On Community, Leadership, and Parkour: what I have learnt from the whole FIG saga and the Australian parkour community

“He said that [we] already have competitions. However, the competitions are not ones of war, battling for who is better. The competitions are about helping. Who can help the most people and spread their knowledge. There are no medals or prizes. The competitions are when different people meet up and share their views in order to teach and learn from each other. By doing this, you become the best as you show you are useful and helpful. The more people you help, the more useful you have become…you win.” – from Cali Meets David Belle, 2006

In 2006, the Australian Parkour Association (APA) was founded and inspired by the best information it could access at the time. It was before ‘YouTube Parkour’. Before Generation Yamakasi was easily accessible in English. Before Facebook groups and events. It was before any of the founding members of the discipline ran official workshops anywhere, let alone all the way on our side of the world. Since then, the Australian parkour community has grown to include hundreds of practitioners, and several community groups, all over the country.

‘The whole FIG saga’ I refer to in the title is basically the story of how an ‘innovative, urban sport’ (parkour) was ‘brought under the aegis’ (read: protection, control) of the Federation of International Gymnastics. Read FIG’s statement for the ‘I’m sorry, what?’ version, or this Guardian article for a nice summary of the full story.

This year has felt a little like watching an addictive Netflix series, at least in the parkour side of my life. I have questioned why anyone would want to be leaders in anything when it exposes you to so much criticism from people who are not willing to try to step into your shoes. I have questioned what community even means if it is divided into many pockets. I have felt torn between wanting to stay in what feels, at times, like ‘the ring’ – being visible (and vulnerable), sharing what I do, what I love, to help it reach others who might also gain from it – versus stepping away from it all, simply training in my own zone, in peace: no classes, no events, no social media. I have felt incredibly inspired, and also deeply disappointed. The two extremes of all my thought processes cancel each other out, leaving me with nothing but to ask: how do you really feel? What do you believe?

From the muddiness and growing pains that come with change, a few sentences keep returning to the surface. As with most things ‘parkour’, they aren’t just about parkour, but are applicable to almost everything.

You cannot please everybody and still mean something.

You cannot please everybody, full stop. I think it’s great that in the Australian and wider parkour communities we have reached this point of asking, how do we become more accessible? How do we show (rather than simply say) we welcome anyone who is interested in what we do? Inclusivity is important. Most people don’t want to hurt others, or make them feel excluded. But at some point, whatever you are doing, you have to decide who you are, what you stand for. And the moment you make that clear, you are going to be saying ‘this is not for everybody’. And that is ok. By all means pay attention and be sensitive to what is being said and also not said around you. By all means learn, and grow, and evolve. But keep your integrity, otherwise what else do you have? Hold true to the reason YOU are here. Why did you start this journey? What were your reasons then, what are they now?

The right person, or group, will come along to fill the gaps that are not yours to fill.

Try to be everything to everyone, and you become nothing to no one.

A community is only as strong as its leaders.

The only way to build a strong community is to invest in its leaders. This does not mean you only care about the leaders, quite the opposite: if you have no one to be a regular voice, a familiar face, a reliable heartbeat of inspiration and positive energy, what is there for people to be drawn to? What is there at all?

A good leader leads by example. In parkour it’s someone who trains at least as much as they talk. It’s someone who doesn’t just say être fort pour être utile (be strong to be useful), trouve ton propre chemin (find your own way), or on commence ensemble, on finit ensemble (we start together, we finish together) … but also lives these ideas.

A community is a reflection of its leaders. I have seen so many people all over the world rise up when something important is taken from them. It may be that the word ‘parkour’ has many inflections depending on who you speak to, but that is not the point (I continue to use this word but I am getting used to meaning art du déplacement (art of movement), for example. Mainly because it’s easier for me to pronounce, and just like that old favourite “where are you really from?” it side-steps that headache of either providing a tip-of-the-iceberg answer so I can continue training, or sitting down to tell a whole life story). The point is, the word – the practice – belongs to those who practice it. When you hear ‘Parkour World Championships’ … I mean … I’ll just send you here again!

The strength of this community shows we have great leaders. The founders of the discipline, and the thousands of newer coaches and role models all over the world, continue to drive this constantly evolving force. The fact that FIG has ‘claimed it’ hurts because it shows so much blatant disrespect, and threatens the core values behind what we practice. But ultimately, it means nothing. Intention is everything. Let’s keep doing what we do, and do it well.

Finally,

Just don’t take things that are not yours.

Just don’t!

The quote at the start of this post is from an interview with David Belle, and it may or may not still be something he might say. As community leaders from around the country meet to revisit our values and the direction of the APA this weekend, I think it’s worth remembering that our Australian parkour community was originally inspired by interviews like this. And as far as I understand it, those values still hold true for us:

  • we train to become better versions of ourselves
  • we train ourselves to help others
  • the word ‘competition’ is only meaningful to our practice, if by ‘competition’ you mean: the more people you help, the more you win.

 

 

IMG_1078

Melbourne Parkour Instructor Training, 2014

18835571_10155457163284225_2913060133596776492_n

I will just keep using this old photo because it makes me laugh 😄 – Australian Parkour Association Committee, 2014

IMG_0753

International Women’s Day Jam, 2015

14856128_10154750326729225_4917985383233347976_o

Do it in a Dress: Global Parkour Jam for Change, 2016

22552718_10155128771267684_5962493500786483323_n

NatGat, Canberra, 2017

30515614_1729992303713433_9079606938149965467_n

Esprit Yamak Australia, 2018

amy2

Parkour & Cake, 2018