Humility and utility

Posted by Patrick in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

I recently read a thread on a parkour and freerunning forum, where the original poster was asking for advice. He had regular run-ins with some bullies who made fun of him for training parkour, and he needed help with how to handle it.

The majority of the respondents had the right idea — ignore your aggressors, they advised, and pursue your own training. After all, it’s not for them that we train our bodies and minds, but for ourselves.

A few other members of the forum, though, took on a different tone: smile smugly with your head held high, they counseled, knowing that you have embraced a philosophy far superior to that of your antagonists.

“They don’t understand what we know,” one contended. “They possibly never will.”

Doesn’t this contradict one of the main points of the art of movement? The way that we move is not special, does not depend upon some secret knowledge. It’s sublimely human, the birthright of locomotion anyone can claim. The idea of exclusivity seems out of place in a tradition open to all humanity.

For all the personal growth the art of movement can bring, it is just another path that one may choose to walk. Who are we to say that it’s the best one, or that it’s the only one that can bring one toward enlightenment? How can we claim that our discipline make us intrinsically better than nonpractitioners? It’s as absurd as being smug about choosing pink as one’s favourite colour.

To me, the path of the traceur is grounded in respect, humility, and service. Isn’t it disrespectful to disparage others’ choices? How can we be useful to our fellow man if we consider ourselves above them?

Straight talk

Posted by Patrick in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

One of the things the parkour community prides itself on is the egalitarian attitude that is assumed among the practitioners.  Diversity isn’t really something we need to talk about when we’re on the concrete.  No one judges another based on gender or class or even physical ability.  We train together, we sweat together, we bleed together.  When we’re out there with our fellow practitioners, the only thing that matters is how hard we’re training, how hard we’re pushing ourselves.

At least, that’s how it’s supposed to be.  But just because no one voices a biased mindset doesn’t mean it’s not there.  In a subculture dominated by male teens and twentysomethings, the prevalent stereotyping and speech patterns carry over from the parent culture of young men.  It’s no secret that among our demographic group, it’s become commonplace to refer to push ups executed with one’s knees down as “girl push ups”, or that “gay” has become synonymous with “stupid”.  For advocates of a discipline that we tout as being great for everyone regardless of background, we sometimes are unaware of the insensitive implications of our speech.

As Alissa “Muse_of_Fire” Bratz of Madison Parkour discussed in a forum post on American Parkour,1 terms such as these offer a dual disservice. First, they suggest to the marginalized demographic that they are less capable or desirable than your average practitioner. Whether this is believed is irrelevant. The damage is in the marginalization, the divisive effect of the vocabulary that serves to stress and fracture the solidarity on which we in the parkour community pride ourselves. Second, and perhaps more insidiously, it allows for the further propagation of the improper usage and thereby more tightly ties the marginalized group to the unfortunate implication. In essence, increased use and desensitization leads to this association becoming okay in the mind of the general public.

And why should we, as traceurs, care? There is, of course, the issue of solidarity that I discussed above. Many practitioners express willingness and desire to meet new people who are also interested in the discipline, demonstrating great confidence in the good will shared among traceurs.2, 3, 4 In my experience, this feeling of trust and mutual respect is endemic throughout the vast majority of the parkour world, and is one of its defining characteristics. To betray this would be to act contrary to the path of the traceur.

Anyone who has a decent knowledge of the English language knows several ways to express displeasure other than using the word “gay”, and likewise has the vocabulary to describe knee push ups without insinuating that women are unable to do traditional plank push ups.  It is a conscious choice to use these words in this manner, and one must accept all implications of such. Let’s show a little respect for our fellow traceurs and phase these words out of our collective vocabulary, yeah?


  1. ^ Bratz, Alissa J. American Parkour. “Girl push-ups.” (accessed 21 Jan 2009).
  2. ^ AdamMcC [Feng]. “Re: 101 good things about being a traceur.” (accessed 21 Jan 2009).
  3. ^ Straughn, Cory. “Re: 101 good things about being a traceur.” (accessed 21 Jan 2009).
  4. ^ Mitchell, Desmund “iceucold”. “Re: 101 good things about being a traceur.” (accessed 21 Jan 2009).