We're very excited to have a post from guest author Nina Ballantyne, which was originally posted on the Parkour Outreach Blog. Some of the specifics here refer to Scotland and Edinburgh, but apply just as much to an Australian context. Thanks so much Nina!
Parkour Outreach CIC is a social enterprise that supports parkour communities in Scotland and beyond. Parkour Outreach is a volunteer-led organisation run by 3 directors who are all passionate about parkour and the benefits it can bring to communities. We want to share our combined 30+ years of parkour and non-parkour experience to collaborate with other parkour communities; help to bring ideas to life; create more opportunities for parkour; and promote parkour in a positive light.
Spider-Man has got to be the ultimate parkour superhero, right? He’s forever running up walls, leaping and swinging between buildings, seeing his city from angles that no-one else does. He’s maybe closer to the police than a lot of us, but still finds himself in plenty of scuffles with law enforcement and grumpy passersby who don’t appreciate what he’s trying to do.
And unlike a lot of people with power in the real world, Spidey gets taught early on that his power comes with great responsibility and does his best to use it for good. He works with and for the little guy to make the scales a little more balanced. Spider-Man understands that some people have too much power and others not enough. And he sees time and time again in the villains he fights that power tends to corrupt unless it’s shared.
I’ve always been interested in, and eventually studied, politics, which is also about power. About who has it and what they do with it. And parkour, for this nerd, has always been political. Not in a did-you-vote-red-or-blue way or a complicated-schisms-and-theories way, or even a they’re-all-the-same-anyway way, but in an everyday way.
We can use parkour and freerunning to think about who has power in different situations, and to do something about it if we want to.
Examples of Power
An obvious example is a security guard or police officer forcing you off a spot. At that point, they have the power and you don’t. But who gave them that power, and why are they using it to kick you out when you’re just trying to improve your skills or get some good footage?
(The Movement Card project that we’ve developed with Ukemi and Parkour Earth is a practical tool to try and help rebalance the power of parkour practitioners in those situations. You can check it out at the following link: https://www.mvmnt-card.com/)
A less obvious example is the power we can have as practitioners. Especially in a group. Even without meaning to, our attitudes and actions can have a range of impacts on the people and places around us. We touched on the difference between democratising spots and appropriating spots in our Litter Pick blog, and we have that choice every time we go out to train.
We can introduce new people to parkour, or scare passers-by away. We can create welcoming spaces, or make our spaces exclusive. We can bring different people together for new experiences, or reinforce segregation.
If we want to follow Spider-Man’s example and use our powers for good, we can start by asking ourselves some questions.
Where are the best spots for training in your community? Are they places you would spend a lot of time in if it wasn’t for training? Do you know much about the other people who use the space, and what they do there? Is it easy or hard for you to get to your favourite training spots? What was the space designed for originally?
Understanding how other people use spaces and how those spaces came to be can help us democratise those spaces, rather than appropriate them.
For example, lots of big parkour spots in Scotland are in or near university campuses. For lots of people, especially if no-one in your family has been before, universities can seem quite distant, or even intimidating. Not “for” you, or for people who look or sound “like you”. Now, imagine how much less intimidating university would seem if you already knew the campus inside and out from training. You know all the secret spots and shortcuts. You know when campus is busy and when it’s quiet. You know how to talk and share space with security, students and lecturers to keep training without getting kicked off.
The Edinburgh Parkour community have used Bristo Square at the University of Edinburgh as the main meeting point for their Saturday jams for over a decade!
You already feel like you have a right to be there, because you’ve exercised that right. You, and the people you trained with, have helped to democratise those spaces. You’ve changed your own perceptions, but you’ve also changed the perceptions of the people you’ve interacted with. They’ll have a better idea of what parkour is. They won’t be as quick to judge someone “like you” or anyone training. And if a university campus doesn’t sound intimidating to you, then maybe you were someone who was warned growing up that certain areas of your town were “dodgy”. Maybe you heard rumours about gangs and drugs, and thought that certain streets or estates weren’t for people “like you”. But it turns out one of the sickest spots you know is in one of those areas, and so you learn to share that space and share parkour with people who you might never have met otherwise. You’ve used your power, not to wreck someone else’s home or neighbourhood, or to start an argument, but to show appreciation and possibilities in a place that too often feels ignored or neglected.
Parkour vision gives us the thrill of seeing endless opportunities for movement and play where other people just see a jumble of walls and railings. It gives us a sense of ownership over spaces that other people might feel uncomfortable in, or just rush through without paying much attention. It opens our eyes, sometimes literally, to our immediate environment and the wider world beyond. It’s an awesome power and it comes with responsibility, but sometimes it can change lives for the better. Friendly neighbourhood Spideys unite!