Lessons in Style from Ryan DoylePosted: January 16, 2013
Yeah, I can run up that wall
Ryan Doyle is probably the first person to look at the east wall of the Magnetic Recording Institute and think, I’m going to run up that. If you recognize his name, you’ve seen the YouTube videos of him jumping over stuff and making flips and corkscrews look as natural as walking. He takes movements usually reserved for the gymnastics floor to sidewalks, walls, and stairway rails. What he’s doing is called parkour. It’s based on getting from point A to point B as efficiently as possible, thus running up walls rather than taking the stairs.
Red Bull flew Ryan Doyle out from Liverpool this February as part of his Art of Motion tour. In the tour, he’s trying to tap into a part of parkour that often gets out-glammed and overlooked: the fact that everybody does it differently. Each person’s abilities, strengths, and weaknesses are unique to their body. Also, the things a person is able to do are specific to the environment they’re in.
On campus, Ryan was absorbed by that influence of the environment. As we walked around and talked, he was usually only ever half-involved in our conversation; the other half of his attention was constantly measuring gaps and wall textures and calculating his next line. When I asked him about what got him into parkour, though, he tuned all the way. He has kind of a boyish face and light brown hair, but when he really talks about parkour his demeanor is all pro.
Jackie Chan, the Father of Parkour
Doyle talked about watching Jackie Chan movies when he was a kid. As parkour developed, what people were doing on the streets reminded Doyle of what Jackie Chan was doing in his movies. Doyle told me, “Jackie Chan is always running away from people. He’s so good at martial arts and all he ever does is run away. And the way he integrates his environment in to his choreography, that’s parkour. When the French started doing it in the nineties and said they invented it, I said, ‘Bullshit, that’s Jackie Chan.’”
The fact that Ryan Doyle’s gateway into parkour was martial arts makes it tempting to compare him to Jackie Chan, or any other famous martial artist. But the way Ryan moves looks nothing like Jackie Chan’s choreography, or anyone else’s. Doyle firmly believes that innovation is critical to parkour; if everybody is trying to copy each other, parkour would be boring to do and watch. But since how it looks depends so much on who’s doing it, he describes parkour more as an art than a sport.
Sometimes it’s the small stuff
In addition, there are different aspects of parkour, not all of which are necessarily acrobatic. “People always think about the flips because those look the coolest, but maybe that’s not your style. Flips and absorbing big impacts are always what people always want to see, but that’s the stuff that kills your body. You can’t be doing that stuff all the time if you want to be able keep doing it.” The point was illustrated when Doyle front flipped off the fountain in Price Center. At least a dozen people stopped in their tracks pulled out their phones to record it.