same people must move also. With respect to those who formalized techniques and pulled ideas together to create a philosophy, parkour has always been there.

It’s difficult to draw the line between simply moving to/from something or participating in parkour. For example: If I can’t kong a wall, I may step vault it, which is regarded as a “Parkour movement”. But maybe I’m a little older and I can’t step vault it, so maybe I pivot on my bum, still Parkour. Maybe I’m less mobile and I just walk around the wall, still the most efficient method for my body; so I suppose walking is equally Parkour.

Forever Young

So we’re just always doing parkour?

This argument suggests everybody is always doing Parkour just not always consciously ‘practicing’ it. When they’re chasing a bus, walking downstairs or squatting to take a massive… bag of rubbish out to the bin, they’re all practicing what they believe is their most efficient movement pattern, even if they aren’t aware of it. It’s like a diet, nobodies ever on or off a diet, you always have your diet and how good it is is up to you. I think the same applies to Parkour. In contrast to this would be a sport. For example, not everybody is actively participating in a competitive sport and not everybody likes the idea of participating in it either because most of the benefits are directly related to a specialist outcome. This may benefit a few people greatly who love it but ultimately in terms of participation, competitive sports are exclusive by definition.

These are extreme examples. I’m sharing it to show how complicated things can get when you try to represent everyone. It’s also to show how Parkour could be the best candidate to take on that task. Sure, deciding where the line is is hard but exploring it from the perspective of a traceur can provide solutions and ideas that have greater benefits than any other sport/activity that we are aware of. It’s the fact that we struggle to agree on where the line is that makes its benefits so universal.

Everybody has a slightly different view of Parkour, and now that there areso many people with so many slightly differing liminal perspectives the reflection of Parkour at either end of the spectrum is entirely different, even if they all came from the same corridor – what I consider to construct the corridor part of the analogy will be different to yours. This creates the opportunity for a diverse range of outcomes when exploring a new stimulus. Even if we have the same starting point.

What do we do, knowing this information?

The downside is that this can make it very difficult for the general public to gain a good understanding of what Parkour is. It also makes it even easier for the media to turn it into something it’s not. The bigger Parkour gets the higher risk of it becoming more diluted and/or in time growing even more into its own bubble and/or multiple bubbles. It’s becoming less inclusive the bigger it gets because it has this daredevil image like skateboarding or rollerblading. This is happening in part because the media has the opportunity to pick and choose what perspectives they show and it’s being seen as more of an extreme sport or an adrenaline junkie’s endeavor.

On one hand, we need it to be much more socially accepted and seen more of a foundational skills like English or Maths. I’d like to see Parkour being taught in every school, utilized in safety qualifications and competency certifications by the general public. These parkour classes should contain fundamentals in hard skills; balance, jumping, landing, twisting and swinging, and soft skills communication, teamwork, sense of achievement, learning to own a space. Ultimately becoming the best physical/mental version of yourself in the given environment.

On the other hand, it’s worth recognizing that, through dilution, to most parkour is a myriad of things. This has gone on since the classic parkour vs freerunning debate. Our solution to this is maybe it never needed one name. Maybe to make all of this clearer what it actually needs IS multiple names.

Different references for each unique discipline that seems to be growing out of Parkour. Maybe we need to start structuring and managing each different reflection as it arises. Like Buildering and Bouldering. Like Long Boarding and Skate Boarding, like Aggressive Rollerblading compared to racing.

Take Obstacle Course Racing (OCR) as an example. The politics regarding this are complex and there are many passionate opinions, but I personally see nothing wrong with an obstacle based race in the Olympics, I think it should have been one of the first disciplines. What I do have a problem with is when these style events are called a parkour race or freerunning competition. Or, organizations like FIG defining what we do as gymnastics. I strongly believe we need to start making clearer divides. Accepting that Parkour, as we knew it 10 years ago, has changed. Not only has it had kids and multiplied but we’re trying to give all the kids the same name as the parent, which is just weird.

This might also clear up some debates regarding qualifications or certifications. I see people being ostracised for teaching under “sub-par” parkour certificates because even though some of them are high-level coaches. Equally some of them clearly not yet capable of delivering quality tuition. Some qualifications could be specific to competitive obstacle course racing, some may be for style competitions, like tricking, freerunning or freestyle gymnastics, others may be specific to strength, conditioning and traditional Parkour style, they’d all be completely different environments and would have entirely different end goals. I’m happy to see this happen but naming them all parkour certifications is where the problem is arising.

So the question becomes. Do we start harnessing the newborn sports created by Parkour? Like freerunning, Give them their own space and respect in order to separate and concentrate Parkour. To prevent “Misrepresentation” by simply regarding whatever it is as something different to Parkour, not just Parkour being done badly.

There are already many terms, or sports, or movement styles that exist now, and existed before Parkour, that benefits those with strong Parkour that we’re happy to give a different name. Tough Mudder for eg, Ninja Warrior, Natural Method, MovNat, Sproinking the Envirohurdles to name a few. We need this diversity, as humans, we’re all so different that there simply won’t be one movement pattern that suits everybody so we do need a deep pool of experience in order to begin understanding movement more generally. Diversity is a good thing, people doing things badly and developing a new version of it is a good thing, within controlled environments.

What we need at this stage is even more points of engagement, even if they’re regarded as subpar by the current Parkour community compared to the original practice. I know this is controversial, but we need things like Argos selling tacky parkour shoes, and we need PE teachers delivering as best they can. The shoes for example. You can do Parkour in any shoe, or even no shoes, but at the moment you can’t walk into a store and start doing Parkour. Of course, experienced practitioners know you don’t need a specific shoe but when a mum can go to Argos for a cheap skateboard, or BMX, and inspire a kid to become the next Tony Hawk and not a traceur something is missing.

The same argument goes for the bad PE teachers. Almost every kid is taught sports poorly as a child but we still generate professional athletes. It’s all about the access point, the original inspiration if we want to be influencing the general public without them having to come along to our classes. Diluting the general marketplace with parkour influence products and services isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It lowers the threshold to participation and as long as they have a different name the root of its practice is still clear.

If people watch these activities, sports and games being played and understand a strong foundation of parkour will make them better at it. Then you have just lowered the threshold to participation and have a chance to engage someone in the holistic approach of parkour as well as the specialism they pursue. When we think about ‘to be or to last’, much like yoga, at the end of the day we know what practice they will be left with in the long run.

End Of Part 2

Limen – Filling the Void Between Parkour and Everything Else is a three-part blog series adapted from a talk the Ukemi team done at the European Art of Retreat 2019.

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