On Competition & Collaboration

Yauoh! Parkour peepol!

We are stoked for huge opportunities coming up, but we don’t want to go anywhere without your support. For this reason, we want to open up a discussion on particular matters relating to our event “The APEX International” (APEX INTL) and relationships with potential partner organizations like Le Festival International des Sports Extrêmes (FISE), Fédération Internationale de Gymnastique (FIG), and The Mouvement.

Here’s a quick overview of our positions on competition and collaboration.

  • We do not recognize parkour as a competitive sport.
  • However, we have been running obstacle course competitions since 2009 and have found an overwhelming amount of benefits in running these contests. They are not exclusive to parkour practitioners but are inclusive to anyone who thinks they have the skills to go the fastest on short, dense, real-world based obstacle courses. We’ve had athlete participation from obstacle course racing (OCR), Ninja Warrior, track & field, gymnastics, CrossFit, and more. If you’re unfamiliar with this event, here’s an example of the highest level of competition in a short video of some highlight runs.
  • We want to continue growing our form of obstacle course competition for all its many benefits by putting on bigger, better events and providing bigger, better opportunities for the incredible athletes we serve and love. Doing that means developing relationships with organizations that can support the growing overhead and provide expertise in putting on world-class competitions that can help us reach our goal of giving athletes the chance to compete in our format of obstacle course competition at the highest level possible.

Below you will find a more detailed explanation of these positions. Also, please note that even though we acknowledge and respect the important differences between “l’art du deplacement,” “freerunning,” and “parkour,” for the sake of simplicity we will just use the umbrella term “parkour.”

We do not recognize parkour as a competitive sport

This is not to say it cannot be considered a “sport,” depending on which definition you use:

Merriam-Webster’s definition of “sport” (1)

a :  a source of diversion :  recreation
c (1) :  physical activity engaged in for pleasure (2) :  a particular activity (as an athletic game) so engaged in

The council of Europe’s definition of “sport” (2)

: all forms of physical activity which, through casual or organized participation, aim at expressing or improving physical fitness and mental well-being, forming social relationships or obtaining results in competition at all levels.

Our position is that it is not only a semantical error to have a “parkour competition,” there are also major drawbacks we need to consider. First, let’s establish the current definition of “competition.” (3)

: An event or contest in which people take part in order to establish superiority or supremacy in a particular area.

Also, it should be noted that Global Association of International Sports Federations’ (GAISF) definition includes that a sport has to be competitive to be recognized as such. (4)

Our position is based on the following premises:

The problem of arbitrarily assigning new rules

When you create a competition, you necessarily must create rules without which the contest could not exist. If we look at something like basketball, it was born out of the rules established and sidelines drawn out. If you’re repeatedly throwing a basketball at a tree trunk where you’ve decided that you win if the ball gets back to you without touching the ground, you’re not playing “basketball.” If the founders of parkour had instead created a competitive game that had certain rules and out-of-bounds, then athletes would compete in the sport of “parkour” and their training would reflect the goals of the competition. However, the original ethos of the founders extends to the infinity of architectural design and natural shapes, the vast landscape of the mind, the spiritual journey of forging a warrior and strong person. Who are we, without being unbelievably arrogant and self-righteous, to start drawing out sidelines, choosing essential techniques, and deciding the arbitrary penalty system for this philosophy that is far more expansive than we can pretend to contain in a little rule book?

When we contrast parkour with many team competitions, the problem of arbitrarily assigning new rules is easy to understand. However, we need to address parkour’s similarities to some activities like skiing, climbing, and surfing because these pursuits also have formal competitions in their communities.

Our position is also that skiing, climbing, surfing, etc. in their entirety should not be recognized as competitive sports. They fit the same situation as parkour in that the activity or training methodology came first and far extends beyond the shapes and rules that make up a more specific event such as “half pipe.” It’s perfectly acceptable to create a new competition with certain rules and parameters and give it a new title denoting that new competitive contest (e.g. “slopestyle”), but it is a semantical error to say that skiing in general is a competitive sport. Skiers will take part in these new competitions if they please, but the many possibilities that come with the beautiful experience that is skiing cannot be tied into a competition without cutting off myriad aspects of the expansive activity.

No rules, no touchdowns, and no referees mean no elites. Parkour is not something you can win. There are no “championships.” You cannot be superior to others on this most personal of journeys, which has an infinite number of paths.

Respect for the origins

We do not feel that we have the authority to make claims on the “original philosophy” or “true essence” of parkour, and thus none of our arguments rely on such claims. However, the founders of our disciplines appear unanimous in that what they pioneered is non-competitive.

“No group, no chief, no competition; only a way.”
– Sébastien Foucan (5)

“There is no point competing.”
– Williams Belle (6)

“It’s not a sport, it’s a way of life.”
– Chau Belle (7)

“The martial part is confronting obstacles. In martial arts, you have to fight, to hurt someone to know that you are strong. But in Parkour, it’s the confrontation between you and the environment. It’s you versus yourself.”
– David Belle (8)

Now, this doesn’t mean there’s no room for evolution of definitions and ideas, but their vocal position on the matter should be respectfully taken into great consideration as a factor.

Misleading future generations of practitioners and the public

If we were to recognize parkour as a competitive sport, arrogantly assign what techniques we think should be trained, what obstacles are most important, and what actions should denote penalties, we may now be confusing and misguiding future generations of practitioners and the greater public. If we recognize parkour as a competitive sport, we would be inviting those who have power and money to continue monopolizing attention. We would be inviting profit-driven corporations and uninformed media to further bastardize, misconstrue, profit from, and control the perception of parkour. This distracts from the beauty and spirit behind the holistic practice that often takes place in back alleys or deep in the forest where there are no sponsors, cheering spectators, and cameras.

Parkour should belong to us, the passionate practitioners, not to sly business people who only understand the surface and try to convince us they really do care about the positive impact on the parkour community.

“Parkour is a tool that can be used for so much good … It’s [important] for people to become aware of that before it gets too late and to the point where parkour becomes completely physical, it becomes just competition or about making money, and the message is lost.”
– Daniel Ilabaca (9)

* Parkour Panels by Alex Pavlotski (https://alexpavlotski.wordpress.com)

Cooperative, friendly competition does not have the same problems as formalized competitive events

The above problems of arbitrarily assigning rules around an already established and vast training methodology, disregarding the founders, and misleading future generations are not present in a new game decided on by a few friends at the park. These problems are not present in the informal competitions that take place amidst online videos as practitioners demonstrate the next cutting edge technique or challenge. These natural forms of cooperative, friendly competition are great ways to have fun, challenge each other, create puzzles to be solved, but they do not cause the problems of large formalized parkour competitions as outlined above.

Obstacle course competitions and their benefits

Although we do not recognize parkour as a competitive sport, we have been running obstacle course competitions since 2009. We have changed our previous title of the event “Time Trials” to “Obstacle Course Sprint” (OCS). We did this in hopes of keeping maximum simplicity while being more descriptive for newcomers and differentiating between other obstacle course contests like Ninja Warrior and OCR (the endurance obstacle course races known mostly by their brand names like “Spartan Race”).

The continuation of OCS over the years has been fueled by the many growing benefits we have witnessed. Here’s a short list of some:

Developing skills to maintain control under high pressure

In our competitions, athletes are placed under the pressure, adrenaline, and chaos that is running a high-speed obstacle course with high stakes and no second chances, all while under the scrutiny of many observers. This rare experience that can be difficult to simulate in other ways is a great training grounds for learning how to be calm and composed under pressure, enter the flow state amidst distraction, find the right balance of adrenaline, adapt to mistakes while overcoming any hesitations or negative thoughts, etc. This isn’t an exact representation of a real-life emergency situation, but it carries so many elements in developing important life skills for high-pressure situations. There’s so much crossover when it comes to risk assessment and accurately predicting probabilities of success. You learn so much about your abilities and reactions under stress, allowing you to make better decisions in real-life situations.

We’ve spoken to athletes after their first few runs during formal competitions where they described something all in all terrifying: they reported that they didn’t remember anything after the first step and only returned to consciousness at the very end. It was a whirlwind of blackout faith that something deep in their subconscious would have them safe at the finish line… Watching their runs was a bit terrifying as well seeing that they were making lots of little mistakes and going faster than their abilities would allow. Is that how we want to experience the first time we may be called upon in an emergency situation or some other intense experience like having to speak in front of a large crowd with little preparation?

What we have found is that these athletes who start off blacking out a course eventually learn to control their natural response with various methods that allow them to be completely aware during the process, gathering the important information necessary to make good decisions layered over other flow state reactions. You don’t get this on day one; this is something that comes through repeated exposures to things like OCS competitions.

Even if the most talented practitioner in the world was called to act and couldn’t keep calm and focused under various psychological stressors, her skill would hardly be of aid. In order to be more prepared for life’s next challenge, we can use obstacle course competition as a major tool to simulate and develop essential life skills.

Community

These events have always been such a fun and exciting way to bring friends and obstacle course lovers together to share knowledge, experience the exciting application of ideas, make new friends, network, inspire, and entertain. The most common feedback we get is that these competitions are such a great way for people to come together, not against each other, but against the clock, against themselves, against a daunting set of courses. We’re not directly competing with each other as you would in a rugby game, crashing up against another player that has been talking smack to you for the last hour. Instead, there’s a sense of everyone being in it together as we find another outlet for fun, challenge, skill development, and career opportunities.

Testing skills & ego

It is clear that many parkour practitioners seek out ways to challenge themselves with competition. Just look at the high levels of participation in Ninja Warrior, OCR, and so on. OCS is yet another outlet for those that desire to challenge some of their skillset. It can be a vessel for self-improvement as we strive together, inspire one another, and encourage each other to perform at our absolute best.

It’s also a venue for challenging your ego. You can talk about certain values you hold dear all you want, but have you put them into the fire? Are you still able to remain humble, continue to be supportive of others, lose gracefully, win gracefully, and so on? There are so many values that are not just simply spoken about, but are forged through the process of high-stakes competition.

Having fun

OCS IS REALLY FUN, and if you haven’t tried one yet, you’re not allowed to argue that point! haha.

Of course not all personality types are going to enjoy everything about the experience, but if the competition is well run and courses are well designed, you’re in a sea of smiles and happy people.

Growth of grassroots parkour industry of passionate practitioners

There is a lot of crossover between parkour training and OCS, and we see benefits in that. First, in the same way Ninja Warrior exposed a greater audience to the skills of parkour athletes, OCS will continue to have an even stronger effect. We foresee parkour to get a lot of positive exposure in the same way a mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter gives exposure to their background martial arts. An MMA fighter may have a Muay Thai and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu background that makes up the bulk of their style of combat. In the same way, a course runner may have a track & field, OCR, parkour, and speed climbing background as they compete in OCS.

We could have chosen to spend the last nine years developing obstacle course competitions that require access to ropes, mini-tramps, salmon ladders, and so on. We chose to develop a format that resembles what you’ll find in the street for a reason: get people outside with their friends, training.

The recognition, exposure, marketing, and additional revenue streams will benefit professional athletes, business owners, coaches, sponsors, etc. in the parkour industry. It will work as an additional career path for athletes who love running obstacle courses as we see base pay, covered expenses, and prize purses increase. The influx of people wanting to learn what they’re seeing on TV will have them seeking out their local parkour school.

A laboratory for efficient movement

Although this competition format isn’t encompassing of the greater discipline that is parkour, it does act as a laboratory for the study of the human body moving through many real-world shapes as quickly as possible. Not only do we get to watch slow motion videos of the best athletes in the world executing their best strategies and physical tool set, but we also get all the discussion and dialogue that takes place through spectator analysis. These ideas then find their place in further training and testing and then back into the arena. This cycle will become even stronger as we see the further development of the course runners and a higher number of informed spectators.

We may also discover that many parkour practitioners box themselves in with certain preconceptions and training styles. Our competition format invites all who are interested. If some other training method or combination of training types can create the results that would make someone a top competitor on short, dense, real-world shaped obstacle courses, then pieces of those training methodologies should absolutely find their way into the parkour community and be given consideration for their applicability. It’s like sparring in martial arts in that it allows us to simulate and test whether or not our beliefs, strategies, and skills are actually most efficient for common shapes we find in the world.

You can have as many Facebook and YouTube comment battles you want, but through these events we now get to sit back and see all the talk fade away as strategies and skills are evaluated by a judge that doesn’t have bias: TIME.

Participation at varying levels

You can compete, work in the growing industry of this sport, watch for entertainment, observe as a movement scientist, or have nothing to do with it. We’re cool with any and all of the above.

We have the highest respect for the practitioner that has no interest in competing at events but chooses to follow the path outside of the limelight, training for purposes of self-development, spirituality, fun, etc. This is part of the beauty of the discipline and training methodology that is parkour. Just because parkour athletes naturally excel at obstacle courses, we don’t want to confuse the public as to the greater reality of parkour training. When someone happens past people that are crawling backward up a stairwell amidst blood, sweat, and tears, not giving everything they have for fame or a career, but for different reasons, we want the passersby to understand that those dedicated practitioners may very well have nothing to do with formal competitions.

Low danger & risk

Danger is inevitable to varying degrees when it comes to sport, but each sport weighs and balances the physical danger with the benefits. For example, consider mixed martial arts competitions. If safety was the sole priority, we would end up with something altogether unrecognizable and without the benefits of seeing how varying martial art backgrounds stand to test each other. Naturally, there are rules that stop the danger from going beyond a point that would ruin the sport (i.e. eye gouging, fatal techniques, shots to the groin, etc.). Could you imagine halfpipe competitions where bubble-wrapped athletes were not allowed to leave the inside of the pipe?

With that said, since 2009 we have seen our format of obstacle course competitions be an incredibly safe experience. It is extremely rare to have injuries and we’ve never had an injury beyond cuts, bruises, and minor sprains. We want to keep it this way, but we cannot fully pad the course and competitors at the cost of losing the essential character of the contest, and thus a degree of danger is inevitable.

However, we mitigate the danger with good course design, making sure there are multiple options for any given problem so that athletes are not pressured into attempting something beyond their abilities. Also, our developing qualifier system will weed out the unprepared through multiple phases of qualifiers, ensuring that the most intense course design is met with the most conscious and skilled athletes.

OCS solves the above issues that arise with “parkour competition”

The problem of arbitrarily assigning new rules

We are not arbitrarily drawing new sidelines around the vast training methodology of parkour. We are developing a new variation of obstacle course competition with an event title that doesn’t contain “parkour.” Even terms like “parcouring” or “sport parkour” fall victim to the problems we’ve outlined.

Respect for its origins

Some founders of our disciplines have stated that they like the idea of obstacle course competitions and they would support those: especially if it means alleviating institutional pressures to make parkour competitive, just so it can be recognized internationally.

We understand the Mouvement did not want to develop or impose competition for parkour as part of any recognition process and neither did most of its anti-parkour competition members. But there is at least one other “international federation” for freerunning and parkour that has already applied for international recognition on the basis that it has organized parkour competitions, and thus meets the GAISF definition of a sport.

If we can help protect parkour by calling obstacle course competitions what they are, then yes, we’re happy to help. Our position has the support of The Mouvement via the president, Charles Perrière.

Misleading future generations of practitioners and the public

Future generations won’t be misled about the greater practice of parkour. If you’re the best course runner in the world, it doesn’t then apply that you’ve reached the elite level of the international parkour community (spoiler alert, there isn’t one).

However, we also do not feel we should be the ultimate judges of what people should value. If younger generations grow up solely training to excel at OCS, so be it, but we will not mislead them to believe this is parkour in its entirety. We foresee OCS to be a gateway to exposing more people to the deeper practice of parkour in the same way hundreds have entered our parkour schools looking for Ninja Warrior training only to find a more expansive practice of parkour to dedicate themselves to.

Media & corporate influence

The sport of OCS further protects parkour from the mistreatment that can come from greedy business people. It allows parkour to be a separate training methodology that is useful for contests such as OCS, but media and large corporations are less able to stake their claim on it as they would if parkour was the commodity at hand. It gives parkour all the positive exposure without the chewed-up-and-spit-out image that it has been on past television shows of “parkour competitions.”

Dealing with inevitable downsides

There are surely problems that arise with the development of a competitive sport whether cheating, doping, increasing injuries, corruption, etc. We are not excited to have to deal with these inevitable pieces of the human condition, but all the benefits we listed outweigh the inevitable downsides, and there are other organizations who have gone through all these issues that we could learn a lot from. We will strive to mitigate those downsides of competition and terminate business relationships if need be.

Our mission to create a better future for humanity

Our overall mission and strategy can be summed up in this graphic:

* Formula inspired by Wait But Why

OCS fits in with the APEX INTL as well as other industry obstacle course competitions.

Our strategy for the positive growth of OCS

We are in the midst of developing relationships with FISE, FIG, The Mouvement, and others to support this year’s APEX INTL, and we will continue to develop relationships with organizations that can offer their expertise, experience, infrastructure, money, and other resources necessary to run these events on a larger and more sustainable scale. Our athletes deserve the best we can provide them.

This will not only create opportunities to grow OCS but will ensure we can influence and guide others in avoiding poor event planning, shoddy course design, misrepresentation of the sport, negative experience for athletes, and so on. Our more specific goals with OCS are to expose humanity to the many benefits we listed above, to make sure the sport grows in a healthy way, to see athletes have more opportunities for professional work, ignite industry, strengthen the cycle of funding that supports our other innovations, etc.

TL;DR

Although we do not recognize parkour as a competitive sport, we see major value and opportunity in obstacle course competition, and namely our format “Obstacle Course Sprint” (dense, short, real-world based courses). We will continue seeking the support of organizations and groups in which we can build win-win situations that will grow the sport in a healthy way.

Thank you for your support of the ongoing development of such an exciting event and the far-reaching benefits for so many people.

Sincerely,

Amos Rendao, Brandon Douglass, & Ryan Ford
(APEX Headquarters)

Sources

1 Sport. Merriam Webster. Retrieved April 13, 2017, from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/sport
2 Sport. Council of Europe. Retrieved from https://www.coe.int/t/dg4/epas/resources/texts/Rec(92)13rev_en.pdf
3 Competition. Oxford Reference Online. Retrieved April 13, 2017, from https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/competition
4 Sport. GAISF (formerly known as Sport Accord up until a few weeks back). Retreived from
http://www.sportaccord.com/about/membership/definition-of-sport.php
5 Foucan, S. (2007). APA Interview with Sébastien Foucan. Retreived from
https://parkour.asn.au/forums/topic/sebastien-foucan-speaks-on-free-run/
6 Angel, J. (2016). Breaking the Jump . 187.
7 Alfonsi, P, & Daniels, M. (2006) Generation Yamakasi . Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fOYpHLHg6io&t=1958s
8 Belle, D. Interview with David Belle (in french). Retrieved from
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-qqG7b_ZCG4&NR=1
9 Ilabaca, D. (2009). Choose Not to Fall. Retrieved from http://www.imdb.com/video/wab/vi3885827097

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