Hello friends! I just want to say quickly a big thank you to everyone who said something nice to me about my last blog post - it's highlighted to me how much of a widespread issue self-comparitive negativity is, and it's super nice that people appreciated my advice to basically not worry about it. So with that in mind, let's move on to another thorny topic...


Just what the hell are we doing, anyway?


Warning: Ramblings ahead. Bear with me on this one.


I was discussing with someone about what parkour is, practitioner to practitioner. I got thinking about a curious contradiction that presented itself during the course of this. I was told that parkour should be about creativity, and yet in the very same paragraph, this person was saying how they didn't like the way that someone else was teaching and representing parkour. Surely this is an oxymoron? A creative outlet should surely allow someone the choice to express it as they wish. How can you advocate creativity while simultaneously quashing it if it doesn't conform to your idea of what being creative is? That's a brain twister, but think it through in this way: like the appreciation of contemporary art. Where some may see a jumbled mess of rubbish, others see a stunning representation of modern decay or a scathing comment on waste. Appreciation of art is in the eye of the beholder. Basically, people are different. Live with it.


Yet it did lead me on to wondering how we define what we do. The way I see it there are two options on the table - to state unequivocally what parkour is, and anything that differs from that is... something else, or to embrace the freeform idea of expression of movement through parkour, in which case it runs the risk of being about everything... and nothing.


Neither is perfect. Certainly the must be some boundary on the definition of it, or it risks losing an individual identity. The ongoing feud about flips being parkour will pale in comparison. Juggling on a railing? Parkour! Doing ballet in the vague vicinity of a housing estate? Parkour! But clamping down on what is and isn't parkour too precisely will risk alienating so many people, it would be a massacre. Did a lazy vault instead of a step vault? Not parkour!


So who should be the ones to define it, by whatever degree? The obvious choice would be your Belle's, Foucan's and Yamakasi, the original French traceurs and the like. Yet who hasn't heard it be said that parkour has evolved and expanded beyond them? Certainly others have taken the basic idea and run with it (zing!). And certainly a big draw of parkour is the freedom it does allow you and the personal things you can bring to the table. It has evolved beyond the basics - I found it fascinating to hear that cat leaps used to be done onto the lat muscles, with the elbows on top of the wall, way back in the day, before the technique was refined. And it will continue to be refined and evolve as practitioners bring their own background to it, be that from dance, martial arts or whatever else.


(Incidentally, despite what I've said above I am always slightly amazed when people appear to dismiss the Yamakasi or not listen to their ideas of parkour, because 'it's evolved beyond them' or some rubbish. If Bruce Lee showed up tomorrow and started teaching me about Jeet Kune Do, I'd damn well listen to what Bruce Lee had to tell me about Jeet Kune Do!)


Personally, I find it easiest to stick to a purely physical definition of parkour, and a vague one at that. Running, jumping, climbing. Moving through any environment with speed. Anything beyond that delves into the metaphysical, something you cannot apply universally. You'll please some people and piss off others no matter what you say. After all, people love an argument. It just seems like such a strange attitude to cultivate to me; so someone thinks differently of parkour than you do. So what? Does it change your definition? Does it matter that much to you what other people think?


Maybe an easier way would be to flip the question; WHY do you do it? Consider this, and the 'what' can answer itself. Want to keep fit and look good? Then parkour for you will probably not be that deep or artsy, but will be about the sweat and the workout. Want to make a living doing shows and performing? Then spectacle and acrobatic moves will be your training. And the important thing to realise is that both of these things are fine.


So, with that in mind, I considered 'why' I do parkour, in an effort to get to my 'what'. I found four reasons for why I do it. I'll share them with you as an example of the why solving the what. Here:


1) It keeps me skinny. This cannot be underestimated as a motivator or reason! I wanted a way to keep fit, healthy and yes, thin, but was getting bored with the gym. So as much as I like a good pull up ladder or sprint session for the act itself, it's also because it means I can eat cheesecake guilt free.


2) It's cool. Yeah, I said it. Parkour is impressive. As an ex- fat kid, I'm doing things now that my fourteen year old self would never have conceived I'd be capable of, and that's exciting and empowering. If I ever actually get around to learning to do a backflip, I'll probably have an aneurysm on the spot from the sheer overload of childhood glee.


3) It's useful. It comes in very handy when running for a bus, for example. And the confidence it gifts upon you has an impact on so much else in your life. Confronting fear in a jump transfers so well to confronting fear elsewhere, that I fully believe that the sole reason I got my job promotion is because of my parkour practise.


4) It's social. Probably the biggest motivation I have for going to a training session when I'm tired, pissed off or still sore is that I know there'll be people there I like, who will put a smile on my face. It's probably the sole reason I stuck with it during the difficult few starting months when I was absolutely useless and wondering if I wanted to put in the effort with it all.


So in a sentence, I do parkour because it keeps me thin, it's cool, it's useful and it's social. What does that make my parkour? It makes it... well, fun. Fun exercise! It sounds so basic, but when I typed that phrase it's like something clicked in my head. Of course that's what it is; I'm not a spiritual person, I'm not massively in to self discovery, it's just not who I am. I mean, I tried yoga for a while and, during the meditation sections of the class, would often just amuse myself thinking about monkeys or Batman or, on one special occasion, Monkey-Batman. And physically, this approach means I can make no distinction between the 250 weighted lunges I did yesterday, or the cat leaps I'll be doing tonight, or the flip-style vault I'm thinking of trying to teach myself in the gym tomorrow. It's all just fun exercise, for body and mind. Brilliant.


And anyone who disagrees with me... is allowed to.


So! Homework time: What's your parkour?


All the best,

James