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.

 

 

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Melbourne Parkour Instructor Training, 2014

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

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International Women’s Day Jam, 2015

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

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NatGat, Canberra, 2017

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Esprit Yamak Australia, 2018

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Parkour & Cake, 2018

A Millionthousandzillion Minutes

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In some ways it’s obvious and beyond our control: time is linear and finite, the sun rises and sets, the seasons change, businesses open and close, and, if we are to be a part of society, we fit ourselves into the pattern of everyone else’s routine.

But time is so much more interesting than ticking clocks and the turning pages of calendars. The more I think about it, the more I understand time to be a bending, compressing, stretching thing; still mostly out of our control, but unique to every one of us.

How else do you explain the way some moments seem to last forever – living on as a detailed memory long after they have passed? And that there are months, perhaps years, you don’t remember at all?

Am I the only one who feels there is never enough time, lying awake at night wishing I could be three people so I could do all the things I want to do in this life, hang out with all the people, see all the movies, read all the books, learn all the things, absorb all the places and cultures, spend all the time with the people I love, train parkour and capoeira, walk the dog, watch the stars, write a book? And do all those other things, like eat and sleep?

I think back on the slowest times in my life, the ones I remember most clearly, and they all have one thing in common: I was fully present. I remember a lot of my parkour training over the years because it requires me to be present, or else I risk serious injury. I remember all those teenage firsts. I remember sitting alone on a plane to the other side of the world, unsure of anything but the fact that I was unsure. I remember being in a bus crash when I was nine. I remember conversations where I’ve connected with people on multiple levels, some of whom I only met once, briefly, and I never even got their name; conversations where the rest of the world melted away, and I learned something about them, about myself, and about the way of things. I remember dancing with my husband, tipsy and barefoot, on a beach in Boracay. I remember laughing with one of my best friends till we cried, about a shoe. I remember times my heart was full to bursting, and times it felt torn apart. I remember curling up in the middle of the courtyard on one of my first days of school, in tears, completely alone surrounded by people for the first time in my life.

And then: I pick up my phone for five minutes, and an hour disappears into the internet.

In the hours between two and four am, I lie in a daze, not quite awake, certainly not asleep, considering giving up on sleep altogether. The minutes stretch on for eternity. My stomach rumbles. My eyes hurt. And then, somewhere between four and eight am, time slides away.

I sit down to write, and the first twenty minutes is like squeezing words from an empty toothpaste tube. Then, on the best days, two hours disappear and when I ‘wake up’, there will be pages of words that didn’t exist before, not quite in that way, in that order. Like magic.

There’s a trick to this: do one thing at a time. It makes time slow down, and multiply. When we try to do many things at once, we never finish anything, we don’t realise how much we’ve actually achieved, only what we didn’t, we’re left frustrated, and dissatisfied, and incomplete, wishing we could be three people so we could do it all. We try to have dinner with our partners, look out for an incoming work email, partake in our friends’ messenger conversation, and comment on someone else’s Facebook post, at the same time, and every one of those exchanges becomes meaningless and thus forgotten.

I used to give the kids this exercise: write about the longest minute of your life. I had them think about what makes time move slowly (anticipation, boredom, tension, fear), and what speeds it up (excitement, fun, routine). Of course, it was nonsense, in a way: time moves on at the same pace no matter what’s happening for you in any given moment. But your perception of it changes, and this makes all the difference.

What if we all realised the power we have to bend, compress, and stretch time? That we can take notice of all the details when we’re at our happiest to make them last longer. And not dwell on the things that bore us, scare us, worry us, so that they don’t take over, as they tend to do (at least for me).

Time would still go on as it always has – the sun will rise and set, we will grow older.

But maybe less time will disappear into internet.

And more time will unfold in the presence of people we connect with on multiple levels.

Sometimes, partway through a workshop, one of the kids will ask: “How many more minutes?”

I say, “A millionthousandzillion.”

They laugh, and look at the clock.

“Only ten minutes!”

And they write faster. As soon as they’re focussed, even they know ten minutes can disappear in the blink of an eye. But in its place is something that didn’t exist before, not in that way, in that order. A story.

And stories last forever.