Parkour as a Sport

This article is a view on Parkour as a sport written by Nathan Reed.

I have observed that there are many among you who are quite adamant in the assertion that parkour is not and should never be a sport, that it is a personal discipline and should not be practiced competitively.  I understand where you're coming from.  For the most part, you got into parkour because you were not satisfied with the organized sports offered you.  You didn't want some coach screaming at you, telling you what to do - you wanted to do your OWN thing, your OWN way, and parkour gave you the opportunity to hang out with and make friends of a similar mindset.  You like what you've found, and you fear that THAT which you love most about the parkour community, its inspirational and supportive character, will somehow be spoiled by an emphasis on competition.  You're not sure quite how that might happen, but you fear that it will be so.  Understandable.

But was skateboarding ruined by becoming a professional sport?  Does the fact that some people make big money playing football make just tossing around the old pigskin any less fun?  And what of lifting weights?  Some people do it competitively, but it is first and foremost a personal discipline...   Just because someone, somewhere can bench 900lbs doesn't mean I'm gonna try.  I did not ridicule those training partners I had who were not as strong as I, nor was I ashamed to be the weaker.  In the first case, I tried to inspire them to emulate my accomplishments, and in the latter I aspired to attain to their level of excellence.  And when I work out with an equal, the competitive urge pushes me to ever greater exertion.  I have never run so hard as when I had someone of comparable ability at my side, striding out into a sprint down the final stretch, neither one of us willing to concede victory to the other.  It didn't matter who won, what mattered was that we both gave it our best effort.

Know this for truth - parkour is fun to watch.  And, because people will watch, there is money to be made.  Who should make that money if not the best?  Dolce et decorum est.

At this point, I should like to distinguish between parkour and freerunning.  Parkour is getting from point A to point B as quickly and efficiently as possible.  Freerunning is about creative movement.  You may be going somewhere, or you may not, but here it is not speed that matters, but style.  Freerunning is a dance, and while there are dance contests and even singing contests, neither of those pursuits are sports, as the standards by which they must be judged are, of necessity, subjective.  I would consider gymnastics to be a grey area on the edge of sport, for while techniques are assigned definite values, there is still something subjective in the scoring (forgive me gymnasts, I mean no disrespect).  Parkour is subject to no such limitations - it can be judged by a truly objective measure.  It is a sport by virtue of its very nature.

But what form should it take as a sport?  Should it be a collection of individual events - who can kong the furthest, dash the furthest, crane the highest, etc.?  Certainly not!  We may train our techniques in isolation, but it is in the flow run, moving ceaselessy from one obstacle to the next, that we approach the true essence of parkour.  And what of the obstacle courses of American Ninja Warrior, or, if you're of my generation, American Gladiators?  Too many bells and whistles for my taste.  Parkour should have the strength of simplicity.  Bars, walls, blocks, rails and gaps - those are the things of which parkour is made.  And let us not forget that parkour is supposed to be a fusion of two qualities, namely, speed and efficiency.  Speed is easy enough to measure, the clock never lies, but efficiency is harder.  Are we to put sensors on athletes and measure their caloric output?  That's ridiculous, so we must measure it indirectly by making courses of such length that endurance becomes a factor.  We are now led to the conclusion that parkour, as a sport, should consist of an obstacle course, composed of simple elements, of sufficient length that it taxes the endurance of even the best athletes, performance to be measured by time alone.  This is good, but I think we are missing something.  Choice.  Oh, sure, the athlete negotiating such a course would have the choice of what technique to use when, but is not the choice of route an inalienable part of parkour?  Even the best of athletes has strengths and weaknesses.  If every competitor had to trace exactly the same route, one course would give the edge to the vault-viceroys, another to the bar-barians, and yet another to the leaping lizards -  not to mention the horrible lack of the freedom to CHOOSE.  What we need is a single course that offers a multiplicity of possible routes, in which each competitor can choose the route that best fits his strengths.

Imagine this, if you will - an elongated diamond or oval shape, perhaps 400 meters in length and 100m in width, consisting of a dazzling array of obstacle upon obstacle.  The race would be along the length, from point A to point B, fastest time wins.  The direct line, the shortest distance, should be made so difficult that NO ONE can traverse it, at least not in a timely fashion.  It should be the representation of an unattainable Ideal, a reminder to the best that there is still room for BETTER.  As you deviate from the direct line, the obstacles should become progressively easier, until, along the outside edge, they are such that a healthy 8-year-old child should be able to overcome them without training, but by no means without difficulty.  It will get easier, but you will have to go farther.  As everyone starts and ends in the same place the first and the last obstacles will be relatively easy, but as you approach the middle, where the course is widest, the challenges near the center line should get progressively more difficult, and the middle of the course should be the most difficult of all.  At the very center, there should be the symbolic impossibility.  Perhaps a twenty foot gap with with only room for a one-step takeoff.  Whatever, you get my point.

The course should be composed of concrete covered in just enough recycled rubber as to soften falls, but not enough to slow one down appreciably.  Bones will be broken, there's no need to make things any more unfriendly than they need to be.  The bars should be coated in something that enhances grip - indeed, the whole course should be engineered so as to provide a maximum of traction, and, even when wet, nothing should be slippery.  Any gaps over large drops should be well padded at the bottom.  And, finally, I should hope that it would be aesthetically pleasing to behold, a truly EPIC parkour playground.

When not being actively used for races, that's EXACTLY what it would be - a playground.  People would roam its vastness practicing all manner of movement.  You might now be thinking that such a place would be great, but that competition is unnecessary, to which I reply, how else will it become a reality?  It is out of the money that stands to be made from people watching such competitions that such a course will conceivably be built.  Otherwise, well...  Are YOU gonna pay for it?

Parkour will be a sport.  That is inevitable.  Let it be a sport that is worthy of the movement that made it!


Nathan is a self-described dedicated amateur athlete who is what you might call a "crosstrainer".Hew says "I do a little of everything that I might possess a body of well-rounded capability. It is the desire to try new forms of training and subject my body to new disciplines that led me to parkour, a pursuit with which I have become particularly enamored, although that does not stop me from weight training, running, stretching, playing ball sports, etc. I am also an admirer of ability, in body and mind, who happens to think that if anything in life is to be rewarded, it is demonstrable excellence."

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Written by Mark Toorock   
Wednesday, 16 March 2011 08:50
Last Updated on Wednesday, 16 March 2011 10:09