(C. Proxmire, Ferndale 115 News, Aug. 10, 2012)
It isn’t easy being able to unleash a series of hands-free back flips, or to run up the side of a building before springing backwards into a hand stand, spiraling into the air and landing on your feet, but Ferndale’s Parkour Ninja, 24-year-old Allen Gehringer can do all that and more thanks to hours of daily training and a solid philosophical mindset.
“It’s not just a sport, it’s a way of life,” he said. “Life is all about navigating obstacles right?”
What started out as adolescent boys putting a unique twist on a game of tag has developed into a sport that gives Gehringer a constant aim in life. “George I’ve known since fifth grade. He’s a fun kid who would be at the park when I was. We’d play tag, but we wanted something more difficult so we went to ‘sky tag.’ 90% of the time we played it here,” he said as he looked around at Wilson Park on Hilton behind what is now University High School. “You couldn’t touch the ground. So we started making these jumps and clearing things you couldn’t imagine. Who’s gonna make the jump no one else has the guts to make and not get tagged?”
As the boys grew, so did their circle of parkour friends. “Mike is a fast learner with the sport. He picked up on moves very quickly. We all have our own specialties. Mine’s adding on to different flips. George likes to be risky. He’s got the fire element. Brian is precise and accurate, smooth like water. He uses a lot of martial art influence”
It developed popularity in France as part of military training in the 1920s, but it has come to be a non-competitve sport with freedom as its basic premise. Those who practice parkour move through their environment without the limits of conformity others are held by. Instead they are free, like curious and adventurous children, figuring out things and going wherever they feel like exploring. They do not simply stay on the sidewalk.
Gehringer has found many reasons to love it. “Most people train sports for the same reasons,” he said. “It’s always fun to see what you can do. It’s not necessarily a sport though, it’s a way of life. It’s the way it always has been you know, started small, worked my way up.”
He said parkour “helps you get through on an everyday basis. Every time you confront an obstacle. The big question every day is ‘how do I do this?’…The self-esteem boost you get when you land a move, your self-esteem goes through the roof. I’ve been happy all week because of a new move. It feels so good. And yes you do get an adrenaline boost from it.
“The other thing that makes it worth it is the people you meet. You make new frieds everyday. Anywhere you go. You do a backflip off something, everybody wants to talk to you all of a sudden.”
It’s also a practical and versatile sport that can be done nearly anywhere with no special equipment.
Each day Gehringer trains at least three hours, ideally seven, and sometimes as high as ten. And while he hasn’t made it big in any movies or talent expositions yet, he has gotten to perform on stage with some of his favorite bands, including Black Aces, Shotgun Opera, and Blood on the Dancefloor.
The opportunity came when he and a friend showed up to a concert early and he was doing training in front of the venue. It was cold and security let them in the building early. “We got there ridiculously early,” he said. “Dahvie Vanity, the lead singer [of Blood on the Dancefloor], stopped and talked to us and he was all like the normal talk, ‘How you guys doing? Thanks for coming to the show’ and whatnot. And I mentioned to Dahvie, ‘Hey I caught your Facebook hint that said you could bring costumes.’
“I had brought a ninja mask and put it on and he was like ‘sweet.’
“I said it goes with me, and he asked what did I mean, and I told him I’m like a ninja and I did a backflip right there. So he asked me to do some on stage.”
Gehringer said that when Dahvie was ready he came out in the crowd and nodded for him to come up. “I got to the edge of the stage where the barriers are, and I pushed up a ‘Step E Kong,’ landed on top of the barrier and jumped up on the stage,” he said. “I walked up on stage with the rhythm and I did a chain of four to five back flips in a row and walked offstage.”
He said he didn’t want to overdo it and dominate the stage because even being able to get up and do a flip was an honor. But he was glad when the singer called him back out and let him show off more. He did a whole bunch of impressive moves and won the applause of the crowd and the chance to play Modern Warfare 2 (a video game for those who don’t know) with the band in the bus after the show. And he’s been able to go on stage with them at Michigan shows since.
“After the show fans asked for my signature. It astounded me. My signature?” he laughed. He is getting more used to the attention, and to people mistaking him for a ninja. He’s even been practicing more moves that can be done on plain flat ground, so that hopefully he can find work doing performances on stage for festivals and concerts. Other potential aspirations include stunt work in the movies, teaching classes to kids to get them interested in the sport, or one day starring in the sport should it ever take off in popularity. Like any other seemingly uncommon interest, there are communities to be found online and a niche market for videos and websites. Though he doesn’t really care about all that. He just likes to freerun. His work as a pool maintenance man and tree trimmer makes him happy too. “I get to stay active and in shape, and I can use my problem solving skills in ways other people wouldn’t think,” he said.
Gehringer has a laid-back view of life and loves being able to share parkour with others. He’s got a group of students now that gets together at a park in Warren to train in the basics.
“Anybody can get into this. Start small. Learn to do a good cartwheel. Improve your balance. It’s all the small steps that make it rewarding.”
As with any sport, there is risk of injury. Gehringer said he is more cautious about trying things where he could be seriously hurt. Some injuries are just part of the game. “You have injuries before you learn. I’ve had fractures on the hand and foot, a fractured index finger. To me it’s always been worth it.” He explained that some of the first things you learn in Parkour are “saves,” ways of maneuvering to minimize damage in a fall or other slipup.
“Find someone to train from if you can” he said, “Always know your limits.”
Connect with Allen through his YouTube page: http://www.youtube.com/user/allenzero1.