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The unexpected lessons of parkour

Flickr-Josa Junior

I never really understood parkour. I’ve laughed about it watching the The Office and been confused while observing some parkour novices attempting to jump off small walls and staircases during my college days.

But after coming across some incredible pictures of parkour being practiced in Palestine and reading about it’s underlying philosophy, I think I’ve changed my mind. You won’t find me flipping off buildings anytime soon, but I’m happy to share a few reasons why I believe this sport has a deeper meaning than commonly understood.

1)    Community

When viewing some of the insane stunts that parkour experts are capable of, it might seem counterintuitive that accessibility is one of the underlying principles of the sport. Parkour is about individual progress and people of all levels are encouraged to participate and move forward to a level that is meaningful for them. This core philosophy of self-improvement fosters a non-competitive and supportive community feel. Parkour participants are encouraged to give back to those around them by strengthening their bodies and minds. I think there is a lot to be learned from the philosophy behind this sport, whether or not you decide to pursue the physical aspect of it. I appreciate the interesting balance that parkour strikes between individualism and self-improvement, and the importance of community and helping others. This is a philosophy all global citizens can get behind.

Flickr: M Shields Photography

2)   Connection to your city

Having moved around a fair amount in my life, I’ve noticed that when I first arrive in a city, I am constantly exploring and discovering new places. After a while, the momentum typically slows down a bit, and I start to frequent mainly favourite places. Parkour can provide an unexpected antidote to complacency by providing a reason to constantly be exploring and seeing the city with new eyes. Discovering new places to practice is at the heart of the sport. Beyond the exploration that parkour encourages, it also gives a sense of connection to the city. When people feel connected to where they live, they are more invested in seeing it succeed and flourish.

Flickr: Indie vid

3) The beauty of self-expression

Parkour is a form of self-expression which can definitely be an artform! People who are talented in the sport are able to perform incredible feats with their bodies which provides an amazing visual spectacle. I like that the sport can be performed around the world and can be modified to the environment it is being practiced in. There are extremely powerful pictures of people doing parkour in Gaza, seemingly flying amongst destruction and rubble. These pictures provide a powerful message about human resilience and the ability to overcome fear.

4) Alternative to violence  

These amazing images inspired me to read more about parkour in Palestine, and I was really inspired by what I read and saw. Palestinians involved with parkour described their engagement with the sport as a way to free themselves from violence and reclaim their environment from occupation. Parkour can “make ugly things beautiful,” transforming places that are consumed by poverty or war into empowering spectacles of expression.

Flickr: YouthSchool 2013

Parkour is about much more than gravity-defying physical feats. I was really surprised to learn that there is a deeper motivation and philosophy behind it, and I’m impressed with the lessons and value that extend far beyond the sport itself. I think we can all learn from this, finding the beauty in our surroundings and discovering unique ways to express ourselves.