Wednesday, June 29, 2011


The notion that willpower is neccessary for success in sport, as in life in general, is pretty much taken for granted. It is typically assumed that one must exert much willpower to progress, one must take active control of oneself in order to develop one's skills, and one must continue to motivate oneself through self talk and mental rehearsal. In fact, this is an oversimplified account of willpower, and following it alone may stunt one's progress.     

Kabbalah speaks of two types of will, higher will and lower will. Lower will involves the conscious cultivation and application of will. This is the typical conceptualization of 'willpower'. Higher will is a subconscious form of will which suddenly envelops a person's entire being and bolsters his performance. One may not even realize that higher will is active within him.

An apt metaphor for these types of will is that of a person travelling in a one-man sailboat. There are two ways he can travel. The first is to use ores and row the boat manually - akin to lower will. This requires much effort and strength. The second is to raise the sails and allow the wind, when available, to propel the boat - akin to higher will. This allows for a smooth and effortless cruise.     

Each will type has its advantages and disadvantages. Lower will involves immense exertion, is less powerful than higher will, and is also less pervasive in its affect on one's overall being. However, it offers the individual voluntary control over his actions, and allows him to continue progressing even when he lacks spontaneous motivation. Higher will comes without one's effort, is more forceful, and all pervasive, but is also irrational and blind to danger or the specifics of a trick. The ideal is to harmonize both types. One should exert conscious willpower while remaining relaxed and open enough to the influence of the higher will. For if one fixates on his own (conscious) will to achieve his goals, he'll probably obstruct the flow of higher will. On the other hand, if one abandons control when sensing the influence of higher will he may behave recklessly. Lower will must regulate the flow of higher will.

Let's return to the sailboat metaphor to illustrate this point. If one becomes hung up with his own ability to row the boat, he may impede the wind's effect on his boat when it blows. On the other hand, if upon sensing a strong wind he stops steering the boat and submits to the wind's power, he might get lost, or worse, shipwrecked. The sailor must learn to harmonize the two complementary modes of travel.

However, the boat metaphor falls short. For while the two modes of travel are not interdependent, higher and lower wills are. Lower will really stems from higher will. It is merely the conscious mind drawing on a 'portion' of the subconscious reservoir of will and using it as it deems fit. Conversely, lower will is capable of arousing and directing higher will. Thus, by focusing on an activity and applying conscious will to improve in it, one arouses the higher will to emerge in that context and to enhance one's performance.

In summary, when skating one should be aware of both types of will power, remembering that, often, trying too hard is self defeating because it impedes the powerful flow of higher will. It's often more effective to relax, open up and allow the higher will to propel you - but continue to retain mild control even then...         

The power of competition

'...The pursuit of victory draws out one's deepest reserves...' 
 Basi L'Gani

I was at Prahran skate park observing a skater in his early 20's attempting the same trick (a pop shuvit over a hip) at least 30 times without success. So I decided to test how effective competition would be at bolstering his performance. I approached Pearce and asked him if he'd like to compete with me to see who could land this trick first. He was interested so we went ahead. The competition didn't last very long though, as he landed the trick perfectly in his first attempt!

In his highly insightful discussion about power, Dr Rollo May lists several types:
1. Power over another, obvious in slavery and manipulation;
2. Power for another, apparent in a mother's protectiveness of her child;
3. Power with another, visible in team work;
4. Power against another, evident in war and competitive sports;
5. Power from another; such as accepting another person's critique and developing oneself thereby.

The main distinction between power against and power from is that in the former one views the opponent as just that, an opponent. It's only incidental that the opponent causes the other party to increase in power. In the latter, in contrast, one deliberately uses an opponent to increase in power. It was this 5th type of power that I was helping Pearce use to improve his performance level.           

However, competitiveness is not always the best way to help others improve. According to the Yerkes- Dodson law of 'optimal arousal', an athlete is incapable of functioning optimally when either under-aroused or over-aroused. This explains why some people perform better during practice than during competition, for  competitiveness causes them to become over-aroused. It also explains why others perform better during competition than practice, for during practice they are under-aroused and competition boosts their arousal level.

Furthermore, research has shown that the optimal arousal level is lower for novel or complex tasks and higher for habitual or simple tasks. Thus, if a person is learning a new or complex trick it may not be a good idea to apply the pressure of competition. On the other hand, if one is failing to land more simple or well practiced tricks, competition may just help him pick up his game...        

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Point of Truth

    '...Truth is the middle bolt running from one end to the other...'
     The Zohar

Something inspirational about skate culture is that skaters are applauded for their efforts regardless of their skill level. If a beginner persistently attempts a certain trick and eventually lands it he'll receive cheer from skaters who had witnessed his struggle and eventual triumph. This is so even when the trick is deemed quite simple in the eyes of the onlookers. Indeed, why is this the case? Why aren't the elite skaters the only one's receiving praise?

Perhaps its because skateboarding is largely about overcoming personal limitations in order to break through to higher levels of performance. And, since every skater has his set of personal challenges, irrespective of whether he's a novice or a pro he'll be admired for giving his all to overcome them. Conversely, even if a pro skater stops labouring to advance, his skating loses much of its lustre. Of course people will still be amazed at his ability - even be in awe of him - yet, in losing his determination to advance, he disconnects from his 'point of truth', that is, his ability to perform optimally at his level, and this definately detracts from his skating.

Expressed differently, having ceased chasing the potential of the future, he has become an expression of his past efforts. And since the present moment is the juncture between the relatively fixed past and the open future; the 'point of truth' - the 'middle bolt' -in the flow of time, one lopsided toward his past achievements disconnects himself from the present and thus, from truth.

This may manifest in a skater's character. Ideally one should balance a sense of 'greatness',  based largely on past accomplishments,  and a sense of  'smallness', evoked by gazing at what can still be accomplished in the future and seeing how dwarfed one's current level is in light of it. Since one's past achievements are limited, while the potential for future progress is relatively unlimited, one's sense of 'smallness' should be much stronger than one's sense of 'greatness'. Accordingly, the skater who ceases struggling to progress tends to become sullied with smugness and arrogance - an exaggerated sense of 'greatness' - while one forever striving to climb to higher rungs of the infinite ladder of progress is humbled by the truth that shines through him...             

Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Mighty Pebble

I may not be the heaviest person. I only weigh around 68 kilograms. Nonetheless, I am much much heavier than a tiny pebble weighing in at a few micrograms. Apparently, I should have no struggle with such a tiny rock. Yet, today, as on many occasions, I was knocked off my skateboard and sent flying by just such a little critter. What is its secret power? In what does its strength lie?

We've all heard or read about David's battle with Goliath. David was a meek Shepard boy; Goliath was a barbaric giant and the secret weapon of a savage army. The odds were certainly against David. Yet, David famously defeated Goliath. What was his secret? Firstly, David felt G-d's presence accompanying him and was filled with courage thereby. But in addition he also had a specific talent: he could identify his enemy's vulnerabilities.

And so it is with the pebble. A pebble catches the skater off guard as its often invisible. Yes, it uses Guerilla warfare. And, even when visible, its minuscule size isn't exactly intimidating; one doesn't expect it to pack such a punch. It pretends to be a weak and innocent bystander (and considering that its inanimate 'bystander' is literal!). Furthermore, it strategically employs physics to overthrow the skater. The law of inertia, as touched upon earlier, is the principle that an object will remain in a certain state of motion unless acted on by an external force. The more mass an object carries the more inertia it possess and the more force is needed either start or stop the object's movement. For example, it is much harder to stop a car travelling at  30 kilometers an hour than to stop a ball rolling at the same speed (velocity to be more precise), for the car's mass is incomparably greater than the ball's.

When a skater is travelling on his skateboard, both he and the board share the same speed, but, the skater's mass is approx. 20 times the board's. Hence, its much easier to stop the skateboard than the skater. When a skateboard wheel meets with the pebble, it comes to an abrupt halt, but the skater who has much more inertia continues moving. [note: the skater is also not attached to the skateboard, and, because the skateboard is rolling on the ground it comes in direct contact with the pebble [the friction] while the skater is almost hovering in the air above the board where friction is lower.]

The message here is that strength relates more to intelligence than physique. By approaching challenges with intellect rather than mere brute force one's incomparably more likely to succeed. A lion is certainly stronger, faster, and more aggressive than a person (just try arm wrestling with one and you'll see what I mean) yet people are able to capture lions. Why? Because humans are the more intelligent, they are ultimately the  stronger...

Saturday, June 25, 2011


How we perceive things is largely dependent on our interests. One who is hungry tends to scan his surroundings for food related objects; while one who is looking to buy a new piece of furniture will notice furniture stores and adverts. When playing 'I spy' with children, [where the child searches for a specific object that you've chosen in the surroundings and given them only its first letter as a clue], the child sees the world through the lens of the clue letter. She ignores objects beginning with other letters, and identifies and calls out objects that start with it. Everything is temporarily seen in reference to a particular letter.    

Kabbalah presents a four rung scale of perspectives of reality:
1. Asiyah (action) - minded people are predominantly pragmatic and utilitarian.
2. Yetzirah (formation) - minded people are bohemian and aesthetic, appreciating the beauty even when it serves no practical purpose other than aesthetic pleasure.
3. Beri’ah (creation) - minded people are abstract-thinking and scientific in their approach to life.
4. Atzilut (nearness) - minded people are religiously inclined, viewing things as a means of connecting to G–d.
Every individual possesses all four levels of perception, albeit in varying proportions. Usually one of the perspectives is dominant. We also tend to travel to and fro along these inner worlds.
Let's use a chair as an example to distinguish between the four perspectives. The Asiyah perspective dictates that the chair be comfortable, not easily damaged or soiled, within one’s budget, and of course, it must fit under one's table. The Yetzirah perspective pays attention to the chair's aesthetic appeal. Does it have a design and colour that matches one’s decor? From a Beriyah perspective there are no frills attached, one is chiefly aware of the abstract purpose and function of the chair, i.e., it enables one to sit down, or the engineering and mechanics behind its structure. From Atzilut, the realm of nearness to the Divine, one perceives how the chair can be used for spiritual ends. For example, it can be used at a Shabbat meal or for people to sit on during Kabbalah classes.

The perspective of the world as a skateboarder, at least as I've experienced it, is exceptional. When skating down the street one tends to notice curbs, ledges, stairs, rails, slopes, etc, - things that people ordinarily pay little attention to - and give serious thought as to their 'skatablity'. Such trivial objects take on so much meaning and offer so much stimulation. And, when there's time, one may stop at a little ledge, and enjoy skating it for an hour or so. One's otherwise mundane surroundings become a veritable playground.               

Yet, there is an inherent danger here. If a skater can only see the world through a skater's eyes he' ll inevitably damage public and private property. He must also maintain another perspective of these objects, a soberer  conventional perspective:  the intention the designers or property owners had when installing or building those things. This way one will only skate those objects which are not prone to being damaged by skating on them, or where any damage caused is clearly negligible. We may enjoy, but we must also respect...          

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Imagination and reality: dance or conflict II

When skateboarding I repeatedly confuse imagination with reality. In my mind I see myself easily performing a variety of new tricks and become enthused to carry them out in practice. Yet, when attempting to do so I completely blunder. Worse still, I'm surprised at my failure! Skating is forcing me to confront the disparity between my imaginings and the real world, and I'm identifying the same discordant pattern in other aspects of my life.

How can the imagination be tamed and brought closer to reality? According to Kabbalah there are two phases to all living things, 'running' and 'returning'. In regards to imagination, 'running' is characterized by aspiration and dreaming, while 'returning' involves landing back on earth in order to capture one's dreams in the tangible world. If the run and return are closely linked one can easily translate their dreams into reality; while a large gap between the two suggests a trip into a fantasy land with which one can't 'return' into the real world.

This idea can be combined with Dr DeBono's list of four general categories of aspiration:
1. Certainty - imagining that which you can do with ease;   
2.Probability - imagining that which you are likely to succeed at doing;  
3. Possibility -imagining that which you are unlikely to succeed at doing;  
4.Fantasy - imagining that which is entirely out of your reach to do.                  

A simple example of certainty would be imagining oneself tying up one's shoelaces, as one can easily proceed to do so in actuality. An individual who lives in the realm of certainty is typically one who fears failure and challenge and loves security and the path of least resistance. In Kabbalah terms, his Return has largely subsumed his ability to Run.

An exaggerated example of fantasy would be imagining tying one's shoelaces through thought alone. One may sit gazing at the laces with immense concentration - for three decades or so - and frustratingly, they just won't budge. One who dwells much of the time in the realm of fantasy (remembering that this individual believes it to be reality) is commonly in need of escaping a pervasive distressing feeling related to the real world. An escape often achieved by overshooting in the opposite direction. Hence one with severe low self esteem may entertain outlandishly grand plans for himself  in order to neutralize his pain. Sometimes, a leap into fantasy is due to hyper-excitement which causes the imagination to break the grip of reason. In this category, returning has been subsumed within running.

In relation to skating it is of benefit to keep the above scale in mind and to categorize one's imaginings accordingly. The ability to make such categorizations is mainly based on common sense, reference to past experience, and trial and error. One knows which tricks they're capable of performing with ease (certainty) based on having landed them consistently in the past. And with that knowledge, one can infer which new tricks are likely to be in one's grasp (probability). In regard to tricks that cannot be gauged based on such inferences due to their novelty or complexity, basic progressive experimentation should serve as an effective  guide as to whether the trick falls into the probable, possible, or fantasy categories.

It is noteworthy that the scale isn't static. What may initially be probable may become certain as one masters new tricks; what was merely possible at first may become probable, and even degrees of fantasy may become a possibility  - even certainty - through prodigious advancement. For living things run and return...    

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Imagination and reality: dance or conflict I

Imagination plays a vital role in skateboarding. In order to learn a new trick it's important to be able to imagine how the board is to flip or rotate. This is especially so with the current technical flatland style of tricks. It is also important to know how you, the skater, are to execute the trick - from initial foot placement, to mid-air motion, through to a solid landing and ride off. In the mind's eye one is capable of imagining the entire sequence as though it was real; even to mildly feel an accompanying fear or rush.

Research has shown that practicing a skill in one's imagination is an effective way of improving the skill. For example, in one related experiment three netball teams were selected to participate in an experiment. The first team continued training normally, the second trained by imagining themselves shooting hoops properly, and the third suspended their training. The results: team one had improved the most, and the second team improved significantly more than the third. These results seem to indicate that imaginative practice is relatively effective.

Nonetheless, it mustn't be forgotten that imagination and reality are separate domains. In fact, there is often a vast gap between them. One may imagine oneself perfectly carrying out a particular trick yet that doesn't mean that one has the experience, co-ordination, strength, fitness level, or courage, to carry it out in reality. To blur the boundaries between the imaginary and the real can be detrimental in any area of life. In skateboarding, it can result in serious physical injury. Don't forget that in one's imaginings one can envision oneself running on the ceiling or flying the friendly skies - without a plane that is. In the intoxicating flow of imagination almost anything is possible; one must master the art of not getting swept away...                  

Happiness I

The nature of happiness is much debated in philosophical literature. Some view happiness as an objective state of being. Hence, if one is living up to their human potential they are in a happy state even if they subjectively experience suffering. Others see happiness as a subjective experience related to things like an abiding positive interpretation of life events, an ability to be content with one's lot, having a sense of purpose in life, a steady flow of pleasant experiences to look forward to, etc.

Another fascinating discussion concerning happiness is whether it is characterized by passivity or activity. Those that perceive happiness as a sense of contentment link it to passivity. To be happy is to sit back and appreciate one's environment and to count one's blessings. In contrast, those that connect happiness with a sense of accomplishment, actualization of potential, and a sense that one is capable of boundless growth, identify it with activity.

In Kabbalah, happiness is viewed predominantly as a by-product of identifying with one's divine consciousness, while distress is caused by increased identification with one's ego/animal self. An oversimplified interpretation of this principle has led some people to deny their ego its needed share of stimulation, security, and 'happiness'. This may result in depression, an illness that tends to thwart progress, including spiritual progress.

In truth however, Kabbalah stresses that individuals should gauge their spiritual level and live in a style that's tailored to help them attain a sustainable connection to G-d. Hence, one who receives sufficient stimulation from their divine self - studying, praying, performing acts of kindness, etc - may well be ready to abstain from many of life's coarser ego pleasures. One lacking such refinement, however, is not. If he abstains from such  basic pleasures - enjoyable food, sports, holidays, light reading, sense of accomplishment, friendship, music, etc - his ego will have little to look forward to and may become melancholy. Of course no one's suggesting anything immoral to keep one's ego happy, just basic kosher entertainment and recreation.

 In my case I feel that my ego requires a more intense rush and excitement to feel happy and enthusiastic about life, something which skateboarding grants me. And, with a happier ego it's easier for me to perform my spiritual duties. I thus increase in happiness both subjectively and objectively...      


Tuesday, June 21, 2011

An oasis in the park

One evening I returned to Caulfield park, the place I had my first skate after 17 years. This time, however, instead of simply skating up and down the road, I adventured and found a large new car park with plenty of curbs, speed bumps, and smooth flatland. It was all I needed to practice and improve. The spot has many advantages. The nearest residences are at some distance away and the regularly passing cars, trams, and trains are far louder than my skateboard. The area is well lit up with street lamps, and most importantly, there's hardly anyone there.

This session was particularly special as I felt I'd found a personal space for myself where I can skate in solitude and temporarily transcend the stresses in my life. I also feel at home here. I grew up in the area and visited the park frequently. In my childhood I caught freshwater crabs with a net and bait over in the park's little lakes; I played cricket and soccer in its ovals; I trained for long distance races on the sidewalks along its perimeter; and, as a teen, I hung out there with friends and got up to mischief. After I married and became a lecturer I spent countless hours walking through the park or sitting on its benches contemplating philosophical concepts, preparing lectures, and meditating while surrounded by its lush grass and moist fresh air. Then, as a father, I celebrated my childrens' birthdays there and have seen them playing on its play equipment unaware that I played in the same spot some 25 years earlier, oblivious to the many adventures I'd had there. The memories of my experiences, as the park, surrounded my children from all sides.        

It is taught that love is cultivated by several factors, one of them being 'self disclosure'. The more two people reveal of themselves to each other the more intertwined their spirits become and the more mutual affection they come to feel. I know this park well, over the years it has divulged many of its secrets to me. I feel as though the park knows me well as it has witnessed much of my life's journey. Indeed, it feels as though Caulfield Park is a friend...

Monday, June 20, 2011

Action is Central

'Action is Central'
[Ethics of the Fathers]

Of all the rules of thumb that I've reflected on so far, I believe this one to be the most crucial. In a nutshell: 'action is central'. This principle can be interpreted in at least two ways:

1. One should maintain focus on one's ultimate goal during any preparatory stages to ensure they lead to an improved execution of tricks. One can spend much time stretching and strengthening muscles, learning the theory behind human motion and psychology, etc, and still fail to improve one's skating ability. By focusing on improving skating performance, any preparatory activities are channelled toward this goal and are only engaged in to the extent and in a manner that facilitates its attainment.

2.  Of the various ways of improving a skill, practicing the skill itself is the ultimate. For instance, there's no better way to develop one's legs for skating than skating itself. This is because stretches and muscle strengthening exercises are incapable of targeting the exact muscles that are coordinated to execute a trick. Practicing the trick itself, however, can. This is why, I believe, there are so many incredible skaters who don't stretch, perform calisthenics or learn theory. For skating itself is their ultimate preparation for skating!

(Of course, this is not meant to downplay preparation. If these individuals formally prepared, their performance level would probably be even greater.)                    

The Closed Womb

It has been long known that maturation and self development occur in waves. A person may invest much effort learning and developing themselves without seeing any results only to find that at some future point they had been lifted to a completely new level.  

In Kabbalah, the subconsciousness is compared to a womb. A womb can be closed, such as when a fetus is developing within it, or it can open, as at the point of labour and birth. As one learns a new skill he plants it in his subconsciousness so that it becomes a part and parcel of his being. Sometimes the subconsciousness responds quickly and we clearly see our progress. At other times, however, we may invest immense effort at progressing yet our attempts seem futile. It is as if our subconsciousness is not receptive.

In truth, however, all of our efforts to develop ourselves impregnate our subconsciousness, only sometimes, especially when the skill we are attempting to develop is novel and complex, our seed remains hidden within the subconscious womb and undergoes gestation. Then, unexpectedly, we discover that we've leaped into a completely new level in skill performance. This is where the subconscious womb opens.

I experienced this phenomenon profoundly in my attempts to learn how to skateboard. In the first few weeks of skating I felt gradual progress. Soon after, however, I reached an impasse, where I felt that I couldn't progress any further. Thank G-d I persisted in my efforts and one afternoon at Praharn skate park, my inner womb opened and I felt an immense increase in energy and proceeded to perform several tricks which I couldn't execute before. 

The message here is quite clear. Sometimes we perceive the fruits of our labour immediately, and sometimes we perceive them only after some time. But regardless of our perception, the fruits are always developing within, we need only persist patiently.                         

Sunday, June 19, 2011

The goat, the white black belt, and the oversized pants

Let us compare three animals: a bull, goat and sheep. The bull is exceptionally powerful. On the one hand, when harnessed it can work wonders in the field. On the other hand, it can wreak havoc, destroy, and injure. In stark contrast, the sheep is a timid, cuddly, and docile animal. It may not have the power to plough a field but is benign and easily managed. Then comes the goat. The goat, like the sheep, is not a powerful animal, but exhibits stubbornness and aggression somewhat like a bull. In a sense, a goat is a sheep acting like a bull. And,  as a result, it lacks the advantages of both other animals: it is not easily managed (as is the sheep) and yet is not much use in the field when harnessed (as is the bull).           

When I was in my teens I took on martial arts. Even in my early stages of training, I would practice black belt moves. Why? Because they looked awesome! This approach really stunted my progress since I was incapable of performing black belt moves with the solidity of a real black belt, and I was avoiding any serious practice of my level-appropriate skills. In Yiddish you'd say I was 'nisht a hin un nisht a her' - not here and not there. I was nowhere. I was a goat. I refuse to make the same mistake in skateboarding. I now realize the importance of gauging my own skill level and practicing techniques that I'm ready for, slowly but steadily progressing to increasingly advanced tricks so that what I perform I can land with consistency, confidence, and finesse.  

At skate parks I've seen skaters that are always attempting highly advanced tricks but never seem to land them. Out of the many tricks they attempt at the park in any given session they may not even land one. On the other hand, I've observed skaters who perform more basic manoeuvres but with solidity and a smooth style. And, when they do attempt new tricks it is apparent that they're ready to master them.

It's obvious that wearing clothes that are too small may not keep one warm or may cause discomfort, while wearing clothes that are too big may cause one to trip over them. It's less clear, however, that a similar principle applies to other aspects of life. If a skater only repeats tricks that he's already pinned down, he fails to keep himself warm, that is, he's not developing himself to capacity. On the other hand, if he's usually attempting tricks that are beyond his ability - he's wearing clothes that are too large - he may injure himself both physically and in his progress in skating. It's important that clothes be tailor made to suit an individual, and it is important that skateboarding goals are well suited to each individuals skill level.                   


Focus on one trick at a time

"One who grasps too much grasps nothing"

How are we to understand this aphorism? Let's take the static of a radio as an example. Contrary to popular belief, static is not the absence of any frequency but the reception of many frequencies at once. As a result, no single frequency is heard properly. The mind is somewhat comparable to a radio. When one concentrates fully on one idea at a time the subject matter becomes lucid to the mind and its nuances surface. When, however, one experiences the static of distracting intrusive thoughts, the subject matter is obscured and remains vague. 

The above idea also applies to lengthy projects. For instance, when one learns something new, whether an academic subject or a sport, it is preferable to focus on one aspect of the discipline at a time and to master it. Only then should one proceed to the next step. In skateboarding this means that one should pick a few tricks of interest to focus on. In any given skate session one should select one or two of those tricks to hone in on, repeating them again, and again, and that one becomes acutely aware of the nuances involved in the trick's performance. This will help one master the trick relatively quickly.

This principle may seem counter-intuitive to some. After all, it would seem that by concentrating on one trick at a time it would take ages to master many tricks. In reality, however, the opposite is true. Skaters who diffuse their attention and effort over many tricks and randomly try whichever tricks comes to mind tend to progress slowly in their mastery of even a single trick. Everything has its short-long way and long-short way. The short-long way is one that appears short but contains so many hidden obstacles that it is really very long. In contrast, the long-short approach is one that may seem long at first but having little hidden obstacles and pitfalls ultimately shows to be short. Attempting to learn many tricks at once may seem like the shorter path to developing a large bag of tricks but is really a long path. On the other hand, focusing on one trick at a time may seem like a long path but is really the shorter.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Raphael: the angel that skates

In Kabbalah it is taught that a person is surrounded by four angels: On the right is Michael the angel of Kindness; on the left, Gavriel, the angel of strength; in front, Uriel, the angel of light; and behind, Raphael, the angel of healing. It's apparent why the angel of light is located at the front since our intellect which 'sheds light' on our world is seated chiefly at the front of the head, but why is the angel of healing associated with the back?

It is taught that 'one with his hands tied behind his back cannot free himself'. He needs someone else to untie the rope. This is a metaphor for human limitations in general. Because subjectivity tends to blind one to personal faults or prevents one from viewing them accurately, an objective observer is often needed to identify one's problem and to advise on how to correct it. Healing or general correction is thus related to one's back where one can't see and others are required to assist.

In skateboarding one is often unable to see his own errors when performing tricks. This may be because they're unable to see themselves performing the trick from the outside, because their self-love blinds them from seeing their flaws and errors, or because they lack the expertise to identify their mistakes. By asking another skater  - preferably a caring, honest, and proficient one - to observe one's technique and to comment, allows for dramatic correction of technique and rapid improvement.

In short, go and find yourself a Raphael that skateboards!                

Kinesiology of Skating II

Now let's proceed to apply Newton's laws to skateboarding. 

a) In skateboarding it's important that one's board and body are moving in the desired direction before one jumps up in the air to perform a trick. This is because it's much easier to apply a force with a desired direction and speed while still on the ground. And, one can be confident that inertia, the idea that an object will continue in direction and speed unless another force acts on it, will keep the board moving in the desired manner in the air.

For example, when doing a 180 Ollie, and how much more so a 360 Ollie, it is important to have one's board and body already moving in the right direction before one actually Ollies. This suggest that one should be in the habit of winding up his body in the opposite direction to where he intends his board or body to turn, and to Ollie - that is, become airborne - as late into the unwind as possible.

b) Watch a footballer kick a ball. Notice how he'll follow through with his kick way past the point where his foot intercepts the ball. Why doesn't he stop once the ball is in motion? As mentioned, the force of an object is the combination of its mass and acceleration. The footballer thus wants his leg, which is of much greater mass than the ball and is accelerating quite fast as it swings on his hip socket, to remain in contact with the ball for as long as possible so that the ball receives the full force of his kick. If he was to slow down his leg as soon as it came in contact with the ball he'd fail to transfer the full potential force of his leg.

The same principle underpins most skateboarding tricks. It is most evident in scooping tricks such as 360 shuvits and tre flips where a follow through with the scooping foot adds immense force to the scoop. Yet, it is also important in ollying. When ollying many people perform a quick swipe up the board with their front foot and immediately recoil when the board begins to ascend. If instead they'd extend the swipe way past their point of contact with the board, as though attempting to kick past the board's nose, the force they'd generate and transfer to the board would be remarkably greater and would increase the height or distance of their Ollie.                

c)  We've all experienced how difficult it is to jump high on a sandy beach. This is because the surface is unstable and gives way to the push of one's feet rather than pushing back. Compare this to the reactive force of a more stable surface such as concrete which affords a relatively high spring. Though one is unlikely to attempt skateboard tricks on sand, the stability of one's stance on the skateboard can either degrade the board into a sand-like surface or solidify it into highly reactive 'concrete'.

For instance, if a person attempts to perform an Ollie with his legs wobbling because of unstable foot positioning on the board, regardless how much force he applies to the board he will not receive the desired reaction - push back - from the board to propel himself upward. In contrast, when foot positioning is stable and one feels he's standing on 'solid ground' the board's reactive force increases, allowing for a much higher Ollie.

Of course this doesn't mean that one should always try to find the most stable foot placement on the board, for most tricks actually require an awkward or off-centred stance for their proper performance. Rather, it means that regardless of the trick being performed one should try to find as stable a stance as possible in the context; the golden mean between the ideal solid stance and the lopsidedness required for the trick. Sometimes the secret is to place one's feet on more stable parts of the board, while at other times it's about attaining the right balance between the feet.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Kinesiology of skating I

Kinesiology, the scientific study of human motion, involves, in part, the application of the principles of physics to body movements. There are some basic ideas in kinesiology which are pertinent to skating. These have the potential to greatly improve one's skating ability, allow one to experience profound ideas at play in the real world, and overall inject depth into the skateboarding experience. I believe that such knowledge is another rule of thumb for success and it has certainly been a part of my journey in the craft. Do not be discouraged from reading the following few posts if you are unfamiliar with physics or maths because the principles are explained in very simple terms with minimal technical jargon.

Let's begin by exploring the fundamentals of physics.   

1. Isaac Newton's 3 laws of motion:

a) Inertia: An object will not move or stop moving unless acted upon by an external force.
b) Force: The force that an object exerts is equivalent to its acceleration times its mass.
c) Reaction: Every action has an equal and opposite reaction.

Let's first grasp these laws in general terms and then apply them to skating.

a) The ball that never stops rolling:

It's quite obvious that a ball will never start rolling on a level surface unless pushed. It's less obvious that it will never stop rolling unless obstructed. This is because commonsense has us believe that it would stop rolling when the force which pushes it has been exhausted. According to Newton, however, if a ball slows down and stops it is only because some other force - wind, gravity, rough surface, or some other form of resistance - brought it to a halt, otherwise, it would continue rolling forever. The idea that objects will remain in a particular state of motion unless acted upon by an external force is termed inertia.

b) The weak brick:

If a bullet is so small why is it so powerful? The bullet accelerates so quickly when shot from a gun that its speed makes it exceptionally forceful. Conversely, a brick thrown at a person's back with little acceleration will bear relatively little force and cause no more damage than a graze. Thus it's speed and mass in conjunction that reveals the magnitude of the force that an object exerts.             

c) The pushy couch: 

When you push a couch, the couch pushes you back with the same force that you apply to it. This is why we sometimes strain our muscles when pushing couches - yes, the couch pushed us back! Sometimes we want to be pushed in this way and sometimes we don't. When we jump, it's the ground that thrusts us up; when we fall, it's the ground's push that injures us.                           


Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Skate Psychology II

The cyclical process described above finds expression at three successive levels of progress:
a) beginner: where one struggles to understand and land a particular trick;
b) intermediate: where one lands the trick with consistency but only with effort and focus;
c) advanced: where the ability to perform the trick has become so ingrained that the individual performs it with little effort and concentration and can therefore focus on adding to the trick by combining it with other tricks, performing it with variations, or as part of a sequence of tricks, etc.

These three stages relate to three human qualities described in Kabbalah: Netzach [Victory], Hod [Surrender], and Yesod [Bonding]. As a beginner one feels challenged by the trick since ignorance, weak muscles, and the lack of experience - among other hurdles - must all be overcome for one to successfully perform the trick. One expresses Netzach - the will to struggle and to triumph.

Having learnt to land the trick, one proceeds to attain consistency by performing the trick over and over again. This stage requires dedication to the established formula for success. One expresses Hod -  surrender.

After much successful repetition, a trick becomes so easy to perform that it - and the board while the trick is being performed - becomes an extension of one's own being. At this point one has developed the quality of Yesod with the particular trick and is bonding with it, at one with it. At this point there's no need for struggle, not even for devotion, for in true unity there is no resistance; one is in the flow...                                  

Monday, June 13, 2011

Skate Psychology I

Kabbalah teaches that there are three primary cognitive faculties: Chochmah - raw experience, Binah - Understanding, and Da'at - application. All three are important for optimal progress in skateboarding. As I'll explain.

Chochmah involves observing people performing tricks. Binah involves analysing and articulating one's observations by identifying parts of a trick and the order in which they're to be performed. Da'at is the ability  to execute the preceding two levels of thought in action.

Let's use the Ollie to illustrate:

Chochmah: In observing another skater performing an Ollie one gets the general impression of what an Ollie is.

Binah: On analysis one finds that an Ollie consists of several parts performed in a sequence:
1. correct foot placement; 2. crouching down in preparation for the trick; 3. slamming the tail of the board on the ground with the back foot in order to cause it to pop up; 4. jumping up with the board by springing off the back foot; 5. sliding the front foot up the board in order to level out the board mid-air; 6. remaining centred above the board; 7. landing with feet directly above their respective set of trucks; 8. crouching down again in order to absorb the impact of landing.
Da'at: Having formulated such instructions in one's mind on how to perform an Ollie one puts them into practice.
These three stages really form an ongoing cycle. As one attempts to perform the Ollie he typically finds it harder than he thought. The correct sequencing may be different to the way he imagined, the amount of force needed for each part of the trick is gradually gauged, and each part of the trick is focused on and individually analyzed, etc. The feedback from experience results in a refinement of one's conception of the trick, which, in turn, feeds back into one's performance of the trick. It is by oscillating between practice and thought that a trick is eventually learnt.

But this is only the first stage of another set of three...           

Flexibility and strength

Every field has its general and specific aspects. Flexibility is a general part of skating as it assists in the performance of almost every trick. And, as I've painfully discovered, without it one can't even perform the most basic manoeuvres. Contrast this with the absence of a more specific ability such as being able to flip the skateboard sideways which doesn't impede the performance of many other non-flip tricks. In most sports, stretching is a standard part of the training and a routine warm up for the sport. Interestingly, however, skaters (excluding vert skaters) don't seem to stretch much - if at all - before skating, even though flexibility helps minimize injury and greatly enhances performance.

Leg muscle strength is another general element of skating as most tricks depend on the ability to jump well. There are two basic types of muscle strength:
a) Explosive: the ability to access one's muscle power in rapid bursts as is clearly visible in the ascending phase of a jump.    
b) Supportive: the ability to support a weight for a given period of time. This is apparent when one crouches down in preparation for a jump and the legs support one's body weight in this position for several seconds.

Explosive power largely depends on supportive power because explosive power requires a stable base from which to express itself, a 'launch pad' if you like. Observe professional skaters and you'll find that they have an ability to crouch in preparation for a jump and to hold the position firmly until they tap their explosive jumping power for the trick. Also, when landing, they tend to crouch again in order to absorb the impact. They often maintain this supportive crouch stance for a few seconds after they land back on their board. This is most visible in tricks down sets of stairs.

Overall, muscle strength and muscle flexibility are interdependent as they are active and passive complements. Flexibility means that the body can be shaped - passively - into different postures; strength, the active element, is the force that effects the change in posture and maintains it. Strength without flexibility means that a person has the energy to assume certain postures but is too rigid to do so without injury or discomfort; flexibility without strength implies that one can be shaped into various postures but lacks the energy to do so.                                        

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Rules of thumb

There are three general approaches to dealing with life's challenges: trial and error, rules of thumb, and algorithms. Trial and error involves trying different methods in practice, learning from mistakes and succeses. For instance, if you are handed 5 keys only one of which opens a particular lock, you may try one key at a time and put aside those keys which have failed to work until the right key is identified. Though this system may work with a few keys it is certainly not the ideal method when you have one thousand keys and a time limit, and certainly ineffective - even hazardous - when dealing with life's multi-leveled complex issues.

At the other extreme are algorithms. These are very neat formulae that yield precise answers to problems. Maths and physics equations are good examples. Unfortunately, there are no formulae for most of life's dynamic challenges. There is no formula for child rearing that ensures that parents succeed in raising healthy, polite, and productive children. Nor is there a conflict resolution theory that can guarantee the resolution of conflict. In both examples there are way too many variables at play that cannot be factored into one's calculations.
The 'rule of thumb' approach involves the application of general principles or strategies that are likely to make problem solving more effective and efficient. It is visible in the way many people solve jigsaw puzzles when they first find the straight ended edge pieces and then gather pieces of similar colours into piles. There are no maths equations for solving jigsaw puzzles, and trial and error on its own would be tediously time consuming. The rule of thumb approach, however, lies between the poles of randomness and precision.

Though all three methods have there place in life and are often used in combination, it is the rule of thumb mentality that is most realistic and effective. Individuals who have algorithms for every occasion tend to be highly intellectual and systematic but unrealistic, callous, or repeatedly frustrated by failure. Those who dive into the deep end in a trial and error manner may be action oriented but are typically reckless, sloppy and inefficient. It is the rule of thumb person who has the right balance of solid strategy and the ability to adapt to the feedback of experience.

It is with this 'rule of thumb' in mind that I approach the challenge of learning to skateboard. My first task is thus to identify the general elements needed to master the craft. Here's what I've discerned so far:

- Flexibility
- Muscle strength
- An understanding of the basic principles of kinesiology (the science of the body's movement)
- A grasp of basic principles of sport psychology
- Observations and tips from other skateboarders
- The pavement of a systematic path to learning tricks
- A focus on only one or two tricks per week/ fortnight   
- Practice, practice, practice!

Each element has many details which I shall explore in the next set of entries. I understand that this is certainly not the conventional way that skaters learn to skate. But who's interested in being conventional? I just want to succeed. Furthermore, applying abstract theory in practice provides me with a sense of wholeness in that the chasm between my head and feet is bridged...

Monday, June 6, 2011

In the Beginning VII

The physiotherapist is highly experienced. He has photo's in his clinic of himself with various famous athletes that he's treated. I assume I'm in good hands. Initially I thought that my knees were the problem but was informed that it's my gluteus maximus - yes, my bottom. The physio explained how a group of muscle fibres run from the sides of the behind down to the knees. Because I've gone without exercise for so many years these muscles have become highly inflexible and the knees are experiencing the brunt of the tightness. He  proceeded to teach me stretches for every main group of leg muscles, with a stress on my 'glutes', and assured me that the stretches alone would alleviate the pain as long as I persisted with them.

I went home and began to perform the exercises. I was shocked at how rigid my muscles had become and the degree of discomfort I felt even with light stretches. However, I know that sometimes it's only when faced with resistance that we come to perceive our true state of affairs and can then improve them. For instance, as long as our eyes allow us to see clearly, we pay little attention to them. But, as soon as our vision is challenged by our distance from an object, we become aware of our eyes and attempt to gain clarity of vision.

The idea of resitence facilitating self awareness is alluded to in the verse describing why G-d provided Adam with a partner: ' is not good for Adam to be alone, so He made a helpmate against him'. In other words, Eve helps Adam improve himself specifically by being against him at times, challenging his views and methods. This way Adam gains self awareness and can refine himself. 

Yet another poignant analogy, one I'm fond of, is that of a ball bounced off a solid surface so that it ascends higher than its point of origin. Applied to my situation, I felt confident that my muscular aches and pains were the resistance I needed to help me realize how unfit I am so I can reach higher levels of fitness and well being than before. And I was committed to bouncing back up...              


In the Beginning VI

Once my knee felt better I followed Raph to another skate park which I'd skated before. Praharan bowl has four main facilities: an enormous metal half pipe, a metal mini half pipe, a large but shallow concrete bowl, and street skating obstacles such as stairs, hand rails, and ledges of various types. Tightly surrounded by enormous government housing and adjacent to a basketball court, park, and swimming pool, it has become a hub for young people of all sorts. In fact, there tend to be more people hanging out there than skating. Their activities are quite basic and predictable, they sit and talk, have a few beers, and smoke cigarettes or, at times, a joint or two.

Raph seemed to know everyone there. I thought he'd be somewhat embarrassed identifying with me in front of his friends, after all I do look rather peculiar with my white shirt, black suit pants, long beard, and Tzitzit. Yet the opposite was true. Raph proudly approached some of the best skateboarders at the park and almost trumpeted the presence of a rabbi and Kabbalah scholar in the skate park. I was amazed - once again - at Raph's connection to 'twighlight'.

I attempted to perform a most basic trick, an Ollie, yet both knees hurt when I lowered myself to jump up. So I skated the mini half pipe for a short while but with one small fall felt acute pain in both my knees again. The pain lingered for several days and triggered me to worry that I have arthritis of the knee or some other terrible condition. I decided - with my wife's encouragement - to see a physiotherapist...            

In the Beginning V

I refrained from skateboarding for a few days in order to allow my knee - and other muscles - to recover. In the meantime I discovered the overwhelming number of skateboarding clips on You tube, astonished at how the level of technical flatland tricks has progressed. Not only have old tricks been stretched in their height, length, and speed, but many basic tricks have been combined into more complex ones. There even appear to be completely original tricks. This three-fold progress parallels three distinct modes of creativity:

a) the stretching of a pre-existent form; 
b) the fusion of pre-existing elements to form something new;
c) the creation of something entirely original.

The first type of novel trick can easily be traced back to its original trick as it merely involves an increase in that trick's original properties. An example of such a trick is the Ollie which has become increasingly higher and longer. The second type of novel trick can be divided into its simpler tricks and thus traced back to them. The Kickflip, for instance, has been combined with a Shuvit to form the Varial flip (Kickflip Shuvit). The last category, however, to a large extent, cannot be distinctly traced to earlier tricks (though it's impossible to create something absolutely new, as Solomon exclaimed, 'There is nothing new [completely new] under the sun'. An example of this category might be the Forward Flip (also called the Dolphin Flip) - at least as far as I'm incapable of tracing it back to any trick(s) of the late eighties/early nineties.

This is an amazing idea. Skateboarding seems to have no ceiling to its potential and allows for boundless creativity. To appreciate this, contrast skateboarding with another sport such as tennis. Yes, tennis has developed since its incipience: players are faster, place more spin on the ball, have more powerful serves,etc, but the overall changes haven't been so dramatic. Furthermore, when looking to the future of the game it's hard to imagine how much more it can change, it seems to lack the elbow room. Of course the basis for such an enormous difference between tennis and skateboarding is clear. Tennis is governed by very specific rules which significantly limit innovation, whereas skateboarding doesn't really have any rules - that is, other than the rules of nature.     
Creativity and G-d are strongly related. G-d is infinite and creativity expresses infinity. For the very definition of creativity is to transcend the limits of a current state. This thought provided me with a totally new perspective on a skateboarding catchphrase which I used to think was simply cool: 'Skate to create!'  

Sunday, June 5, 2011

The Kabbalah Scholar and His Skateboard: In the Beginning IV

Ambivalence: 'the simultaneous existence of two opposing attitudes, emotions, etc' (Collins Dictionary)

My next skate destination was 'Elwood Bowl', a place I often visited some seventeen years earlier. This skate park contains two oval shaped concrete bowls, one significantly larger and deeper than the other. Both are completely covered with graffiti, some artistic and elegant; most, messy and primitive. Skaters are diving into one end of the larger bowl using the transition to get immense speed and then launching themselves into the air at the other end with formidable height.

The bowls are situated on a small hill surrounded by a lush green park. Nearing sunset the atmosphere is serene, the birds make their presence known by chirping, and a few couples sit and enjoy the ambiance. An almost idyllic scene. The contrast between the skate park and its charming surroundings is sharp. Looking toward the parkland I feel an affinity, it's the atmosphere of deep contemplation. Looking toward the concrete bowls I feel distance, I'm not used to such intensity. I'm amazed, however, that the skate park doesn't seem to taint the picturesque scenery or disturb those within it. Relatively small, it appears to dissolve within the vast calm of the parkland.

In the Hassidic world one is repeatedly reminded to go beyond comfort zones in order to spiritually progress. It is taught that where you find the most internal resistance toward something, often, that is where your true calling lies, for at war a king has the most guards protecting him. With this in mind I walk into the small bowl carrying my skateboard. As I clumsily pump myself up and down the transition I realize how infirm my legs are and decide to stay near the bowl's flat bottom. After 15 minutes of warming up, however, I become more confident and gain some height and speed. That is, until I become wobbly and jump off the board.

I didn't fall, I deliberately bailed, yet my knee ached as though seriously injured. I limped back to my car with mixed feelings about the experience: on the one hand I felt too feeble to skateboard; on the other, I loved the smooth feel of coasting along the transition; it gave me a rush and I wanted more...                                                                               

Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Kabbalah Scholar and His Skateboard: In The Beginning III

Sometimes the mind comes first followed by the heart; at other times, the heart comes first followed by the mind. My decision to try out skateboarding followed the latter pattern. It was the flow of childhood skateboarding memories evoked during my conversations with Asher and Jonathan that warmed up my heart toward skateboarding. My mind then followed suit and proceeded to rationally justify my interest in the practice.

The next time I saw Raph, I was keen to start skating. "Nu, where is the board you offered me?" I asserted. As mentioned, Raph is a busy person, so I had to play the 'nudnik' in order to procure a board. I called Raph several times and he eventually went to a Chapel st skateboarding store, EVOLVE, and generously arranged an entire set up for me. [A set up includes the deck, trucks, and wheels - yes, the entire shebang]

It was during a Chanukah function in Caulfield Park that Raph phoned me that he had a board ready for me. I was so excited to experiment with the skateboard that despite the function finishing late, and putting my kids to sleep made it very late, I was still adamant to get my hands on a board. So at around 10:30 in the evening I went with Raph to his home where he presented me with my new skateboard - that is, its separate components. All I had to do was go home assemble the board and then I could skate.

About one hour later...

I was triumphant; the setup was complete; I could go out and have a ride. But where can I go so close to midnight without disturbing the sleepers? I remembered that Caulfield Park has a large new car park surrounded by at least 150 meters of park in all four directions; a decent sound-buffer indeed. The car park surface was smooth and I spent a good half-hour simply carving the road as though I was surfing a concrete wave. I felt a pleasant rush, I laughed, I loved it, but I also felt terribly fragile... am I too old for this?           

The Kabbalah Scholar and His Skateboard: In the Beginning II

This is not to say that I originally planned to resume skateboarding with the above in mind. The Hand of G-d  played a serious role in the process - that is, in partnership with Raph Brous and Asher.

Raph is a 28 year old avid Jewish skateboarder. But not only a skateboarder. He has a degree in neuroscience, is completing a law degree, has an upcoming fictional novel with Penguin, and is the founder of three bands which have all seen significant success; guitar and vocals being his forte. Most remarkable is Raph's oscillation between the synagogue and Melbourne's underground culture. He'll explain his unsavoury song lyrics in between prayers at synagogue, and will casually make a blessing on his alcoholic drink amidst scantily clad women and heavy music pounding in the background of a city bar or club. In a sense, he lives in 'twilight', where night and day co-mingle. I deeply admire this quality because to me it signals freedom from cultural expectations and the puppet strings of social conventions. It is an openness to be oneself. And is it not G-dlike to exclaim, "I am what I am"?

I first met Raph on a train a few years ago, on my way back home from delivering a Kabbalah class in the city. Our conversation was brief. I introduced myself; he told me that a Rabbi in Sydney recently suggested he meet with me and I am! My next main interaction with him came several months later. I'd completed a manuscript titled 'The Point of Truth' and gave it to a friend to read. This friend happened to pray in the synagogue of a nearby old age home where Raph's grandmother lives, and which Raph frequently visits. During one prayer service, Raph noticed my friend reading a manuscript. Raph gleaned the first few pages and, somewhat impressed, asked to be put in contact with me. He wanted to help me find a mainstream publisher.

A few days later, on Simchat Torah, I saw Raph in the synagogue. We spoke for close to an hour about the publishing process and how he'd like to help me find a literary agent. Then a few weeks later, while I was giving him - and his skateboard - a lift in my car,  I mentioned that I too used to skateboard. Shocked by the incongruity between my appearance and my history Raph asked me more about my skating and we entered a vibrant discussion about famous skateboarders from my skating days: Hawk, Hosoi, Alva, Caballero, and other names famous in the skate world twenty something years ago. The discussion ended with Raph offering me a skateboard and encouraging me to skate. At the time I saw it as an absurd idea - a bearded Rabbi on a skateboard?! - but he planted a seed in my mind, one which gradually took root in my heart.                                         

Only days away from that conversation my childhood friend, Jonathan Briskin, lost his father to an illness and I came to his mother's home to offer my condolences during the Shiva [first week of mourning] period. There I met Jonathan and his younger cousin, Asher, with whom I used to skateboard. We reminisced for quite a while about our skateboarding escapades, ramp designs, and tricks; the memories jerked invisible tears. Indeed, those were happy and fun times. I was surprised when Osher told me that he still skates, as its been over twenty years since we skated together, but I was more surprised when he invited me to come to the skatepark. For in the proximity of a few days two individuals independently tried to motivate me to pick up a skateboard. Before then no one had invited me to skate for at least 18 years! Is this a sign from Above that I should skateboard? I came to the conclusion that it probably is...       

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The Kabbalah Scholar and his Skateboard: In The Beginning

Why should a piece of wood with four wheels, ridden largely by children and teens, capture the interest of a 33 year old hassidic Kabbalah scholar? Whereas I skated for the sheer fun of it in my teens, at 33 years of age, after 16 years study of Jewish mysticism and philosophy, I resumed for a combination of both practical and spiritual reasons.

Under heavy stress, I needed a constructive way to vent my built up tension and found the heavy self exertion and the explosive movements of skateboarding to be highly cathartic. Additionally, I wanted to distract my mind from personal issues and found skateboarding to be exceptionally absorbing. It pulls me into the present moment so that I'm temporarily oblivious to everything else. Of course one reason for this is obvious: losing focus while skating can be perilous! In addition, however, the challenge of landing or perfecting a new trick, be it the overcoming of fear or the refinement of technique, demands full concentration. Not to mention that the thrill and enjoyment of skating is engrossing in its own right.                       

 As a researcher and lecturer sitting most of the day in a chair, exercising very little, I observed my body become unduly weak and stiff, my muscles often cramped during basic movements. And, with remarks about my weight gain becoming quite frequent I realized I needed regular exercise. Cognizant of my inability to sustain activities that I do not enjoy, I needed to find a pleasurable and rewarding form of exercise. I knew that I had always had fun skateboarding as a teen. 
But I also find skateboarding spiritually appealing. In Kabbalah it is taught that 'a strong inner light is needed to dispel thick external darkness'. One must learn to glean wisdom from every aspect of life, and not only from teachers and texts where wisdom is apparent. One should be able to perceive wisdom even in ostensibly mundane and trivial matters which obscure what people conventionally define as spirituality and wisdom. Skateboarding challenges me to develop such depth perception, to increase the potency of my 'inner light', in one such aspect of life.    
The Kabbalah also asserts that the most transcendental concepts are best understood from their expression in concrete reality where they take on a solid, well defined form. As the parable goes: the jewels in the king's crown are dug up from the lowly earth. And so I picked up a skateboard to dig for jewels; to uncover the sublime secrets hidden beneath its earthly exterior. And I have already unearthed a veritable treasure...