So, about competitions...
Compromising Health, integrity & values or a Positive driver for creativity & innovation...?
- and why Street Movement, together with ÊTRE FORT, have decided to support Oliver Thorpe’s participation in the 2016 APEX International coming up in August.
An important note to the reader: As always with our stories, these words are personal and somewhat subjective. We are not trying to point fingers or be judges of right or wrong - on the contrary, we are trying to keep an open but critical mind. However, these are issues that are a lot of people in our community are very passionate and have strong opinions about, and we think it's only fair that we question and reflect on the choices we all make, the driving force and motivation we all have for these choices. This is the only way to learn if and how they fit into our declared values and work, and the reality, culture and society around us. It's the only way we'll be able to continue to navigate towards positive change and evolution of our discipline.
Oliver, for one, has been an integral part of the Street Movement family and organization for many years and none of us would be in the place we're in today without the mutual respect, support and understanding of one another. This relationship is the most important factor to our successful work so far, and we'll keep nursing this powerful dynamic, even if it sometimes means taking a chance on an experiment like this! Also, if Oliver should happen to be successful in the actual competition, he has agreed to donate his winnings to Water.org. Happy reading!
"Most competition formats seem in complete contradiction to our values, both physically and ethically... Thus supporting them in any way could potentially be harmful to the development and perception of the discipline that we love..."
I guess it’s pretty safe to say that many of us have quite a bit of resistance when it comes to combining parkour and competition concepts – a passionate ongoing debate that you should have been living in a cave for the last 10 years to have missed. The arguments are fairly simple and well known: Most competition formats seem in complete contradiction to our values, both physically and ethically, and thus supporting them in any way could potentially be harmful to the development and perception of the discipline that we love, and the integrity we’ve worked so hard to build up over many years.
Being part of the second generation and having had the priviledge to grow alongside the founders and the very first generation, a lot of us feel a heightened sense of responsibility towards protecting the precious gift we feel we have been given. Having been witness to what comes in the wake of present day competitions - corruption, doping, match fixing, green washing etc. - naturally we get a little protective when faced with the idea. On the other hand, we also recognize that competing is a part of our lives and culture - even without prizes, cash or otherwise - and that competitions seem to be important to a growing segment of our community, and that the motivation for competing is very different from one person to the next.
*Late Latin: competere,
to strive together, from Latin, to coincide, be suitable : com-, com- + petere, to seek
The question is, if it really is possible to completely rethink the concept and come back to the original meaning of the word competition* which seem to have a much closer relation to our values than the modern day definition of the word...?
This idea, finding a better format, is nothing new - a lot of people have tried. And Amos Rendao himself (one of the APEX Movement organizers) is the first to admit to the oxymoron of "parkour competitions":
"... after much philosophical dialogue and debate, I realized that "parkour competition" isn't possible, but obstacle course competition / speed competitions are. It doesn't make the grander statement "This person is the best at parkour" or whatever, but instead just shows "parkour athletes have a much higher probability of doing well in obstacle course competitions of varying sorts."
- Amos Rendao
So in Amos' own words the APEX International is not an actual parkour-competition but an obstacle course / speed competition for parkour athletes... Don't get me wrong, I really like the concept and it might be the most valiant attempt at this very sensitive combination so far, but I'm not sure if I see the real difference or if it's simply yet another example of a convenient rhetorical workaround to something that is essentially what it is: A parkour competition...
"I’m fine with not winning as long as I feel that I have given it my best. If I don’t feel like I’ve given it 100% I use it as a learning experience and try to figure out what it was that caused me to perform sub-optimally."
Oliver echoes many of Amos' thoughts, and for him the motivation is clear:
“I’ve always loved the fact that parkour (for me) has never been about being better than anyone else, but instead about learning from other people and improving myself…
[However] I feel that competition gives me a very clear idea of what my weaknesses are...
I plan to use this competition as a learning experience and an opportunity to train with some of my good friends from all over the world that I don’t see very often!”
- Oliver Thorpe
Again, we've heard most of it before: It makes it possible to travel and see the world, to evolve, to deliver a message, to unite and hang out with friends... But haven't we always done this? Do we need cash prizes, sponsors and a crowd of spectators (off- and online) to do this? Sure, it makes some things easier (and cheaper), but at what cost...? Big corporations from outside the community (often with help from inside the community) will put on competitions anyway in order to promote their brands and products, not necessarily caring for, or even having any deeper knowledge about the values, the process and the careful attention (and intention) behind the actual movements. And we can't really blame these corporations or the consumers (not too much, anyway) as this knowledge can be really hard to get to and what's out there is often half-truths and generations of misconceptions built on top of each other.
I'm sure many of us agree that it's important to present an alternative to the mainstream media image of our discipline, to get it out there, spread the knowledge and make a real positive difference in people's lives the way we have felt and experienced it on our own and those around us. Luckily many good people are trying very hard to do just that. Personally I, and other people close to Oliver, know that his motivation goes way deeper than what his initial thoughts above may convey, as well as is the fact with many of the other people involved in these types of events. But with something so deeply rooted in philosophy and mind-body connections, and without having direct and personal access to the sources, will the general public be able to tell the actual difference, or does that difference only seem crystal clear to ourselves because we are completely immerged in it 24/7...?
What do you think?! Do some of us care too much? Do we all play a role and do we have a responsibility in this development, or should we just let it play out however it may? Have we become victims of own misguided (over)protectionism? Do we even have a correct understanding of the historical events and the intentions of our predecessors, on which we base our understanding of what we represent upon, or have we become blind to our own interpretations and feeling of righteousness? Is such a thing possible, as a competition that honestly represents the spirit of parkour / ADD, our values and methods? When are the means justifiable, what's an acceptable compromize and what's just cash money business, laziness or indifference? Or does it even matter as long as people are moving and having fun...?
Join the debate, add your own reflections and stay tuned for the development of this story and experiment - before, during and after the event. We’ll share more of our own thoughts, experiences and contemplations along the way!
Thank's to Oliver Thorpe, Amos Rendao and the whole APEX Movement crew for putting themselves out there and agreeing to be part of this experiment - and to Être Fort for helping us with the execution! We have enormous respect and love for the work they all do, how they approach it and the heart and effort they put into it.
If you don't already follow him, head over to Oliver's Instagram for more of his shenanigans.
Check out ÊTRE FORT here and for more Street Movement stuff, feel free to cruise around this site - you'll find social media links at the bottom of the page.
If you want more insight into the politics and ethics of sports, check out my previous articles "Protecting our heritage..." Part 1 and Part 2, and head over to the website of the Danish Institute for Sports Studies and Play the Game who aim to strengthen the ethical foundation of sport and promote democracy, transparency and freedom of expression in sport.