The women of parkour are not "sorry"
Some time ago, I read an article with a very simple theme: Women say “I’m sorry” too much.
The gist of the article, written with the purpose of sororal empowerment, was that women have been conditioned to accept blame to such an extent, that they reflexively apologize for situations that don’t call for an apology.
I remember reading this and thinking it was very insightful, albeit sad, if true. But being raised in a family that considered courtesy and etiquette of utmost importance, I didn’t put much further thought to it. I mean, I would often casually say “I’m sorry,” particularly with strangers, if only to be polite.
But a very simple incident today brought this article back to mind. I was walking through the office, turning from one hall to another, when I nearly bumped into a female coworker who was coming the other way.
I said: “Oops, excuse me.”
She said: “Oh, I’m sorry.”
We both smiled and continued on our way. There was nothing more to it. No coffee spilled, no grievous injuries. But for whatever reason, the subtle difference between our words stirred something.
“Excuse me” is one of those polite statements that mean, “it could happen to anyone.”
“I’m sorry” is an apology; one that carries with it the acceptance of fault.
Did we mean it that way? Did either of us honestly feel that one of us was to blame for a minor near-collision? I doubt it. In fact, I would be shocked if the moment was still on her mind by the time she got back to her desk. But it got me wondering about that article, and how much truth there might be to the writer's theory.
Has our history of oppression toward our sisters and daughters ingrained within them an automatic admittance of responsibility that goes beyond their appropriate share? If that’s the case, we ALL have work to do.
The women of parkour are not sorry. They are up to the challenge.
Throughout the years I spent teaching martial arts, I had the great fortune to learn so much about the human condition, as many who sought out my teaching, did so for reasons beyond the physical. Men and women alike, students came in search of self-confidence, pride, and the strength to stand up for themselves and for others. I heard so many heart-wrenching stories about physical and psychological abuse - both men and women whose scars ran so deep that it seemed an almost insurmountable task to learn to be strong and to trust, to control their emotions and to believe in themselves.
One of the things that I believe makes parkour so great, and speaks to so many women, is that training does not carry with it the aggression or competitive nature that comes with martial arts. There isn’t the handicap of not being tall enough, or fast enough, or strong enough, or manly enough. Every one of us faces unique challenges, both from the outside world and from the way we view ourselves. There is nothing gender-specific about that.
Parkour is not a man’s sport. It is the study and furthering of one’s natural abilities in the face of constant environmental opposition. And not all obstacles come in the form of walls and railings. They can be the people who doubt and discourage us. Or worse, our own belief that we can’t be something, or shouldn’t be, or don’t deserve to be.
The women of parkour are not sorry. They know the strength they have inside.
I get asked all the time, “do you have a lot of women in your group?” and the answer is an emphatic “absolutely!” In fact, just as often as not, the women who come to train outnumber the men. The only thing that skews in the favor of male students, is their approach to getting started.
One of the things I’ve come to notice during public training sessions is that when a group of spectators pass by, it is more often the men who stop and ask if they can join in. The women are usually more reticent, watching but not imposing, seemingly hesitant to make the same request.
I used to just chalk it up to the nature of the sport, that for whatever reason, parkour just spoke to men in a stronger way. But now I wonder…
Has the “I’m sorry” culture that women have been forced to learn, conditioned them to take a step back and wait for an introduction, while the men were taught to be louder and more willing to insert themselves into a group of strangers, without an invitation? Could it be because they wouldn’t be subjected to the same kind of rejection or criticism that their female counterparts would?
I don’t know…but here’s what I do know. Learning something new takes courage, and courage comes in many forms.
The women of parkour aren't sorry. They appreciate the gravity of every ounce of progress.
While the courage of men tends to manifest in a willingness to get started, this usually requires open-mindedness, confidence, and the belief that they can mimic the rest of us without too much physical risk.
But the courage of women often comes in a different form and, in my humble opinion, a much more inspiring one.
Getting started in parkour is sometimes more challenging for our women, but once they do, they progress so much more quickly than their male counterparts. Because success in what we do isn’t a result of how high you can jump or how fast you can run or how flashy your movements are. It comes from opening up who you are, to yourself and to others; from a willingness to be vulnerable and to discover that all of your brothers and sisters are equally "flawed." Once you are willing to look within, you can begin to fix the parts of yourself that need fixing, and accept and love the things that don’t.
Strength and coordination can help get you up and over a wall, but those skills are nothing compared to self-confidence, pride and joy. A man tends to be more guarded when it comes to showing this side of himself, possibly from generations of our men being taught that vulnerability is a weakness. But our women are more willing to open up who they are, once you have earned their trust, and that’s when the most amazing progress happens.
A person should never be sorry for who they are. At Fusion Parkour, we teach so much more than how to climb walls and vault over obstacles. From day one, our mission is to help you discover your potential. And the more you begin to realize that potential, the higher you hold your head when face to face with someone who is trying to make you look down to the floor.
The women of parkour are not sorry. They are bold, confident, proud, and strong. And best of all, their attitudes are completely contagious. My greatest hope is that the “I’m sorry” reflex can be changed to “you’re welcome.” Because they should be constantly receiving our appreciation for everything they bring to the table, and how much they help us learn and grow.
To every member of my family, including the women who raised me, my beautiful new daughter, our newest parkour sisters and those who have yet to find us...from the bottom of my heart, I thank you.
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Nathan Fleming - Head Instructor at Fusion Parkour