090. Alex Pavlotski: Ethnography, leadership, and trajectory

Episode summary

Alex Pavlotski LINK (250)
Alex Pavlotski

‘A picture is worth a thousand words’ is a statement that Alex Pavlotski lives by as a cartooning ethnographer. He explains ethnography and anthropology, and shares his thoughts on parkour and where it’s headed. Alex discusses leadership and his project Word Magick, as well as his goals for an illustrated thesis. He unpacks his observations on parkour practice, community, and defining our own future.

Alex Pavalotski is an anthropologist, comic artist, blogger, and parkour practitioner based in Melbourne Australia. He is the creator of Parkour Panels, a satirical comic where he discussed relevant issues in the parkour community. Alex earned his PhD in 2016, and traveled extensively while working on his thesis, training with and studying global parkour communities.

Highlight [0:00]

Alex (00:00:04): So one of the things that I wrote in my thesis was, "It's amazing how similar parkour is to what is [inaudible 00:00:13] and gymnastics, back in..." I mean, we're talking about the 1700s. And then we get to play with that conception and that idea, but it's also really similar to the way that Okinawan Karate developed in conception to the way that it was between China and Japan. It becomes all really interesting when we come to talk about the way that it's predictable. Yeah, it's 100% predictable.

Intro [0:37]

Ethnography and parkour [2:25]

  • Chapter’s transcript…
  • Started as an illustrator; wanted to draw and study superheroes, led him to parkour
  • Started parkour to study it, and got hooked, being there and doing it, enjoying it
  • Identity crisis, Stockholm syndrome of an activity
  • We Trace interview with Alex, self discovery and parkour
  • How our relationship with parkour changes as we age, the different things we draw from it
“ Parkour is amazing because it delivers so much of the stuff that we want to do. And we want to be unique and crazy as young men, but also young women. It offers the capacity to move in this entirely exciting way. But then when we get older, it does the thing that everything does to movement practice and makes us slow down just a little bit and think about the philosophy and process things in an entirely different way. ”

Alex Pavlotski

Leadership [11:40]

  • Chapter’s transcript…
  • People who want to shape culture, who interpret it, creator
  • Parkour is not as new or special as we think it is, following patterns
  • Leaders step up to define culture, but they can get it wrong; Just human
  • Defining Leadership, neutral or intentional
  • History of movement practices and following certain trajectories

Craig (00:11:39): So one of the things that’s like stuck in my head, and I can’t decide if it’s stuck because it’s on this topic. Or if it’s just stuck because it struck me when I read it, was a comment and I think it was in, geez, I hope it’s in she can trace, is where that interview was. A comment you made about, and I don’t wanna put you on the spot, but being able to spot leaders.

Craig (00:12:01): And when I see people, you made a comment, it was like off head, or why you were talking about this and you’re like, “And I learned to spot leaders and write a whole book about that.” And I went like, "Stop! Wait. You give me… So I don’t know if you want to go there or if you want to continue talking about what you’ve seen and I really, we can go wherever you want to go. [crosstalk 00:12:24]

Alex (00:12:24): I mean, we can. That’d be great. And I’m sorry if I’m pivoting, but yeah, absolutely. So leaders are people who want to shape culture and Craig, you’re one of them. People who are able to have a pause in a conversation. That’s central to our conception of leadership, like anthropologically and outside of things like parkour. People who write history, people who create Chronicles.

Continue reading…

Alex (00:12:52): And for me, it was really central because one of the things that happened to me was, I got to spend four years being funded by a university, traveling around. And it’s a lot of fun. It was fantastic. And the big thing that I learnt is that, if you want to find out who the head of the group, in any group that you meet is because ideologies filter down. And one of the things that’s really interesting about consumptions of leadership is that leadership revolves around the idea of interpreting.

Alex (00:13:27): So you want the person who interprets various levels of culture. So now, for example, for anybody who does a movement practice, the people who are at the top table and not necessarily in the best movies. And they shouldn’t be. Some of them are older, some of them have been injured. What they end up doing is, they end up sitting down and saying, this is what our movement practice is. This is the way that our culture functions. And it’s really exciting because I mean, I’m really keen to do research on parkour because we pretend it’s a new practice.

Alex (00:14:04): But every pattern in terms of leadership and the way that we share information and the way that we practice is just repetition of a series of movements. From Karate to TaeKwonDo or to rock climbing, to wind surfing. It’s amazing to see. We like to think we’re special, really not very special. And movement guide us. So, this idea of sitting down and talking about what makes our movement practice what it is. Honestly, leaders are the people who step up and say, “Here is what it is.” And then you get to pick the different types by the way that they define that practice. And I’ve seen about a jillion of them.

Parkour Trajectory [18:53]

  • Chapter’s transcript…
  • Parkour’s trajectory is currently fairly typical, other practices have gone down similar path
  • Opportunity to create a different path
  • Pulling from so many other things, seeing where they went… what we could do differently
  • Predictable, following a trajectory

Thesis book and goals [22:17]

  • Chapter’s transcript…
  • Alex’s doctoral thesis
  • Wanting to write a graphic novel about parkour
  • People don’t read, so communicating conceptual ideas visually
  • about parkour, interacting with environment, how it shapes our brain, history and where it’s going

Craig's practice(s) [26:05]

  • Chapter’s transcript…
  • Conversation coming to the forefront through reflection
  • Parkour journey through Adam, going to class for the first time
  • push up story, rediscovering movement
  • Adaptive practice, connecting
  • Surviving two weeks with Yann Hnatra, learning from him and his students by watching
  • Movement’s ability to affect people, connect people across the world
  • Creating and preserving our history as we grow

Something people get wrong [34:36]

  • Chapter’s transcript…
  • How he records history; comparing European and American parkour views
  • Assume he’s trying to define uniform vision, but he’s not.
  • Tries to get American’s to be more European, and vice versa… no one quite gets it
  • Margaret Meade quote “never underestimate the power of a small passionate group of people to change the world; it’s the only way we’ve ever changed the world”

Word Magik [38:30]

  • Chapter’s transcript…
  • Alex’s project, Word Magik, focusing on toxic leadership tactics, relational aggression
  • Some leaders use predictably terrible practices and create bad outcomes - example of meeting neo-nazi’s while traveling Europe
  • Trying to catch it early, writing a children’s book, teaching about abusive, manipulative practices
  • both identifying and preventing toxic leadership
  • Stories of how people manipulate others; “girl” bullying, relational aggression, politics
  • Anthropology and the concept of ‘they’…

Craig (00:45:12): But one of the reasons why I’m like, “Yes, please write the book was because I really wish somebody had showed me just one example of a way that you can really be horribly manipulated.” It’s just that moment in a TV show when the grandparents says, “I don’t know, maybe here’s your best Christmas present ever, everybody lies.” And as a kid, “You’re like what?” That moment of realizing that manipulation is real, like that, I think would be really great if it happened earlier for more people. I know know that’s not a question. [inaudible 00:45:41]

Alex (00:45:41): Well, no. But it’s a point of story. I mean, I can give you a million examples of the way that people are manipulators, the simplest one, would they get on board with whatever it is that we’re doing? Whether that’s with the movement community. I’m a big advocate of fighting with everyone around me about ideas, which is one of those things that we used to do when movement culture was on forums and message bullets. Let me take out my cane and just pick up my beard, because that’s the reality.

Continue reading…

Alex (00:46:15): But contemporarily, what we do is we want to get along. And one of the things that’s really weird about that is the process of the way that every single one of us wants to get along and how that fits within an ideology and the way that it’s easy to move it around and manipulate. So, the first thing that I would want to say is, Parkour is a fantastic movement practice that will get you down to earth and will allow you to grab it yourself. And it’s similar to yoga. But there’s like a billion people who get excited about that notion and want to say, this is the new utopian alternative to the way that we move, which we don’t have.

Craig (00:46:58): Let’s grab everything, we need to do this.

Alex (00:47:01): I mean, simpler way of manipulating, ideas of belonging. This is the thing that you want to challenge. The second that somebody turns around and says, “They…” It happens all the bloody time. We’re living in a weird political world, just in case anybody is missing the context of this interview.

Craig (00:47:20): Under a rock…

Alex (00:47:21): Yeah. We’re in this really weird scenario where “they”, is a really potent conception. And to me, that’s the beginning. What we call girl bullying, which is actually relational aggression, which is actually politics. Now-

Craig (00:47:38): Yeah, I thought you unpack that really well, by the way. And is that, “the we trace” interview? I think I was in that same interview, I thought you packed that really well and like eight little paragraphs, sorry.

Alex (00:47:49): Well, the big thing about it is that, we like to pretend everything is rhetorical and neat when the reality is the second that we stop pointing fingers, the first thing that anybody should do, is to saying, “Why are they different from us?” And that really happens. I mean, the basis of manipulation is pointing [crosstalk 00:48:12] your finger outwards.

Alex (00:48:14): I mean, this is just absolutely classic anthropology from archeological to near anthropological, to any kind of like Margaret Mead’s from the notion of the insight as to outsiders to the Sherman, which is all fantastic work, I would say, beware of “They.”

Risk and learning [54:06]

  • Chapter’s transcript…
  • Parkour as shamanistic… parkour (and other practices) effective at slicing through bullshit
  • Value of risk, movement practices that create trauma
  • struggle as part of learning

Storytime [57:49]

  • Chapter’s transcript…
  • “let’s all just hang out together”
  • Traveling the world visiting parkour communities… weirdly fighting each other
  • We’re all doing movement, parkour, ADD… connect and just move together

Starting places for anthropology [58:55]

Learning from podcasting [1:00:05]

  • Chapter’s transcript…
  • Learning from the podcast… lucky with access, ability to travel, meet, internet…
  • From just talking to people, to pulling threads, seeing the big picture
  • Recognizing need for communication and cross pollination
  • Imposter syndrome with physical movement, discussion of imposter syndrome, competing with youtube
  • Doing your own parkour

Billboard for the world [1:07:30]

Anthropology moments [1:08:04]

  • Chapter’s transcript…
  • Trick is to demolish you notion of self, dissect yourself
  • Humans looking at humans… bias will always be a part of it; you can’t put people in a lab
  • You are your own tool of analysis; but some limits
  • Places you can’t go based on who you are; male, white, fit, etc

Parkour community and space [1:11:56]

  • Chapter’s transcript…
  • No such things as damage; subjective
  • idea of parkour introducing movement into the sport space,
  • parkour has opportunities for everyone to be good at something; but we’re standardizing it
  • Fighting FIG but become like FIG to do so
  • Commercializing within the community, heart in it; maintaining accountability
  • This community decides its own ethics, things we need to think about
  • Don’t want to sacrifice Parkour’s adaptiveness, uplifting potential

3 words [1:20:01]

Craig (01:20:01): (chapter) So I think that one of the things that took a long time to learn is, talking to people in conversation is like going to a well. You get buckets of clear water, but eventually you went one time, too many. So I had learned when to stop. So I think I will just say, and of course the final question, three words to describe your practice.

Alex (01:20:21): Three words, “Don’t trust me.”

Craig (01:20:24): Brilliant. That’s an excellent way to demonstrate self-awareness. Beautiful. Alex it was, I should have said everybody, that was a distinct pleasure to get to talk to you. Somewhere that’s been on my radar, to talk to you for a while, and I’m glad I waited as long as I did. And I’m pretty damn sure this will not be our last conversation recorded or otherwise. So it was a pleasure. Thanks again. Huge, thank you for staying up or getting up to tolerate my East Coast Time Zone, it’s been pleasure.

Alex (01:20:53): Thank you, Craig.

“ Don't trust me ”

Alex Pavlotski

Contact and further info

You can read and follow Alex’s work on his website (alexpavlotski.wordpress.com). To learn more about his project Word Magik, visit the facebook page. You can read his thesis at (). To read his Parkour Panels visit parkourpanels.com.