Perpetual Advancement

The following is the abstract from the senior thesis written by the Disciple , also known as Sam. It is an excellent look into the relation between the concept of social and personal responsibility and its relation to the movements that cultivate personal growth.

Sam draws some excellent parallels between martial arts and Parkour as tools for personal improvment. I think that literary examinations of our art such as this are a great sign that the right people are becoming involved in what we love. 

Summing it up excellently is this sentence from his final paragraph: "Essentially, the issues that have been raised must not be addressed on the societal level, but on the personal level.  Individuals must focus on giving themselves something to personally reach for, that will not leave them, and that they can work towards indefinitely, namely an ideal"

 Hopefully, through this essay, we can begin to examin the ideal for which we strive through Parkour. Thanks Sam for the excellent article!



        Martha Irvine of the Associated Press reported in June of 2005 that what was once referred to as “Generation Y” the “Electronic Generation” of “Generation E” is being branded by it’s posterity as being the “Entitled Generation” or “Generation Why Should I?”Many employers are describing my generation of employees as individuals who, despite substantial experience, are demanding high salaries and job flexibility, with little willingness to take on labor-intensive work or remain loyal to a company..  Some individualsfeel that this attitude that “Generation E” has towards employment is due to a healthy skepticism of the commitment that their employers will give to them, which determines the amount of commitment the employees are willing to give in return.  It has also been said that part of what has spoiled this generation has been its lack of extreme hardships.  A root cause of Generation E’s purported sense of entitlement is actually a result of their predecessors, the Baby Boomers.  Much of the Baby Boomer’s efforts were spent on experimentation and fulfillment, and because of their apparent economic security, they were very interested in utilizing consumption to assert their own agency and individuality.  An unfortunate side effect of this material quest for self-realization has been an increase in the incidence of depression.While these increases can be partially attributed to an increase of medical understanding of depression, they have also been linked to in increase in disillusionment and lack of personal happiness.  What is it that is needed to guide the individual and place them on a path rich with self-improvement and self-realization in the face of current trends?  The answer to this question can be found by looking to the underlying questions of “What do we aspire to become?” and “Who or what do we look up to?” We aspire to be our heroes, as they are the individuals and notions that we look up to and who guide us. 


            The term hero as used today is derived from the Greek Epic Hero. While the Greek heroes illustrate many heroic qualities, and are the mold from which the term hero was created in Western civilizations, one can not settle for anything less than the perfect example of a hero if one is to use that hero as a guide to living a fulfilling and just life, for anything less breeds depravity, and dissolution.  In his book The Hero with A Thousand Faces, the problem that Campbell notices is that the globalization of out societies has made possible of a rise in the prevalence of egoism, the belief that self-interest is the just and proper motive for ones actions, which has resulted from the role of the individual from working to preserve society, to the society working for the individual.Campbell describes the archetypal hero as an individual with self achieved submission, a person who acts not for his or herself, but who answers a call or need of their society for action on their behalf. Today, the term hero is often used to describe everyone from doctors and nurses, to firefighters and policemen heroes because they are flesh and blood examples that individuals can attach themselves to. While it is excellent to have physical examples of heroic deeds or traits, using these modern day heroes as a guide or as role models could be just as detrimental as following those heroes of Greek myth for the very reason that they have come to be popularized as heroes … they are human.  Any flaws that these heroic individuals might have would be emulated and seen as justified if society endorses that individual as a hero.  What is needed is an infallible embodiment of that which makes these individuals heroes; a structured example of self-sacrifice and commitment to ideals such as perfection and justice.


            Plato has provided a pertinent example of this very notion.  Plato details the structure of what would be, in his eyes, the perfect state as consisting of three classes; Citizens, Guardians, and the Philosopher King.  The Guardians were separated from the general populous, and trained thoroughly throughout the course of their lives both mentally and physically in preparation for their role in the state.  The Guardians were warrior scholars, giving up what modern society would describe as a normal existence, and living only for the survival, security, and tranquility of the state. By devoting themselves to the abstract and unattainable ideals of Justice and Perfection, the guardians are able to lead meaningful and pleasurable lives working to ensure the common happiness, while being free of material dependence. 


            Friedrich Nietzsche provides a similar theory to that of the Guardian his examples of what he call the Ubermensch, commonly called the Overman.  The Ubermensch, was actually an individual’s true ideal self that existed immeasurably high above the individual.  He also felt that all humans longed to reach this state of ideal being, that few to none ever reach because man, according to Nietzsche, has to overcome himself in order to become his/her ideal self.  This overcoming of the self consists of sublimating the individual’s impulses and giving up all his/her ties to their possessions.  Unlike Plato, Nietzsche does not feel that these individuals, who are on a higher plateau of human development, are instrumental in regards to the maintenance of society, but instead that they have value in themselves as they have the only ultimate value that exists.  While the individual is not responsible for society, he/she is responsible for the aiding in the advancement of his fellow man as they, as a community, strive for perfection in themselves.  Nietzsche is actually so focused upon the development of the individual that he denounces any restrictions placed upon the individual, including the society that they exist in. 


            In today’s Western society, there is a popular culture figure that embodies a philosophy that seems to be a type of combination between the philosophies behind Plato’s Guardian and Nietzsche’s Ubermensch; The Batman.  Batman has done as Plato subscribed for the Guardian, and trained his body to handle any situation that he might happen to encounter, and he has cultivated his mind so that he has a keen and insightful mind.  His preparation and his execution of this mission have created in him an independent spirit, and a severely austere focus.   He has become the epitome of human excellence and devotion to ones duties.  The character Bruce Wayne has completely given up himself and submitted to the needs of the many.  He now has direction and purpose, and thus he measures his life not by what he has accumulated but by what value he has as a force for justice.  In both the case of Dick (Grayson) and Barbara (Gordon), Batman acted as Nietzsche felt society should act for the individual.  Batman realized the potential of these individuals, and aided them in their quest for self-improvement and personal perfection.  Batman does not take it upon himself to attempt to teach or guide every individual in the society that he has sworn to protect.  Instead he reserves that for individuals who illustrate the similar desire to make something more of themselves.


            With these examples of Plato’s Guardian, Nietzsche’s Ubermensch, and The Batman, it now becomes clearer how the individual must go about reshaping his or her thought processes and ambitions in life.  Individuals might ask where guidance can be found within the very society that has propounded the notions that they seek to escape?  The answer is found within two art forms: the Martial Arts and Le Parkour.  These two physical art forms provide the individual with guidance and instill in them a philosophy of perpetual self-improvement.


            The martial arts can also be a very positive endeavor because it teaches individuals a variety of positive values and beliefs.  These beliefs may vary in degrees of importance from one martial art to another, but generally most traditional martial arts teach similar values.  Traditional martial artists attempt to push themselves further than they have been previously and better themselves, because the ultimate goal of the martial artist is to reach the highest possible level of human achievement possible for himself or herself.   This goal has the martial artist reaching for an unattainable vision of the self, where upon completing a step towards this vision, further obstacles are revealed.  While this notion could seem bleak, the disciple of the martial arts does not become discouraged for they have been explained that this perpetual struggle is inevitable.  The martial artist is therefore in a constant state of happiness with their accomplishments, but he or she is never satisfied with them, as there is always room for improvement. What have evolved more recently in the martial arts have been the modern or “neo” martial arts, which focus solely upon the fighting and competition of the martial arts.  Studies have shown that the lack of a philosophical curriculum often results in negative personality traits such as increased aggression, and facilitating violence. 


            Another possible avenue for personal development can be found in the fledgling art of Le Parkour.What makes this art a perfect vessel for self-realization is the same notion of perpetual self-improvement that makes the traditional martial arts such an excellent avenue for personal guidance.  The major difference between Le Parkour and the martial arts is that currently, in Le Parkour, there are no real institutes where one can learn Le Parkour because it has not been existent as long as the martial arts have.  As a result, instead of an extraordinary instructor or teacher, this art lends itself to more of a program of mutual self-discovery.  Despite this group setting, there is no actual competition in Le Parkour.  Instead the art is focused upon personal achievements.  This art also provides an avenue for limitless personal advancement because the essence of the art is reinterpretation. 


            The martial arts and Le Parkour have rather different approaches to perpetual personal advancement.  The martial art’s hierarchy demands that the student be taught the philosophy that they must perpetually strive for self improvement, while in Le Parkour, that mindset must either be learned before one begins to practice the art, or discovered through dialog with other practitioners. Despite that fact, these two activities are both an avenue for perpetual personal advancement.  It is the notion of boundless possibilities for individual growth and discovery through intensive focus on self-awareness and through the destruction of both mental and physical barriers.


            Essentially, the issues that have been raised must not be addressed on the societal level, but on the personal level.  Individuals must focus on giving themselves something to personally reach for, that will not leave them, and that they can work towards indefinitely, namely an ideal.  Striving to embody an ideal instills in an individual a sense of purpose, and constant achievement, especially when striving for ideals such as perfection and justice.  An ideal can guide the individual much better than any singe tangible figure can because most anything tangible that is used as an exemplar is fallible and therefore perpetuates fallibility in its disciples.  Settling for less than the impossible breeds disillusionment with oneself.  If the individual accepts and does not strive to perpetually improve then what occurs is this lack of purpose, and a lack of personal (not material) achievement, which has been noted to be a cause of the discontent of individuals in Western societies.

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Written by Disciple   
Friday, 03 February 2006 23:49
Last Updated on Monday, 13 December 2010 22:02