The power of the Global Parkour Community
Fri, 2011-03-18 10:20
Some of you may have heard of the extraordinary opportunity that I’ve been given: Travel the globe for 12 months on someone else’s dime studying and training parkour. While this has led to me being labelled all manner of things from “hardworking researcher” to “lucky gringo bastard” in parkour communities around the world, it has also introduced me to the “global parkour community”.
To a lot of people this community may seem limited to internet forums and YouTube videos, or the occasional visits from a select few of the leading traceurs in the world for workshops and promotional events. However, I’ve found that it runs far deeper than this, even despite differences in language, culture, religion, politics, and/or geography.
One of the things that has struck me most about this global parkour community is the extraordinary level of openness and trust that exists within it. At this point in my trip I’ve been to seven countries (France, UK, Singapore, Australia, Chile, Argentina, Brazil), and I have at least another 2 to go before the end of the year (Italy and Denmark). In each country I’ve found that this spirit exists. Offers to host me in their house from people that I have never met, people waiting at the bus station or airport to meet me when I get in, traceurs taking time off from work or school to show me around their hometowns, road trips with people to parkour events (or the beach), home-cooked meals with traceurs’ “support teams” (aka their families) - are all just a few of the many instances of generosity and friendship that I’ve encountered on this trip. However the question that still keeps me awake a few minutes longer each night as I thank my lucky stars for this trip is: “Why? Why go to all these lengths for me?” I’ve only been training for 8 months so I’m definitely not a particularly skilled traceur to train with. My research is cool but no one’s making any money out of it so there isn’t any commercial incentive. The only conclusion is that my skills at finishing off the last portions of things on the dinner table are particularly valuable. Or is it something else? Something much larger than me?
For example, how is it possible that you can meet someone in the morning as they pick you up after an 8-hour bus ride and by dinner time you are best friends? It’s not the brief drive through town to see the famous tourist sites and traceur hotspots, or the homemade meal that you had with their family, or the shared taste in music and movies, or even that delicious banana bread that their grandmother makes… So then how does this happen?
It happens over the course of the 3-hour training session that leaves you both exhausted, dripping sweat from every inch of skin on your bodies, and groaning inwardly at the thought of how long it’s going to take you to get out of bed tomorrow morning. Parkour has a way of introducing you to people in the barest and must vulnerable way possible. No frills, no faking it, no bells and whistles- just them. There is no amount of posturing or talking can mask the way someone looks as they ponder a difficult and “unbroken” precision jump, or fight with everything they have to complete “just one more muscle up”. The way that people overcome these obstacles tells you a lot about them, even if they don’t want to show it.
The bond that you build with people in this way is often times so strong that it transcends the first power of separation. Below is an example of a conversation that I’ve had with traceurs numerous times during my travels:
Traceur: “It was great when --(Foreign traceur)-- came. They stayed at my house for 8 days and we trained almost every day.”
Me: “So how did that happen? You know them beforehand, right?”
Traceur: “No, I had never even heard of him/her before one of the guys I train with –(local traceur)—, mentioned that they knew a guy/girl coming here. –(Local traceur)—sent around an email asking if anyone could host him/her so I offered my place.”
Me: “But you didn’t know him/her? And you offered to host them at your family’s house for 8 days?”
Traceur: “Of course. They’re a traceur, and –(local traceur)—knew a few guys that trained with him/her and said that they were really cool.”
While this is just a small example of the way in which the global parkour community is unique (how many other sports have this?) I think it also says a lot about parkour in general. Personally, I suspect that a lot of this trust and cooperation comes from the lack of competition, which lets people focus on things other than winning or being better than everyone else. It is also my strong suspicion that this comes from the leading groups in the sport, which are often based on the “family model”. Stemming from the original tight-knit unit formed by the Yamakasi, most parkour groups that I’ve encountered are very close to one another. When someone is introduced to the group, they become part of that “family” and therefore their friends become “family friends”. This extension of the group, and common values shared with other groups, leads to a tight-knit global community.
So I guess my message is this. To all the people in the parkour community that I’ve been fortunate enough to meet and have shown me this side of parkour- thank you. To those of you that might be new to parkour, welcome, and take this as an example of the standard to be upheld and help to continue building this global parkour community.
Coming to a training spot near you…