Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Functionality versus Display (History)

Another historical post from my old parkour blog:

March 10th 2009
Many people who come across parkour for the first time mistakenly file it under a performance or artistic display - something like an extreme sport or circus type of show for spectator edification.

My introduction to parkour was through a desire to be able to perform a back flip, amongst other things. I've never been out to show off or to impress people. Instead I like to inspire others. Unfortunately, flips are good for capturing attention, which is essential to the act of inspiring. I thought that if people could see me, a 120kg tank, performing the seemingly impossible that they could be inspired to try something difficult too, or at least become more physically active. Instead, the majority of people are more interested in seeing the spectacle and being entertained with nothing of worth feeding into their personal lives.

So the question arises: "Should I stop doing some things so that others are not mislead about the nature of parkour?" I find myself inclined to answer "No" because human nature, being what it is, will find a way to corrupt what I do anyway. I can't count the number of times people have asked me to do a flip. Admittedly some have heard that I can do a back flip and a curious, but many others see me vault or jump and make the spurious link between parkour and flips without this prior knowledge of my abilities. I can only assume this is because of various youtube videos they might have seen and the compulsion to seek out entertainment.

So what about movie stunts and display performances of parkour? My thinking is that the intention of the performance should be to inspire or demonstrate "good" parkour, including if possible the "spirit" of parkour. Performance that is purely for entertainment purposes, for the average Joe that watches TV every night of the week and does very little exercise of his own, should be avoided.

Now here is where it gets really deep and difficult. Does everyone have the capability to do good parkour? The reason this is deep and difficult is because the answering of the question is not really possible without some assumptions about life and even metaphysical considerations. I'll leave the answering of this question up to the individual but I'm interested readers comments.

Getting back to more familiar territory, when considering functionality and display we can draw parallels between the controversy that arose in the naming of disciplines. The whole, "flips are not parkour" deal. From the get go it is important to point out that many of the founders of these disciplines do not make any distinction between them. Originally the name for this type of movement was L'art du deplacement. Parkour was David Belle's term for the same thing and Free Running was an English translation of Parkour. Videos of several of the world's top practitioners and founding traceurs have appeared in public forums making this clear (check out parkour generations or search for "Stephane Vigroux interview" on youtube to find out more). Prior to these clarifications, parkour was usually described with words like discipline, efficiency, useful strength, and with regular links made to Methode Naturelle as a sort of founding discipline. Free Running was for show offs and crowd pleasers, i.e. the performance/entertainment side of things. With the news that there was no difference between parkour and free running, the global community was rapidly forced to reconsider their philosophy. Instead of having different names, we are now forced to consider the attitudes within the PK/FR/LADD community. It comes back to functionality versus display, except this time it seems there is less room for entertaining the observers. I think this is a good thing because participation in parkour is more important than merely observing.

So where does this leave those out to entertain and show off? Firstly, this is not automatically a bad thing. Entertainment is a fact of life and without show offs human based entertainment would not be possible. People are beginning to use words like acro (short for acrobatics) to describe the less efficient and less useful forms of parkour that traceurs would generally not consider to be a genuine part of the discipline. Between acro, tricking, b-boying, etc there are enough outlets for those that want to aim more towards performance. Many traceurs even practise these things to challenge themselves in different ways, though when I do this I consider it cross training and not a part of parkour. I am not the authority though, that honour is reserved for the founders.

Parkour is still notoriously difficult to define and there are still some remnants of controversy over the names used to describe this and similar activities but, regardless of this, I think we can agree that the intentions and attitudes one trains with will determine whether our discipline is a positive force in the world. If functionality is your philosophy then great! Train hard and train safe. If entertainment is your driving force then also great! Train the same but remember to do your best to send a positive and responsible message.

I hope this has clarified some things and made you think!