076. US Parkour Association (part 4 of 4): Competition, certification, and a request

Podcast episode


Craig: Welcome to the Movers Mindset podcast, where I interview movement enthusiast to find out who they are, what they do, and why they do it. This is the fourth and final episode of a four-part series on the United states parkour association. (USPK for short). In this episode, the members of the transition board discuss USPK’s stance and role within competition. They share their ideas around coaching certifications, whether the USPK will create one, and what it will mean for existing certifications. We finish up by addressing the topic of the international gymnastics federation, and share what each of us an do to help parkour.

Craig: Caitlin, I think the topic of competition is probably the most contentious question that people ask about USPK. Do you wanna unpack the USPK position? How does USPK fit into that picture?

Caitlin: People tend to ask about competition, likely because the majority of governing bodies in mid states are formed around regulating competition formats in their sports. The United States Parkour Association, especially because the unique nature of what parkour is, we have taken a stance neither for, nor against competition. We’re not looking to regulate it, or write rules, or say that looks like. I think that it’s really important to preserve the diverse routes of practice that we see. I personally don’t really care for competition, but I do recognize it adds value to some of my students, to some of my peers.

Caitlin: We’re not really here to say, yes or no. Rather, the USPK is concerned about are athletes being safe, are organizers taking account of their safety. Are the spaces built well? Is parkour being appropriately presented? At the end of the day, USPK can serve as a platform where you have perhaps a couple different competitions running and some noncompetitive communities. You can come in, and find the best path for you. We serve as, sort of, a point of access to this larger ecosystem of activity, and different perspectives of practice.

Amos: USPK’s stance on competition is neutral. This is primarily because, again, we’re the voice of the community and the community is not on one side of this issue. So, naturally there are going to be competitions and it’s best if those are done safely and represent us well. It’s interesting because my personal stance on competition kind of reflects this neutral position as well.

Amos: You know, a lot of people think I’m pro competition because I directed the APEX International in 2016 and I’ve run competitions myself over the years. I have maybe an unpopular opinion where I’m kind of in this weird middle ground. I think there’s so much value in those events. Personally, I remember the first obstacle course competition I ran a while back, maybe like in 2008, or ’09 or something. It was so fun. I loved the idea of putting myself under pressure. I loved the idea of the positivity of everyone in it together and the crowd so supportive and finding your weaknesses through the experience. And it was just … For so many reasons, a very powerful experience for me. I loved it. And I got to the point where I was even traveling, flying out to places and competing. With that said, I’m also pulled the other direction because I totally understand how a person’s first exposure to parkour through a competitive event, especially one that maybe isn’t run very well, can give them a really false idea of more of the martial art and the beauty that is the discipline of parkour.

Amos: I really don’t like the idea of it being perceived as this extreme sport. So, I get that. There are many other reasons as well, you know, whether it’s the danger aspect is so real. I think it’s less real in speed competitions and that’s more where my heart is. I think you can keep those safe … Actually, let me state the reason I think it could be dangerous is whenever you have money on the line, you have glory, you have a crowd, all the pressure. People do things that are past their limits and I found that in speed competitions those things are held within a container of rules and checkpoints that can kind of keep people from doing anything too drastic. I think where my fear lies is in some of the style competitions where it’s so open-ended, it’s like big trick. What do you got? That invites everyone to try a triple back flip onto concrete if they think they’re ready.

Amos: So, because of some of these things, I’m nervous about competition. I think we need to be careful. I want to make sure the greater public sees that we strive for sustainability above all and that this is more than just about winning, things like that. So, where I’ve kind of found myself in this middle ground is I think we should kind of look to obstacle course competition and invite anyone who loves obstacle courses to do those competitions. And yeah, of course, parkour people are going to excel in those competitions but I don’t like the semantics of parkour competition. I don’t like putting those two together. I don’t want to see that become the biggest part of parkour that people are mostly exposed to. With that said, my opinion doesn’t matter in this situation. It just happens to be interestingly neutral. The fact is working for USPK, I’m representing the community. And so if the community’s split on it or neutral on it, we’ll see what comes about with SIGs and committees and stuff we learn and we’ll just make it as safe as we can.

Craig: I’m a big advocate of personal rights and personal freedom. And I know that some people have an aversion to having a governing body exists because it’s going to tell them that there can or can’t be competition. And one of the things I like to point out is you need to just make the decision of do you trust the parkour community? And it doesn’t have to be Blake or the particular transition board members, it can be the board members that you help elect by talking to your community members that you trust. But if you trust the people who are running the governing body, then you don’t have to worry about whether or not competition should be in or should be out. You can actually just completely let go of the decision and let the body handle that. And that gets into a little bit of like government theory and why we all like democracy so much in America. And a lot of times we can all fight each other, but in the end, what brings us all together is that we’re all interested in that effect. And I think a lot of people skip over that. They see the national governing body and they want to know, and they ask me, they ask you guys, “What’s the stance on competition?” And the answer really is there isn’t a stance. It’s up to you guys to choose.

Blake: Yup. And I think that that’s the whole goal of this in the first place is that there is some sort of representation, and we’re creating a standard for a lot of things. So whether … If it does come to a vote and there are people that are for competition or against competition, at the end of the day, the USPK isn’t going to be able to say, “You cannot have or do this.” They can give guidelines, they can create a common standard, but this isn’t the police knocking down your door and saying, “You can’t do this.”

Craig: Can you tell me what the boards vision is for how USPK would interact and move around the idea of competition?

Frosti: , I think the first thing that USPK does, which is really important is that it acknowledges that competition exists. It’s not going away. It’s happening, and it’s only going to happen more. From a personal standpoint, my attitude has always been, let’s get involved and see what we can do to make this the best it can be possible. I think I also recognize that people in this sport right now have such varied ideas about how we should integrate ourselves into that world. Right now, our attitude is, “Lets listen to people. What do they want to do?” We’re building a committee right now, I’m in charge of putting together some of the top voices in the sport, not just that support competition, but that have that huge spectrum of values that are represented within this community.

Frosti: Everyone who’s believing that we should never compete because it destroys the fabric of what parkour is, to the people that think it’s necessary for us to actually advance the sport because this is what competition is for, to develop better techniques, better training opportunities, finding ways to push people to the pinnacles of their abilities. I think both have some valid say in what we do, and I think parkour is gonna end up being a culmination of all of those ideas. And our ways that we find to pay respect to the sport, while also helping it grow into areas that it’s naturally going, are going to be really vital for us to be involved in, while also not trying to own or control it.

Frosti: The outside world is coming for this sport. They see its value, and they want in. There’s no way to deny that. We can see that every single day. I truly believe it is up to the people that care about where it goes, especially those people who avidly think that that’s a terrible idea to be involved in the conversation about competition. Because otherwise, it’s going to be someone else’s conversation and we’re going to be left out.

Craig: Coaching certifications is another topic that comes up a lot in the context of a national governing body or any kind of overarching organization. What would USPK’s role be in that context?

Caitlin: USPK will not necessarily be looking to deliver a coaching certification, but rather see that certifications available to coaches in the United States, all incorporate certain materials, certain universally agreed upon materials around student safety in the classroom, as well as standard of care, when it comes to interacting with clients, and your business.

Craig: Where do those individual pieces come from? Who decides that standardization of coaching practices is a thing that’s even part of that?

Caitlin: These sort of shared resources will be developed by a SIG, one of our standing committees actually. The board’s already working on those, to provide initial resource, but then it’ll be continued to be built upon by members of the community. Again, we’re always seeking best practices. At the end of the day, what we would love to have again, is have all these certifications and help facilitate a network of communication, where they can talk to each other and again, each of them deliver their best possible certification with the material that’s all out there and available.

Craig: So will USPK create a coaching certification?

Mark: That is a really interesting question, which for me, branches out in a thousand different directions. I’m not even sure at this point if I feel that it is the role or it is not the role of USPK to actually have its own coaching certification. My gut instinct is to say the role of USPK is to make sure that whatever certifications are out there are actually legitimate safe practices, good practices for certifications and that nobody is taking someone’s money in any kind of unscrupulous way. Right? So that could be what a set of standards or guidelines for a certification could be. If it’s determined by a committee or a special interest group that USPK is the best body to actually do that, then perhaps it could. But again, I feel like that’s something that needs to be determined by the course of where we go with this and what the membership wants and what the membership looks to us for guidance.

Mark: Something that I’d really like people to realize and recognize is that the members of the board of USPK do not agree with each other and I think that that’s where our strength lies. In the fact that we took a very diverse group of people with different experiences, with different opinions, with different things that are important to them and put them at the table because that’s where real work happens. Anybody can sit with a group of people who had nod and agree with them and like the same things and go, “Oh, this is great. We all like the same things.” But that’s not what this is about.

Mark: This is about making sure that all of the voices are heard, that all of the opinions are considered and that many different perspectives are brought in and that’s why the group has spoken with owners of businesses and leaders of community organizations. That’s why it was so important for us to get a lot of community leaders on board in initial stage was so that we could have their input. Not so we could say, “Oh, I know this guy.” It was so that, “Hey, this person feels differently about that and we’re including that opinion.” There’s a pile of like straws on the table and they’re all different colors and they all have different things and they’re all pointed different directions. And we have to take that haystack and, and kind of puts some structure to it so that we can show it to the outside world and not just say, hey, people in parkour love everything. I have every different tastes imaginable, but we have to say, well, okay, people in parkour do have every different taste imaginable. And there’s no qualification or quantification to be a parkour practitioner. And that’s one of the beautiful things about it.

Mark: But in order to, to shepherd the growth of parkour as a thing, we do need to find the places where the voices unified. We need to say that even with a unified voice, there are other opinions and as I mentioned, those opinions need to be kept alive. So not only the prevailing opinion is important, but the other opinions are important as well, and they need to be kept alive. And I think that’s the beauty of what we’ve done by bringing together a diverse group of people who really aren’t all onboard about everything that we talk about.

Mark: Within the parkour community, it’s definitely no secret that there are different flavors of parkour there are different organizations out there that different people feel they align with best because of certain values or certain ideas. If you identify as a straight up free runner, then you may look at tempest and go, “Yeah, this is the way it should be.” And for whatever reason, I know there are people who feel very strongly associated with APK and I love that. But that’s not really what matters here if you’re part of parkour generations or you love the way that parkour visions operates or you have a strong connection.

Mark: So many people who have been touched by Apex and and they’re teaching model is just so fantastic and strong and they’re led by great people and that you may feel that you’re part of the Texas community or that you’re part of the Midwest group and so maybe one of those larger groups you don’t necessarily feel aligned with. I think that that’s a critical part of this and I want to see all of those people at the table because that is what our parkour community is. Our parkour community is not complete without any one of those practitioners being represented.

Amos: And I think that is somewhat of a fear that I’ve noticed coming from business owners and people that work in the industry is that in some ways we’re going to mobilize and then create things that are going to compete with their products. But that’s not the plan at all. I’ve written a coaching certification myself, that’s part of the way I make an income, and there are many others out there who have done that as well. So instead, it’s more so a direction of recommended building standards, taking, for example, the collective knowledge of all the hard lessons we’ve learned through trial and error over the years and making sure that new people in our industry don’t make those mistakes. Not making some sort of certification but instead standards that people can follow. Same thing with coaching certifications, probably bring some legitimacy to some by creating some standards around them and saying, “Hey, these are actually safe certifications that are, follow these standards.”

Amos: That’s important because, again, as this discipline grows, entrepreneurs with a lot of money who don’t understand the culture and don’t understand the safety who like to cut corners and cut costs, they’re going to come in and they’re going to be like, “Oh, I could do better than these coaching certifications.” They’re going to start their own and potentially that could be very dangerous and cause harm to the industry and so there should be some legitimacy behind a coaching certification. But no, as far as I can see, there are no plans to compete with businesses. Maybe there might be some small crossover in the future that I’m just not seeing at this point but as a business owner myself, I see that. I have that voice as well. I don’t want that to happen. USPK really has so much potential but it all relies on if we can come together as a team. And that’s something that I’ve seen in my own experience running businesses and being an entrepreneur is that there’s nothing like a powerful team.

Amos: When people come together with diverse skill sets and everyone’s working for the greater good, magic happens. And that’s why I don’t want anyone to be lazy on this. The more people we have involved from different expertise, we can conduct studies that we would’ve never been able to conduct. We can have professionals come and inform our communities like doctors and lawyers and it’s amazing what we can accomplish with this structure if people come together as a team.

Frosti: I think one of the cool things about having a bunch of different people coming together to create this initial transition board, we had a lot of different ideas about the best way to do things. And it naturally became a mixture of all those things, a combination of all those ideas, and with the coaching certification, I think we all recognize each of us has our own beliefs about the best way to coach someone. In our own ways, we all have successes. They are our elite athletes coming from Tempest, from APEX, from Visions, from Generations Americas. There’s athletes at extremely high levels coming from all sorts of different training backgrounds. Someone can be winning a speed contest after training at APEX for eight years, or coming up through the freerunning program at Tempest.

Frosti: They’re totally different programs with completely different priorities in mind. I think one of the things that USPK recognizes is that our goal is not to decide for people what is best for them, but to give them the opportunity to choose from the best of the best. We are looking to protect our sport from people coming in and doing harm to it, from trying to propagate dangerous training practices. We do want to help create a safer, stronger parkour, but that also means accepting the diversity that it has.

Craig: Switching to a more global perspective, there’s a lot of discussion happening in certain circles about the Fédération Internationale de Gymnastique, the FIG. And I’m just wondering, you have a unique viewpoint on the board as having that perspective from both the professional athlete, and as the regular guy doing freerunning. I’m just wondering what your thoughts are on globalization and the international perspective on USPK?

Frosti: I’ve always taken the standpoint that being involved gives you a chance to have a voice. But, recently, I was contacted to host one of the events in Japan, which would have been an incredible opportunity for me. And I was forced to really consider what it meant to involve myself with something like that, that I didn’t believe in. And I think I found myself in a place where I recognized that parkour had shifted from being something which was just a prop that somebody could use, where I could then take that opportunity to make it more than that, and now it’s becoming something that somebody wanted to genuinely take over.

Frosti: I’ve really come to value the world that parkour has built, and the culture behind the people that are investing themselves and their lives into it. More than ever now, I want to see that world grow. And I want to see people who invest in something be rewarded with that, with a beautiful culture that has grown beyond just shoes and clothes and videos. It is a family of people that genuinely care about something as simple as crawling around on the ground, and climbing on playground equipment. There is no possible future where an outside element comes in and really truly understands that the way that we do. And I will do whatever is within my power, not to fight those people because I don’t care about them, but I will do everything within my power to help support this thing that I love. That’s why I’m helping create USPK, helping convince people to join, because it’s something I want to do, because it’s something I think we should care about, and it’s something that parkour needs right now.

Craig: USPK is looking at getting started, getting spun off and getting people engaged. So one of the most important things is to have a specific ask for people. So what’s the biggest thing that people could do right now?

Amos: I’m going to say my biggest ask, my personal ask, is please do your research before spreading information. I’ve seen a big pattern over the last couple years as things have heated up on the international scale and national scale with various controversies.

Amos: I find this huge tendency of tribalism that shows up in people just drinking the Kool-Aid of their organization and they’ll just read a headline and adopt an opinion and they don’t go out and actually read what’s behind the scenes. And what that does is it creates a dialog in our community that is below the facts, everyone’s down here talking about stuff that doesn’t even exist, it’s not the actual facts. And if we’re going to push this community forward in a positive way, we need to get up to the actual controversies. We’re going to have disagreements. Let’s talk about those disagreements but let’s actually talk about the facts. And we can’t do that if you don’t do your research. So, my biggest ask is that everyone is responsible and know the information. The resources are out there. If you say they’re not, then you’re not looking.

Amos: Like for instance, Damien Puddle put a ton of time into cataloging all events and articles and everything that’s taken place so far with the FIG scandal and you can go back and see anything that’s happened online that’s been a part of that. And so you have no excuse to just rattle off these opinions that you just heard from maybe the organization that you are blindly following.

Mark: I want to say this very clearly. This is a personal plea from me, Mark Toorock, not founder of American Parkour, not any of the other experiences I’ve had, but Mark Toorock who wants to just go run and jump and play in public spaces. Please join this group, help guide it. Put your voice in, be part of the conversation. Help protect and guide and grow the thing that we all love.

Craig: Craig: If you’re interested in becoming a member or learning more about USPK, go to uspk.org. You can also reach out to any of the transition board members through their social media, and you can join the USPK group on Facebook. This was episode 76. For more information, go to moversmindset.com/76. Did you know, that the Movers mindset community also has answers to training related questions from athletes. Is there a specific athlete you’d like to hear from? Then we’d like to hear from you! Email team@moversmindset.com . And I’ll leave you with a final thought from Kurt Vonnegut: “If you can’t write clearly, you probably don’t think nearly as well as you think you do.” Thanks for listening!