Bay Area Parkour

Train Hard - Stay Humble

Right, wrong and avoiding confrontations

Yesterday, after 4+ years training and volunteering in coordinating parkour sessions, I finally ended up in a verbal altercation with an annoying onlooker, who wouldn't quit complaining about the presumably "inconsiderate" behavior of our group.


In the past (and maybe also thanks to my older age and relative experience with life, work and differently opinionated individuals), I did manage very well, not only not getting involved in long and heartfelt discussion (often starting right in the middle of a good training session), but also dissuading others to get involved themselves.

Not yesterday.

And not because I was more edgy than always, unhappy or maybe bringing in some personal "baggage" from home, just because I was unprepared.

[for other types of lack of preparation, see here]

I had forgotten that the best way to approach a confrontation, and ultimately the only 100% sure way to win it, is avoiding it. (<- this is the essence of this post, no need to read further, aside out of curiosity, and for some insight about the matter of content).


What happened:

After a quick, but thorough warm-up, we started working with a small group of beginners (and a couple absolute novices), initiating them to the challenge of "climbing trees as adults".

Running up to their most solid branches, cautiously using our forward/upward momentum, carefully yet rapidly evaluating our feet placement, using at least three limbs to (a.) distribute weight, (b.) lower our center of gravity, (c.) increase balance. Then progressing to poorly imitating our genetic ancestors (apes) and traversing the low (5ft. high max.) flexible, but solid branches in a variety of quadrupedal movements.

[for examples of trees-work at the same location, see here; for a different type, see here]

That's when we got approached by an elderly, apparently interested, dog-walker and clearly nature-lover (who is carrying a tiny dog in his pouch and other two on a leash), who inquired about "who is the person in charge". Now, BApk gatherings are clearly autonomous and spontaneous ad hoc meet-ups of anyone interested in Parkour. Even if somebody volunteers setting them up and steering them, everybody is responsible for their own acts. Nevertheless the most experienced practitioners try to set an example and offer their time and limited knowledge to guide the practice and support everybody's progression. Unfortunately that may look to an outsider as if those few volunteers would be "in charge", while they are not.

Anyway, after overhearing three or four attempts of starting a conversation with others about how "unnatural" would be running/climbing/jumping on trees, I got directly confronted buy this individual, who gets in my way and approaches me saying "you seem to be in charge". At that point I should have applied the golden rule above and moved along, or moved to some other type of exercise, in order to pacify him or maybe even having him leave for good, which would have allowed to go back to the same activities (or not, based on the mood and circumstances of the moment).

Instead, I made the capital mistake of asking him if "he was seriously telling us that we shouldn't climb on trees, even if it obviously didn't constitute a danger to anybody, not even to ourselves, given the low level of the practice?".

Why was this a mistake?

Because if somebody had enough nerve to confront a group of energetic young(er) individuals, interrupting their obviously playful yet orderly activity with an issue, ANY issue that he or she thought valuable, their only real goal is imposing that issue on you: passively, having us stop and move, or actively, getting us in a never-ending argument.

Unfortunately, I was tricked by the logic that "if trees are a part of nature, so am I, and if I like to climb them and play on them, without tools of sort and making any effort of not damaging them, I don't see why I couldn't". The logic seemed so strong that I even induced that there might not be a single line forbidding trees climbing in any (and especially not in San Francisco's) municipal code, which eventually escalated even more the altercation with threats of  involving authorities (cops or park rangers), if we wouldn't desist. Adding as a nice closing that he "hadn't see that done in 25 years of park walking" (like if that would prove anything).

So after more arguing and insults (I had never been told to "eff off" by a 70+ years old man, but I guess that happens getting closer to that age...), and attempts on my side to understand why this bitter and upset individual was so hard trying to ruin everybody's Sunday, we left, or better I did, since I was so aggravated and angry with myself for having been sucked in the confrontation that I had do go on my own somewhere else (I ended up training a good one and half hour by myself, before being re-joined by my fellow practitioners, saving eventually the day...).


In conclusion, I not only behaved illogically, because of the above mentioned reasons, but I was also wrong: San Francisco Municipal Code does prohibit trees climbing (SEC. 4.01.(f) among many other types of "disorderly conduct", daily seen in parks or around the city); it might be because of the usual limited liability acceptance by institutions in the US; or because of the connected fear of lawsuits; maybe to prevent people climbing trees while intoxicated during concerts or festivals for their own safety; or to avoid having spectators climbing them to watch paid events (some Californian trees are very high). It doesn't matter...

Arguing differently was not only an illogical waste of time and energy, but in this case I was also wrong (which is not to say that one can't do it, but one has to be accountable for it).


Note to self: when hearing complains about one's practice, always politely excuse yourself, and move on to the next set of obstacles.

There's no shortage of those.

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Comment by Kirill on February 24, 2012 at 12:31pm

"I had forgotten that the best way to approach a confrontation, and ultimately the only 100% sure way to win it, is avoiding it"

Giorgio ... isn't this from Carnegie's how to win friends and influence peoples?

lololololol  =P

Comment by Bay Area Parkour on August 24, 2011 at 5:54pm

...adding insult to injury, a lesson on this topic was posted not more than 6 months ago:


Guess by who?


Comment by Johanna S. on August 24, 2011 at 1:42pm

sorry to hear that happened Gorgio. some people do literally walk around looking for fights. be they with fists or verbal. they're often initiated by people bitter of soul or excessivley opinionated.

I agree that the best way to win a confrontation is to avoid having one in the first place. Pursuing peace in life is always the best way to go. Just sounds like your passion for what you believe in (PK) just got the best of ya that particular day. Completely understandable under the circumstances. Happens to us all sometimes. Keep hanging in there. Thanks for posting

Comment by Seng on August 24, 2011 at 12:39am
Wow, that section 4.01(f) is so broad as to be ridiculous- without a sign posted to the contrary, one could be fined for climbing on a playground or laying down on a fountain (I'm pretty sure enforcement is going to depend largely on your socioeconomic appearance).
Comment by marisa on August 22, 2011 at 1:28pm

Sorry to hear about the troubles. As someone who worked a couple summers for the SF Park dept, I can tell you SF residents can get pretty heated about their (often misguided) concern for the park flora. I'm sure that liability is a factor in why they prohibit tree climbing, but it's also for the safety of the trees. It's not well known, but there are actually several endangered tree species protected in our parks and all sorts of seemingly harmless ways to hurt them.


On another note, I actually know that guy. Yeah he's a bit weird.

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