When I started training parkour in early 2006, it was still very underground. People would find stories online of people who can climb walls, they’d see pictures of people leaping headfirst over picnic tables, or they’d download grainy videos (Youtube was less than a year old at this point) of Russians climbing through bombed out ruins.
Once you heard about parkour, you would inevitably find one of the two major sites - Parkour.net or American Parkour. And maybe, if you were really lucky, you’d find someone on the forums who lives within an hour or two of you. You’d meet up with this stranger from the internet, usually in a public park, or at a playground, or at a local college, and you’d start training.
We called these events where people would meet up and train together “jams.” Sometimes they’d be regularly scheduled (Meet at Manhattan Square Park in Rochester, NY every Saturday at 2pm), often they’d be scheduled just a few days in advance via posts on the forums (“Who wants to go to Zen Park at 4pm tomorrow?”). Jams were free, and people would come to train with, and learn from, each other.
As parkour got more popular, some of the more advanced traceurs (someone who trains parkour) started teaching classes and charging money. This caused a huge divide in the community.
There were many people who thought accepting money and commercializing parkour was a bad thing. That it would dilute the philosophy and deeper meaning of parkour, that it would destroy the cherished community side of parkour, or that it would encourage big egos and personalities to hoard knowledge and techniques and force people to pay for access to them.
This conversation came up again recently (although it was a lot more civil this time around. Apparently we’ve all grown up and are capable of calm and mature debate now! That was kind of cool), and I made an analogy to explain my perspective.
You want to learn math, so you hire a teacher. Your teacher (likely) didn’t invent the equations she’s teaching you, but you’re not paying her for the equations. You’re paying for her expertise, her knowledge, her deep understanding of the material and the process of transferring that material to you so you don’t have to derive the formulas from scratch.
Some people prefer to figure it out themselves, and they’ll always have the freedom to do that. But many people see the value in learning math, but don’t want it to be the center point of their life. You just want to learn what you want to learn, then move on. So you ask someone for help.
And to ensure a healthy, long term relationship where both parties benefit and have an incentive to stay involved, the you pay the teacher.
At some point in the relationship, you either transition from “student” to “peer,” or at least start to break the strict student/teacher mold. If you’ve shown passion and excitement and your skills have grown, maybe the teacher invites you to a lecture by a visiting famous mathematician. And then maybe she invites you to a “math-a-thon,” or another challenge. Maybe she invites you to help her with some research.
A parkour example: the advanced classes at Parkour Visions often have free, outdoor, training sessions. Staff sometimes show up, but they’re not there as teachers, just as friends and peers.
Another good example that I’m learning about is social dancing. I’ve been wanting to learn how to blues dance. I’ve gone to a bunch of social dances and I learned a bit, but it was slow going. Then I started paying a few people to take private lessons. Since then, my dancing has gotten orders of magnitude better. And when I see my teachers at the social dances, we dance as friends. And then sometimes we hang out socially as friends too.
Sometimes people are uncomfortable accepting money for the things they love. They think it constitutes selling out, or it cheapens the experience. I think if your intentions are to spread the thing you love to more people, accepting money from people who want to learn just helps everyone take it a bit more seriously and justifies the time spent.
And think about it from the student perspective - you’re really good at something that they want to learn. They want you to take your time to teach them. They have money to pay you as a “thank you” for spending your time teaching them. They want to give it to you. There’s nothing wrong with accepting that.
Went blues dancing in Tel Aviv last night. Small crowd, but had a blast. And I hadn't forgotten too much in my two months off! Spent today meeting a bunch of cool startups, then gave a talk on Customer Interviews at an accelerator called The Junction.
Picture is of a really cool building I saw on my walk to the Google Tel Aviv Campus yesterday.