5 Things Not To Say to Someone Who Practices Parkour

One of the first questions I asked my boyfriend the day we met was,

“What should I not say to a parkourer?”

“That,” he said.

This began the conversation of what people unfamiliar with the discipline often assume or say that make parkour practitioners cringe. I’m sure there are plenty more, but these are my top 5, and I hope these spare you from some awkward moments and silent glares:

1. “Oh, so you’re a parkourer!”

This is slightly embarrassing since I studied linguistics during my undergrad, but it does make sense that, when a new word presents itself, you apply the regular grammatical endings and hope for the best. Based on this, I took the verb parkour and added the regular -er ending to it to change it to the noun parkourer to mean someone who does parkour. While this might make grammatical sense, parkour is an irregular verb so what I did was completely and totally wrong. Fun fact: parkour practitioners are actually called traceurs or traceuses, which come from the French word for ‘tracer’.

2. “So it’s like gymnastics, right?”

This is a main point of contention between the International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) and parkour communities around the world. If my boyfriend was writing this post, I think he might answer this differently, but the mini-series is that no, parkour is not gymnastics. At the heart of the issue is that the two disciples have different histories and cultures, and to have them both regulated by the same federation is as wrong as asking a minority group to forego their own customs and traditions in favour of the dominant culture.

3. “Oh, like that episode from The Office!

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, click here, watch it, and I’ll be here when you come back.

Okay, hopefully you had a good laugh watching that and we’re now on the same page. While Jim Halpert’s introduction of parkour is actually pretty factual and accurate, the rest of the scene is purely comical, and having people reference a popular culture spoof of a discipline you’re passionate about kind of sucks. This isn’t to say that people who do parkour have no sense of humour. If you bring this scene up in conversation with anyone who does parkour, they’ve seen it and will admit it’s funny. Just know that it’s not an accurate representation of what parkour is, and it’s a really bad idea to shout at people doing stuff that could easily result in serious injury or death if it goes wrong.

4. “Are you training for American Ninja Warrior?”

This is something I never would have thought about, but when I told my grandfather that my boyfriend does parkour, his first reaction was, “Oh! Like that ninja warrior stuff on the tv!” I was super shocked that my grandfather knew of the show before I did, but I did have to burst his bubble. American Ninja Warrior is not a sport or a training discipline. It is first and foremost a reality tv show for which contestants audition, and equal weight is placed on their backstory and physical fitness. Interestingly, many parkour athletes have been featured in this televised obstacle course competition like Levi Meeuwenberg before being bought by NBC. Now, NBC works to phase out any mention of the term ‘parkour,’ which is ironic considering parkour literally means ‘obstacle course.’

5. “Can you do a backflip?”

I have to admit, I sort of fell prey to this one at the North American Parkour Championships (NAPC) this year. I had never seen my boyfriend do a backflip before but I knew he could, so I insisted that I see one at some point during that weekend, and I did. That being said, I would never have asked any of the other athletes at NAPC this question. While a lot of parkour is practiced in public places, it is not a public performance, and thus cannot be commanded or expected by passersby. Plus, there is so much more to parkour than backflips.

So those are my five things not to say to someone who does parkour. Of course there are many, many more, but these five stood out to me as being the big no-nos, and I got my boyfriend to vet them. He’s gotten all of these before, and can attest to how annoying they are. Sometimes I still say them in jest though. If you’ve ever said any of these, it’s okay. The next time you see people doing parkour though, I hope you think of this post and resist the urge to shout “HARDCORE PARKOUR!” at them or demand a backflip.

Until next time, remember, “Parkour was never invented by anyone; it’s always been here” (Sébastien Foucan, n.d.).

How I First Heard About Parkour

This sounds weird even as I say it in my head and type it out.

The first time I heard about parkour was during a Cineplex pre-show for the movie John Wick, Chapter 2 way back in 2016.

The second time I heard about parkour was during a trip to Montréal when someone told me that my now-boyfriend practiced parkour and thus could easily scale a giant statue to kiss its cheek so we could win a city scavenger hunt (we came in second by the way, but I think I won first place when it comes to boyfriends).

Needless to say, I am the farthest thing from an expert when it comes to parkour. But after meeting my boyfriend and hearing about his passion for it, I wanted to learn more.

So I started learning the only way I know how: reading. I began with Breaking the Jump by Julie Angel that chronicles the history of parkour from Parisian ghettoes to its rise as a global evolution of movement, complete with anecdotes about training with some of the greats like Forrest (François Mahop).

I then dove into Max Henry’s The Parkour Roadmap to get a handle on basic parkour terminology and practice techniques. However, I began reading this while my boyfriend and I were driving up to Banff so the entire car ride was spent by him explaining different movement sequences to me while I tried to act them out sitting and seat-belted in the passenger seat. Free entertainment for whoever was driving past us that day.

Most recently, I was immersed in parkour culture at the North American Parkour Championships (NAPC6) in Vancouver in August, where dozens of talented athletes from all over the world came together to compete in skill, speed, and style. I learned so much in that one weekend, and gained a much greater appreciation for parkour as a discipline and a sport and a passion of so many people.

All that being said, I still feel relatively clueless in the sea of parkour, and I figured if I am then so, too, are probably many of the girlfriends of people who practice parkour. However, I do acknowledge that there are some totally rad women out there who do parkour and I’m sure their partners could also benefit from this blog. Thus, while this blog is written from my experience and my point of view, I want it to be as accessible as possible to anyone whose significant other or friend or family member does parkour or is interested in parkour, and they want to be supportive, but have no real idea what it is.

Until next time, remember, “parkour–real parkour–can’t be taught . . . it can only be discovered” (Max Henry, 2017).