If you pay any attention to any of the parkour and freerunning media, you already know about the Barclaycard World Freerun Championships which is coming up on September 3rd. Sponsored by the renowned urbanfreeflow.com and featuring twenty one freerunners from seventeen countries:

...the first-ever Barclaycard World Freerun Championships will be staged at our legendary Roundhouse, where a specially-designed course will be constructed as a massive challenge to more than twenty of the world’s top freerunners. This ground-breaking event is a global celebration, which will showcase the awesome artistry of the best from the worldwide scene. Each athlete will perform to the accompaniment of his own individually selected soundtrack and in a unique twist, each will be judged by his fellow performers, on athletic skill, creativity, complexity and above all, “flow”.
While the event itself has very little content to comment upon, it raises the interesting topic of competition and its place in parkour and freerunning.

The word itself derives from the Latin roots con and petire which combine to give the meaning ‘to seek together’; in other words competition refers to the unified efforts of all involved, working with and against each other to seek new heights for everyone’s mutual benefit.
D. Edwardes – Urban Freeflow
This ideal definition of competition is by all means virtuous; a collective working together in order to advance as a whole. With this definition the goal is to create an environment that is as complicated and challenging as possible for every participant in order to force each person to work to their maximum potential to resist defeat. In this sense every participant would be competing with each other in order to overcome failure, and no single entity would lose unless they lost as a part of a collective. However in our modern day society, the definition has been modified to a more simplistic description of a win or lose situation, and it is this that we are working with.

Competition in Parkour.
As to be elaborated and embellished upon in a future article: parkour is not a sport. Sports involve win or lose situation styled competition, while it would be almost unethical to compete in parkour. Parkour is about getting from one place to another as fast as possible, and the methods of doing this vary from person to person.

The mentality of the practice focuses on the improvement of the self by means mental and physical. Every traceur works towards improving their own skills in a way that is best suited for them, and their practices and techniques vary just as much as their fingerprints do. The practices and techniques of any traceur can be considered an extension of their personality and being. Everyone has their talents and handicaps and follows their own paths; forcing a grading system to see how well a traceur can adapt to what the judges want kills the spirit of parkour and the freedom of individuality associated with it.

Some people have suggested an obstacle course with a time trial since the defined objective of parkour is to get from point A to point B as quickly and efficiently as possible. The problem with this is the type of training that it encourages where traceurs will begin to push themselves harder and harder; dangerously and unthinkingly forcing themselves past their capabilities and limits in order to shave off a couple seconds from their time, instead of methodically and safely progressing forward.

Some competitions already taking place amongst training partners are games like H.O.R.S.E. where each traceur attempts to copy another’s moves, losing points for failing to duplicate the move. This pressure forces traceurs to try things that they are possibly not ready for. From this they can sustain injuries from pushing themselves too far, or pick up poor habits that cause them to choose idiotic choices while training in the future.

Other stupid challenges that some traceurs hold are jump height competitions. This is just incredibly stupid. Aside from the fact that you shouldn’t be jumping from more than your height for well over a year (considering proper training), trying to see who can jump from the highest spot is dumb, encourages amateur and dangerous feats and is extremely detrimental to the health of anyone practicing (regardless of where the implications fit in on the individuals lifeline).

In regards to the possibility of holding a parkour competition in the same manner of the freerunning competition, it is unnatural. A skill acquired by those who practice parkour is the ability to adapt, and this ability brings us closer to our environments. In the freerunning competition the environment is manipulated and controlled as they create an elaborate layout of their own.

The final remark is in response to other practitioners of parkour who have commented that the publicity and commercialization of such events takes away from the spirit of parkour and assimilates it into the group of extreme sports. Some of the public may misinterpret such generic and false classifications and traceurs are concerned that parkour could generate the negative stereotypes that surround skateboarders and other extreme sports athletes.

Competition in freerunning.
Some people may consider that it is alright to host competitions for freerunning since it is closer to acrobatics or gymnastics. Surely this competition seems to reflect that, with my first impression of the article being a bunch of well built guys doing an Olympic rhythmic gymnastics (choreographed ribbon) routine without the ribbons, and with an addition of a couple obstacles. But there should still be the consideration of the differences in individuals.

The grading system for this event doesn’t seem to be constructed that well. Questions arise such as “Who decides what ‘proper movement’ is?” and “How do you define the ‘skill level’ of a move?” It doesn’t seem fair that someone can tell you that points were lost because you can’t perform as well as a person you have never met and whose techniques and moves are radically different that your own. It doesn’t seem plausible that a judge would rationally dictate that your movements were not classified as ‘proper’ when they are unable to understand your own handicaps and strengths.

Freerunners are required to acquire the ability to adapt to their environment just as much as any traceur and their interaction with the environment is just as intense and important as any experienced in parkour. The manipulated layout takes away the freedom of freerunning, the element of surprise and the excitement that is found when guessing what new experience lurks around the next corner.

The competition dilutes the practice to the extent that it seems to just be a test of gymnastic and acrobatic ability over any acquired freerunning skills. This cycles back the my original impression of the rhythmic gymnastics, where the goal is to organize a pretty routine using the objects around you in order to appease the judges. This effect is far from diminished by the addition of a soundtrack, to which the freerunners arrange and perform their routines.

Parkour and the many branches of its variation tree (featuring freerunning and tricking et cetera) are far from being classified as sports. Any concept of competition beyond the ideal definition would likely be detrimental in the long and short run. While it may be fun, the practices and moral ethics are not proper in relation to the philosophy and the fundamentals of parkour and freerunning. In my opinion (which is shared by many online parkour community members) though it would be interesting to observe, a competition for any of the above would be more detrimental than doing nothing at all.

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  5. Anonymous // 9/6/11 22:18  

    Well the way I see it is that we've got parkour, the heart and soul of this discipline. Then we've got free running which involve flips and twist and otherwise "wasted movements" These are all fun and great but the pure discipline of it doesn't mix well with competition. I purpose that an entirely new practice is created. Something thats is based on freerunning but kept totally separate. It could be called speedrunning. It would be totally designed for competition with strict rules and limitations as any other sport does. The glory of is that it won't, or shouldn't, tarnish the discipline of parkour.

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