ETRE-FORT PORTRAIT: Janis Geiger “sourd traceur”

ETRE-FORT supports Parkour communities all over the world. Thereby we meet all kinds of people, who stand behind these communities and support Parkour with their heart and soul. In the following interview we want to introduce such a person: Janis Geiger is a coach at the ParkourONE Academy in Berlin and teaches Parkour worldwide with emphasis on diversity. In the interview he talks about he practices and teaches Parkour as a deaf tracer and what the slogan “être fort pour être utile” means to him.

Être fort pour être utile.

Être fort pour être utile – be strong to be useful.

In the life of a “sourd traceur” (deaf Parkour practitioner) there are many obstacles and high walls, which metaphorically can well be compared to barriers in life. I quickly think “ey this is not even possible” and at the same time “I want to achieve this”. The result: an inner, contradicting chaos. I described this extensively in an article “Parkour und ich“. Take a look.

How long have you been practicing and how did you discover Parkour?

Well before I stumbled over the word “Parkour” through a friend in 2008, movement was something I enjoyed doing. I tried various competitive sports, ball sports and combat sports as well as martial arts, gymnastics and acrobatics. At the moment I concentrate solely on Parkour, Freerunning, bouldering, acrobatics and partner acrobatics. For me Parkour and Freerunning strongly coincide, since I enjoy experimenting and connecting creative moves of various sports and movement types. 

I have a hard time with definitions and boundaries – and therefore with restrictions or maybe even exclusion. I apply this to various movement forms as well. I believe the movement of from various areas can enrich each other and coincide. Therefore I preferably talk about movement. This encompasses all varieties of movement (walking, running, pulling, jumping, climbing, pushing, carrying, swimming, crawling, creeping, standing up, turning and so on).

I have relocated numerous times in my life. That made it difficult for me to settle in a club and steadily practice a specific sport. In Parkour or other movements I can train strength, discipline and mobility unattached to locations or people, without being evaluated from the outside or comparing myself to anyone. I attained this new perspective when I was introduced to Parkour. I liked this a lot and it perfectly suits my life situation. I stuck with it ever since.

Photo by André Serfas

Where is your favorite spot and what is your biggest challenge in Parkour?

I enjoy always facing new challenges at spots all over the world. Tackling the unknown and overcoming the challenges on sight is awesome. This allows for me to better know my own boundaries and develop new skills. The challenges in Parkour change all the time. Every obstacle is a new challenge, I can try various moves, which need to be adjusted depending on strength, endurance, speed, weather conditions and current physical state. Practicing efficiency interests me, dependent to the aforementioned aspects. For example if I have repeatedly practiced a “passe mureille” on a high wall, my strength starts to fade slowly and it becomes harder to reach the top. I then ask myself how I can yet move efficiently in this situation and deal with this circumstance.

Why do you think Parkour is good for you?

Parkour is very flexible concerning time, location and duration of practice and you can practice it alone as well as in a group. Also many different aspects are connected in Parkour. This leads to mental and physical development, such as overcoming fears and blockades, which are solidified in ones head or even body. Steadily repeating and sticking to the development of moves helps me  transfer this to other areas of life. In doing so I do not forget which path I chose, but rather stay focused, even if the path is rocky. 

Also when I want to achieve a personal change, it is important to stick to it and continuously remind myself what it is that I want to achieve. It is difficult for us humans to eliminate or change solidified patterns and automatisms of today. When we steadily keep trying, the body and mind can slowly re-adjust and unlearn. This fascinates me.

Photo by André Serfas

What does “being strong” mean to you?

From my life experiences it first and foremost means to work on myself. It is important to me to continuously observe myself in everyday situations, thus developing my self-assessment over time and getting to know my personal boundaries better.

With this strength I’m useful to myself and my personal path, in the manner described.

Only after I have strengthened myself and gained clarity, I can be useful to others in an inspiring manner. When I’m strong myself, I can give to others what I found to be useful.  These strong individuals on the other hand can empower other people und over time a greater network of strong individuals is built 😉

Being strong in my opinion means to understand ones own strengths and weaknesses and how to go about these. 

How do you interpret ÊTRE-FORT?

ÊTRE-FORT derives from the principle “être fort pour être utile”, meaning “be strong to be useful”. I interpret this in different ways.

A significant subject area to me – as a deaf athlete – interrelates with communication. In our society and the circles I move within, I can communicate in various ways: writing, phonetic, sign and body language.

The language easiest for me to gain information is sign language. However this is scarcely spread within the “hearing” society. It is very challenging for me to receive information through phonetic language. I can receive about 30 % of what is spoken through lip-reading. I then have to try to fill the gaps with meaning in my head. Therefore exchanging through phonetic language with a person, means a lot of strain for me in order to follow content wise.

“Being strong to be useful” does not mean to show how professionally I practice Parkour, how far and high I can jump or flips I can do, but rather having patience, being humble and staying strong despite lots of repetitions.

I employ this in my training as well as when dealing with other people. Even people I encounter a lot quickly forget that I’m here and can’t absorb everything as easily. I then have to remind everyone about my special communication needs. Many find it difficult to remember this and be responsive to this. I need to stay strong for this and constantly remind myself not to give up and steadily work on creating same communication conditions for myself.

Being useful therefore means, contributing to achieving inclusion. Through practical exercises I show people the peculiarities and challenges in the life of deaf and hearing impaired people. In my opinion individuals understand this the quickest when they experience it for themselves.

Helen Keller (a well known deaf and blind personality) said “blindness separates from things, deafness from people”. I encounter this a lot when training, course of study, at work and everyday life. I then try to organise it in a way, that I can manage, which is often difficult.

I have often experienced statements such as “because you’re deaf, you can not communicate with customers” or “you can not supervise the practitioner as a coach”. That hurts. Luckily the people at ParkourONE accept me the way I am and I learn to develop my self-esteem and joy in life.

Photo by André Serfas

What do you like about the clothing label ETRE-FORT?

ETRE-FORT develop various and practical clothes. The pockets of the pants have lots of functions for keys, money or credit cards. The pants are very comfortable, optimized for movement, training as well as for everyday activities.

Since I received my first ETRE-FORT clothes I’ve been wearing them all the time, to go shopping, or to job applications (really did), to work or to meditate.

When I wear ETRE-FORT clothes at my inclusion and diversity projects, it reminds me to always keep developing myself, that there are many ways of thinking and that I have to be strong to be useful. 

A big thank you to the entire ETRE-FORT team for their support!

What would you like to tell other tracers?

You can develop and achieve dreams, ideas or goals with joy, when you see and accept that it makes sense to move forward in little steps and work on yourselves with lots of patience and reptition. No matter if it is about movement, ideas, talks or changing patterns. 

“Live in the now, the strength of the present” (Eckart Tolle) and “don’t dream you life, but rather live your dream” (Tommaso Campanella).

Don’t forget: it is normal to be different. Richard von Weizsäcker, former mayor of Berlin and president, once wrote a great article about this. I had goosebumps reading it!


Photo by André Serfas