Archives for posts with tag: movement

By Caitlin Pontrella

Note: Please remember that these are my opinions.  I am not directly attacking anyone, but merely putting forth a swath of observations I’ve made over the last three+ years actively engaged in the community.

I. Intro

Over the last ten years our discipline has been in a state of self definition–and continues to exist there. Without having generations of history, instruction, and training anchoring our practice, Parkour is still open to wide and varied, and potentially permanent definition by its practitioners today.

With this comes both great opportunity, and great risk.

On one hand, as practitioners, we have a lot of power.  Our generation gets to be the ones who shape the driving philosophies, the dominant culture, and the public perception of Parkour.  We are given the chance to study and research other movement disciplines, allowing us to freely borrow the elements we deem best while discarding the rest. We get to define the degree of competition, accessibility, and risk in our practice.  We decide methodology, technique, and, most importantly, the culture that will be associated with what we do.

On the other hand, we perhaps have little power.  We are open to negative influence and misrepresentation due to a lack of a unifying identity.  We have no way to bestow credit to the deserving and discredit to the exploiters.  Having no generation of teachers before us, we can be quick to overvalue experience and undervalue education.  We have an ambiguous relationship with the authorities, the public sphere, and the media.  In our globalized, internet-centric age, the reckless mistakes of one can influence and impact the public perception and active cultures halfway around the world.

II. My Parkour

I want to talk then about where I perceive us to be now in that process of self definition.  I wish to applaud that which I perceive to be great progress and to call out that which I wish I could change.  But, before I delve into that critique, I wish to give you a quick look at the discipline of Parkour as I wish it to be percieved.  This hopefully will help recenter you, the reader, and give you an idea of where my critique originates from:


Parkour would be the discipline of personal challenge.  Practitioners would use the natural capacities of their body, and the fortitude of their mind, to overcome obstacles and challenges they set for themselves.  There would be an emphasis on personal artistry, technical competence, and playfulness, opposed to high athleticism, power, and manhood.  AKA Practitioners would place more value on creative personal style and excellent technique over the difficulty, danger, or extremeness of maneuver.

As to the community, we would be encouraging as many people to participate as possible, and would subsequently give them space and respect to pursue their personal path.  Beginners would have equal worth as long term practitioners, regardless of motive.  Maturity, self-respect, respect for your environment (spaces & authorities), and humility would reign.  Anything less would not be tolerated.  Competition, comparison, and ego would have no place.  We would be a culture removed from the pursuit of spectacle. Rather, Parkour would be highly personal, and an excellent tool for intimate communication.

So this is my Parkour.  For some of you, this may resemble the Parkour you want as well.  For others, not so much. But, with this being said, I would like to address the state of our discipline.

III. Public Perception & Our Role in Shaping it

It is of my opinion that the issues of credibility amongst our peers will work themselves out over time.  Parkour now has groups stepping forward seeking legitimization and unification through opening gyms, working with public institutions, and issuing certifications to name a few.  There are conversations held on forums, talks given on national stages, and documentaries being released.  There are strong leaders, with strong communities, that now exist, that very vocally push for a community that is safe, respectful, responsible and mature. There are instructors that are now dedicating their time and efforts to having a deeper understanding of the movements themselves, through traditional education, personal study, and invention.  Techniques and their respective progressions are becoming increasingly focused and defined.  And, even though this has only been happening over the last 3-5 years on a larger scale, and is undoubtedly riddled with differences in approach, there are recurring and overarching themes that have emerged despite differences in practice and geography.  We are moving towards some form of unified identity.

Though this has not quiet permeated all of the smaller communities, and there are definitely those that still exist in the immaturity of adolescence, I believe that our discipline is actively working to exit its teenage-pain years.

However, what we may not be able to recover from, or have very good hold of, is the influence exerted on our publicly perceived identity by the combination of the mainstream media, the internet, and the still existent immaturity.

More often then not, Parkour is represented to the public through news & information outlets as a culture dominated by the adolescent, thrill-seeking, adrenaline junky male stereotype, and all its subsequent affiliations (immaturity, egoism, impatience, lack of control, etc)–a stereotype that many wish to deny dominates but, from my experience, inevitably still has a strong foot and place.  In our practice and its representation, the movements have taken the priority–and more often than not our Parkour culture has come to overvalue physical power, manhood, and those who are taking the largest, riskiest jumps.  The news, the internet, and even many practitioners, tend to focus on the spectacle of our movement rather than the spirit.

This has lead to a number of ailments and the emergence of a fairly abrasive, and potentially perceived exclusive, movement culture–one far from the one I dream of.

I offer three points to support this:

1. Money, Ego, Power, and the Media: With value being increasingly placed on power and risk, so comes the growth of the ego and pursuit of the spectacle.  You can see this happening with the emergence of lucrative athlete sponsorships, high-exposure competitions, and celebrity-status gyms trying to take over the world.  With the rise of corporate interest and the potential to make big money (if you’re lucky), there has been an increasing focus by practitioners on being the best and proving it.  Phrases like ‘Going Big’ ‘We go hard’ and ‘Go big or go home’ have become embedded in the culture.  Gone are the days where videos were simple, sliced together clips of challenges and trainings in our backyard.  Today videos are calculated, directed, and subjected to hours of post-production.   Only the biggest, and flashiest movements are welcome.  Cue dub-step, victory flips, and commentary on being manly. And, if you cant afford to get yourself a camera man, if you aren’t pursuing massive power, your video most likely will be labelled amateur and go unnoticed.  Amateur–A word that has no place in our discipline.  We cant be a community if everyone is trying to scramble to the top, to best their mates, to be ‘the‘ preeminent voice/face/source on Parkour.

2. Competition & Elite Athletes: With the emergence of competition and an idea of what the ‘elite athlete’ should look like, also comes a shift in how one approaches training.  More frequently in class by my newer students I am asked ‘what next.’  This comes from a completely misguided focus when it comes to training.  Students and practitioners come in with a checklist of movements they want to learn, and often move too quickly into advanced maneuvers before they should–before they can land quietly, control their momentum properly, build strength required for navigating mistakes, and so forth.  (I am not saying that this is just a fault of the student though, for there are also some teachers at fault as well–dangerously forging ahead in order to placate their students & retain clients).  While the eagerness to learn is invaluable, the lack of patience and discipline is dangerous.  Practitioners more and more want to be constantly learning something cool and new, bigger and flashier, rather than focusing the hours, days, years on the conditioning and drilling required to do it well.  This is why I believe there has been a rise in injuries.  Competition, and fast-track training, ultimately encourages practitioners to take risks prematurely for a chance at success–money, recognition, esteem, sponsorship, commercial deals, etc.  Personal safety takes a backseat to the desire to impress, and is easily sacrificed if need be.  And thus practitioners ultimately end up pursuing bigger, riskier movements long before they have acquired the strength and technical refinement required to safely and consistently navigate their obstacles (and any mistakes that may come with it)—just so that they may be sooner recognized as ‘good’, and subsequently ‘accepted’ into the Parkour world.

3. Diluted Philosophy & Respect Tied to this impatience, and need to be the best/accepted, is inevitably the dilution of the philosophies embedded in Parkour.  Once things like competition, ego, need for approval, and a sense of self importance begins to trickle in, once we begin defining the idea of ‘an elite practitioner’, the ‘of-value’ practitioner, it is hard to hold on to the Parkour principles of mutual respect, personal safety, moderation, the sharing of knowledge, and humility.  We can not fully respect others when we are competing against them, when we are comparing their capabilities to ours, when we are judging them, even subconsciously, for their shortcomings.  We hesitate to share our innovation, we are unable to find the pure joy in simple play, we think little of our movement fifty, sixty, seventy years from this day.   We forget movement is a tool for personal growth and the exploration of creativity, and treat it instead as a means to an end. I think the Call to Arms from Parkour Generations delves into this more.

As stated prior, when we focus so greatly on the movement itself, when we focus on overcoming others rather than overcoming ourselves, we lose the chance to connect with others in our community–to communicate on another level, to interact and see the world through someone else, to problem solve as a team, to grow as a human being.

The media, competition and the ego, the dilution of respect & spirit, the overvaluation of power and under appreciation of effort… these things all contribute to the rise of an extremely abrasive movement culture.  More than once I have had students approach me, intimidated by what they’ve read and seen online, on television, even in their parks, nervous to even think of trying.

With images of athletic men, climbing buildings, flipping at great heights, and jumping roof gaps dominating the majority of visual content in articles and research papers on Parkour, with the ‘Parkour’ Red Bull competitions and cinematic Ninja Warrior courses standing as our strongest broadcasted televised image, with practitioners still obsessively applauding the biggest, baddest videos…, we end up alienating the casual practitioner, the play-oriented practitioner, the technically inclined, the older, the weaker, the young.  I won’t delve too deeply into gender issues here today, but they exist and are deep rooted.  If you want to get the surface, take a look at youtube comments full of sexist backlash… comments like ‘they should make a kitchen parkour vid’ or ‘It wouldn’t have hurt her if she done all of that naked, or at least topless’.  –With such an intense masculine culture and masculine language dominating the scene, we even turn off prospective female participants.

We are, without realizing it, undermining the built-in advantage of having such an accessible discipline by making it appear to be an exclusive club for high level male athletes.  And, we have finally come to a place today where, if we aren’t careful, this emerging culture of power-thirsty practitioners, irresponsibility, inpatient students, competition, and adolescence will become inextricably tied to our discipline of Parkour, the same way skateboarding is inevitably tied to the stereotype of its ‘unruly, destructive, adolescent punk skaters.’ (A stereotype that many know does not hold water in many places and yet lives on due to the way the culture formed in its early public years).

IV. To A Close….

With this short entry I am not claiming these issues are universal or apparent in all communities.  I am not trying to devalue the importance of taking risk. I am not crying out for uniformity in the practice of our discipline–for that would wipe out the those characteristic differences between people, their practices and geographies, which makes our movement interesting, beautiful, rich. I am not saying that we should completely move away from valuing & developing power, pushing the human limits, and so forth.  I think everyone can eventually derive value from lifting weight and pushing their physical limits, from facing fear.  I even think competition, with yourself that is, is healthy.

Rather, with this short entry, I am calling for a re-evaluation of what we appreciate above all else.  I am calling for the development of a code of conduct.  I am calling for all practitioners to step back and really take a hard and long look at how our discipline is being developed & defined.  Will we be a sport of competition, recognition, and physical capacity?  or, Will it be a community, for the movement, the philosophy, for life?

The great thing about life is that it is not so much where we stand but where we are moving.  As a discipline, this is where we may be now, but there is no reason we cant push our community towards valuing effort over achievement.  There is no reason we can’t take control of how the media represents us.  We can say no to doing stunts and jumping off buildings when asked for photos by the news.  We can work to educate the public, and educate our community, on our core values–to take the time to fully explain who we are and how we practice.  We can take the time to educate ourselves in order to more responsibly teach & respect others. We can call out the communities who still wade deep in sexism, anti-authoritarianism, and reckless training–and call out the individuals leading those communities as well.  We can opt out of competition, release videos more casually, train with those outside our comfort zone, below our movement capacity, from different age groups or movement disciplines.  We can make the the choices that will result in positive growth because we, the practitioners, have it in our power yet to shape our discipline, and the way the world will see us.

This past week, Jesse and I gave an interactive talk at The Feast. This was followed by a short demonstration and workshop lead by members of our community.  Here is the rough transcript from that talk with photos and videos that were taken during and after.  You can see more of the photos in this album here. Enjoy!

“Can we have a heart to heart for a second? Exercise can suck!  I’m sure many of you agree that getting fit and staying there can be a pretty tedious task. Running on the treadmill for hours can be mind-numbing, as can strapping into exercise machines, and lifting weights…over and over, day in and day out, all in the name of meeting some unrealistic standard of beauty…

When approached like that, yes, fitness is absurd.   When we are forced to do such repetitive and simple movements, that sometimes are so physically enjoyable, of course we just  zone out, stop paying attention, and try to just get through it.  We find ourselves counting down the minutes, the seconds, until we can leave the gym and just go home!


We miss out on all the joy movement has to offer. and to me–that’s whats absurd.

The human body was designed to move, and designed to enjoy movement. Our ancestors ran through trees, climbed over rocks, and play games. Movement was a defining part of life. And somehow over the last century we’ve redefined it as a chore–no more important than doing the dishes or taking out the trash or mowing the lawn, if you’re lucky enough to have one!

So I’m here today to change the way you think about exercise–to give you an alternative to the fancy gym memberships, expensive equipment, and ultra competitive team sports. I’m here to give you a tool that can turn the hard work of exercise in to play… and that tool is Parkour.

Parkour is a discipline focused on natural human movements.  Movements such as crawling [action] balancing [action] jumping [action] swinging [action] and vaulting [action] Beyond the movement, Parkour is a discipline of overcoming obstacles, both mental and physical.   You can be both creative and critical. You learn the difference between good risk and bad, and how to cope with the uncertainties in your life. You can begin to understand your capabilities and where your limits lie.

I’m sure at least a few of you are wondering–How can the practice of Parkour teach you these things? Well–lets take a closer look:

1. You can first practice Parkour in its safest form–by staying low to the ground and focusing on control, patience, and building an understanding of your body in space.

Jonny teaches Parkour

2.  With time, you can advance and begin setting yourself isolated challenges that are either more physically demanding, which requires a deeper understanding of your abilities, or more mentally demanding, forcing you to face fear and trust in yourself

Parkour can be mentally demanding

3. Alternatively you can utilize dynamic movements and focus either on: (a) building greater efficiency, which forces you to problem solve and quickly resolve a path over under through or (b) fluidity, which gives you space to be creative and innovative with your body.

The movement creative shows off its Parkour Skill

4. You can even just opt to practice Parkour through games, which lets you to think less on the technique and focus more on just enjoying movement.

The list goes on.  There is no right or wrong in Parkour, for utlimately you set the rules.  We have no standards of success or gold medals to win. You need only to come out and try your hardest.  Because in Parkour we celebrate effort over achievement.  It doesnt matter if you cant balance your first day or jump.  Maybe you wont be able to get up and over your second try or third.  Inevitably you will fall but you will also learn to get back up and to try again.  This is because you are not working to be better than everyone else but better than yourself.

And therein lies the first, and most important thing you need to know about Parkour, and movement in general, and that is–that there is no barrier of entry.  There is no such thing as being too old, or too weak, being too busy or not good enough!

But I dont expect you to completely believe me when I say fitness can be fun, especially after 5 short minutes. As Buckminster Fuller once said that “If you want to teach people a new way of thinking, don’t bother trying to teach them.  Instead, give them a tool the use of which will lead them to new ways of thinking.”

So, after a short demonstration by members of our community, I’d like to invite you all over to play, and, perhaps, pick up that tool that will change the way you think about fitness and yourself.

Parkour demonstration making the case for movement at #Feast2013

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“It is impossible for a man to learn what he thinks he already knows.”— Epictetus

One of the plagues that ails our movement culture today can be summed up in a few words:

“oh, I know.”
“I already learned how to do that

Every instructor has probably had these phrases, or something similar, thrown at them at least once by one of their students.  Sometimes you might hear yourself saying it as you brushed off critique from a friend.  We are so eager to be constantly learning something new that we become dismissive of revisiting lessons we’ve already heard.


We have entered an age where we are confusing familiarity with a technique or movement with true knowledge and mastery.  And, every time we become dismissive of critique, every time we say ‘I know’, we are defeating ourselves and limiting our potential.  With every ‘I know’, we declare ourselves superior to practice, we prevent the opportunity for growth, and we project ourselves as not only difficult to talk to, but difficult to train with as well.

I mean, I’ll admit it.  Learning new skills and techniques is very exciting.  It expands your language, reveals new challenges, and, without doubt, can assist in helping overcome tougher training and motivation plateaus. However, if you think you are only progressing if you are learning something new, then you will never be master of your movement, nor, most likely, are you training in a way that leads to longevity.

Movement is not a thing to be mastered in one day, one week, one year of practice.  To truly understand a movement, and to master a techniques, one is required to consistently revisit old lessons and to find new challenges within an already established vocabulary.


The other day I was teaching a few students how to jump.  Right away, the students declared that they wanted to do something different because they ‘learned how to jump last week.’   So I walked over to the rail and I asked, can you jump to this?  No reply.  Can you jump over this wall, and land quietly? Can you jump down on to that ledge… and then up on to that box?  Can you jump and land while ducking?  Can you jump with one leg?  Accurately?  Five times in a row?


Needless to say, there were no further complaints.


Often, people will say they know how to do something long before they do.  The mind often understands long before the body.  It is important to constantly remind yourself, as you train and teach others, that it is not the mind that needs to learn, but the body–and the body only learns through frequent repetition and exploration.body_brain