Feature Athlete 12: Danilo Di Gregorio a.k.a GHOST-Part 2/2

In part 2 of our interview with the humble and talented Danilo Di Gregorio a.k.a GHOST, we look into how the parkour scene has changed from when he first started 15 years ago and his opinion on how the community is changing.

Since you have such extensive experience in parkour, and you are a point of reference for many Italian traceurs, I wanted to ask you how did you see parkour change over the years?

Danilo: I will try to be concise, although it is a wide topic, since the differences we are talking about do exist, and in a way, they also run quite deep. 

Although I am an Italian practitioner I don’t have the full pulse of the Italian community as a whole, because otherwise, it would mean that I should be everywhere and simultaneously know all the practitioners and this is clearly not possible. So obviously what I can say is only my point of view. Nonetheless, I am someone who has met different Italian parkour cultures, and who has done some parkour gatherings, but again I don’t feel I can say that I know everything.

In any case, one difference that is evident, not only here in Italy but in the rest of the world, is the enormous increase in the number of practitioners. Which, from a certain point of view, is a good thing because, more people are moving instead of staying still, however, from another point of view this is problematic because it inevitably leads to a degree of the quality of movement, the practice becomes more superficial, which by itself is not something bad, but it can lead to some problems, such as a low durability of the practice over time. What I mean is that being parkour a discipline which in the past 10 years has grown exponentially on social media and video-platforms, the kids (we are talking about the very young people who start to practice) don’t have at hand the teachings of someone who is more experienced, and who can transmit a knowledge which is not only athletic, technical, or philosophical, but also practical in terms of sustainability over time. Parkourbeing a discipline which is born on these online platforms it is portrayed as very spectacular and attractive, and people will automatically try to imitate what they see in these videos. But we all know that these videos show only the most spectacular part: the huge jumps, massive flips, the landings that you can’t hear because the videos are silent, or even the sound gets distorted to sound more silent.

This inevitably leads to a lowering of the quality of the practice, and hence of its sustainability. A 16 years old kid that starts today, has no idea of the training that he/she has to do, he only has in mind the goal to reach, the ultimate objective is to end up doing the same things that he sees on the videos of his heroes, who jump huge gaps at big heights, or are escaping from the police. A young viewer doesn’t understand what is necessary to do in order to arrive at that level, or rather, he has a superficial idea of it. With this attitude, he inevitably risks being unable to practice long-term due to injuries or contract serious damages to the extent that he needs to stop. I have personally seen many, many, young athletes start, reach an incredible technical level, exponentially superior to me or others from my generation, but then having to stop for problems, damages, ever-increasing injuries, from traumas and over-use, which is something very serious if you are only 20/25 years old. It looks like the sports career of agonist athletes who practice from 10 to 20 maximum 30 years old and then stop.

In short, the increase of practicians is something that I have seen a lot, but also a lowering of the quality, an increase of the technical level, but a decrease of the sustainability of the practice. I have also noticed, being the number of practitioners increased, that also the number of courses increased, and not always with competent people to teach the discipline. With the risk of having instructors who are not qualified, who train people who are not able to practice in a sustainable way, and injure themselves, who in turn risk to become themselves incompetent teachers, because at the moment they have to stop training, they still want to continue to remain in the world of parkour, hence they can only become either video producers -as it often happens- or instructors (low-quality ones because they cannot move anymore). Another big difference that I have noticed is an increase of jams, but a parallel decrease of workshops, and classic gatherings, because here in Italy, the mind-set is that there is nothing else to teach, and it follows that there is no more the need for events such as workshops, where there is someone that practices with experience, who is not only a good athlete but also a good teacher, able to teach concepts which are apparently taken for granted and surpassed, which actually they are not. 

Do you think these changes, which seem to have a link a consumerist approach to movement, had an effect on the original form of the parkour community?

Danilo: In time my opinion on this has changed, years ago I was more radical, then with time, getting to know other points of view, meeting other people, seeing how things change, and being also someone quite self-inquisitive, because I am never fully satisfied with the answers I give myself, and I don’t like to think I have the whole truth in my pocket. So what I mean is that, yes for sure there is consumerism today, there is more consumerism compared to before, and it is possible to see this easily from the thousands of clothes brands specific for parkour, which up to a few years ago they didn’t even exist. Entrepreneurs and business owners found this market field, which was absolutely attractive, free and empty, and they fully dived into it, gaining also a lot of success, for example with trousers that cost 100 euros, and there are many people willing to buy them, or shoes specific for parkour which again cost 140 euros, and there are still people who buy them. When once it was really the discipline of people who just went out jumping in rugs, who got out on the streets and they trained with what they had. But it is ok, I don’t want to completely limit myself to whine on this, it is normal that any niche which offers itself as free, eventually get bought by someone. It is just a matter of time, such as in climbing, skate, breakdancing and all those activities that were “underground”. So yes, there is consumerism, and I don’t think that this has eroded the concept of community, for sure it has modified it. Because inevitably, when the number of practitioners becomes many, many, many more, and it is much easier to communicate through social, compared than in person, because it is faster, easier, you don’t fear the judgment of others, you can say whatever you want because you will not find another person on the other side, hence, the term of community becomes much more fluid now.

Ghost

There is no more the confrontation, meeting in person, the humbleness to learn from someone else, because there is always someone stronger than you can easily find online, and try his same things, there is no more the necessity to say: “I don’t know, I want to learn, I trust you to teach me and show me what you can do so that we share our knowledge”. There is always someone better, who becomes an icon, who has millions of followers, trains and makes videos only with branded clothes, so he can get sponsored, etc. So parkour had the same fate, like many other activities born from a group of people with some ideas, with some necessities, in a certain context, and then with time, it changed. Like free climbing which was born from a group of hippies in the Yosemite Valley in the 60s, and they were 10 people, who did it only to have a harmonic connection with nature and rocks and wanted to climb, now there are a lot of climbing competition events, sponsors, red bull etc. 

However, I don’t want to be the usual old guy that says that “during my times it was better”, it is not necessary like this. It is obvious that things change, but they have also changed at an insane speed, and it was really difficult to understand the situation while it was changing because it did not change in 50 years, but in 10 years, where it changed everything. It changed all the paradigm of the motivations why people move, how people move, the way people learn how to move, this does not mean that there is not a community anymore, the community exists, just keep in mind I am talking about the areas that I know, the communities that I know, unfortunately, how I said earlier I don’t have a general idea (of Italy), I would like to, but it is really difficult. For example, I don’t know how is it now in London, I went there a couple of times, so I was there in 2015 when there was there were many more groups than only parkour generations, different groups, with different directions, which have now surpassed the idea that existed before parkour generations, as being the people who brought parkour in London, in the UK, and who basically spread it.

The community still exists but is only changed, with a number of people practicing increasing, with consumerism, with the brutal neoliberalism, and with social media that make all contacts, I wouldn’t say empty, but definitely less deep, merely due to the physical distance, not because social media is bad per se. These are only instruments, but automatically, they make the connection between people more superficial because there is distance and it will never be the same thing as having a person-to-person rapport, between two people who train together, they see each other during gatherings, training, and in spots. This is very different from, two people that look at each other on Instagram thousands of kilometres apart. In short, the community changed only because there is another paradigm. I see new generations of practitioners who absolutely have a desire to have a community, but they don’t know how to do it, they don’t know how to organize gatherings other than jams, where there is a host who is a huge athlete, but who has nothing to teach or share, who often doesn’t even speak the local language and doesn’t care to do so because he doesn’t have anything to pass on. So they don’t know how to do a community outside the group of their close friends, with people they already trained with.

But I have faith that the community still exists, it is important to be careful to the models we inspire ourselves off to, there are some kids who I think would be excellent practitioners and even great teachers, but they let themselves be seduced, from this spectacular part of parkour, the possibility to be sponsored, to be able to travel the world, paid to do races, or to train with the branded shirt. Which again, even that it is not in itself, but there is the risk to lose sight as to why we practice, and parkour becomes an end and not a means, and for me, this is the most important thing. Parkour has always been, and it is increasingly so a means, and I don’t practice for the mere taste of jumping from wall to another, to fill the emptiness that exists between two spaces. Instead, for me, parkour is an instrument to reach something, to build something, to make something. It is an instrument as it can be dancing, a work, or an art, which leads to something else: to help other people who you are teaching, to help myself to be a person more serene and better, and improving the place where I live taking care of the places and the spaces and the people. Everyone has their own reason why they practice, but it does not only end, and I fear it is becoming increasingly an end.  

A Mini Thank You

That was the final segment with Danilo Di Gregorio, we hope you enjoyed finding out about this athlete and his opinions on how parkour is changing. And I want to say thank you to Danilo for taking the time to do the interview and giving us his honest opinions and we look forward to seeing what he will do in the future. 

To find more about Ghost (Danilo):

Sources:

  • Interviewer: Chiara Fabbri
  • Interviewee: Danilo Di Gragorio
  • Feature Image: From Danilo Di Gragorio
  • Videos & Pictures:
    Instagram: @ghostdanilo

©World of Parkour

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