We are joined in this episode by Dr. Alex Pavlotski to discuss all thing anthropology. Alex focuses his research on the anthropology of movement cultures. This is a wide ranging episode covering everything from communities, the person in relation to the community, trauma and conflict and a host of other things.
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S2E67 – Anthropology with Dr. Alex Pavlotski
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Transcript of Episode 67: Anthropology with Dr. Alex Pavlotski
EL: Welcome back to the Handstand Cast with me, Emmet Louis, my glorious cohost Mikael Kristiansen, and potentially a surprise. Take it away, Mikael.
MK: Yes, so today we have with us Alex Pavlotski, a neuro anthropologist Doctor of all things. The reason we have him here is I’ve been doing a bunch of courses with him the last couple months. He runs a few different courses, and has done a lot of research within parkour, movement practices, anthropology things. Introduce yourself.
AP: Hi everybody. My name is Alex Pavlotski, I’m an anthropologist. First of all, awesome soundtrack. That was like a combination of a video game and a stomping form. When I was thinking handstands I didn’t quite expect a giant mechanic beast.
I’m an neuroanthropologist. I started off doing graphic work in Australia, got onto parkour (that was my PhD). I got really interested in movement cultures. I got really interested in the idea of conflict and masculinity because, guess what, there’s a lot of men in movement cultures. Sometimes they get into conflict. I met a whole bunch of really interesting messed up people across different lines.
I worked with trauma, particularly related to war zones, and pain and clinical conceptions of movement. So now that universities are being mean to all us anthropologists, at least here in Australia, I thought I’d take off on my own and do a bunch of course teachings. This is how I met Mikael, which is great.
EL: Awesome. It’s cool that we have a real anthropologist, and not someone who just LARPs as one.
AP: I love the term LARPing, it explains so much about internet presentation.
EL: I realized recently, we have memes on the internet in graphical format. But we also have memes in terms of phrasing. I spotted this this morning. I was reading something about ayahuasca on Reddit. People were going….let me sum it up in a YouTube comment that said: “I had never eaten a brownie, but I heard from other people who heard off other people who have eaten brownies that chocolate brownie with frosting is the best type of brownie.”
Out of context for this, but it sums up the internet at this point – just a lot of reposting.
So. This will be a broad cast today. Me and Mikael will probably provide some context for handstand culture, and Alex will tell us where we’re wrong, what’s actually going on, and all the academic side of things.
AP: I can tell you this – I’m going to be wrong for anything except the cultural and historical interpretation. Anybody who’s an academic who’s jerking off and writing papers about what culture is now is always recording history. Much respect to the people who practice, because those are closer to the visceral experience. That is what matters. Brains and bodies. You guys know it best. Then you delude yourselves and hopefully we can pull it back from there.
MK: I’d like to hear a bit more…to me, in general….I did a Bachelors as an anthropologist and something that kept me interested in handstands is looking at the common denominators between various physical practices, how it influences people etc.
One question I’d like to ask: in terms of parkour or when looking at movement based art forms or training forms or physical practices, are there primary common grounds you can see within those cross culturally? I only have a frame of reference for this within Western culture. There is so much in this field.
AP: There’s one horse I really like to whip, to the point that it’s died a long time ago for anyone who knows me, but is an important point. The accident of Judeo Christian culture taking over and being able to regulate narratives about the body is about the most weird fucked up thing, anthropology speaking.
The big thing about that is to say that almost anywhere that is not Judeo Christian, isn’t committed to a simple conception of a Soul. If anyone has heard of a guy named Jesus, or are Jewish and don’t like the name Jesus, there is a story of a soul and a body. The body is polluted and fucked up and dirty. It’s the place where the temptations live. The soul is the true You.
To me, so many conversations we can have need to consider this. Whether your conception of the body is Judeo Christian, or not, before colonization most of us didn’t have an antagonistic relationship with the body. Most of us didn’t have to divide the conception of purity of movement into these forms that are supposed to be academic in style. That’s a really important place to start.
When we talk about the body, quite often, within Western Europe or across the colonies, we have a completely different understanding of embodiment than China, India or Japan today, but especially anywhere broad spread, anthropologically.
That would be the big thing I’d offer in relationship to that. Our relationship to the body is quite antagonistic. We are distrustful of the physical, so much of the time, in a way that doesn’t make sense. Medically it doesn’t. As someone who gets to do clinical work, the neurology of it is that if we neglect our bodies we get unwell. We start to get all kinds of problems with ourselves. I don’t mean that in a sort of weird magical way, but obesity, depression, broad system dysfunctions. That’s what I would like to put down.
EL: Where I’m from, Ireland, there’s a big focus on mental health activism because the government support is just terrible for it. From my understanding and the way I view it, we have this brain organ that exists in the body, and the nervous system, and it gets issues because of the environment and the feedback it gets from it.
Everyone blames it on the mind. You’re depressed or have anxiety because of the mind. Well, this organ and sensory thing can just get sick, like a heart or set of lungs. We have hospitals for hearts and for lungs, and specialists for this, treatments you get easy.
The treatment your mind might need, which might be counselling or medication or a combination of therapies is very difficult to get over here. It’s still this focus of something wrong with your mind, you’re doing wrong think. The separation of mind from body fuels a lot of this.
The activism and younger people who are trying to push this recognize this to a certain degree. I see a big upsurge in this ‘healthy mind and healthy body’ together.
MK: You mentioned the proper and improper body, the pure and impure. Relating that back to physical practice as well, just from very basic things like how as a child you’re taught to sit up straight in a chair, don’t slouch. You have to walk properly. Basic things. In kindergarten all the kids walk in a line holding hands. There it makes sense because of traffic, but how various rule sets are programmed into us.
Our listeners have heard us banging on about how there is not necessarily a Right and Wrong form for training handstand, and this relates directly to that. Why is it so improper for us having created this conception…
One thing I’ve thought of quite a lot about is the idea of the body as straight. To take a very simplified image, I am a human. If I stack bricks in a very straight line on top of each other, it works out very well. If everything is straight and looks straight, it must be proper and correct. Therefore I must stand up straight because it makes sense.
But a body can slouch and do all these various actions. The people that force themselves to sit straight are usually already in pain. Right now, I’m sitting and slouching and I will move around to all these various postures during this podcast. None of them will hurt my body, but none of them are straight. This concept has been built and hardwired into us.
Then when we look at handstand, we say, you are not straight so you must be getting injured. Me and Emmet keep mentioning how the old books always talking bout the aesthetic curve of the back, as everyone had a very round low shoulder position. Nowadays people assume you injure yourself if you do that.
AP: Look, so, the thing I really want to present in a way that doesn’t get all the idiots on the internet to think I’m talking about brain washing and control, because there are two things that human beings are supposed to do. We are supposed to function as individual beings, but also in society.
Here is the big anthropologist worldview. There is no individual and we wouldn’t exist if we were just individuals. The definition of human beings is about communication. The most flexible thing we have is the brain, the bit that gets our interpretation of the world and defines how we see the world is cognitively developed.
The conception of standing up straight. The question we have to ask is: why? Why is it that standing straight in a particular way, or following a postural set is important? There’s a really clear history that connects that to two things. In the simplest historical terms, the idea of fitting in to (mostly) military processes. We want our military to behave in an intimidating way. So good posture is important, very connected to physical embodiment.
Long history there. The second component to that is the conception of, what does that mean when we internalize it in ourselves? What is good citizenship and good value in that sense?
While I’m saying this, I know all the libertarians are going nuts and happy the anthropologists are backing them up. But also, they’re wrong. It’s essential, we build human society through communication, which is physical. Why don’t we want to slouch?
Every text I read that has an issue with slouching is that the slouching person is contradicting socially required group ideals. We can talk about Jordan Peterson in relation to this. “Don’t slouch because you look like a loser. Losers don’t make it in society.” In a military context, as far back as the 1300s, the slouching soldier is tired and suggests weakness for the entire group.
What is a slouch? A slouch is mental exhaustion, as much mental as physical. Someone who is tired and wants to give it up. But also in a weird and fun way, it’s someone exerting their notion of physical capacity.
You can slouch in a handstand, because doing them is developing and demonstrating incredible amounts of physical skill. But then you bring in a wonderful thing can artistic interpretation or physical self presentation. A slouchy handstand, and this is hypothetical from my end, has there ever been a case of someone doing a sad handstand in a performance sense, and everyone gets a visceral sense of that?
EL: I can definitely think of clown acts, the Auguste clown, very close to what we think of a clown: white face, red nose, that hint of nobility to it but also sad. It has a sadness to it. I have seen clowns who can maintain that sense of sadness or character presence of sadness, through acrobatics, handstands, falls, the whole act. Maybe hand balance wasn’t the main course – clowning was – but is displayed across it.
MK: I can think of that. You might not know about this Alex, but I’m in the process of creating a show with other hand balancers. Everyone is basically an expert at standing upside down. We decided to try to really dig into that subject matter and create a full performance around it. One of the girls, Imogen from the UK, is incredibly expressive in how she moves in handstand. She even has a video I can link later called dying handstands.
The cool thing is she’s tiny and petite and does insane one arm handstands. Then her arm just crumbles, a leg comes down, like a sped up decomposition. That really gives off such a vibe. That’s a cool thing with that type of movement, and in lots of dance and so in. If you relax, you will fall. That in itself carries a lot of meaning: I am actually visually demonstrating that I pretend to not hold myself up anymore.
AP: All that, broadly to me, connects to this basic tension that plays out across society all the time that anthropologists and sociologists are really interested in. What bit of you is important of you to communicate to broader society and broader structural stuff? And what bit of you is self agenting?
Handstands are interesting. Like parkour in some ways, perhaps, it might have a very codified sport aesthetic basis, judged on purity and score oriented, versus a presentation of self, an artistic expression. It might be performative, but I don’t think it takes away from it.
EL: You are kind of touching on something that I actually wanted to get onto. So, for myself, I like to describe a lot of things in my own internal world of describing them in kind of meta-poetic senses because it helps make sense for me. So, I have codified that we have two strands of physical development in western culture – probably plays out around the world. We have what I would term “solar logus one” which is basically things you can measure and things that work in a straight line. There is sports, obviously which we know. It’s like, “Running fast!” e.g.: I ran faster in a straight line over a certain distance, and it’s measured. It also cues in that it uses a lot of basically, rotational, and hip driven power. You have this idea that there’s something to overcome. Then we have this expressive strand, which almost contains the same degree of physical development and training required to do it, so I would term this the “orphix strand” for my own meta poetics there. It’s to-do with things we associate with feminine values and sensuous and curved lines and performance that – because let’s face it – we are doing a sport, a performance, we are performing an activity. In a field and there might be spectators and other stuff and there is a value judged based on this. But then we have the other ones where we do a performance and there is no winner. There is no winner at the end of theatre show or your dance show. But you have conveyed something, and it has a physicality to it. And at the same time, it comes out of – if it’s too linear, it becomes too robotic, so it has to have this kind of embodied expression in it to convey. So, the body becomes instead of a vessel for measuring things, for measuring outcomes. It becomes a way of conveying something. Just wondering if you have any thoughts on that or these kinds of things?
AP: Just as a general note, I love the feminine to masculine definition because it is really important, and it connects with historical conceptions of value. It sucks that we now think that expressing yourself is a feminine thing. I think that is absurd. I think that is a way men rob themselves of their opportunity to express themselves and have a decent relationship with their bodies. Because the reality is the history of industrialization, the history of building cities, is about men becoming utilitarian and women becoming artistic. It is a stupid narrative because it doesn’t apply. But has been told to us so often that we make those associations automatically. Just in case you did not know, as a Nero-anthropologist, I will put my PhD down into a hat sir to challenge a lot of the evolutionary psychology bullshit about the “necessary divisions of labor” that are there because cross-culturally, they do not hold up. But secondarily, look, I love the idea. I love it for a bunch of reasons. Prime amongst them would be the fact that that is literally the way we divide things. To expand on this and I do not want to make assumptions: How comfortable are we with the idea of art as a handstand vs. how comfortable are we with the idea of sport as a handstand, and which one has more value? And that is a question that I want to ask you guys to be able to answer or speak about this because this seems to be such a tension. The idea of art as being something that we pay to see therefore it has to be performative but as far as I’m concerned and I am an illustrator, a graphic artist, some of the best art happens privately. It can only be performative at its showing. So, we have this idea of art and this idea of performance, and they do not necessarily mesh. For most people in circus, and these are the few friends I have that I have had conversations with and correct me if I’m wrong, but it’s almost an element of devaluing of the art that it’s performative. To be treated like a clown or an acrobat as opposed to being treated like an artist. And then simultaneously what you have is the gudsmouthian gymnastic conception of a handstand. Which is something that you do to be in good shape. You are ready to be in the military. You are ready to swim 100 meters. You know, all that kind of stuff. So, what do you guys think about it? This is me but I don’t know whether or not you’ve had these discussions.
EL: I think it’s an extremely interesting question really. Just the framing of that because the first thing it makes me think about is it will depend on what circle or what people you’re asking about that question to. If you look in the circus context of things, what you usually do, is that you build up a certain level of skill and then from there on you use that skill to transform it and create something else. So there is kind of this tension within what is done there because in the one sense you want to display the skill and the ability but you want to also be free from it and there’s this discussion almost in the question about like, yeah but, is the goal to devalue the skill and just let the skill be there as some sort of canvas for whatever else you’re doing or should also the ability of you doing it and the spectacle also carry value? And I mean, in general like there is a dialectic between that in the performances in general while in the circus circles and kind of I think the more artistically – the more deeply focused people are on the artistic aspects, the more value that would have. Whereas you also have the completely other side, such as for example, there is this classical divide in circus. You have the European/Canadian (now I’m making extremely broad categories here) circus has traditionally over the last forty years or so developed the contemporary circus over time. There are loads of young people that have come into it that are not from circus families. They do the different circus schools. It’s been fused a lot with theatre. With dance. A lot of the literature that’s used in the programs are basically from dance and from theatre so it’s kind of been infused for good and for bad with all these other disciplines but if you go eastwards and you go to Ukraine, Russia and China and so-on. As you say, classical, look at the military and the Chinese circus. You basically have eight people who are the best in the world at doing handstands in the bar-none and they all do the same routine. It’s these types of performances that you very often see there. Little individual expression. Grandiose spectacle. Also in the Russian Ukrainian circles, again, large sweep here, there’s loads of individuals, of course. I have a friend of mine who, well, several friends who are in Kiev. The school in Kiev is known as “the best” or “the best people come from there.”
AP: I spent a little bit of time there when I was doing parkour and such visiting the cemetery.
MK: Ah, Cool. Yeah.
AP: Those guys are terrifying!
MK: They are absolute mutants to a degree. We’re talking the best training with the best talent. Like it’s a cooking pot there of things are unachievable for 99.9 percent of people. But kind of the attitude which at least from how I understand from the people that have been there is very much about skill development. Like, “Pfff, those people over in Europe… The French circus just jerking off. They don’t know. They can’t do the things!” Like, there’s a little bit of that at least from my understanding, at least. And I’m speaking totally secondhand account here. But still there is this, kind of divide there of, because yes they are a lot better, like if we’re talking just pure physical skills. I cannot stand on my hands for 35 minutes while they can. And then, basically to quote one of my first teachers in circus. He said, “Thank God the Russians don’t have it all. Or else we would be out of work.” So, it is certainly kind of a…It depends definitely on who you to ask, but I think this is what’s so important to mention too, as you say that these are very much constructs. And informed by that knowledge you can maybe at least start making some choices about how you do your practice. My knee had a micro bend. This is how hand balancers speak. Aw yeah, my knee was super bent. Ah you bent your arms a bit. It’s out. It’s not proper. So, you better re-train this. That has some functional components in terms of learning the vocabulary. But at the same time, hey, you did a pressed handstand, enjoy. This dimension is kind of very often suppressed under the building of the grand skill and being part of the real people that can do the real stuff.
AP: I’m also a little bit worried… I know I’m not supposed to be doing the interview. But I’m not sure…I’m worried that when I answered your question, I wasn’t answering it. Did you resonate with that?
MK: Yeah, I reason-
EL: Yeah, it made sense. It’s kind-of…I’m just throwing stuff out there the way I think about things and getting someone to tell me what they think on it so don’t worry too much. It is kinda something Mikael touched on and which I think you’re going to have a lot to say on is for a lot of the going eastern circus, a lot of is, I have a good quote by Lenin actually right here that will give you an idea: “Circus itself and a lot of these state institutions, like ballet in Russia and classical dance in Chinese classical stuff… They’re part of the state institution. Glorifying the state as well as providing entertainment to the masses. There’s a quote from Lenin. I’m not going to read it in Russian because my Russian is terrible but the translation is “While people are illiterate, for us, the important of the arts are cinema and circus.” It kinda goes like this: We have this kind of state-proudness that would be more I suppose Communist or collectivist in terms of the individual, the state supersedes the individual so the individual taking part in groups and then also pushing their physicality because a lot of – maybe not so much in Russia because they’re a bit better but in China – a lot of is a bit of a meat grinder. Like your body is there to serve the state and achieve the highest technical perfection it can and it achieves it but it’s a meat grinder because you might be done by 24 or 25 and not able to perform and in a lot of pain. You have glorified the state institution by achieving the peak of your physical ability within the context of these groups as well.
AP: Oh man, I’m so excited that I get a chance to talk about this in a way that is expanded. Because I got to write about it a bit but not as much as I would have wanted to. One of the big questions, and this is entirely connected, one of the big questions that I had to research was when I was doing parkour , the central way people were sharing knowledge was through videos, youtube, sort of that skateboarding kinda community. And one of the things we saw was this monstrous shit coming out of Russia. Just ridiculously monstrous. Like, monstrous in all kinds of scary ways. As in huge jumps. And when I say huge jumps I mean those boys were ruining their knees when they were landing those jumps. There’s no way that the body could hold that up. And simultaneously, monstrous amounts of physical coordination. Both from rails and across trees and all these environments. And so it was actually a research question when I got to go travel to Ukraine and in Russia: What is it that produces these monsters?
And here is the reality of it: And you guys probably know this. So let me know if I’m talking things you all already understand. But there’s a thing called the triangular insert system. I’m badly translating. The idea that one of the things that you get to do is have a wide funnel at the base with a narrow end at the top. And you suck in everybody that you can scientifically – I mean that’s the way they used to do it. If they did a proper form chin up at the age of five or six, we enroll them in wrestling or we enroll them in whatever else and that’s the way the state worked. On the one hand, what an incredible system for producing elite athletes. Most of those people in the Kiev institute are the results of that. They’ve reached the top because they got there before they broke. And one of the things that you see is people travelling through and then they break at various points along the way. And they get cast out. They get dropped out of the process. And one of the things that parkour got was this incredible amount of very dedicatedly, fixedly, trained raised gymnast style talent except they somehow weren’t good enough. So, what they did is they went into this movement practice where they could whatever it was that was their discipline but also combine it with this idea of performance. This idea of innovation. And so all of these Russian people came out of that system. I can name names but they would probably sue me for it. Where they’ve dropped out of it because of an injury. But then they could step into parkour because they had all of this incredible physical capacity and movement that they could just utilize and then the second that their injury – it became part of their technique – that they could do these incredible movements without relying on this one thing that they couldn’t do. And it was just so beautiful. So you sort of got to see this flourishing of artistic expression and innovation because they no longer were good enough but had the background of that self sacrificing conception and I think that that’s really, really cool stuff.
That’s super fascinating. There’s also one thing I’d like you to elaborate on. I mean it’s a little more about what we were talking about before and this comes from the embodiment lecture that we had, and that is the distinction there between how to say, sports, vs. play, in a sense. What I find very fascinating that you were speaking about in that lecture and the way that parkour went basically – how gymnastics started very similar to parkour and then how rule systems came in and I think this is a very fascinating discussion because I’ve seen that happen in breakdancing. I’ve even seen people. It’s not a lot of it but in hand balancing circles I have seen people trying to push some sort of competition and you do have these circus festivals where people present an act and they get an award and it kind of is in some kind of blurry dimension some sort of sports event competition and some sort of arts thing. Like it’s kind of blurry there. But I have seen places where it’s much more just about like: there’s a bunch of kids, they practice their routine each, it’s all pretty similar because they’re all just sort of mutant beasts on their hands and there’s some sort of prizing, and the more you go towards comparing quite – because if you have a circus festival, like cirque de demain, which is one of the larger ones in the world, you would rarely have two people doing hand balancing. It would be all the different acts and then you see the little more of an artistic perspective but the more you compare who do the same the more you need to have a criteria system. I’d like to hear a bit about, how that was in parkour, from your experience?
AP: Well, before we get to the parkour bit of it, important to say, that play and when I say play, I mean literally imaginative work, pretending, working with toys – when kids are playing with toys they’re most of the time doing a thing where they’re projecting their sense of the body. There’s this conception of exploring who you are. And play is one of those things that is cross-cultural 100 percent. There is no culture that doesn’t play. It’s part of our developmental childhood. And when I say childhood, I hesitate, because it’s not just part of our childhood, we’re supposed to play throughout our life. A problem solving thing that we do. It’s a human trait to play. It’s a part of good mental health. When we’re in really good moods, we play with our partners and our friends and children. And physical play is part of that depending on your ability. People get spontaneous and they do cartwheels and then fall down when they haven’t done them in very many years, you know all that kind of good example stuff. Sport is a regulatory function. Specifically, the kind of sport that we think about comes from a very easily identifiable – and there’s a guy called Gutman (sp) – who wrote a lot about this. It comes from a really particularly identifiable point in history. And that’s the point of industrialization. We got obsessed with measurement, when it came to human movement, about the same time we got obsessed with when it came to how many acres we needed to be able to chop down to build the ship. This is all measures of nation and state. How do we build a military? How do we build a society? How do we build… and Sport is the answer to that. And when it resonates, it resonates in those contexts, throughout history. And it’s connected to this idea of building something that isn’t just play. It’s almost oppositional to play. And the thing that I said in the lecture that I deeply believe, it’s interesting to see the more regimented we feel about our conception of play, the more we are into sport, the more we punish play. And so this might apply to handstands and competition. That’s the moment that we start to really measure every inch of a particular balance. Or, no micro bends or micro movements. And I have no idea what I’m talking about…
EL: No, you’re making sense. In say, gymnastics, they have hand stands in there obviously. It’s not the main course. But there is a grading system for a handstand that like, oh if someone bends a knee or bends an elbow in a handstand it’s quarter mark deduction from the forum judge. And these kinds of things that goes into your score . So, that kind of thing comes in. Just touching on this actually I’d like to get your thoughts on I’ve been sort of following a bit in the background the consumption of parkour by FIG, how they want to codify parkours into a discipline, as part of a federation international gymnasticio or gymnastics. To take it from the streets. It’s this kind of idea, going back to this idea of state apparatus. It consumes something people are doing and then says you can only do it in this this context, and this is the right way to do it.
AP: Absolutely. So, this is the moment. I’ll answer that in two ways. One is to say, everybody I know in parkour either people are excited are excited because they’re part of developing the movement courses or people are really terrified because we what we’re dealing with is a scaling system. And now we have to decide what is appropriate for a scaling system. And one might be a race. Which is a pretty straight forward thing to do. But then you have a particular physio type that’s going to be really good at those really powerful springy movements. And any kind of conversation about what is effective in one place or another is not going to win because what we are going to see big jumps across really complicated terrain because it looked beautiful on TV. And that’s what FIG wants to present. They want to present a particular type of movement that defines efficiency. And it’s really quite funny because I’m part of a group that does believe in the history like remembering the idea of parkours. Having finished my PhD I’m very much on the idea of remembering the founded. But this is scary. It’s regulation in a really, really powerful way. There are elements of the community that are excited because they get to build the courses. And they get to run through them. And there’s this sense of ownership. And then you have elements of the community that are terrified because the last thing they want to see is… I wouldn’t be able to participate. When I started I was 110 Kilos. And that’s not because I was fat, it’s because I’m a large Russian framed dude. There’s just gonna be styles of movement that aren’t going to work for me. But lots of stuff that I can do with my upper body that gives me certain advantages. And the course isn’t going to be built for me. Somebody who is midway through. We get that basic thing that entered into gymnastics where physio types define your chances of success. And you might not even have a chance to participate unless you adhere to, you know, you guys know. Gymnasts. They have to be under a certain type. They have to have a certain scalable structure. They have to have all of these things. And people will just turn you down. The best coaches will turn you down. Because they don’t wanna waste their time with people that cant do it. But we see that kind of retrospective feed back into parkours. So, I guess, I’m gonna have to take a second, I have to let my family, I have to let my family, and this happens every single time.
MK: I guess we just cut this part out…. This is really interesting. Fucking nice to get the different perspective on it. I was thinking on bringing up, just like going into the kind of the cognitive or society building effect. How to say? Social group building effects of doing stuff like this. But yeah…what were you just speaking about Alex right now before you had to do the thing?
AP: So yeah the idea of transformative figurative affective sports and sportification. And there’s a whole word for it, sportification of a practice. This idea of taking something that has artistic merit. Robert Reinhard, for everybody who is a giant nerd, wrote a series of beautiful essays about the Xgames back in the 1990s. and he spoke about the sportification of skateboarding, the sportifcation of windsurfing. And the sportification of rollerblading. And it was a mess. Because a whole bunch of people trying…Olympic style trying to get people who did a pop culture thing who all came at it organically, to behave in a certain way.
EL: I still it’s interesting because I was heavily involved in lane skating back in the Xgame days. I still kinda skate. One of the things that’s kind of interesting was… Rollerblading was part of Xgames and then it got the boot at a certain point because actually it was considered more impressive because people could go higher on ramps and it was taking away from skateboarding which was the main thing. So they dropped it. Sponsor push. But then rollerblading has kept up. It’s always been this underground thing. It still has this, original kinda parkours expression interfacing with the environment, it still kept going. And that kind of codification…It’s kind of when I took a long break from skating but then I got back into it a while ago anyway. But then coming back and seeing how to become like…Creativity was pushed to the forefront. People were doing the most creative stuff, finding new things. Where kinda people who were now top of the game vs. the people who were monster beast, like people doing big roof gaps. People were doing them still but if you weren’t doing gaps, there were other people who were doing more creative stuff who had the sponsorships, and the skate sponsorships and stuff because they were kinda who people wanted to see whereas before it woulda been like… There are some Japanese brothers who were doing doubles and triples on ramps who were beginning to get up and they kinda faded. They’re still really good and involved. But they’re not at the forefront of who is really good because of this kind of stepping away from competition.
MK: I think there’s also this thing… I understand, the kind of, the tendency within any given cultural system you start creating certain signs and signifiers and then those start getting measured in relation to each other. And then you’re already starting to create a competition. Oh I can do it for one minute. Oh I can do it for one minute and a second. The winner is obvious. Or I could jump one metre and you can jump one sixtieth. And so on. But I think there is also something that, which has been, quite a big deal for us teaching what we do, is that like trying to, keep it accessible in a certain way. I mean I’ve taught people who came to me and were like: “Yeah I want to get into circus school.” I’m working with a girl now who when she contacted me she was like, “I want to get into circus school.” Ok, I’m giving her a bunch of tasks most people who just come to me and say, “I really want to press the handstand with one arm one day.” A profiling of the person is different but I think making a discipline accessible… Like, it’s fine that people push the heaviest skills. Yeah like you say some of these crazy Russian videos of like people jumping. It’s impressive. These people that are driven to do this and like… “Thumbs up, but don’t kill yourself.” But, I think remembering that there’s a lot in this for people that are not necessarily even wanting to go elite. That was a large influencing thing for us when we started handstands. It was just like ok, we need to assume, like you said, there are different bodies. They are different in size and shape. We were also looking into a lot of basic anatomy things. Suddenly you realize, oh hey, bones don’t look the same in people. Even across the body on each side. Your bone structure might look slightly different, muscle insertions, and all of this, will inevitably, at some point or another, start playing into what you will be able to do. But still being able to create some kind of generalized technique or maybe more than technique. Creating a generalized approach that allows people to try. And, because, I think that ultimately, uh, below all of this kind of stuff, there’s a bunch of people that might just want to have some fun with it. And maybe some of them will also become really good. But that is irrelevant. But having some sort of steppingstone which is not based on the fact well, I mean, I love- one of my favorite examples is ring gymnastics. Because let us say you’re 190 and you’re 85 kilos well, forget about it. You will break. There isn’t an amount of steroids that you can take that will help you to get as good as the guy who is 160 and 56 kilos. It’s not going to happen. I really think it’s important in these communities to have kind of an accessibility dimension in that sense. I’ve seen this also in breaking now. And particularly again, Russia and China. They are becoming mega beasts of breakers out of there now. But interesting thing is loads of them are kids. They’re children. And like, I mean it’s also natural. People that were breaking back in the early 2000s. They now have kids. And they start teaching them. And of course they become super good. But it’s interesting it used to be teenagers getting into this or late teens. And now you have six-year-olds throwing one arm air flares. And you’re like who, ok. Suddenly this is also going to shift the entire perspective. Is there a point in starving unless you’re one of those? All that comes in.
AP: That’s it, that’s really important. Did you want to check something in before I go and orient?
EL: No, I got something to bring up after this actually.
AP: To me, one of the things, I’ve been watching, so I started with parkours and then I started looking at all the sort of disciplines that I thought were related materially, and historically and culturally. So, I think that there’s… I think we need to understand that there’s different places where people are coming from. And when I say that. Like, if I had to come up with a forced continuum off the top of my head, it would be: PLAY, which is where we are all start. ART, which is one step removed from PLAY, but is appreciated, and performed enough for people to see it and its usually quite refined. FOLKLORE, which is when you have ART and PLAY but also elements of artistry presented within a narrative. So, this is now performance that tells a story in a really powerful way. And then SPORT at the end of it. And I think that when you have ART and SPORT, it’s an accident. And when you have ART and SPORT, it’s an accident. And they’re beautiful things to witness but as they get closer to each other you see the overlap become increasingly blurry. One of the things that I’ve seen is incredible movement practitioners across disciplines, from Capoeira, Brazilian jiu-jitsu, karate, parkours, and then gymnastics, and some breakers. They all come from different places within that. And you have people who just play. And I wonder actually. Then you guys know these. I’m sure this must be a thing. People who come out of the blue who seem to have done no formal training. Who have just played all of their lives. Who are just absolute fucking beasts at the practice. And have a natural commitment that was dedicated and cultivated through the process of play. And then afterwards you have art people who are committed to the artistry. And there’s an overlap between them that is very natural. And then the people who do folk. Sort of again, natural but getting tenuous. And then the people who play rarely end up doing the sport version because it almost contravenes their internal idea of the value of the practice. That they sportify. Even though they can be amazing at it, they rarely sportify. And then on the other hand, you’ve got people who come from the sports side of thing who are cultivated gymnastics. Like this is now, what we’re talking about is China and Russia and Ukraine. Cultivated gymnastics athletes who then kind of end up either performing that and doing beautiful art by accident or who end up falling out of it and having to find ways to articulate it. Which is what I found in my field work. That’s when people actually remember that they like the movement and want to play with it. You know you’ve got Pasha Petkuns, or these other incredible Russian movement people. Who are just like, “the gymnastic world didn’t want me anymore so now I play with movement.” And I think this movement discipline, well any movement discipline would just take a sec and learn from that? Like if we were to respect each other as opposed to try to tell each other what to do, boy, would we have a more unified field. But it’s also not human nature because we feel so deeply threatened by people who come at our practice from a different perspective. And that’s just a sad neurological reality. Tribalism is part of humanity. When somebody does something as well as you do, but they came at it from a different perspective, we either have to become Buddhist monk levels of Zen about it and go: “Oh isn’t it amazing, I’m an arbitrary snowflake in the middle of a world and this thing that I do isn’t special.” Or, we have to turn around say, “Yeah that’s illegitimate, that’s all bullshit, they couldn’t possibly do it the way I do.” Those are all the cultural flanks that we have across every movement all the bloody time. And here is the thing. I actually think it’s good that we have them because when we stop having them, we fragment. And this happened within the parkour community across a series of places that ive been observing. The less we argue about which is the best possible way and the less passionate about it, the more likely we are to just not talk to each other. And I think that that’s sad because we lose a lot. We lose a lot. Even though it frustrates us! And we want to kill the person who’s making this stupid argument for the billionth time. It’s still a communication across the various cultural spheres. And we still have the artists talking to the sports people and I think that that’s great.
MK: You need to have the tension or else there’s nothing, I guess.
AP: Exactly! I always use this — I’m sorry this is the last bit of the rant and if there’s any iconic way I can summarize it, it’s to go back to psychology, which is something else that I really enjoy reading and practicing… And that is, you know a couple, like a relationship is fuct when they’re not fighting anymore. When they’ve given up on the conception of fighting with eachother. They’ve got a lot of chance if they’re fighting with eachother about what is their value. Because they’re trying to understand and communicate. The second that it’s a cold, frosty impasse. Like a comfortable, sort of battle lines, cold war situation, those guys are fuct. That’s the planet where the counsellor will say “you guys might be happier apart rather than together because this isn’t really a relationship anymore.” And I think you can just sort of blow this up into a macrocosm which is, you know, the cultural practices of the movement.
EL: You know it’s funny we had a post on our Instagram that kind of rustled a lot of jimmies. We have the way we teach and our teaching is based on teaching for a very long time over stuff, and we aim to teach hand balance as an art form and develop the technical capacities and artistic capacities and that… but then, you can do handstands different ways. And we said, well, we want you to have these kind of ox-taking exercises on how to get the press. And then a lot of people chimed in and said you don’t need to do this to take the press. And we stated this is just the way we think you should go about it – it’s not saying it’s set in stone. That cued a lot of hatred towards us. And a lot of not-nice comments.
MK: It was surprising how important it was to – I guess it was also like we’re sort of an authority on the subject – and it was like “let’s take ‘em down.” And I mean there was nothing in the thing that says that like, this is what you need to do and if you don’t you are forever banished to hell. It just said that this is a pretty decent way to go about it. And the interesting part is if you ask people who are very knowledgeable in the field about it, they more or less agree, not on the exact account, but it was pretty reasonable. And still there was like, here, we see the possibility for a fight.
AP: But this is really important and I really want to dive in. Hold onto that! The second that people aren’t responding to a normalizing statement, is the second that you lose relevance. That means that nobody cares what you have to say. And here is the wonderful thing about it. And I’m pretty sure Emmet will be able to follow me on this concept, beneath hate, there is anger, and beneath anger there is hurt, and beneath hurt there is love. It’s a very, very tired old Buddhist concept. So, for people to want to start a fight with you, they’ve been angered by you because you’ve said something that hurt them, at that’s the stage at which you introduced an idea that made them feel different from you because they really want to be like you and then underneath that there’s love because why the hell are they even getting involved in this conversation to start with. And that’s really important that an understanding of these discussions happens. I mean really the tribalistic quality of humanity is always going to be there. The second authority tells them, authority tells anyone, that this is how we do it, and it’s different from the way they’re doing it, it’s confronting and it’s hurtful. It’s like having your parents tell you off. And the first thing that you want to do, just like kids do when their parents tell them off, is say: “Fuck You mum and dad, you don’t know me, I fucking know my shit, you don’t know my shit, I’m gonna beat you up on Instagram.”
EL: And they did. It kind of leads into a question I want to ask. We have this idea in academics of identitary self-positioning. Of how someone identifies themselves with a subculture and then also subscribes their role within that subculture and how they participate in it. Basically, for us, so just before we started recording, we were talking about the federation. Who came up with that term? Just so we can credit the right person with it.
MK: Um, it was Jonathan Fortin, a guy from I don’t know how to say his last name. He’s French. He’s a straps artist. He’s at least the one that introduced it to me as he was pacing violently around the room and explaining it with loads of passion. So yeah, the essential self-imposing of criteria and rules where there is no formal body.
EL: Yeah, so that kind of thing of how one, I suppose, there’s two parts. How do subcultures define themselves with these kinds of codified rules and right and wrong. Oh, you’re a good ballet dancer if you point your toes, but you’re a bad ballet dance if you flex your feet or if they go floppy. And then how people identify within those kinds of rules to describe themselves?
AP: So, this is, I love it as a question because it lets me talk about the nuance of it. This is where anthropology gets really excited. Me as an ethnographer coming into it. One of the first things that I found… because my research was multi-cited. So, I was in 17 countries for parkour. And one of the first things that became really readily apparent is how much of the definition of what practice we engage in resonates with what we already understand. So, I kinda love the fact that we’ve got a French friend pacing around complaining about the Federation because in Europe particularly France the idea of a Federation is ever-present within sporting practices. And the idea of certain kinds of practice, particularly folk practices but also sporting practices are there so – sorry I don’t want to mix it. Another way to put it is anybody who is obsessed with sport and can only get used to the idea of sport in whatever practice that they do, is going to be drawn to the arts, the bit of practice, that’s going to be the thing that catches their attention, and that generates all this incredible community, and all of sort of functioning thing, but simultaneously as they start to want to make sense of it they’ll drag it back towards the thing that they found least attractive about it. So, this is the irony in parkour practice. People who were doing parkour in English speaking countries loved it because it wasn’t a sport. But the second that they had to regulate it, the only way they could think about the way that this practice fit was by thinking about sports. People who were doing parkour in France were involved with federations or unions, loose congregations of people who did practices but there’s a lot of people in there who are frustrated about it because they’re tired of federations. They want to see it sportified. So, the context really matters. In Russia and Ukraine, everyone is really excited about turning their art practice into sport because all of the thing that they’ve been trained for has had to do with this idea of representing citizenship, as you said Emmet. That was the way they were brought up within their practice. But the second they have to think about it as an independent thing, they can’t help but drag it back to what they’re used to. And so, in a weird way, the cultural context within which we practice any form of movement is going to one, define the things that we love and hate about it so there is a resistance to the stuff we are used to and we’re drawn to the stuff that’s creative but the second it comes to regulation, we can’t help but be limited by our experience in our brains. So, then we rob the creativity out of this new activity by trying to redefine it in our own terms. And it’s really funny because you see the way that for example Europe… So, if we were to talk about the way that we spread culture, or Asia and southeast Asia, or talk about Eastern Europe and we talk about Europe and then we talk about the Anglo sphere. I didn’t spend anytime in South America so I can’t represent those guys. I don’t know what the hell they’re getting at. I’m sure they’re wonderful and creative in their own way. But like, everywhere that’s English-speaking loved to find art and then immediately sportified it. Everywhere that was non-English speaking loved the fact that you could find sport in something and then immediately sort of broadly socialized it. Like we can’t help but drift back towards those things. So yeah, it’s not, it depends on the cultural context. Everything is cooked in the cultural context. We process things in accordance to what we understand and that simultaneously it’s really weird because simultaneously it draws our attention to the things you wouldn’t think we would like, the second we have to articulate we bring them back down to our own conception, bring them down to our frustration. I don’t know whether or not that made sense, but it was a prevalent pattern in the stuff that I saw when I was looking at movement cultures.
EL: Interesting, interesting. It’s kinda…I can go from a parkour example as well…to kinda loosen up my points. So, I have a very good friend of mine she was involved with Parkour Generation in London who you’re probably familiar with. She was friends with them, helped organizing there, women in parkour meet-ups. She didn’t resonate with this idea of pushing yourself. Facing your fear every time. These kind of things. All she wanted to do was climb walls and do vaults. And not really, be like “I have to do this….” She could do it and was pretty good at it. But she kind of got out of parkour because she just didn’t want to be in these situations, like oh you have to go climb something really high. And it’s like, “Well, I’d prefer just to walk this rail.” So then her self-positioning…She, you know, by the criteria that was expressed, by the parkour community and the broader one, it’s like, oh, “you have to be pushing yourself.” Whereas like, “well, hh, my self doesn’t want to be pushed. It just wants to climb walls.” Is basically the easiest way to describe it.
AP: And that’s really funny because the UK is literally the home of sportified culture. Sport was born by accident of history. Within the UK, in the modern comparison. And what you get to see is then you travel over to the Ukraine and you’ve got these guys who climb these buildings for fun because it’s the way they were brought up within a sportified socialist system and all they want to do is play on rails. It’s the exact opposite. Like, the Moscow and the Kiev parkour guys will do these ridiculous conditioning sessions but then they are just like we get to play on rails, and this is really the fun part of it. So yeah, it’s the kind of weird exchange that you see happening cross culturally. It’s one of those things where it’s like you want what you don’t have and people don’t have what you have so the exchanges are happening in that way.
MK: I was just thinking of like if we are thinking about the uh, how to say, the ritual side of physical practice? I mean I’m not maybe talking more cognitively and kind of like on the personal level and interpersonal level. And because I mean obviously, to me, or most people that do these kinds of things there are certain things involved in the practice. To me, it’s very much, a self-reflexive type of practice at this point I mean I’ve done it for very many years and so on. Even when you’re quite new to it and you’re excited and you want to get good and some things really mattered there’s something kind of ritual about the doing itself and which also feeds into the community parts of it? I’m kind of interested in both the micro social in terms of interpersonal relationships things within that and neurological because I’m sure there’s loads of cultures that have various types of physical practices where its in establishment of something other than just I Learned The Skill but kind of more …I start immediately thinking of but of course it’s kind of extreme, the Balinese cockfight where you have this huge elaborate ritual to signify something specific but how this aspects kind of influence physical practices across cultures and things like that…
AP: Well, the big thing that again we have to go back and talk about the environment so a good scientist we wouldn’t look at things in a petri dish with a typological context. We don’t want to look at a cell isolated within a network a blood cell its most functional way within an environment that allows it to actually play out. And I think I want to touch on something Emmet said earlier maybe off recording? Maybe this was part of an earlier chat before we started the podcast. You mentioned you were into the esoteric at one point. And the esoteric movement is so much more potent and powerful philosophically and functionally now because the vast majority of our population doesn’t engage in a practice of self-deprivation. It doesn’t engage in a practice of hardship. Because we don’t have to. Because our ecology is created in a way that has actually in a way cut a lot of that down. And I actually think we are the worst people to talk about this. And probably your listeners. Because. By virtue of listening to this podcast you are likely a person who has already found pleasure in the esoteric nature of good, hard, physical practice. This idea of encountering limitations and playing around with how far you can go and how far you can’t and then reflecting on failure in a way that is feeding your capacity to grow as opposed to assuming it to be negative and I think this is why we are in an interesting space right now. Because one of the major downsides of the sporting movement and the sporting movement has had lots of dark sides particularly our capacity to crave a nation state and the fact that we all got together on this thing. But one of the major downsides is that it has created this mythology that only the elite deserve to play. Like, most people stop playing sport after a while because they know they are not going to succeed at it. And then life tells them that sport is for kids anyway. And then when people continue it for a hobby. It has to be contained. It has to be defined. It happens within these limited fields. And when that happens, we lose its metaphoric impact. We lose the value of what it is like to have this really difficult physical encounter outside of the gym or outside of the football field and I think that we have this really weird messed up cultural experience where people forgot what it’s like to move and I mean, again, I want to press that Christianity has had a great to do with it because it’s dirty anyway. But, also, sport, was the natural follow up from that. So, what do we get out of it? What is the social value of practice? I think one of things we are going to see is a lot more people doing handstands. I think one of the things we get to see is more people getting into practices like handstand practices. People getting into things because they do have what I just described as a value of play, a value of art, a value of folk, before going automatically to sport as the default starting place. and I think that things like handstands, things like circus, began there, and work within that space. And then simultaneously, you guys got it better than anyone, have to argue with some tired new medicalized sport field that tells you all, “What are you doing anyway,?” And, “You should be doing this as part of your regular gymnastics. It’s not a practice. It’s not a worthwhile art…You probably haven’t gotten it right.” The insecurities come out of existing in a space that kinda forgot how to play. And forgot how to play with movement and kind of forgot how to have a deeply challenging personal experience. And it’s only gotten worse since covid as far as I’m concerned because the more time we spend inside, the more likely we are to forget that not being on the internet, that being on the internet, isn’t the only way we can entangle or challenge ourselves.
MK: I think what you just said now is potentially the most…or the best way of summing up I think why people do handstands. Like, I think I’m going to start using that. I’m going to attribute that one to you. It’s basically to have a deeply challenging physical experience. Because I mean, that’s what it is. I think also what you say… if we start that kind of disconnect from the body in that sense you are a brain or a consciousness travelling to your job. and then the consciousness does the job. And then the vessel takes you home. And the vessel takes you home. And then that’s it. And then you have here this very challenging and very complicated process. Where yeah, you need to embody. It’s a funny thing that I’ve spoken about before on the podcast. It’s sort of as a joke. I mean when you learn to stand on your hands. You are essentially doing what the child does for the first couple years of its life, trying to stand up. Here you’re kind of like, you’re reforging a body map upside down, building a proprio perception that is new. There are so many elements and you’re getting stronger and you’re doing all these things, but ultimately the fact that it is a very challenging, physical, visceral practice which is perhaps most importantly like it’s easy to try to do and very hard to master makes it be this thing, of like, kind of, it really…like there’s loads of things connecting into that exact thing.
AP: I really want to jump in here to get scientific about it. To deprive ourselves of a practice that is constantly challenging ourselves in a way that esoteric philosophy describes quite often. Is to pretend like we don’t have half of our endocrine system. The conception of anxiety. The conception of fear. The conception of excitement, which is really neurochemically similar to anxiety. It’s only a small variation of the endocrinic hormones that we’re producing there. Where, we’re creating a society that’s devalued those things. And it doesn’t make sense. It scientifically doesn’t make sense. What we need is some kind of process that allows us to experience the entirety of our endocrine processes. The broad range of emotions that define our humanity. And we need challenge to do that. And the second that we deprive ourselves of one element of that system, we start to numb down and shut down the others and so all of these issues. And this is just literature upon literature, issues on the rising in depression. Issues in relation to how much of our aggression is internalized and the sort of polarization of political spheres of society. So much of that has got to do with the fact that we’ve removed threat. And we think and this is absurd, neuro scientifically absurd – we think that because we’ve removed threat, we’ve removed our capacity for the threat response as if we’re supposed to be happy all the time? The biggest, stupidest thing we do as human beings is that we think if we build a society optimized for happiness, the only emotion we will ever feel is happiness. And that is not how the body works it’s not endocrine system, it’s not neurological function, it’s not anything! Like, we just are not meant to exist that way. In some weird ways, we’ve constructed what we think is paradise. And we have epidemics of depression. We have epidemics of anxiety. Within this society we’ve built.
EL: Hold on, hold…What you’re saying basically is we’re living in Matrix 1.0 where they have to reset the whole thing because people couldn’t buy into it?
AP: That’s true… That’s exactly, haha, I love that because the second you started saying it, I was on the same page! “And then we realized you humans like threat.”
EL: Cool. I’ve got… Yeah, I’d like to actually slightly change topic. So, we have this idea of movement cultures… But, I haven’t heard it, but have we got an idea of spectator cultures? Where there’s kind of an intrinsic need for humans to watch people doing things? Always voyeuristic, the movement practice exists, whatever it is, sports, whatever, exists within the framework of a culture who can also observe it.
AP: The thing that I want to put in there and I want to hear your opinion on it all but one thing that is really well recorded and Thompson has figured this out a really long time ago. Advertising has figured out that the best way to sell Doritos and Pepsi is to get people to sit down and watch the Olympics sponsored by Doritos and Pepsi. And there’s this beautiful sense of I guess a form of empathy that comes from watching people perform in a way that you never can. Which is wonderful for markets because what you can do is find the elite and you can name the elite and you call them freaks and beasts but then you can say don’t worry about it you will never be there so just come sit down eat your Doritos drink your Pepsi and you can participate in a secondary way. So, there’s all kinds of cultural ways that people feel like they can buy into their participation. And that’s more than well tested because it’s the basis of every company spending hundreds of millions of dollars on Olympics contribution campaign. But yeah, I don’t know that much about the folkside because most of the stuff that I do is participation…
MK: It’s essentially participation by proxy in a sense. You are watching and then… It’s funny, just a few days ago, I was hanging out, I’m in Sweden, and I was hanging out with some swedes, and they were watching a football game, and Sweden won, and just a classical seven guys in an apartment standing up screaming when there’s a goal, and like, moaning, when the other team scores. It’s like the very classic thing that everyone can very directly relate to. I think that like the viewing of these things is also, it’s part of what kind of drives us…Even on, I think on a smaller scale, because there is this classical kind of mother and society notion that tries to denounce the fact that you want other people’s attention. Like yeah you know I train handstands, only for myself, I don’t care what others think, you know? But its very important for me to poll some internet to telling I don’t care what others think. It’s very important for me to tell you that. What is that? There is nothing else.
AP: You’re a pure artist. You just do it for the art. And you want other people to know you do it for the art.
MK: Exactly. I find this very fascinating because for all of us we are social beings and regardless of how we are discussing the topic as we did today when I practice my things I do them because I like them, I like them because other people like them. There is a part of that. If that wasn’t an aspect at all, then I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing. But. Then there becomes that nuance there… to what degree am I letting myself be influenced? Only by, ok, it needs to be proper, so everyone can love me for it? Or can I also find joy in the doing itself? Uh, and…there is actually I don’t know if you’ve seen. Now I’m ranting a bit here. I don’t know if you’ve seen that. But, there is an interview with Rodney Mullen. I don’t know if you know him Alex? You need to watch his interview on this youtube channel called Impact Theory. Usually, they just like invite successful porn speakers basically who tell you know this is how you become millionaire. But his interview is fucking beautiful. And like, he, like basically, um, everyone that listens to this podcast, go listen to that one, because it’s fucking fantastic, particularly the last ten minutes. But he basically says, one of the hardest things for any pro to be able to love and do what you do for the sake of itself. Like, to get closer and closer to that core. And I think he’s one of my favorite examples of that because the guy is in his fifties and he’s still going out there skating. He’s still… he says, “sometimes you just suck so bad. And I can’t just drive my car out to the parking lot. I take it so personal.” And that’s really the nature of love. The kind of commitment to what you do. So, I think there’s definitely kind of a dialectic between my inner need of wanting to do this beautiful thing because I love it but there’s no point pretending that you aren’t influenced by a social sphere around you and I think this really goes into kind of that voyeur culture. Or the kind of participation by proxy. I was ranting about seven different things at the same time but I hope it makes some sort of sense.
AP: I think that Rodney Mullen in skateboarding is the best example of a person who came out of the Play sphere and then the second that people saw him they went, “that’s art.” And then weirdly, Rodney Mullen, is also an example of skateboarding having to work out, because it was trying to be a sport… Rodney Mullen was so good with his art and his play that skateboarding went, “we need to come up with a way to sportify Rodney Mullen.” He’s in this wonderful, unique category, because the hours on flat ground that that dude spends! For anybody who doesn’t know, Rodney Mullen is an amazing skateboarder who is… he likes to go to a car park and kick flip things around and it’s just really amazing. And does inhuman things. So. But that’s because of the hours. Because he wants to play. And that’s come across from his interviews from back in the seventies. When he’s talked about it. Like, it’s crazy shit to see. And that’s what I was saying. This is when we have to respect the people that come from these environments. If they don’t look like sports, then maybe sport needs to pay attention to them a little bit more. Because sport is a very rigid construction and very, very biased because it often comes very specific ideas of performance. So, if you want a really good measuring system you want to get me out of… People who just play, get me right in there! Sorry I didn’t mean to cut you out, I just ranted.
EL: No, no awesome. Rant away! Like, I think you need to listen to more of our casts and see what we do.
MK: Yeah we rant a lot. I just want to shoot in one thing before… It’s funny when we speak about sports I realize that aspect of hand balancing, the federation, the self-imposed rule set that you adhere to in your head, that is sports. That is an internalized system of criteria that even though there isn’t a formal body saying it, it is this in your head judgement. That time Jonathan explained what he meant with the federation to me. He said: The federation is you judging yourself even when you’re alone. Oh yeah, this was a good one, this was a bad one. And what he loved to do, he was on this aerial strap thing. He was showing me a couple moves. And he says yeah, look at this one, and he does a move, which is a classical one. And this is something that everyone knows. It was a meathook to a reverse meathook switch. A cool looking trick. And then he goes down again and starts spinning and he does a “What about this one?” And he does the move but it doesn’t complete it. He kind of almost goes there, and he goes down. Almost goes there and goes down. And then he does a bunch of things that are not so clear but they’re just not clear because I don’t have a preconception of what they’re supposed to be. And he’s like, “Why aren’t these valuable? Why aren’t these things cool?” And the funny thing with him is that he has an infinite amount of vocabulary because he never completes the move or he does sometimes. Or he can do all of the stuff. Or he chooses to vary. Or he treats that as a spectrum of grey zones of interesting stuff. Either you don’t do anything, or you do the move. I think this is really interesting. In terms of like, remember, for all of us, when we do these kind of things, well, our criteria that we choose to judge ourselves and ours are worth questioning particularly in relation to “What do I want to do?” because if that’s what you want to do, it’s fine, but hey, what if I actually don’t feel like this thing but this is what everyone says is proper and should I sadface because I am not interested or able to do it?
AP: Yeah, I have to say that I fall into the conception of within my movement practice and I’ve had my practice for a while still fall into conceptions of performing. And then you meet somebody, so we’ve got a great parkour guy here called John Baker, who I remember from seven or eight years ago. First time he ever got to play in a foam pit. Showed up and just decided to figure out different ways to fall. He was able to figure a series what are pretty technical flip movements through that process. And its interesting because it was the fact that it was play and he didn’t care that made it into art but also made it great sport because by the end of his session, he was doing movements that are technically scalable. So that relationship, that progression, is wonderful, and I think it takes a particular….See, I don’t think it’s a personality because anybody who does any serious neuroscience doesn’t believe in the idea we are introverts or extroverts. There is a flow that happens throughout our life. Um, so, I think that is a wonderful mindset to be able to be in. It comes more naturally to some people than others. But, yeah.
EL: Yeah. Thinking on what you touched on there… A lot of things. Yeah. We could almost say just based on this introvert/extrovert, federation stuff as well the true handbalancers are those random people who send me questions. I’m sure you get the same ones. They have an Instagram account and it has like one picture, the mandatory one picture you have to post, something that they ate? And there’s nothing else. So then they ask an incredibly technically advanced question on handstands, “I’m having this problem… and blahblahblah” Something to do with one arm, or pressed with something. But there’s no evidence that they do one arm, or that they have a practice, or that they exist, other than an algorithm generated question. So, they’re the true hand balancers. Free of the federation. And free of other peoples’ eyes.
AP: But let’s give sport people. We need sports people. If we didn’t have sport people we wouldn’t have kim unit. I mean, sports unit, represent all of those narratives and values that unify.
MK: It’s a really important point because like we’re berating the entire criteria. It’s not really about that. That is there and it’ll always be there so accept it but allow yourself to not treat it as kind of put on a God-given pedestal. It’s just the things people came up with. And like, it’s… now I completely lost my train of thought. It’s out the window.
EL: I could probably pick it up.
AP: One of those weird things that anthropologists end up hitting up, and anthropologists when we do our field work, one of the things that we quickly realize is stereotypes are horrible and nonsense and so much of them are projected internally. But then, one of the things that happens is you hang out, and you do all these interviews, and you do all this work. And then so many anthropologists, we send this cheeky email to each other or we say this: The thing about generalizations they’re generally true. Which means that if you have an amazing movement practice routine and it requires an amount of sportified discipline and you are the freest free living flip around never wanna follow the rules handstander you’ve ever imagined, you’re still gonna benefit from that routine. And it’s a matter of approach. That’s one of the things we’re all uncomfortable about this. We like to think were all gonna get there in our own different ways. I’ve also seen a lot of community revolutions within movement parks. That have to do with people shutting the fuck up and actually just training and there’s all kinds of weird shit that happens with politics. People get really involved with the idea of having to represent a certain ideal of training and they actually cut themselves off at the knees. You don’t see them practice because they’re artistically against this thing that they’re told they need to do more than any other thing to progress their physical capacity and um, yeah that’s all kind of fascinating, tangled up, cultured stuff that happens there.
EL: That’s kind of an interesting one in cirque because we get a lot of argument against strength vs. technique. Like if your technique is good, you don’t need strength. Obviously technique is there to make things efficient but people get obsessed with like perfecting the technique when actually what they just need is more brute force and then the technique will come perfect based on – I always think of like – when I’m talking about coaching and students, I’m always talking about technical perfect form is, it’s something that emerges, based on conversions of strength, coordination, flexibility, all of these things go into it, as well as aesthetic sense, which is part of coordination. And that’s what gives you perfect form. Whereas if you chase perfect form without having enough of these bubbles filled up you can’t have perfect form emerge.
MK: But isn’t it sort of interesting? Like, I mean, it’s a perfect reflection of what you just talked about in the very beginning of the pure vs. the impure. I mean technique is pure, beautiful and more associated with the mind, and brute force, is some sort of like, mundane, profane, disgusting stuff, that we don’t want here. Like, it’s literally that.
AP: Unless you’re a machine. Unless you’re a machine. Because machines are beautiful and pure in their own way. And machines function in all kinds of interesting ways. And I really think that this is sort of the…We’re talking about what people idealize. There’s an internal politic. Do I idealize the machinated version of the body? In which case, I’m gonna get all this stuff right. Or do I idealize the cultural story, the art? In which case, the body is getting… I mean, it’s absurd! I’m so glad we’re here again. This isn’t the way that most cultures think about movement. This division is a very culturally specific one, guys. And conceptions of souls. And whether or not we believe that souls are good and souls are bad. Most cultures don’t have this dumb idea of a soul. The unchanging essence is actually really rare across culture. It’s something we’ve been really effective at imposing. I have to. I want to really highlight. It’s a bit of a pathology that weve imposed upon the world. To imagine this binary. The soul is the body. If you were to be really scientific about it. Neurological conception. I think you’ve said it before. You know, the brain is a bit of meat in a whole series of interesting ways. It’s a muscle in a whole bunch of functional ways. If I’m misquoting you, do correct me.
EL: No, no, no you’re doing it right. It’s kinda commenting on the conception of mental health and it just comes down to, oh, almost, that you have engaged in wrong things, or wrong activities, played too much video games, or studied too hard or something and therefore your mind, this non incorporeal thing, has been broken, and it’s basically your fault. Whereas, at the end of the day, is an endocrine-organ. It’s an organ of respiration. It’s how we interface with the world. But it’s just a piece of flesh that can get broken in some ways. Or have the wrong something.
AP: And is really similar to the rest of the body. I mean so much of the cognitive processes happen within the embodied unit. And probably … had to suffer planning that.
EL: So, we’ve been gone about ninety minutes we’re going to wrap it up there to keep from getting too long. This was super interesting. I’m sure our listeners are super into it. I’m sorry we’re not talking about toe points. If people are game, we’d definitely be game for having you back. Other than that, would you like to tell people about your course or where they can find your stuff?
AP: Currently for like a year and a half now, engaged in research, whenever I want to be, which is nice, but I have to make money, so I run anthropology courses. So, yeah, come find me. I’ll give you an email and I’ll give you a schedule for all that stuff. I’m affiliated with a whole bunch of non-university places. But I want to make you a promise. And I think Mikael will testify. The courses I’m running are exactly the way they would be at the moment. So I’m pissed off at unis. I think our teaching processes are shitty. I think we need to have access beyond expensive course loads and lots of stress. So if you guys want to take an anthropology subject, currently I’ve got three, you can come and take them.
EL: Oh, lovely. I might even jump on one of them.
MK: I’ve done the anthropology 101, which is kind of an introduction to anthropology, which I thought was brilliantly structured. Something that will introduce to a new one the general kind of notions of both the history of anthropology and the various components of both its practice and its discipline. So I am certainly recommending that to anyone listening. I’m now doing the embodiment course and I’m really looking forward to, what is it, Popular Culture that you’re going to do?
MK: That will be amazing.
EL: Yeah, it’s kind of interesting, like, for me, de-centralized, or de-academic, like in the grand structural academic form of education. That we can now get to the point where it’s like, oh, you could actually get a university-level course. Obviously adult-x and stuff like this, kind of spearheaded it, but at the same now, it’s even leaving the social universe like you know, “I know a lot about this thing. I’m really enthusiastic and I know how to convey it and now you can just come and do it with me as an interest and that’s awesome!” So, I’m really keen about that and it was one of the reasons why I liked to get you on.
AP: It also depends on where you come from. I mean, for me, its being migrant working class, and then me realizing towards the end of my career, how middle class you have to be, and how few people outside of that get access to uni.
EL: It’s definitely one of those things… Yeah. We’re in a very interesting phase. That’s what I kinda like about now. You can literally learn everything you want from anyone very easily online. But then a lot of it is kinda…Sorry, I’m going to ramble slightly and then I’ll wrap it up. There’s this story, a short science fiction story about humanity had obtained immortality. And you were never going to die. That was it. You were just here forever. And then society stratified into two types of people. The people who were like: Oh my god I have all this time now, I can learn everything. And they were just super industrious, working, studying and then it stratified, the other side: Oh, I have an infinite amount of time, I can do it later. I think uh, we see that now. I see it kinda. Yeah, I better wrap it up there. This has been the Handstand Cast. We will have links for Alex’s work. You will be able to find them. Also checked out some of your art, which is pretty cool. So check out some of your art. And other than that, we’ll be back next week with some other handstand related topic. Thank you so much for coming on. We had a great time.
AP: Great, thank you guys. Pleasure to meet you Emmet. Good deal of fun. That went really quickly.