A Question of Why
The great philosophical question…why? In most sports/disciplines around the world the eventual evolution is competition, and many people go along with it. Sure some stand against it, but they’re fighting an uphill losing battle against the tide of defeat…or is that too cynical?
If you stop for one moment and think critically about competition, and net it right the way down – what is it for? In many peoples eyes (at least the ones whom compete) it is about triumph & recognition – measurable success i.e. having something to stand over proving your worth. In short it is validation from an external source. Does that sound like Parkour?
But is that really all that competition is? Some say it is about finding out who is the best at any given time, whilst others see it as a career path (sponsorship deals etc). At the end of the day, the latter is the closest to why competition exists…money.
Generally Parkour organisations (clubs, societys, groups etc) are encouraged/pressured to run a competition by someone dangling a paycheck (or threatening to remove one), and so they perpetuate the cycle. Thus we have entered into an age where Parkour is being considered by the Olympic Committee, and there is hot debate over how to run a competition. We have had the WFC (World Free Running Championship) sponsored by Barclaycard (& run by the now defunct, at least as far as Parkuor is concerned, Urban Free Flow), and now have the annual Art of Motion sponsored by Redbull.
Companies see reason to run competitions (because they’re profitable) – people line up to enter, and you are the commodity. It is rare for a company to care about the spirit/ethics of the sport/discipline/hobby it’s exploiting (read: raping it in the eye-socket with a razor-wire condom) for monetary gain, though it is not always the case. Remember that a company is not doing something out of the kindness of its heart – it has an agenda, and if it doesn’t match yours…one of you is going to have to compromise, and who do you think has more sway?
Ok, so you’ve decided to run a competition – What to do?
Since competition has become acceptable, there is debate on how to run one (though the question of why still needs to be drilled into your skull like medieval trepanning). And this boys & girls is where you run into your first issue – you need clear objectives; why would people want to compete (reward, or the perception of such), what are your objectives for the competition, and how will it be assessed?
Generally companies have a monetary reward to incite people, on top of the fame/celebrity/bragging rights associated, so the ‘why’ is sorted (insofar as the competitors are concerned). That leaves you with ‘why run the competition?’ or ‘what do you want to achieve with the competition?’
If you don’t know, don’t run one. Too many people are ok with competition for the sake of it, without realising how truly damaging it is. If you’re going to do it, at least have a clear plan. What do you want to see, and how can you achieve that?
In other words what are you going to measure?
- Who can run the fastest?
- Who can jump the furthest?
- Who can last the longest?
- Who can catch the rabbit?
- Who can escape the path of the bull?
- Who can adapt to their surroundings best?
I could go on for a very long time, but my point is what you are trying to see should be very specific and clear to you, rather than just “that Parkour thing…you know, the jumpy business you see on YouTube”
Why Parkour should remain non-competitive
Parkour is at its heart a training – it is more a philosophy that compiles techniques to teach the mindset, rather than the other way around. There are no styles, no specific techniques, but rather a system of thinking about obstacles to challenge yourself & force adaptation. How do you measure that?
For the most part this has plagued Martial Arts competitions to the point that what you see is the surface. Fancy footwork, powerful hits, and only the technical measured. This leads people to thinking all Martial Arts are combative, and that all there is to it is fighting, and that’s just not the case.
But how can you judge someone’s philosophy in a competition? Should all interested parties have a debate about a series of obstacles, or should they be seated & take a standardised test?
No matter what way you look at it, competition falls short of the mark. You’ll never capture the whole picture, nor the essence of what it is. And if you’re settling for a rough idea, you’d want to be damn sure that you put your best foot forward.
Are all forms of competition bad?
Without any shadow of a doubt, absolutely not. Under no circumstances is the idea of competition itself a negative, but the influence & effect is (or at least can be). A good physical contest is nice – try and push yourself in the company of similarly skilled individuals, and may the best person win. In fact I have no problem with the core Olympic sports/fields. I am fine with finding the fastest sprinter, heaviest lifter, highest/longest jumper (it was on Tiffany) etc.
Like others before…
Competition polarises, and that’s no secret. It’s happened in Surfing, Skateboarding, Martial Arts (most notably Judo), and now it’s happening to Parkour. When a new thing comes to the forefront, there’s the innovators behind it, and there’s the wolves waiting to make money from it. The innovators are usually bright-eyed, bushy-tailed and easily taken advantage of. They came up with (or popularised) their activity, and over time it grows. The second wave of people are arguably the most important, for they attract the third wave (which in turn causes a movement to begin). These later generations come in with a steeper learning curve, and new ideas. Boundaries are pushed, and the activity begins to take shape.
Enter the opportunists.
The second/third wave is usually where you have those seeking to monetise the activity enter the fray. Setting up magazines, media companies, performance entities, manufacturing equipment etc. Some of it is born out of the will to progress the activity, however if there’s a company involved its primary motivation is to survive (and thus make money), so it’s easy to see why it’s not necessarily a good idea.
But competition makes it more accessible
This is where you and I will disagree. What it makes “accessible” is not Parkour, but rather some bastardised form of something more. Sure people will see the images, replicate what they’ve seen, and get damned good…but ultimately 80% will miss the point entirely.
It’s not a case of “why not?” but rather “why bother?” – Parkour flourishes without competition. Competition narrows the focus forcing stagnation down the throat of a youthful discipline that could do without it.