4 Reasons Why Trying Parkour Can Ruin Your Self-Esteem
If you're anything like me, you want me to be Spider-Man so bad it hurts. Not in a movie, mind you. I've already come to terms with the fact that every year that I get older and balder, I get farther and farther away from realistically playing Spider-Man in a movie (unless somewhere down the line they make a Spider-Man: Reign movie, which they really shouldn't). Since I'll never play Peter Parker in the Edgar Wright-directed Spider-Man movie that exists in my head and is awesome, I strive to be as Spider-Man-esque as I can be, here in real life. In my earlier years, this involved being nerdy, chasing chicks with the initials "MJ" and (in a move that was decidedly "un-Spider-Man-like" in its ignorance of biology), eating a whole lot of spiders. After several years of this, having gained nothing but two restraining orders and the courage of several dozen spiders, I decided to focus all of my energy on acquiring Spider-Man-like levels of speed, agility and stuff-climbing.
I knew this would involve training, but I didn't know what kind of training. I'd been to gyms before, but none of them taught me how to climb up walls and jump from rooftop to rooftop and dive through things and so forth. Then, in 2006, Casino Royale came out and, with an incredible opening scene, introduced me to parkour. It's the scene where James Bond spends eight minutes sprinting after Other Guy through a city -- leaping from buildings, diving through windows, crashing through walls. That scene.
Parkour (sometimes called "freerunning"), involves "traversing mainly urban landscapes by running, climbing and jumping." There are tons of awesome parkour videos all over the Internet. I wanted to get in on it so bad, but I didn't want my first attempts at jumping off a building to happen, you know ... on a real building, or anything. I wanted a place to go where I could learn how to jump off a building in a safe environment. Then the Tempest Freerunning Academy opened, and I knew where I needed to go, and what I needed to do:
So not long ago, I signed up for Tempest, because everyone in that video could flip ...
... and climb ...
... and swing ...
... and Spider-Man all over the damn place without dying. I assumed that, if I was a member of that academy, I would also be able to do all of those things. Yes, I thought to myself. Parkour. Peter Parkour ...
While the Tempest Freerunning Academy itself is freaking awesome, it turns out "signing up for a thing" isn't interchangeable with "being immediately good at a thing." There was a lot of stuff that I wasn't anticipating. For example ...
People Are Watching You
Back in that Tempest video I posted, did you happen to notice anything in the background of that one dude's awesome flips?
Look there. Just past the flipping, past the wall, past the Mario-inspired obstacle course.
That's a raised platform with seats. You can see the whole gym from those seats, they're designed for spectators who are looking for a show. People -- parents, girlfriends, friends, random folks -- are free to just hang out there and watch everyone else flip and jump and, in my case, attempt to flip and jump. They're up there, watching, always. When I embarrass myself at a regular gym, I take comfort in the fact that everyone's so focused on their own routines that they won't even notice me at my sweatiest, reddest and cursingest. I imagine gym membership in general would go down if every gym allowed casual fitness fans opportunities to show up and silently observe you while you worked out.
"Oh, no, I'm not a member I just really ... really like the way your muscles contract."
Also, it's no secret that parkour is freaking awesome, which explains why every time I've gone to Tempest, multiple people have had cameras. Always. They show up just to catch some awesome parkour action on film and post it to the Internet. Last weekend, one guy walked around asking people if they were about to do anything impressive. He saw me, staring at set of bars with the focused glare of a seasoned warrior (or an idiot. Both glares, it turns out, are identical.).
"Are you about to do something impressive," he asked me.
"You tell me," I whispered Bruce Willisly, "are you impressed by this?!" And then I slipped on my own puddle of sweat, fell backwards and got my arm caught in a trampoline.
"I very much am not," he said, closing his lens cap and walking away.
"If you were just going to hang upside down and cry, you should have told me. I can't believe I wasted batteries on this."
"This has just been an amuse-bouche, buddy, you ain't seen nothing yet," I called after him. "Just wait 20minutes; I'm going to pull my back out and shit myself."
There's Nowhere To Hide
If you go to a regular gym, there are a number of ways you can sort of do nothing, or do very little, without anyone noticing. You can lift just a small amount of weight, or you can dick around on a treadmill or bike at a very slow speed, or do yoga, or, honestly, spend a few minutes in the sauna and then just walk around looking tired and sweaty. People will always assume you just got finished doing a particularly difficult exercise.
"Nah, just at the gym. Of course I'm working out; you should see how sweaty my shirt is. I'm exhausted.
Tempest is essentially a giant warehouse full of ramps, bars, a trampoline, walls and mats, like an enormous, adult Discovery Zone for ninjas. It's all out in the open, and there isn't a lot of room for non-spectators to sit. If you're just standing around, people will see you. And you can't stand anywhere for too long, anyway. Very often, people will map out elaborate freerunning routes that involve the entire gym. No matter where you're standing, eventually someone is going to want to flip there. Because everyone who goes here is one serious-ass flipping motherfucker.
So you'd better not be in the way. But you will be, because the whole thing about parkour is that EVERYTHING is an obstacle, and you are encouraged to use every inch of the gym for your climbing, jumping, flipping and embarrassing-Daniel needs. I have this kind of interaction a lot, whenever I try to stay out of the way:
Person: Excuse me, are you going to do anything on that wall?
Me: I'm just- I don't- Not really- I'm, like, just looking at it right now, trying to find out what kind of ... how to do it. What sort of angle I should take when I do ... something, at this wall. And if I should, maybe, use hands? Or feet? On it? I don't- We don't have walls at my other gym, or we do, but they're not part of anyone's routine, ever, they just do ... like, wall stuff. So I guess- No, I'm not going to do anything on this wall, because I don't actually understand the question.
Person: Well I'm going to run up that wall and do a back flip off it.
Me: That sounds good, you should do that. I'm just going to go lean on this pole over here, out of your way.
Other Person: Hey, you doing anything with that pole? I was about to walk straight up it, using a method that I understand, somehow.
Me: That's cool. I was probably just going to go ... sit on a toilet until the gym closes.
Third Person: I'm actually next for the toilet, I'm gonna do handstands on it, maybe flush it with my delts or whatever.
Me: Cool. Very cool.
No One Can Help You
If you go to a regular gym, you know that every piece of machinery has a guide stuck to it, instructions or maybe a helpful diagram. It tells you how to use the equipment, gives you a few warnings and sometimes even tells you what muscles you'll be working out. At Tempest, the "equipment" is stairs, poles, ramps, walls, mats, the floor and your entire body. There are no instructions, it's up to you and you alone to figure out some combination of pipes, trampolines and your arms that somehow results in a rewarding workout experience. And, remember, you don't know how to do that.
Don't get me wrong. As is the case with most gyms, everyone at Tempest is incredibly helpful, both staff and other gym-goers. They offer classes and will generally be able to answer your questions. The problem is, I don't even know what questions to ask, because I don't speak the same language as people who are really good at parkour and freerunning. They don't understand me when I say I want to "Do the flips," or "Spider-Man some shit," and I don't understand them when their advice to me is "Do it again, but tighter, and with your core." A lot of the skills you need for parkour can't really be taught, especially if you're kind of dumb (me!). I saw a guy run up a wall and do a back flip, and I asked him for tips, and he very helpfully explained, "I put one foot on the wall at first and couldn't do a back flip. But then I put a second foot on the wall, and then I just did the back flip." And, 15 minutes prior, he'd never done that before in his entire life. If your How-To-Do-A-Backflip advice is "Do a back flip," you and I are on different levels, sir. There's nothing you can do to teach me.
"Basically when I got to the wall I was like 'back flip.' Does that help?"
Because, honestly, a gym like this isn't for everyone. If you have terrible balance,or if you're horribly uncoordinated or the kind of guy who says things like "amuse-bouche" in a gym setting, this probably isn't really your scene.
Everything Hurts in Uniquely Humiliating Ways
This might seem like a given. Every physical activity is going to hurt at first. If you play basketball for the first time after sitting on your ass for six months, you're going to be very, very sore the next day. Still, I've been to gyms, I run around, I'm aware of sports- I do enough physical activities that, at this point in my life, I'm never really too sore for too long, as long as I stretch first. Here's the thing with parkour: the most important muscle that you need to stretch before you do parkour is your Parkour Muscle. I have no idea where this muscle is, or how to stretch it.
I've highlighted what is, in my best estimation, the Parkour Muscle.
Before I start running around Tempest, flailing and jumping and coming up with creative ways to disguise my falls as things that aren't falls, I always stretch and warm up, but it's pointless, because I'm functionally paralyzed for the next few days. My eyebrows ache, my kidney is sore, my back will hurt but only in a way that my arms can feel, somehow. There are also just more opportunities to physically hurt yourself in a freerunning gym, and I'm not just talking about emotional pain (although, yes I am). I left last weekend with blood running down my knuckles after I spent thirty minutes trying to learn how to jump back and forth between two walls.
That kind of thing. I was doing that kind of thing, except instead of gracefully gliding from one wall to the other while a loyal dog looks on in awe, I was fartfully cursing as I punched each wall instead of grabbing them while a crowd of people, all of whom know not to physically beat their training equipment, looked on in shame and disbelief. I raised my bloody hands, explained that I was merely establishing dominance to get inside the wall's head, and kicked the floor a few times for good measure. I woke up the next morning covered in scabs and afraid to breathe, because one part of one of your lungs is also part of the Parkour Muscle, and I didn't want to cause any further aggravation.
I never thought parkour would be easy, because nothing that's awesome ever is, but I did believe, as most people who grow up reading comics and watching action movies do, that I'd have some edge over the average casual enthusiast. I always assumed, if a murderer was chasing me, I could do a back flip off of a wall or dive over some cars or shoot some web, like I could just pull out those skills and use them when I needed them. Actually attempting parkour in a controlled setting assures me that, no, I cannot. But I will keep trying. I'll return to Tempest next week, as I do every week, and train as hard as I can to become the physical embodiment of Spider-Man. And, with time, focus and dedication, maybe I will be someday.
OR, someone can create a superhero that's, like, wicked lazy and whose superpower is writing articles for the Internet. If that ever happens, fuck Spider-man, I'll just train to be that superhero instead.
Daniel O'Brien is Cracked.com's Senior Writer (ladies), and he also loves pretending to be a super hero (Edgar Wright).
Check out more from Dan in The 5 Most Badass Presidents of All-Time and Mercy Kill: 6 Shows (Thankfully) Canceled After One Episode.