I’ve been training the discipline of Parkour for about a year now. In general I hate sport, as in cannot-see-the-point-of-running-around-on-a-field-doing-ridiculous-things-in-shorts hate it, and this past 12 months has been the longest I’ve done anything energetic off my own initiative. Parkour is a truly fantastic sport that encourages self-progression: you gain mental discipline in working through fairly major psychological obstacles, and (almost as a side effect) you get extremely fit. I love it, and I particularly love trapping people in social situations and explaining my love for Parkour to them, at length.
Unfortunately, when I do this to people that don’t know me very well, the responses I get range from “Par-whut?” to “Oh my god, you are actually going to kill yourself like all those crazy people on YouTube! Imagine all those publicly-funded hospital bills my taxes are going to have to pay for!” People who do know me well laugh and dodge towards the exit they strategically located when they saw me approaching.
I’d like to do something to help explain what I see as the difference between Parkour-the-sport as compared with crazy people posting things on YouTube. Lots of people smarter than me have written about this, but whatever. I need a first blog post.
YouTube is both the problem and the solution here, so let me show you one example of some amazing Parkour. This guy is awesome, and if you’ve got some time to kill you should watch all his videos:
Notice how there’s no flips, no crazy tricks. The dude’s not in a gym. It’s about rapid, efficient movement through the environment you have available to you, as if you’re really late for the bus. It makes you re-evaluate that decision not to lock your second floor windows. It is an unbelievable amount of outdoor fun, and you don’t need to be crazy (or young, or fit) to learn.
Here’s a video of some not-Parkour for comparison:
Don’t do this. This isn’t fun.
The problem is that people I talk to, people that write letters to the editor, comment on YouTube videos etc get a mental image of video #2 whenever they hear “Parkour”, when there’s so much more awesome in video #1.
Again, Parkour is less showy tricks (though you’ve got to have some fun sometimes) and more safe, practical movement through an environment. The emphasis is on self-progression: you attempt a vault or whatever when you’re ready to do so, and not before. I mentioned mental hurdles before: a jump consisting of a 30cm high garden wall a meter away doesn’t sound very terrifying, but standing there with your reptilian hindbrain shouting “abort! abort!” is a whole different feeling. The feeling of accomplishment when you succeed, and the feeling as you do it again and again to train your brain and expand your comfort zone: the feeling of knowing you can make an even more scary jump because you’ve done it hundreds of times before is something everyone should experience.
Just to be clear, I’m not suggesting that flips are somehow inherently bad – Freerunning, flipping, tricking done well is truly amazing, and most people learn a bit of everything. I’d love to learn to do it properly – I tried once in a gym (with lots of padded things around me) and faceplanted just about every time. So I need to practice more.
Sadly, the poor image of the sport created by people uploading videos of the consequences of their friends shouting “hold my beer! I’m going to do some PARKOUR” discourages a lot of people who would otherwise not do any kind of activity: I know, because I was one of them. Luckily, we have fantastic people attempting to change this here in Australia, and a dedicated group of extremely patient volunteer instructors conducting organised classes for all ages.
So, you should come down to a class. You won’t die (though you’ll be pretty exhausted afterwards) and I promise you’ll have a crazy amount of fun.