If you’ve ever seen people doing parkour or know someone who does parkour then chances are good you’ve heard at least one of the following phrases said in passing. Maybe you’ve even said one or two jokingly yourself…because hey, what’s a “Can you do a backflip?!” between friends (or for that matter, complete strangers). Well, do you know the uncle at every family gathering who tells the same jokes to the same people every year and then gets mad and shouty if you don’t laugh?
Pictured here: the two minutes where Uncle Maury finally shut the hell up and went to the bathroom.
Congratulations, that’s you. So to avoid being Uncle Maury, here’s a list of four phrases you really shouldn’t say to someone practicing parkour.
#4. Can You Do A Backflip?!
“Parkour!!! Isn’t that the thing where you run up walls and then backflip from four-story buildings?!”
“Uh, kind of. Really though it’s more about self-improvement and understanding your bod-“
“Less talking, more backflip! Go!”
This is probably the most common thing we hear as parkour practitioners and it’s amazing how this phrase can unite all non-practitioners in the way it spans race, age, gender, level of education, and complete lack of social skills. I have been asked this by businessmen on Wall Street and 16 year old pregnant girls in New Haven alike…all with the same blithe expectation that (1) I somehow owe them an answer to this question, and (2) if I can, in fact, backflip then it is my duty as a citizen of the United States, nay, THE WORLD, to stop what I’m doing and perform said backflip for them as many times as they request.
When we say it’s been happening for years we’re really not joking.
Do you see the problem here? The annoying thing isn’t only that we’re forced to completely break focus in order to satisfy a stranger’s inane and senseless questions but that we’re also expected (for some strange, inexplicable reason) to then perform for this random person. For those of us who teach, train, or do legitimate parkour performances as a career it’s frustrating and degrading. Imagine stopping someone wearing nursing scrubs on the street and asking them to give you a quick check-up. Or seeing a chef leave his restaurant and asking him if he could make you a quick PB&J on the street with some groceries you picked up. Just because the majority of parkour training happens in public does not mean it is meant for public consumption. Our training is not a street performance. Please don’t treat it like one…unless you see a hat on the ground with a bunch of coins in it. Then it probably is a street performance. So throw a few bucks in and ask for all the backflips you want!
#3. That’s Dangerous!/You’re Gonna Fall!
Here’s another example of how normal social behavior somehow disintegrates when it comes into contact with parkour…how many times a day do you tell someone that their behavior has potentially dangerous consequences? If your answer was more than zero you’re probably a police officer, college RA, or literally ANYONE off the street who sees someone doing parkour. I mean, seriously, do you guys really think we don’t realize messing up could be dangerous?
You mean to tell me there’s a way this could end badly?
At the end of the day, every practitioner understands that he or she can get hurt doing parkour. What helps us stay healthy and safe is having a calm environment to practice in…so yeah, screaming “OH MY GOD” while we’re balancing on a rail thirty feet up probably isn’t the best idea. Neither is interrupting us while we’re trying to prep a jump or describing in excruciating detail all the different ways we could mess up. Smoking cigarettes, drinking alcohol, driving a car, and walking around praying to God you don’t get hit by a piece of falling debris are all calculated risks adults make every single day. People make decisions about how dangerous an activity or a situation is based on self-knowledge and go from there. Driving on the parkway isn’t a big deal for most people but it can be seriously dangerous if I’m intoxicated/texting/a teenage girl. Since the person actively training parkour probably knows their body and abilities more accurately than a random bystander we’d really appreciate it if you let us decide what’s dangerous and what’s not. Unless you’re Amish and you wear a hardhat every time you step outside, then I think you’ve got all the “calculated risk” bases pretty much covered so you can say what you want.
#2. You Can’t Do This Here, It’s Private Property/It’s Just a Liability Issue
If you’re a fan of traditional sports you’ve probably heard stories about baseball superstars from South America who grew up playing with milk carton gloves or linebackers from the ghetto who went pro having never played a game of organized football in their life. The moral of these stories is generally that amazing athletes can come from anywhere, despite circumstances that are stacked against them. This is sort of what it’s like trying to train parkour in the United States.
Imagine trying to progress at a sport where your friends have tons of high level gyms, parks, and practice areas all around them and you don’t have any.
Just in case you’re having trouble imagining…
Now imagine being actively discouraged from training at the one or two comparatively lame places you DO have nearby because of liability. It doesn’t matter that you’ve been training there for years without injuring yourself or causing trouble of any kind or that the business whose walls you happen to be training on is closed that day or even that you’ve offered to sign a waiver. The very idea of a liability issue strikes so much fear into the hearts of security guards, police officers, and park officials everywhere that you have to immediately stop what you’re doing and go home.
We understand that America has a massive sue culture and lots of times people who get injured look to liability as a way to pay off their (hefty) medical bills. But please don’t hide behind this as a reason to make us leave. If you ask politely, we’ll generally go no questions asked. It’s pretty understood at this point that what we do isn’t accepted by most people and that’s cool. But know that regardless of your reasons for having us leave chances are good that we’ll be back…the siren song of walls and rails is just too strong.
That’s what you get! That’s what you get for having a wall!
#1. Hardcore Parkour!
First of all, if you haven’t seen the clip from The Office that started this trend you should probably watch that here so the rest of this will make sense to you. Also, it’s hilarious. Seriously, go watch it and get a good laugh in before you come back.
I’ll just wait here for you guys…
Now that you’ve seen this clip, you’re 100% prepared to deal with parkour practitioners in the real world. If you encounter some, your first thought might be something along the lines of “Hey, I know what parkour is! It’s that thing I saw in The Office, the funny French thing they made fun of. I bet those guys doing parkour over there would really appreciate it if I screamed the name of their sport at them…you know, out of a general sense of camaraderie or in case they forgot or something.”
Wait, that thought process doesn’t make sense to you? That’s interesting, because it doesn’t make sense to us either but it’s one we run into pretty much every single day we train in a public space.
Now I don’t know who made it okay to scream random things in public but if you do parkour you have to come to terms with the fact that strangers screaming at you will be a part of your everyday life.
Kind of like working the drive-thru window at a McDonalds.
It’s not just weird, it’s distracting and inappropriate. You’re not at a sporting event…if you’re screaming at someone while they’re training you damned well better have Tourette’s. Otherwise, it’s fair game if they follow you around and narrate your activities at the top of their voices.
Now that I think about it…please, yell “Parkour” as much as you want…
If you’ve ever made one of these parkour faux-pas, it’s ok. We forgive you. Just know that we would love to be treated with the same level of respect and decency you would treat a normal human being with. And if you can manage to hold back from screaming “PARKOUR!” or calculating (out loud) the exact probability we’ll break our ankles jumping to that rail maybe you can even stop by and do a little bit of jumping with us. Who knows, if you stick with it long enough you might be lucky enough to have someone ask “But can you do a backflip?!?”