Learning mathematics and learning parkour seem to have a lot in common. Both can be done on varying levels, but to progress in either one needs to overlearn and build basic skills so that these skills are automatic and accurate. Practitioners of both claim that anyone can do them, although to the beginner each of the disciplines looks daunting, if not impossible, to do at any more than a rudimentary level. Although for mathematics this is more of a byproduct, both of these disciplines also require practitioners to overcome and manage their fears.

Now, parkour is something that naturally fascinates young people. The practice of mathematics, at some level, is a mental analogue of parkour. Try as I might, I have not been able to find any videos or blogposts that discuss this analogy, or how one might use or combine the teaching of one of these things with the other in order to develop a healthy "growth mindset".

My question is: What are some resources for this?

Here and there I have found some hoaky things online trying to connect parkour to math in the most unsatisfying way (to me)...namely to try to use math or physics to study parkour movements. This is not what I am looking for, here. I am looking for something that discusses the similarities of how mathematicians approach problem solving and how traceurs do...I'm talking about habits.

I should address what might seem to be a massive oversight or mistake embedded in this question: being stuck certainly doesn't seem to fit into the idea of being able to fluidly overcome obstacles...and we know being stuck is very important to learning and doing mathematics. This said, the similarity I propose here is based on the (realistic, I think) assumption that mathematicians do not view being stuck as a condition of inactivity, and this is precisely the point I'd like the analogy to make for students. A stuck mathematician doesn't generally look stuck, in the traditional sense.

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ Permit me to add the Wikipedia link, which more directly answers the question, "What is Parkour?" $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 9, 2021 at 21:43
  • 5
    $\begingroup$ You might also enjoy the analogy of mountain climbing, and there are a number of essays on that. One is at the beginning of The Art and Craft of Problem Solving, by Paul Zeitz. I think it would work very similarly. $\endgroup$
    – Sue VanHattum
    Commented Apr 9, 2021 at 23:24
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ I use a Brazilian jiujitsu analogy sometimes, in a similar way. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 9, 2021 at 23:26
  • 12
    $\begingroup$ Is parkour somehow special when compared to any other difficult skill one might want to learn? $\endgroup$
    – Tommi
    Commented Apr 10, 2021 at 7:43
  • 6
    $\begingroup$ @JonBannon That can be said of any discipline when you want to go beyond a certain level. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 10, 2021 at 14:59

2 Answers 2


Too many comments, so using the answer. Besides you write essayish questions don't you...so I can write forum style responses. ;-)

  1. I think some fun stuff can be good. I would just be very occasional about sprinkling it in. The flash of flashy motivation does not last as long as the satisfaction of gradual learning/progression. Not saying to cut it all out, just a caution.

  2. I find parkour a little strained as a comparison. Maybe a lot of the kids are not into it. Also, to me things like wrestling (kissing cousins with Gubkin's BJJ) are easier to think of as analogies because of the different moves. Also, the idea of a toolbox or of troubleshooting are helpful (especially in things like integration or solving ODEs, where you need many tricks...many tools in your toolkit and the experience to pick different ones, even combine them.)

  3. Also, and this is even much simpler, but analogies to training running, lifting, or musical instrument playing are useful in explaining to kids the importance of drill (and it is important).

  4. It's maybe not as mechanical as reading (decoding training), but there is sort of brain grooving going on in acquiring math skills (as there are with many fine motor skills).

    See for example: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EMAsQeLfr3o

    But there are many academic articles on brain plasticity (I recommend neuroscience>applied psych>edschool researchers (lot of fluff from them, even trying to justify repudiated learning models).) But the basic idea is that our brains evolved to have a "walking mode" and a "talking mode" and a "recognizing faces" mode. Any child will learn these readily WITHOUT optimized training. However things like reading or doing math or typing or playing piano or tennis or doing double back flips requires detailed training and rewiring of the plastic parts of the brain to accommodate them. Many good articles, just Google Science them.

    The one thing I would caution is that different parts of the brain may be used for different modifications. We know that both reading and math are "unnatural" (not evolved for) and that they hijack parts of the oral language centers. But it's actually different areas within that. So, while brain plasticity (new skill acquisition) is ongoing, it does not have to be for the same part of the brain for parkour and math (I would bet not). It's just more of a general feature that we have some plasticity.

  5. This is not anything against parkour...I was a mediocre college gymnast and used to do parkour type stuff before it was a thing. Nothing like what you see in videos, but still...we would set up strange obstacle courses and the like and do goofy stuff.

P.s. "La meme chose" https://www.wimp.com/early-20th-century-actor-is-the-original-parkour-star/ (not like you whippersnappers were the first!)


You might do well to look at radical enactivism - to see how a person adds up a column of numbers - first single numbers only (0-9), then a column of 2 digits (11-99), and then a column of 3 digits - I met an accountant once who had mastered a column that was a mix of 3 and 4 digits. The radical enactivists claim that you don't need content whilst thinking, so like someone doing parkour they are going down a column of numbers without retaining the sub-totals...


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.