When I think back to my childhood, I immediately think about all the time I spent outside exploring the world around me. I remember the walks I would take, the trees I would climb, and the playgrounds I frequented. My favorite was this massive wooden playground that was more fortress to my young eyes than a playground. It had giant turrets, walls and ramps, caves and tunnels…everything! I remember playing with my friends and coming up with new challenges like, “Hey, can we climb through this tunnel without touching the ground?” Or, “I wonder if we can travel all the way around the structure by climbing on the outside…”
Questions like those are the ones that fuel our movement in play; They fuel our quest to discover our boundaries and test our limits. But even more than that, I remember how places like the fortress afforded us the privilege of a blank canvas that only suggested what its intention was, rather than strictly telling us. A ramp winding around the turret was merely suggesting that we could walk up it, while the low and accessible walls to the sides of it hinted that they could also be climbed over, onto, or balanced on.
Having grown up and done extensive research on exercise science, fitness, and devoting over a decade of my life into the emerging field of movement based fitness, when I remember my time spent on these cool playgrounds, I think all the different variations and varieties of movement patterns I had to perform. I think we as a modern society have forgotten that play was our first means of non-essential fitness enhancement. Playing around doesn’t put food on the table or put a roof over your head, but when those things are already attended to, how else will your highly adapted body continue to ensure that you can lift heavy things when you need to, or run away from something when you need to, or climb something when you need to.
We were recently sent this article by one of our members from the Washington Post regarding the recent surge in ADHD diagnoses and it instantly reminded us about why we work so hard to keep the Rochester Parkour Gym open: modern society either doesn’t recognize the importance of play or simply can’t afford the liability associated with public free play. Both reasons are a shame, but the latter is even more than that. Growing liability costs associated with public play spaces are the reason why the beloved fortress of my childhood is no longer there (and also why wooden playscapes and metal jungle gyms in general are no longer built).
The playscapes we find in the wild today are strange in comparison to the fortress. They’re bright and colorful, for one, and filled with a soft, squishy ground designed to keep kids from getting hurt. As business owners, spaces like these make a lot of sense. Not only do they lower our liability insurance bills, but they also allow us to higher less educated supervisors and we can up our volume load to let as many kids in as possible. As movement fitness and play specialists, however, this shift in the industry is scary…
When we look at new-designed playgrounds, bounce houses, trampoline parks, and others, we don’t see what’s on the surface. We see brightly colored, inorganic objects and we think of the cognitive disassociation that these kids are developing as the where and when play is allowed (are we only allowed to play in spaces that are squishy, soft, brightly colored, or otherwise?). We see soft and squishy objects and we think of all the improper and unhealthy movement habits that these kids are developing; It is downright shocking to us how many teenagers step foot in our classes and don’t know how to climb with their hands and feet rather than their elbows and knees. We see the inexperienced staff as further re-affirmation of habitual movement patterns that will limit and spawn a whole host of problems for your kids come adulthood – things like: landing on straight legs, running with buckled knees, running with flat feet, etc.
None of these issues are easy to see in the short term, but articles like the Washington Post article linked earlier are helping us to see that the over-abundance and overuse of these characteristics is not without consequence.
Interestingly, we didn’t start the Rochester Parkour Gym because of these reasons – we just naturally created a space that we were familiar with and one that we thought challenged us physically, mentally, and creatively. Initially, our focus was on just operating the space and letting people come in to use it freely as most bounce houses and trampoline parks do. As time went on though, and as we continued to see more and more evidence that the general public had forgotten how to interact with spaces such as ours, we began to shift focus to our current class-based model with a newly found mission to educate the community about the importance of play in rigid landscapes, of movement inspired by one’s creativity rather than demanded by the space they’re in, and of proper, experienced instruction on movement patterns that build our bodies stronger and healthier, rather than patterns that tear us apart, hard landing by hard landing.
We now stand in defiance of these trends and continue to be one of the few successful establishments doing what we do. Operating the way we do isn’t easy: our insurance costs are astronomical, our objects need to be custom-designed and custom built, our instructors and employees had to endure a 3 month long apprenticeship before given their first class, and because all of this, our prices are higher than most people wish they were. Rather than seeing these things as problems that need to be solved, we see them as necessary. These characteristics make us the endangered species that we are, but just like the African Rhino, the Himalayan Snow Leopard, or the Eastern Lowland Gorilla, rigid playscapes deserve to be recognized, cherished, and preserved for the value that they add into our lives.
Getting started with us at Rochester Parkour is easy. We offer classes for kids and adults ages 3+ which work on an open enrollment platform. You will simply pre-enroll online ahead of time in order to reserve a slot in class. The curriculum for that day stands on its own and doesn’t work in a series. Even if you are the only new student in class that day, you will have a challenge level to tackle that is appropriate for you. Set up an account online here and come to your first class for only $20. You can view our other pricing options here.
About Our Guest Bloggers:
Nicole Suchy is the Administrative Manager and Program Coordinator for the Rochester Parkour Gym. A University of Rochester Alumna, Nicole holds Bachelors in Psychology and Studio Arts. She runs our in house apprenticeship program and is also an instructor for a variety of classes here at the gym with over 5 years of parkour teaching experience.
Nicole appreciates the extensive diversity found in movement and loves bringing her dance background into her training. Outside the gym, Nicole is also the founder and director of a local mural arts program, Make Your MARC.
Charles Moreland is the original co-founder of Rochester Parkour. He is an RIT alum with a bachelor’s degree in Fine Art and Exercise Physiology.
He received his first Personal Trainer certification in 2007 from the NCSF and switched to the NSCA in 2009. Upon graduation in 2010, Charles obtained his Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist title from the NSCA – a gold standard in the industry. With his extensive teaching background, Charles brings a unique, diverse, and research based approach to training.
Charles has been teaching parkour to the Rochester community since 2008 via the Manhattan Square Park Saturday jams and is one of the most experienced instructors in the State and the East Coast. In 2011, Charles was one of the featured speakers at the National Parkour Summit in Seattle, WA. In June 2012, Charles gave a TED talk introducing Parkour to the masses which has since gone viral and has more than 20,000 views worldwide.
Check out Charles’ trainer profile on his Thumbtack site for more information on his professional services.