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Parkour Is Not A Sport

The sport of parkour

“Jumping and running across rooftops in the high-flying sport of parkour…”

“The sport of parkour, in which teenagers run and somersault across roofs…”

“The group of fit, athletic students are practitioners of the extreme sport of parkour…”

News stories with phrases like this crop up all the time. Reporters and journalists call parkour a sport because they just don’t know how else to classify it.

Parkour is not a sport.

“But Alan,” you may say, “It doesn’t matter if parkour is called a sport! That’s just nitpicking points of semantics!”

It does matter. Ideas have power. Words give form to ideas. The way an idea is framed and presented is a critical part of how it’s received by those who hear it. The way we reference parkour is no different. Terminology matters.

Take skateboarding and martial arts. Consider how differently the practitioners of each are regarded. Skateboarders are often seen as irresponsible, reckless rebels who need to grow up. Martial artists are respected, and not just because they can beat the tar out of anyone who doesn’t respect them. They are respected and admired because what they practice goes beyond a hobby, beyond a sport.

Parkour has a lot in common with both skateboarding and martial arts. Parkour is creative movement, like skateboarding; fast, efficient movements, like martial arts; (seemingly) crazy stunts like skateboarding; constant training like martial arts. To the inexperienced eye, it seems that parkour could be a sport, as it has so much in common with skateboarding. I disagree. The differences between the two outweigh the similarities. Let’s explore this topic further.

Why Parkour Is Not A Sport

sport |spôrt|

An activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others for entertainment.

Now that we have a concrete definition of a sport, we’re going to look deeper into why and how parkour doesn’t fit that definition.

No Competition

One of parkour’s core tenets is that it is non-competitive. It’s never been competitive; when competition is added, parkour becomes nothing more than a glorified form of street acrobatics.

But what about the Red Bull Art of Motion? MTV’s Ultimate Parkour Challenge? Barclaycard Freerun Championships? Those are competitions, competitions in which many well-respected traceurs participate. They do – because everyone needs to pay the bills. Even if they don’t win, every athlete who takes part in a prominent parkour/freerunning competition is guaranteed to get exposure. For the performing artist, exposure equals jobs equals money. Parkour as a whole is not competitive. It’s one of the most significant differences between parkour and a sport like football or basketball.

No Showing Off

Parkour is all about training for the sake of self-improvement. Showing off is strongly discouraged. If you’re demonstrating parkour for the purpose of spreading it, then that’s okay, even positive. But randomly tossing a huge trick for the sole purpose of impressing those around you – just no. It’s not in the spirit of parkour at all.

No Regulating Bodies

Parkour has no government. No equivalent of the NFL or NBA exists for parkour. Oh sure, some organizations try to claim authority, but none of them can actually enforce any laws or ordinances they make. Even David Belle, the founder of parkour, doesn’t try to lead except by example, let alone lay down any rules. Besides, how would you regulate something that can exist anywhere and can be done by anyone? It would be like trying regulate push-ups. It can’t happen. Even assuming this imaginary parkour government could somehow enforce its regulations, that would absolutely destroy parkour. How can you find your own path if someone is blocking it?

What is Parkour?

discipline |ˈdisəplin|

An activity or experience that provides mental or physical training; a system of rules of conduct.

Parkour is a discipline.

Let’s go explore the definition of a discipline and see if parkour fits in it.

Physical Training

No one who’s ever seen a halfway-skilled traceur or a decent video will deny that parkour trains the practitioner’s body. That is absolutely undoubted. One of the three main parts of the definition is already cleanly in the bag.

Mental Training

Very few people who have not been practicing parkour for a few months truly understand the massive impact parkour has on your mindset. To really understand that, at least some firsthand experience is needed.

Overcoming Fear

These are just a few of the scary things parkour makes you confront:

  • Flips: Your body doesn’t want to even be moving when you can’t see the ground, let alone when you’re upside-down and rotating in two dimensions and moving downwards in the other… and you can’t see the ground. It’s terrifying at first.
  • Large precisions: Will you stick the landing or will you fall?
  • Vaults: Will you clip your feet? Misplace your hands? Or maybe your hands will slip, something no one can account for.
  • Tricks: Will you spin around fast enough? Or will you stall and crash halfway through? Do you have enough power to get enough airtime to land this?
  • Drops: Mess up a large drop and you could literally die. Unlikely, but within the realm of probability.

When you get to a certain level of skill, other things just stop being scary. The nervousness caused by the prospect of talking to an attractive member of the opposite sex is small potatoes compared to the fear caused by the prospect of jumping a 10+ foot gap.

Confidence and Control

Parkour develops total body awareness. Not just spatial awareness – where your limbs are in space – but a complete knowledge of both your body and mind’s capabilities.

That is an absolutely key element of confidence in the rest of your life. If you have a thorough knowledge of yourself, so many things become much less scary. Insecurity about your body, shyness, indecision, fear of other people… It all stops having a big effect on your life. The confidence from parkour will permeate your life. It would be easy to become stuck-up or conceited, but the code of conduct discussed below will keep you from falling into that trap.

Rules of Conduct

Traceurs follow an unspoken code of conduct, which reads something like this:

  • If asked to leave an area, do so promptly.
  • Ask permission before training on private property – and respect the owner’s decision.
  • Respect those who are more skilled; don’t be envious.
  • Help those who are less skilled; never mock.

Unspoken and unofficial they may be, but the “rules of parkour” are very different from those of a competitive sport. Competition leads to pride or shame, depending on your score. Parkour leads to respect for others and humility.

Respect comes from constantly helping and being helped by the community. You can’t ask for help in a snarky tone, and you won’t accept help if it’s given in a nasty spirit. Once you’ve started treating some people respectfully, it’s an easy jump to treating everyone with the same respect.

Humility comes from self-knowledge. Parkour forces you to know your limits; if you can’t make the jump, then you know it. There’s no maybe about it; you can’t. At some point in the future, yes, you’ll probably be able to; right now, you cannot. Your body may be able do incredible things – but that just makes you realize just how much more you can improve. You become self-knowledgable enough that you can see yourself for precisely who and what you are. This truly does lead to humility. Show me someone who claims to be perfectly content with who he is as a person and I’ll show you either a liar or an arrogant ass. Show me someone who knows exactly who he is, what his flaws are, and how he’s going to get better, and I’ll show you a humble fellow.


Parkour Is A Discipline

Parkour matches the definition of a discipline much more closely than that of a sport. There’s no competition, no showing off, and no government. There is, however, intensive training – physical and mental – and a code of conduct. The differences between parkour and sports are even more significant than the similarities between parkour and a discipline.

Why This Matters

This seemingly nit-picky wording issue really does matter. Words define ideas. The choice of words affects the way those ideas are perceived. The word “sport” has certain connotations. So does “discipline.” All of those connotations are subconsciously brought to your mind the second you hear that word. Returning to my original analogy, which has the better reputation, skateboarding or martial arts? Which would you rather your child participate in?

The discipline, not the sport.

Which one is banned in many places? Which one is looked down on? Which one is seen as reckless?

The sport, not the discipline.

When I was doing research to find the links at the very top of this article, I came across several news pieces that did not refer to parkour as a sport. Almost universally, they were favorable. Know why? The authors talked to serious traceurs, who informed them of that which otherwise would have taken months to discover on their own: parkour is not an extreme sport.

It is a discipline.

–Alan

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  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001795684440 Albert Perez

    Put this article on the tumblr immediately so I can rebagel it to the world.

  • Fish

    Probably my favorite thing you’ve ever written. This is excellent, and all so very true.

  • Anonymous

    Perfect! :) I copy this article and post in my blog but in spanish!

  • Musificationization

    This is so true, Parkour is a discipline.

  • Crazydavid90

    Yeah, it’s not a sport because there’s no competition and no governing body. That pretty much sums it up.

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  • Matthew

    “It does matter. Ideas have power. Words give form to ideas. The way an idea is framed and presented is a critical part of how it’s received by those who hear it. The way we reference parkour is no different. Terminology matters.”

    Probably my favorite line you’ve ever written. Awesome article.

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  • ultimatepowah

    So when someone asks a traceur: “What sport do you do?” The correct answer is “I don’t do sports.” Haha

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  • callum114452535235

    actually parkour does have a Governor, its called WFPF world fediration parkour fediration making parkour more of a sport :)

    • AlanSchex

      They don’t actually have any authority over anyone who isn’t affiliated with them, so they don’t really count as a governor.

  • brandon

    Parkour IS a sport. Sure, you made some points with dictionary definitions, but seriously, you can’t just slap a definition on a sport; and parkour does have its set of rules (as u so blatantly said “to show by example, not to show off” hello! That’s a rule!). Compare football and soccer. What’s the difference? Football you carry the ball. Soccer you kick it. Hell, even in football you kick the ball! Football, you can be excessively physical with intent to take down and possibly another player. Soccer, you can ram, kick, elbow, knee, run-over other players; and the only consequence you’ll really get most of the time is a card. Parkour practices mental confidence, planning, and strength; physically conditions you (who doesn’t want to physically look good?), makes you aware of how your body works and what all it can and can’t (different for everyone) do. Parkour is an art as well. Look at a wall, those of you who do parkour, your mind comes up with all the different ways you can perform a trick to get over it, just like a painter who looks at a canvas thinks of all the ways to paint an image. We practice precision, perfection, efficitiancy, and grace. We traceurs have just as much right to call ourselves athletes as those who play football or soccer or lacrosse. We also have a right to call ourselves artists, just as much as a dancer does. We practice, and yes, we perform, may not be as grand as football, but we still do. We train, we excell, we perform, we practice, we tone and hone, we perfect, we apply, and we explore. We are athletes. We are artists. And I welcome anyone who wants to talk to me personally and say otherwise [email protected] .

    • AlanSchex

      You said that parkour *is* a sport, but nothing else in your comment supports that argument.
      I agree that calling ourselves athletes and artists is valid, but calling parkour a sport is fair to the discipline or those who practice it.

      • brandon

        Parkour is a sport. Openly customizable. You do do scores by time (like cross country or track) or number of successful tricks. You can set your own rules and conditions. I say that these things are just… open to change.

        • brandon

          Parkour is a sport, just… openly customizable. You can do scores by time (like cross country or track) or number of successful tricks or what ever. You can set your own rules and conditions.

        • AlanSchex

          If the rules can change based on who is training/competing at the time, how is it a valid sport?

  • http://www.facebook.com/parkourkorea Jiho Kim

    Hello Alan~! I am Traceur Jiho from south Korea. I interpreted this article in Korean version. Link : http://cafe.naver.com/dk1234/43001 Lots of Korean traceurs agree this article and thank you for your dedications to parkour.

  • AisSyariif

    Parkour is like Yoga.

    “Oh, look! He/she is a yoga athlete!”* *Is it a common expression, a yoga athlete? “Yoga practitioner” sounds more common. Same with parkour (athlete?/practitioner).

    No sparring partner/team, just the practitioner doing the disipline.

    Asking a parkour practitioner to compete is just like asking a yoga practitioner to compete (in their respective discipline).

    Their “Governing Body” are not an authority to regulate tournament, rules of competition, referee, official, leagues. As in NBA, FIFA, and other competitive sports.

    -Cheers from Indonesia-

  • http://www.facebook.com/megha.gupta.188478 Megha Gupta

    Its good to know something good about parkour

  • Kyle

    Interesting article.

    I’ve always been curious about people that practice parkour, and I think you make plenty of valid points about why it isn’t a sport (especially that there isn’t a concrete judging system.) Still a cool thing to watch though.

    Here’s a video of “professional marching band”, an activity called drum corps. In your opinion is this a sport?

  • http://www.facebook.com/parkourkorea Jiho Kim

    I translated this article in Korean. http://cafe.naver.com/dk1234/43001

  • Mr x M i ZF i T

    It may be a discipline but does that mean it cant be a sport i think its more of a sport than Football all they do is run around and kick a ball? its stupid. oh and so is this arcticle :)