Caitlin Pontrella Response

Caitlin P.Caitlin Pontrella, wrote an extensive response to an article published in The Sociology of Sport Journal. She wanted everyone to know that she was not attacking the author, merely participating in the discussion and providing another opinion of his claims...     

Interesting. Not entirely comfortable with how he talks about Parkour though. Mostly because I feel like Jesse & I are personally trying to distance Parkour from this association of high-risk/stuntmanship mentality. (He wrote "[Parkour] is about athletically and artistically making use of the cityscape—almost always in a way that poses the risk of bodily harm.") 

Before I dive in to the most important thing I want to talk about:

1. I think most people (outsiders) make the assumption that the ultimate goal of all practitioners, and the ultimate goal of training in general, is to be able to do high-risk, dangerous maneuvers, and that there is some gold standard to be achieved in movement. "...none of the female traceurs in Chicago regularly performed the powerful and risky maneuvers generally revered in parkour (e.g., vaulting into a 10-foot drop as described in the introduction)." 

Doesn’t this go against what Parkour is--what non-competitive, non-comparative disciplines are? Don't we all continually emphasize that Parkour is highly individualistic and self-exploratory? That each individual sets his or her own gold standard?





This quote in his article.

"Thorpe (2010), for example, shows that despite a fluidity of gender boundaries within the snowboarding subculture, the everyday practices on the slopes tend to marginalize women (as well as many men) who fail to perform challenging and dangerous maneuvers" –

In a reapplication to Parkour, we aren't 'failing' to do anything. We are choosing. I choose not to expose myself to unnecessary risk because that is not the part of Parkour I am most interested in. 

2. I also agree that I think a lot of what parkour is about is control and power--but not in direct reference to gender. As individuals in a highly chaotic, unpredictable world, we are constantly seeking control and power in our daily lives. Parkour enables these feelings--it allows us to appropriate a portion of our life where we have complete control and power over our bodies, our situation, and the environment. This is why I think a lot of people train, both men AND women. The author writes, "but most men engage in some form of manhood acts to distinguish themselves as “masculine” and separate from women." Except I don't see this. I don't think men are trying to distinguish themselves as “separate from women” -- I don’t think there is this massive gender component. If anything, I think women get more out of training Parkour in terms of control and power, especially when you look at how often women are told they 'can’t' or they are 'too weak' or that they just need to wait to be rescued. If anything, Parkour for women is definitely about establishing a sense of personal security and ability within a world that works against them most of the time, and it provides an opportunity to equalize with men.

Let's move on to the most important parts of this piece. Commentary like this really concerns and depresses me, and should really concern and distress everyone in the larger community:

"As a college professor in his mid-30s with (at best) average physical coordination and a general aversion to bodily injury, I found most parkour practices too anxiety-producing and stressful to be enjoyed."

"I also have no doubt that if I trained harder in parkour, I would have done little more than injure myself."

"[Parkour] is about athletically and artistically making use of the cityscape—almost always in a way that poses the risk of bodily harm."

"…emphasis placed on danger…"

"…Voigt risked his body to demonstrate his control over the environment, and, as such, his jump was a manhood act."

"Performing dangerous stunts in view of strangers is even more important."

"That is, at the very same time traceur’s creatively appropriate their environment (i.e., poieses), they also engage in manhood acts which are necessarily exclusionary for those without symbolically charged male bodies and those not interested or unwilling to put their bodies into harm’s way to demonstrate their control and power."

Why are these quotes some of the worst from this article? Because it reflects that his exposure was to a group that was NOT responsibly training or teaching its community.

I have taught people of all ages (up to 60) and never have they complained that they felt anxious, fearful of their safety, or concerned about injury. This is because we teach in an extremely focused fashion--we teach individuals before anything, how to scale up and scale down exercises, to not compare or compete with the other people in the classes, and to just focus on personal goals.

That a 30 yr. male with 'average physical coordination' was struggling with these elements, and that he still continues to derive Parkour as something that will and could only lead to injury, is just a terrible frustration to me. It makes me wonder how different his article could be if he trained with our community, or Charlie in Rochester, or Jon in NorCal, or Janine in Seattle, etc. If he (the author) was trained properly he would realize that the risk of bodily harm is insignificant most of the times. You are taught how to assess risk, deal with uncertainty, and make appropriate decisions in accordance to your abilities and limitations. And eventually you realize your movements aren’t risky because you know you have the abilities to complete them.

Furthermore, this entire article is from the observation of the Chicago community and frankly when I read things like this: "someone will call out that it is “shirtless o’clock.”" [as a]...”chance to sort out the individuals too embarrassed or insecure." I never want to train with this community... and it is embarrassing that this sort of behavior is now being published and becoming a generalized representation of our larger national body of movement. They then go on to have quotes like this: “here is the element that a normal person could not do this.” OR "I would have to say my favorite part of doing parkour is the ability to do the things the average person can’t" We aren't super-heroes, we are just humans who remembered how to use our bodies. And any 'average' or 'normal' person can start today and be on their way to doing any of the 'cool things' we do.

LET’S KEEP GOING--From here out I am just going to respond to quotes out of this text. 

"Specifically, people afraid of, incapable of, or uninterested in parkour’s risks do not take part in this refashioning of urban space."
Why? I know plenty of people who aren’t interested in Parkour's 'risks' and are more interested in exploring the potential of the human body, in refining the skills lost from childhood, in just playing again. I don't go out every time I train and seek high-risk situations and challenges. I don't take risks. I never take risks. That isn't to say I don't do big jumps--I just know EXACTLY where my limits are, I know EXACTLY how hard I need to push to keep improving, and I know EXACTLY when to stop because I am going to get hurt.

"That is, the opportunities the traceurs seek are synonymous with danger, and their transgressions are only available to those willing to take part in manhood acts." --- Balance is very dangerous, you are very right. So is QM'ing up the exorcist stairs. So is jumping between two stretched apart curbs. Yes, author, yes. So very synonymous.

"But, at the exact same time, traceurs are appropriating public space in distinctly masculine ways. Such appropriations are inherently exclusionary. Non-traceurs lack the physical coordination, flexibility, and strength." -- Parkour by no means should ever be exclusionary. Anyone can join in at any time--it is just a matter of starting them off at the right place, whether it be crawling, balancing, or jumping on the stones.

To finish.

It is a bit frustrating to me because I really, gender observation aside, cannot fully appreciate it. I want this author to come out to NYC and train with my group, and see how his opinions change.

 I’m not saying the average adolescent risk=taker doesn’t exist in Parkour, I'm saying that it is wrong to define Parkour by this single individual typology. Furthermore, from just the intonation of the article, the continual discussion of how Parkour is all about taking risk and doing dangerous stunts, is a really poor reflection of the Chicago community. If that is the way Parkour is being taught and presented to the public, then the public will never accept Parkour. We will never be able to overcome the media misconceptions, every practitioner will be considered a reckless kid, and frankly, we will never grow past the stages of a silly street fad.

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Written by Patrick Witbrod   
Saturday, 08 June 2013 11:29
Last Updated on Tuesday, 11 June 2013 15:24