After recently giving a talk on Inclusive Practice at the Art of Retreat, I agreed to release the material in a series of short blogs.
The blog will be split into a number of sections:
- Definitions of Inclusive Practice
- Why Be Inclusive?
- Inclusive Practices for the Budding Parkour Business
- Inclusive Practices for the Budding Parkour Coach
These will be most easily read in order, but each will also stand alone as individual posts.
Definitions of Inclusive Practice
An inclusive practice is a practice that recognises diversity and makes sure everyone is able to access that practice and fully engage with it regardless of background or circumstance.
Inclusive practice is mostly focused on teaching. Inclusive teaching attempts to make your teaching equally address all of your students. Paying particular attention to the individual needs of each learner.
It’s important not to make a strong value judgement about inclusivity. There is nothing inherently wrong about something that is not inclusive. We break ourselves up into groups. We tend to surround ourselves with like minded people. We join teams or societies that reflect our interests. You wouldn’t expect someone with no interest in dance to join the local Ballet club.
I also want to define equality in a specific manner. For the purposes of this blog we will consider equality as simply meaning treating people the same. It doesn’t tend to recognise diversity in that it provides a level playing field for all.
(In books and literature, equality and equity are often used interchangeably to mean an array of things. Don’t expect everyone to use the same meanings when using the same words)
Before we go any further, I’d also like to suggest a definition of Parkour. This is important as I find that we often all have very different, very personal, definitions of Parkour practice and it’s important that we all agree on some basics.
Parkour is a physical discipline based on human movement. Its practitioners challenge themselves to complete physical tasks normally made up of moves such as jumping, vaulting and swinging. It is rooted in a French practice known as L’Art Du Deplacement which was created by a group of young men in the suburbs of Paris.
I understand Parkour, Freerunning and ADD include a lot more than just this idea – but I’d not like to take too much for granted and continue with this very simple definition. Whatever word or values you use to describe your personal practice, we generally share a common goal. Which is to challenge ourselves and improve. Throughout this presentation, I will use Parkour as a general term referring to everyone’s practice.
I love Parkour as it’s practice is a great way to challenge yourself. Specifically helping you directly face your weaknesses. It teaches you to be honest with yourself. Which in turn feeds into your own goals for moving forward. It inspires us to improve and teaches us to value the process more than the outcome.
These ideas, while inspiring and amazing, are also relentlessly unforgiving. It is a somewhat brutal practice that effectively tells you “No, you are not good enough, and you will never be good enough. There will always be a bigger, harder and more difficult move. It never ends.”
The Concrete treats us all the same. It doesn’t care how we feel today, how strong we are, our gender, our advantages or disadvantages. It’s just there. You test yourself against the environment, discover where you stand, and begin working on improving yourself.
Parkour is clearly a practice that promotes equality. But simply treating everyone equally is not inclusive. As it ignores the various unique life experiences people have and their individual ability to engage with the practice.
An inclusive practice is one that transcends the various different barriers that separate us. We would see a community made up of people with wildly varying life experiences. With a low barrier to entry and a place where people with different cultural backgrounds interacted easily and naturally. Where no one felt excluded.
In practice, such a thing is nearly impossible. But it is an ideal to work towards rather than a set goal.
Lets try and determine where we are as a community. An easy test of inclusivity is to look at the make-up of the community and see if it reflects a varied background.
Even after over a decade of hard work by so many talented people, the Parkour community is still demonstrably dominated by young fit men. While I can’t find any specific evidence for it – the likelihood is that it is dominated by young, fit, economically advantaged men. While the romanticised image of a poor young man bettering his life through his dedication to Parkour is inspiring – and certainly true, those with more money behind them, better facilities behind them and more opportunities presented to them are always more likely to succeed.
We see this in every aspect of society. Those from rich countries have countless advantages we don’t even consider. There is enough disposable income for people to pay for Parkour classes. The coaches can make enough money to survive teaching 70-80 hours a month. Which gives them time to keep up their own training. They don’t need a second job. They don’t need to worry about hunger and housing or war and conflict when training. Privilege exists. It shouldn’t be a source of stigma. Rather an accepted factor as we try to understand why our sport is dominated by the privileged.
Setting privilege aside, Parkour culture appeals to a reasonably specific type of person. The ‘Parkour Boy’ is sometimes considered a joke, but they account for a large swathe of many communities. They tend not to engage well with traditional sports. They often have geeky hobbies and interests and they tend to gravitate towards a philosophy of life that is very personal to them. Shunning conventional wisdom and looking for an authentic and unique life experience. This experience they often find through parkour training.
On top of that, there’s a significant body of evidence that men and women interact with public space in a very different way. Women regularly don’t feel safe in public spaces. At risk of objectification, leering, cat calling and even groping and assault. It is unsurprising that a sport that grew up in the streets would be less accessible to women than men.
I want to reinforce that the community is not to blame for its lack of inclusiveness. We shouldn’t stigmatise privilege or societal factors beyond our control. We simply need to try and understand it so that we can decide what, if anything, we should do about it.
Because, as you will find in the next chapter. There is no need to become more inclusive if you don’t want to. If you are happy with your community, your friends and your life, then you should not feel guilty. If you want to only train with those willing to walk your path then you should.