Craig: Hello, I’m Craig Constantine.
Max: Hi, I’m Max Henry.
Craig: …and this is Parkour, They Said. Max Henry is a native New Yorker. Recently, he’s been traveling across America by road, writing his book, “The Parkour Roadmap,” and pausing to explore and pick some amazing banjo. Now that his book is done, he’s agreed to sit still for just a few minutes.
Max has always been fascinated by movement. He started with baseball, turned left into gymnastics, and continued [00:00:30] on to three years of state and regional competitions. In 2007, five years after moving on from gymnastics, Max discovered Parkour. Initially impressed as much by the philosophy behind the movements, as the movements themselves, by the time he saw his first rail precision, he was hooked. In 2010, Max was invited to join a group of World Free Running and Parkour Federation athletes on a road trip around the wild, wild west, kick-starting his personal progression as a practitioner.
Since 2011, he’s been [00:01:00] working as a professional Parkour athlete with a who’s-who list of companies including Assex, American Eagle, Hulu, the NBA, Nerf, Red Bull, Smart Car, and he doubled for Jax in the movie Tracers. He’s had the opportunity to coach internationally with the WFPF, American Parkour, The Movement Creative, and Parkour Generations Americas. Outside of Parkour, Max majored in mathematics — which might explain how he sticks all those rail precisions — and minored in music at Hofstra University. If you ever manage to catch him resting, [00:01:30] he’ll likely be singing, playing an instrument, or tucked away somewhere cozy reading epic fantasy, 20th century American poetry, or books about mountains.
Max: Thank you. That was an excellent, excellent job. Very good.
Craig: All right, Max. You are definitely unique. And I mean that in a good way. And one thing that stands out is your clean, cleaner, clean-ish image. Clean-ish maybe it’s not actually clean. So you manage to be charming, just quite simply charming without promoting a bad-boy persona. [00:02:00] And right away, my first question is, is that a conscious decision? Or I’m guessing that’s just who you are?
Max: Yeah, I mean. I don’t know. I’m pretty boring outside of Parkour.
Craig: Boring is not what I would say, but okay.
Max: I’m … Yeah … I guess that’s my ideal way of spending time is like reading and going to bed at 11:00 at night. So I’m not much of a …
Craig: I go to bed before 11:00, Max. So, okay. But when you see people doing … And then there [00:02:30] was a comment … I don’t know if I saw it in your book or in a video. There was a comment that you made about, “Wow. The cinematography on some particular video works really well for the bad boy image that that person was putting forward.”
Max: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Craig: And then of course we can go into that side story of, do people do that bad boy image intentionally or unintentionally or whatever. But I’m guessing that you see that bad boy image in a lot of the Parkour videos?
Max: Yeah, I mean, I think most sports you see people kind of have … Everybody kind of has a character that they play out, whether [00:03:00] it’s conscious or subconscious. You know, we’re just all our own people and I think in Parkour you have a couple people that … You know, they’re running around, doing awesome stuff, maybe being a little bit more adamant about trespassing and kind of making that into a part of their videos.
Craig: Yeah, roof culture is a perfect example of that.
Max: Yeah, yeah. And like the Storror guys are really good friends of mine. Awesome people. Like, I’ve had them all in my house for like a week when they were visiting in the US. And they are … They’re just really fun dudes [00:03:30] that are crazy and adventuring all the time.
Craig: Yeah, it’s not an act.
Max: It’s like … Yeah, it’s just who they are.
Craig: And that’s why it works. If you had to fake it, it wouldn’t function.
Max: Yeah, and I think for me, just who I am is like … I don’t know. I’m just kind of me.
Craig: A product of your mom and dad.
Max: Yeah, yeah.
Craig: That’s … So am I.
Max: Yeah, anybody that stayed at my house and met my family is like, “Oh, yeah. You make perfect sense as a human being now.” Or seen my interests and what I read.
Craig: Yeah, I have to say. I’ve now seen your record collection and CD’s [00:04:00] and I’m like, “Oh, never mind. Skip the interview. Where’s the record player?” [crosstalk 00:04:04] How did you get into music like that? Did that come from your family or was it something you picked up young or … ?
Max: Yeah, basically my entire family are musicians. So my dad’s a trumpet player and teacher, my mom is a vocalist and teacher, my sister does acting and off-Broadway musicals.
Craig: And voice. So she does voice …
Max: Yeah, she’s voice also.
Craig: Well, that explains that.
Max: My grandfather … My other grandmother. Like, all, were [00:04:30] musicians. My grandfather played french horn on a bunch of original Broadway recordings like Man of La Mancha in the ’60’s, he was out here playing on Broadway.
Craig: That’s amazing. [crosstalk 00:04:40] Cannot see where we are. We are in Long Island.
Craig: We often on the podcast ask people what they’re working on. And I know the answer to this, I’m just going to plug it right out. One of the things you’ve been working on is your recent book. It’s your first book as I far as I know, right? Unless you made one and then threw it out. And The Parkour Road Map [00:05:00] is now out, and if you haven’t read it, shame on you. We will link it. The book is, if you’ve read it, I hope you’ll agree, the book is scholarly yet approachable. And what I mean by that is it’s got references. You need to stop reading and go spend an hour and then oops I spent my whole day off on this one side track. And he says right in front in the introduction that it’s meant to be a road map. You’re meant to take those little side journeys. So it’s scholarly and approachable, and you hit that one out of the park.
Max: Thank you.
Craig: So I really [00:05:30] loved the section on the history of Parkour because it links off to so many of the fun and … They’re still innovative, but really were innovative at the time, those videos. So it actually gives people a history lesson without it being a boring history lesson. And that in and of itself would make the book worth while, but that’s just the beginning. So, again, people really want to go look at that. One of the things that I want to throw out is … I want to just … I’m going to read a piece of your book to you.
Max: Okay. Uh-oh.
Craig: No, this is good. This is good. So [00:06:00] in the podcast, I have been asking people deeper, more philosophical questions about where is Parkour going? And things like that. And you specifically said, page 124 if you want to look it up that: “Paying attention to what you’re doing is one of the most important things you can do in your everyday life and the most important thing iN Parkour. Studies have been done linking mindfullness mediation to an increase in one’s ability to recruit higher-order pre-frontal cortex regions in order to down-regulate lower-order brain activity. [00:06:30] In short, by paying attention, you can train your brain to bypass the knee-jerk fight or flight response when reacting to stress. This means you’ll experience few responses, sweaty palms, elevated heart rate, decrease in fine motor … when assessing a challenge. Which is a nice thing to have at your disposal if you’re deciding whether or not it’s safe to commit to a jump.”
So I just want to bring this paragraph in because this is not Max sat down and wrote 50 pages of anecdotes. He also goes into some of the science behind this and talks about things that are done. So I’m wondering if you can [00:07:00] unpack a little bit of why you think, as I believe you do, why you think Parkour is unqiue in that it inherently brings people to that lesson, that lesson of the paragraph that I was just reading?
Max: I don’t think that it’s unique. I think that there are a couple of other sports, like climbing for instance which was something we were talking about earlier.
Craig: Yeah, at length.
Max: Before the podcast. Yeah, so anybody that doesn’t know, I’m very into rock climbing and bouldering and so is Craig. So we had a good conversation about that. Actually, one of the links in there is from an article about Alex’s Honald’s brain. [inaudible 00:07:30] [00:07:30] So Alex Honald, the free soloist, who does every other [crosstalk 00:07:34].
Craig: That’s a good book to read, too. If you’re really into this kind of cerebral aspect of Parkour, go read Alex’s book. That’s a good [crosstalk 00:07:40].
Max: Alone on the Wall. Excellent read. Actually one of the articles that I linked in that section though was about a study that was done on his brain. And basically it was his … His amigdala was essentially conditioned to not fire as quickly or as powerfully when [crosstalk 00:07:56].
Craig: They stuck him in a magnetic resonance imaging system and then [00:08:00] showed him images that would make a normal person’s brain light up a certain way as fight or flight. And they show these pictures to him, and he’s just like, “Yeah. Okay.”
Craig: Which makes sense. Because if you’ve seen the kind of climbing that he does …
Max: And so it’s like a process of habituation which is something that we are all constantly exposing ourselves to stimulus and then we habituate. We get used to it and we’re like, “Oh, cool. This isn’t scary anymore.” And for Parkour, the best thing about it is, it’s not like climbing where you have to sometimes do that 700 [00:08:30] feet up in the air. It’s accessible in the sense that … When I started training, when I was fourteen, I remember going up on a 5 foot wall and thinking about jumping off and it terrified me. I couldn’t do it. I was like, “Nope. This is too hard.” And so for me, it was like … Balancing on a 3 foot rail was the limit of my extent … [crosstalk 00:08:50] It was the extent of my comfort zone. And then I just gradually kept pushing it a little bit every single day, and that’s something that I think a lot of Parkour practitioners talk [00:09:00] about. Is pushing that envelope slightly every single day. And with Parkour, there are so many ways that you can do that, right?
Max: I think the other thing, too, that’s cool about Parkour … Is just really quick that it … Because it’s so diverse, you kind of learn to abstract that concept of fear; breaking down a challenge to everything.
Craig: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Max: Whereas in a lot of other sports, it’s very specific. It’s like, “Climb this.” If you’re not climbing, now it’s like, “Oh, I’m scared of jumping into water from 10 meters up.” It’s kind of a different thing. [00:09:30] Whereas in Parkour, we do it with so many different things. Like, “I want to balance on this. I want to jump here. Now I’m jumping to my hands. Now I’m jumping to one foot. Do a rail. Now I’m falling.” [crosstalk 00:09:38]
Craig: You can jump to your hands. I’m not jumping to my hands.
Max: Yeah. So I think …
Craig: But I get your point.
Max: I think you learn to kind of abstract that more quickly than you might in other sports.
Do five push-ups, just for fun. 🙂
Craig: So one of the projects that you’ve worked on recently with Jesse Danger was to go and work on the … I’m going to call it the “water project” because I want to let you explain it a little bit.
Craig: So just give me the brief [00:10:00] version of what you did and why you went to Africa and why you were there.
Max: Okay, yeah. I’ve been working a lot with Know Obstacles, the Parkour clothing company for the past year and a half or so. And this is something that … So those of you who don’t know, Francis Lyons is the one that runs KO. Really amazing person, he’s the one that kind of initiated this whole project. He had been to Africa working with a water and sanitation kind of non-profit three years ago. And it [00:10:30] was something that really effected him. And Francis and I had talked for maybe the past two years about using Parkour in some way to benefit other people. And the first thing that we realized we could do with this project is that we could basically use Parkour as a flashy thing to get kids interested in raising money. So we went to a couple schools in the north east. Brought, you know, our gear from … With the Movement Creative…
Craig: Yeah, set up, right?
Max: Set up and we ran these little classes and some events. Brought some Ninja Warrior people. And these kids were like, “Wow, this [00:11:00] is so cool There’s all these amazing athletes that are passionate about water and sanitation improvement in developing countries. Let’s help them raise money.” And the teachers loved it because it’s math and science and phys-ed. [crosstalk 00:11:12]
Craig: There’s only six reasons why the would love that. Kids are interested? One!
Max: Yeah. So that was the initial thing and then basically the company, the non-profit that was helping us, organized where the money was going and found schools that were suitable to send the money over. You know, where it would do the most good. That [00:11:30] non-profit basically said, “We would like to send you to Africa to work with some of these schools that you’ve been helping. Teach Parkour there. Have that first-hand experience that you can be a more powerful ambassador when you come back to the US and keep working with these other schools.” So we went out there and we coached at five schools, which was an amazing, mind blowing, really cool experience because it was so similar to coaching in the US, while also drastically different in a handful of ways. But you really do get that whole, “Wow. Everybody’s [00:12:00] the same. And everybody likes Parkour.”
Craig: One of the things we were discussing earlier had to do with how Parkour is maturing. And we went off on a long discussion about climbing. But in this particular context, it seems to me that you need more than the money that you could raise through smaller outreach demonstrations and things. So was the project also funded with actual … ‘Cause as soon as you say non-profit, then corporations are like, “Here’s a cheque.”
Max: Yeah, so actually the way that we did it was that all the money that was raised by these schools was matched [00:12:30] by a large corporation, corporate donor.
Max: So they agreed to match any donation. So I think that we got a few thousand dollars from one schools, and then this donor agreed to match that. And then that ends up being enough now instead of being able to supply new water infrastructure for a pre-K [crosstalk 00:12:50], you can now go and do two or three schools with that same amount.
We went to one school, Charles Dune Elementary School. And they originally had … I think it was [00:13:00] 400 students that they had. They had one water source that they used for making the lunches, everything. Washing hands, et cetera, et cetera. The sanitation was non-existent. And that was a school that Francis visited three years ago when they had started putting the infrastructure in. We went back. They have now bathrooms that were as clean as any in an American middle school or elementary school. They had a great lunch program. They had a chess team because they weren’t worried about water and sanitation. They were able to buy computers. So they have kids [00:13:30] that are learning international business so they can compete in a global market. And these are the same kids that meanwhile, they go home … And their homes still have no electricity. No running water, no sanitation, no plumbing, no trash pick up. They just leave their trash wherever they can because there’s no services.
Craig: Right, there’s no infrastructure for that. [crosstalk 00:13:51]
Max: And so these kids now have a school that’s kind of a safe-haven for them, where they can go. They have a community that’s supporting them, inspiring them to [00:14:00] become better forces for good in their community. And once we saw that, it’s like … Who really … As long it’s not drug money. Where’s this money coming from? Obviously you want to question it a little bit, but at the same time, when you see where … How much good it’s able to do in the right hands, and that’s what the non-profit that we were working with was making sure that it was going to schools that were … There’s no corruption, and that the money [crosstalk 00:14:26]
Craig: Money would actually be used for the infrastructure that was going to be for.
Max: Exactly. And so seeing that [00:14:30] was just so powerful that it kind of put me in that place of like .. Wow, I’m speaking from a place of privilege saying, “Let me question where this money is coming from.” Like I have the ability to do that.
Craig: We were discussing that climbing has obviously made the transition from being grungy guys kind of trespassing in a state park, buying large nuts at the hardware store and throwing them in rocks and climbing on stuff and pounding in pitons and things. And has transitioned from that, let’s call it the late ’60’s, have transitioned all the way [00:15:00] now into not just a global phenomena with magazines and tech gear and main companies, but has also been accepted in the mainstream. People don’t go, “Oh, you’re a climber.” They … There are a few of those people, but vast majority of them … People go, “Oh, you’re a climber. Oh, you teach climbing. Then obviously you get paid. Or you own a climbing gym.” [crosstalk 00:15:19] Right, exactly. It’s like this totally legitimate straight-up thing. And it’s not just in America. It’s not like it’s only because it’s here.
So my question is, and the thing we were discussing before is, where do we see Parkour [00:15:30] going?
Max: I mean, I absolutely see this as being kind of the … The last four or five years, and then I think the next four or five years, I feel like are potentially the most important years in the development of Parkour on a global scale. And that’s kind of one of the reasons I wrote my book, for instance. That’s something I’m very passionate about in general. It’s just how do we keep Parkour something that is at least sort of similar to the thing that I fell in love with when I started training? And keep that magic alive?
So for me, the book was something [00:16:00] that I could do to help. It’s like, can I put together a bunch of the things that I saw in forums back in the day and kind of create just a list of resources for people that are jumping into the sport now.
Craig: In a sense, it’s a survey of Parkour.
Max: And how do we coexist among ourselves. You know, that’s something that I’ve also seen from the beginning, it’s such a powerful personal thing that you’ve seen basically as long as Parkour’s existed. There have been conflicts with people about how they want to express themselves through movement.
Max: And how they [00:16:30] … What they want to call it. Whatever the reason are. From the days with David and Seb and the Yamak, and until now, you still see that kind of stress. And for me, one of the most important things that I see … I want everyone to try and just chill out and mediate. So that’s something that I like doing in my own life and in my own training. I love taking different groups of people and just being like, “Hey guys. We do [00:17:00] the same thing. We all want to have other people do it safely and intelligently and be able to make a living off of it. Let’s work together instead of … ”
Craig: Yeah, and we’re finally getting to a point where … At least here in the States, you can walk up to a random person and when they say, “What are you doing?” There’s a 50/50 chance that they know the word Parkour, which is delightful. Five years ago, no one knew the word. You had to spend 10 minutes explaining [crosstalk 00:17:22]
Max: Have you see Casino Royale?
Craig: Yeah, I’m a little sick of saying that. So now we’re reaching a point where we’re really getting the knowledge penetration into the general global [00:17:30] public. And there’s sort of, I think, a flashpoint approaching where somebody’s going to grab a hold of the message. And maybe it’ll be a large publishing company who puts together a print magazine and just decides to put it on the check-out counter isle in every super market on the planet. And whatever we thought Parkour was … You can forget that. It’s going to be whatever they think it is in the magazine. And then we can have an argument where we … Like, where skating did, where they tried to split back off and have sort of a counter skate culture. So I agree with Max that the goal [00:18:00] here … And when I say here, I mean globally for Parkour. The goal should be to make sure that we understand the image of Parkour as a whole that we’re creating.
And that’s not an idea that I made up. Others have said that too. That it’s important that we think about, when we share an image or share a video or write something or don’t share an image or we don’t share a video or we don’t write things, we’re creating an image.
Max: Yeah, I mean, I would say that’s definitely true. Especially with media. The story that you tell people [00:18:30] is the story that they’ll believe. And that’s the story that you become. And so for Parkour, we have a bunch of disparate stories that are being told right now, where you have people that are doing their own thing. And I think the important thing also is that … You don’t want to suppress anybody’s creative rights. We want everybody to be able to express themselves. I just think that it’s important that the people who are doing so are taking responsibility for their impact that they have on the global [00:19:00] community and the way that Parkour is being viewed. And that’s something I think that Storror for instance has done a great job of recently. Storror and Storm both have kind of taken a change in direction with their media lately. Especially, in the last few videos, Storror made one with their New Year’s resolution.
It was like, “We want to teach people more about Parkour.” All these things. And so I think that it’s great because they’re obviously a group that has ton of influence, they make amazing content. They’re amazing athletes. They’re traveling all over the world. And to see [00:19:30] them make that roof culture Asia, which a lot of people in the Parkour community might be sniffing at. Like, “That’s … What is this … This is the exact type of thing that we don’t want to promote.” For me, I think it’s dope. And I’m like, “Heck yeah!” I like that they’re pushing it to a level that nobody has taken it to since the Yamak in terms of how novel it is [crosstalk 00:19:51]
Craig: Right, pushing the envelope of no one’s done that before.
Max: Yeah, and that’s amazing. That’s how … That’s the other way that the sport grows, right? It’s not just like … You can’t just have like, “Oh, we have gyms and a bunch of kids [00:20:00] are learning it. How to do vaults.” You also need to have those people that are doing gnarly stuff to keep it interesting. But at the same …
Craig: Research and development on the fringe.
Max: Exactly. But then you also have them balancing out, which they’ve been doing lately with just normal training uploads and a little bit more kind of talking about their goals. Things like that. And I think that’s amazing! I wish that every major group would just do that once in a while because they have such big fan basis that getting that perspective out there is really important.
And a lot of people that I’ve spoken [00:20:30] to … Other elite athletes from around the US, around the world are all … We’re all on the same page where everybody … Whatever your affiliation. Everybody’s just like, “I want to preserve what I love about this and I see parts of it kind of leaking away.” And everybody’s kind of just like, “How can we make this … How can we plug the holes in the boat?”
And this is actually … If you don’t mind, I’d like to take this in a slightly other …
Max: Slightly new direction. Where we were talking about the future of Parkour. And I do think that actually something … [00:21:00] The sixth chapter in my book is about kind of where I see Parkour going in the future, and that really got me thinking about how Parkour is evolving compared to other sports and kind of looking at kind of the history of other extreme sports, urban sports. And I’m very … I have a very positive view. I think the way that Parkour is going right now is actually really, really exciting for a few reasons. I think that for a long time, as athletes and business [00:21:30] owners, et cetera. Gym owners. We’ve been kind of looking at things and saying, “This is Parkour’s big break. Oh, Casino Royale. That’s going to come out.”
Craig: Here’s the moment. [crosstalk 00:21:40]
Max: And that’s happened for years and years where we’ve said, “Ninja Warrior’s getting picked up by NBC.”
Craig: It’s going to explode. [crosstalk 00:21:48]
Max: And then they look at it and they’re like, “Oh. It’s actually kind of suppressed Parkour and this thing. Build our own.” Which a lot of people have seen as being negative, and I actually see it as being so positive because what [00:22:00] it’s allowed us to do is the people that have been place from the beginning. You know, the Ryan Fords, the Blanes, the Yanns. Dan Edwards. Everybody like that. They’ve had time to invest money into building infrastructure to create their own gym instead of having to go to Cross Fit XY. Get money to have their own … So we’ve all kind of been able to do our own thing under the radar, and gotten just [00:22:30] enough support from these outside entities to stay relevant, but not too much where there’s any amount of control. So it’s been … To me, it’s really interesting because I think that we as a community still have the reigns. We’re still … We’re riding the horse and we’re in control, and it’s not like we have Red Bull on our back that’s got a switch hitting the horse’s butt.
Craig: In some way, the whole global Parkour everything … The amount of money being spent on it. The shoes, the clothing, all that stuff. It’s all so small [00:23:00] that sort of the corporate powers don’t really care yet.
Max: But I see that as being positive, and I ultimately see … Even if you look at competition, things like that. For instance, what you were saying about the market for all Parkour goods. Say you take the money that every major Parkour team makes off of selling merchandise and every Parkour company. That’s still maybe 1/1,000th of [crosstalk 00:23:26] of the amount of money [00:23:30] that [crosstalk 00:23:31]. Nike spends a thousand times that much on marketing one shoe.
Max: So they look at something like Parkour, and they’re like, “There’s no market for it.” And for me, I see it as … I would much rather have that be the case where these companies are like, “There’s no market for it. There’s no market for it.” Then, by the time they want to come in, all the gaps have been filled. It’s like, there’s already clothing companies that are grass roots. There’s competition formats that are grass roots. There are gyms that are grass roots. X and Y, and it’s all been covered by people in the community that have the community’s best interests [00:24:00] at heart. That have been training for fifteen years, that want to promote a safe practice of Parkour.
Craig: Yes, and that transformation where the … Whatever the sport you’re talking about. That whatever the activity is, that transformation is just a generic thing. It happens with every activity and every sport. And you get one moment where it explodes like that, and then the horse is out and it’s over. So I think you’re right. We definitely need… People definitely in the Parkour scene, in the Parkour community. They need to start [00:24:30] … You really have to sit down and say to yourself, “If I’ve gotten something that I value and appreciate out of Parkour, then I have a choice. I can either say thank you and go onward with whatever I’m doing. Or I can say, I have the responsibility to stop and to also allocate some of my efforts to passing that gift on.” And that’s actually how you save it. That’s how you make sure that Parkour maintains whatever it is that you think it has that’s great. You keep [00:25:00] that alive by keeping it alive.
Max: Yeah, I think it’s also … A little bit … For me, as somebody who’s trying to make a living off of doing this awesome, awesome practice that we do. It’s a little bit inspiring. I know a lot of other athletes that are working two jobs, working one job a week. Trying to train full-time, and they’re just like, “I don’t know how much longer I can do this.” And it’s frustrating to see amazingly talented athletes, people who are so passionate about what we do, and have the skills to [00:25:30] really be great ambassadors for the practice of Parkour, that have to drop out because they’re just like, “I’ve got pay school loans. I’ve got to do this. I’ve got to do that.” And then to me, it’s like … I always tell them, I’m like, “Look at this. Look at all the gyms popping up.” There are opportunities, it’s just kind of … For me, I’m … In terms of the “aha” moment, when does Parkour get huge? I’m really curious when what could happen …
Craig: I think it would only be visible in hindsight. Like, you can look back and find the aha moment for the internet, you can find the aha moment for skating, [00:26:00] but only in hindsight. You’re never going to spot it as it’s happening to you.
Max: It’s crazy to think, though, because I feel like so many things have already happened with Parkour. It’s been in movies, it’s been music videos, it’s all over the internet, it’s gone viral, it’s been on TV, there’s been TV shows. All these things [crosstalk 00:26:15]
Craig: What could possible be left? Well, here’s one for you. I’m not going to name names, but I happen to know somebody who recently went to Antarctica and did Parkour on a cruise ship. And after the fact, we were talking and somebody else said, “Oh my goodness. You were the first [00:26:30] person to take Parkour to the last continent.” And we were just like, “Oh my goodness. That’s actually what really just happened.” So the only point I’m making is there are still things to be done, and if we knew what they were, then they would be done. So there’s still tons of opportunity out there.
Max: Or it gets in the Olympics or whatever. For better or for worse, whatever happens there. That’s another thing that people have been talking about is Parkour in the Olympics, the X Games. And I look at that and I say, what athlete … ‘Cause there are people that are like, “I [00:27:00] want that to happen now. That would be so great for the community, the exposure.” And I look at that and I say, “What athlete from any team…” Know, if I were on — I work a lot with KO — Nike comes up to me and they say, “Hey, we see you’re going to be on the Olympic team twenty whatever. 2020. We’d like to offer you seventy thousand dollar [crosstalk 00:27:20]
Craig: A real salary.
Max: Yeah, any money. Any Parkour athlete they’re like, “Ten thousand dollars a year. Oh, gosh.”
Craig: Five digits?!
Max: Yeah. I mean … Yeah, so I look at that, and you’re like, these are [00:27:30] people that are literally struggling to survive. How are they going to say no if a big company comes in and offers them any money.” And for the Olympics, obviously there are rules with sponsorship and things like that, but if they’re any kind of major sponsorship like that, it would be hard for somebody that, even if they’re the face of their own team to say no just because of the comfort that that would bring to their lives. And then you have now … Maybe that happens to the right five or six people, now you have maybe the five biggest teams and faces of [00:28:00] Parkour for a lot the kids that are … Now those all dissolve, things fall a part [crosstalk 00:28:04]. And then it’s like, okay, now who’s going … Where are the grass roots teams? Where are the organizations that have been working for years? All that could be undone with five contracts to the right people.
Craig: Right. And I think it will …
Max: Which is scary.
Craig: That’s going to happen.
Max: But hopefully, fingers crossed that it takes eight more years or twelve more years where then you have gyms that are in place and Apex is like, “We opened up our thirtieth facility in America [00:28:30] so we can offer you this contract instead of Under Armor.”
Craig: Well, I think that there’s more and more inroads being created to primary schooling. So parents are now open to Parkour being like a regular thing. My kids in karate, your kids in soccer, and my kid does Parkour. And it doesn’t even make an eyebrow raise anymore at dinner parties. So as that has now happened, then that creates an economy for that. And then those [00:29:00] kids grow up never really thinking that Parkour is exceptional in a bad way. It’s exceptional because it’s fun and they love it. But it’s not exceptional like only weird people do that. And that’s …
Max: Which is true.
Craig: I guess if you count heads and you say so many billions of people on the planet are one way and then there’s a certain number that are the other way, yes, we’re the weird ones. But in reality I think the people who do Parkour … People ask me, people in my age cohort, ask me about it. And I say, “Well, you do Parkour. [00:29:30] When did you stop?” It was probably around fourteen, like actually if you’re over thirty, for example. Sit down for a second and I want you to tell me the last time that you climbed on the jungle gym. And if you can’t tell me the exact month, that means it was like when you were in sixth grade or something. And it’s like … That’s a long time ago to have not been four feet off the ground.
So now we’re off into talking about what the nature of Parkour is, but I really think it’s a common theme that I’m hearing with almost anybody I talk to anywhere [00:30:00] is that we all feel that there’s this responsibility to the greater Parkour ethereal thing. Like we all owe it something and there are a lot of people who are famous names who would nod vigorously, “Yes, yes, yes.” So that’s a great place to go. I’m glad we got to talk about that.
(This question is part of the “Story Time!” project.)
Craig: So in every podcast episode, I try to get it to asking the guest if there’s a story you would like to share because, as I said often, the Parkour community is full of spectacular stories. And what I’m really interested in [00:30:30] is a story that’s special to you. So one that you’re passionate about. It can be an insight, it can be pretty much anything.
Max: So, there’s so many stories. I mean, I’ve traveled all over the place and it’s cool to think about those, but I think based on kind of what we’ve been talking about today, I’d maybe just like to talk a little bit about how I started training? Because one thing that I get a lot from people that I train with now is … They look at me and they go, “Wow. You’re not afraid of anything.” Or “This is crazy. How do you do that?” And they just assume [00:31:00] that it’s some genetic mutation. And I have like a twenty minute video that I filmed on my dad’s handi-cam from 1998 that’s on YouTube actually, of me talking to a camera. Setting up a camera and just talking to it for minutes about, “I’ve been trying this jump for days.” It’s like a two foot rail kong-pre. And people just assume that if you’re at a certain level, there’s no …
Craig: You’ve always been there.
Max: Yeah, exactly. [crosstalk 00:31:26] Oh, you must have started and you were just amazing. Or, whatever. [00:31:30] So I kind of would just like to share the way that I got into training because I think that it’s very accurate to the way that I still train and it’s kind of very true to … It explains a lot about who I am and how I train.
So my best friend Calvin, who was my initial training partner … We didn’t have a computer when I was a kid. I didn’t have a computer until I was fifteen. So we used to go to the library, hop on the computer. And one day we were there and we were on YouTube, looking at videos. And he just turned to me and [00:32:00] said, “Man, I saw this crazy news report the other night about some guy who could just jump on walls like Spiderman.” And I was like, “I’m not going to let you go without … You need to be more descriptive. What do you mean?” And he couldn’t really explain it. Him trying to …
Craig: No words, right.
Max: He was like, “It’s just like this guy. And he kind of would like jump on the side of a wall and then stick there for a second and then go to another wall. And then he could jump to little metal rails. It was crazy.” And [00:32:30] so I was just … I had no idea what he was talking about. I can’t even picture it in my head. And I was kind of like, “Jackie Chan?”
He was like, “No, it was way crazier. He would jump between buildings. Thirty feet.” And I didn’t know. And he couldn’t remember what it was called. So we went on YouTube and I was really into martial arts and stuff at the time, all kind of self-instructed. So I was like, “I don’t know what it’s called. Let’s just look for things.” So we’re typing in just whatever. Extreme stunts, things like that. And then [00:33:00] finally we typed in Spiderman guy jumping on buildings. And the letter P. Because he remembered it started with a P, but he didn’t remember what it was. So we typed in Spiderman guy jumps off buildings, the letter P. And the first video popped up was David Bell’s Speed Air Man. And then we start watching it and he was like, “Oh my God. This is it. This is it.”
Max: And I was like … At the beginning I was ragging on him. I’m like, “Dude, how did you not … It’s some dude with tattoos flexing. How did you not be able to describe this?” And then as soon as the [00:33:30] action started …
Max: My brain was just like totally …
Craig: I have no words.
Max: Yeah. It was just mind blowing. I didn’t know how to compare it. There was no context for me. And as soon as I saw it, I was just like, “This is so intense. I want to do this. I do not know how the heck I would ever be able to start doing this because it’s just massive roof gaps.”
And I went to the playground right across the street. And I remember climbing up onto something like a fence. Four feet high, five feet high. And I was just like. [00:34:00] I don’t want to jump off of this. Nope. Forget that. I went down. And I was a gymnast when I was a kid, and I remember thinking, “Okay. Where can I start? That’s something that scares me, but will be in my range?” And I was like, “Oh, you know what? I used to love doing tumbling, like back hand springs. Haven’t done one in years. Let me see if I can do it.” And I had, probably for two hours, stood in a field and just tried to commit to a back hand spring. And I had never experienced that level of mental frustration until that moment. Because even as a kid in gymnastics, you [00:34:30] have a coach, you have mats. Progression, do it on the trampoline, do into the pit, whatever.
Craig: Right. As soon as your stuck, they give you the … Here’s the wedge. Here’s the …
Craig: Here’s the mental suggestion.
Max: So it was fall and I remember just piling a ton of leaves into a pile and flopping onto my back for an hour. Just like, “Okay. This is the worst that could happen.” And I’m basically just jumping up into the air and landing on my neck. Like, “Okay. I can do that and I’m safe.” Finally, my buddy Calvin’s like, “I got to go. I got to go. My mom needs me home.” And so he had to leave. And I was like, “I don’t want to do [00:35:00] it alone. ‘Cause I might die and no one will know.” So I finally committed to it. I did it totally fine on my first try. It was perfect. And I was just like, “Of course. That’s how it would happen.” And I just remember that mental process was really crazy. And there was still a moment that I didn’t know where to go after that. And then … This is what I told Blane when I met him, when we were hanging out in June at American Rendezvous.
I remember, I was scrolling through videos. I saw an old Cambridge video which I watched. [00:35:30] Training in summer of 2006 training in Cambridge. And then I saw Blane’s Excelsior video and when I saw him do a rail precision and stick it.
Craig: Yeah, it’s like … Did they freeze the video [crosstalk 00:35:43].
Max: My brain literally was like, forget everything else that I’ve seen. If I can land on a rail and stay there, I will be happy with my entire life.
Craig: The meaning of life is a stuck rail pre.
Max: To me, that was just like the most amazing feat. I didn’t [00:36:00] know it was humanly possible to have balance that was good enough to do that. And so I remember in June, I went and told … I was like, “Blane, yeah. When you did a couple of those rail pres in the Excelsior … It was literally life changing for me. I saw that and I was just like … I didn’t even think a human being could do this.” And he just turned to me and he was like, “Well, I think you’ve got the whole jumping to rails thing down since then.”
Craig: You can move on to something else.
Max: So … It’s funny, ’cause to me, I look back to that story and I have pretty much the exact same [00:36:30] approach. I was a wuss, figured out a less wussy thing to do that was still scary. You know, managed to commit to it after a long time, got it really easy on my first try, and then decided I didn’t like flips and wanted to do rail precisions. And that basically sums up my entire Parkour experience since then. So that’s ten years of Parkour training in a nutshell.
Craig: All right. And of course, the final question is, can you describe your practice in three words?
Max: I was thinking of one earlier. Which I think [00:37:00] is pretty accurate, although I feel like it’s a dual edge. When I first started training, I would have said, “Jumping and thinking.” Is basically my entire training [crosstalk 00:37:12]
Craig: That’s three words. Jumping and thinking.
Max: And thinking. And “Thinking about jumping.” Those are kind of both my things. And then now, what I’ve been trying to get to is basically, “Jumping without thinking.” That’s kind of been the processes. It’s like, developing the habit, thinking about [00:37:30] it, analyzing it, tinkering with all the techniques. And then now at the point where you kind of just throw all that out the window and say, “All right. It’s all ingrained in my body. I’ve done fifty thousand, a hundred thousand repetitions. Now I just need to trust that it’s all there.” So … I guess those would be my … I guess that’s kind of like a nine word process, but … The evolution of my …
Craig: The evolution of getting down to, “jumping without thinking.”
Max: Yep. ‘Cause if you start there. You’re just going to fall [00:38:00] apart. That’s how you … That’s definitely how you fall apart as a human being. You just break immediately.
Craig: Terrific. Well, thank you Max Henry. We appreciate you time and energy today.
Max: Thank you, Craig. That was super fun.