Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Meditation I: Building

Meditation is not, as many believe, specifically related to relaxation. Meditation is any deliberate direction of attention. Admittedly, one can direct one's mind onto calming stimuli and attain heightened levels of tranquility, however, one can direct the mind in many other ways as well.

There are several ways that meditation can assist and enrich one's skateboarding. Here are a few:

1. Building:
One of the Hebrew terms for meditation is Hitbonenut, related to the words boneh, build, and Binah, understanding. What is the link between building and understanding? One builds a house in order to enter and reside inside it, similarly, in understanding an aspect of life one builds a mental structure which he enters and lives within. Furthermore, as a physical building encompasses one's entire being, body and spirit, so does the metaphysical building. For understanding not only influences one's perception and emotional reactions toward the world - it effects one's behaviour toward it.

This reminds me of a well known joke: What's the difference between a neurotic, psychotic, and a psychiatrist? The neurotic builds castles in the sky, the psychotic lives in them, and the psychiatrist collects the rent!  Through Hitbonenut one attempts to build well informed, sophisticated, and realistic structures within which to dwell, and in doing so not only avoids paying rent to a psychiatrist but benefits from them instead.    

Most posts on this blog can be used for meditating on various aspects of skateboarding - and the world at large. In contemplating - and not just passively reading - the ideas presented, one builds structures within one's mind which one can enter in order to experience skateboarding as a deeper, richer, and more spiritually rewarding activity.    
Coming up:

2. Concentration:
3. Calm:
4. Visual imagery:
5. Self awareness:


Sunday, August 28, 2011

Heaven and earth

'One man's trash is another man's treasure'

The solid earth supports us from beneath, while the ethereal blue sky surrounds us from above. We walk comfortably and securely on the earth, taking the stability it affords us for granted. We gaze up at the sky with awe at its vastness and wonderment at what it veils.

Each individual also lives in between a private earth and sky. The earth signifies skills and abilities which one has become so proficient at that they've become second nature. These are the solid patterns of behaviour which one performs easily, which one takes for granted. The sky, however, suggests the skills which are still  above one's reach, which are looked up to with admiration and hope.

Yet, one person's earth is another person's sky. What has become so basic and easy for one individual is a formidable goal for another.

Nowhere have I observed this more clearly than at the skate park. On one occasion, a skater arrived at the park and casually warmed up by performing tricks way beyond most skaters' ability, even when skating at their best. When I praised his skating ability he was dumbfounded. From his vantage point he was nonchalantly strolling on the earth, not piercing the sky. On another occasion, I witnessed a skater execute an incredible trick only to criticize his own performance as being 'sketchy', that is, far from perfect.

Herein lies the human mission: conquer the sky until it becomes earth, but only to look up again with wonder and awe at the majestic blue sky above...                          


Saturday, August 27, 2011

Motion in a present moment

Can motion be experienced in a present moment? On the one hand we clearly observe motion the moment we cast our eyes on a skateboarder whizzing by. Yet, since motion can be divided into parts: the skater begins at one's right, shifts slightly to the left, and then slightly further to the left, it consists of a past, present, and future. Surely this would place it at odds with a present moment.

One resolution of this paradox lies in understanding a difference between Chochmah and Binah, two of the primary modes of cognition discussed in Kabbalah. Chochmah is a raw experience of reality, while Binah is the analysis of experience. The name 'Chochmah' consists of the words 'Koach - Mah' (lit. the power of what). It is the power to sense what something is in its essence, as a whole, without interpretation. It is the ability to mentally identify, reflect, or sympathise with the external world to the point of engrossment. A state readily observed in the manner young children become mesmerised by and unwittingly mimick their environment.

'Binah', however, is cognate with the word 'bein' meaning 'between'. This reflects the nature of analysis in a few ways:

a) when analysing, one tends to feel space between himself and the subject being analysed. This is in contrast to Chochmah where one loses oneself in the object of experience.

b) Analysis breaks experience into parts, creating space between components which are otherwise unified at the chochmah level of experience. For instance, whereas a tree is seen as a whole at the Chochmah level, Binah divides it into parts: roots, trunk, branches, leaves, flowers, fruits, seeds, colours, cells, etc.

c) Analysis discerns the nature of an object by drawing comparisons between it and other objects. For example, how big a chair is depends on what you compare it to. Relative to a larger chair it appears small, and relative to a smaller chair it appears large.                   

Binah characteristically divides motion into segments - a beginning, middle, and end - and thus views motion as incompatible with a present moment. Chochmah, however, experiences motion as a whole and indivisible 'flow'. Therefore, from the Chochmah vantage point, motion can indeed be experienced in one moment...       

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Three dimensions of thought

As much as we move in the three spatial dimensions of length, width, and height, we think in ways that parallel these dimensions:

The height continuum, above and below, involves seeing things either from a bird's eye perspective, where ideas lose their vividness and high definition yet are seen as part of a larger structure or network. A shift from the specific to the more general. A kickflip, for example, can be appreciated in isolation, where one contemplates the details specific to it, or, it can be viewed from above, as part of the family of 'flip tricks' (as opposed to full body rotation tricks, etc).

The length dimension involves seeing things as a continuous process of cause and effect. For instance, one can recall their initial attempts at landing a kickflip, see how one performs the flip in the present, and imagine how one can extend or improve the flip in the future. One can look at a trick, or at one's own skating in general, from behind or in front.

The width dimension entails an openness to diversity. It's the ability to see parallel elements of skateboarding, appreciate, and even combine them together. Ramp skateboarding, technical flatland skateboarding, and heavy transitional street skating all have a place and can even be blended together to form new skateboarding styles and manoeuvres. A particularly good example of width in a skaters approach is the accomadation of both 'old school' and 'new school' forms of skating. 

However, these dimensions aren't as separate as they may seem: each dimension influences or converges with the others. Thus, viewing skateboarding from above can aid perception of breadth and length since one's view becomes more encompassing, whereas a bottom-up view is limited to a detail and can loose sight of  length or breadth. On the other hand, if one ascends too high, the length or width dimensions of skating become so vague as to be rendered invisible.

Length may also converge with breadth. For example, lengthwise we see how skateboarding has evolved over several decades. Yet, in this process it has given rise to the old school/ new school dichotomy of skating which relates to the breadth dimension of parallel styles all the same...


Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Object versus Subject

After many skate sessions with Raph Brous, I began to see an interesting difference in our skating styles. Whenever and wherever I skate, I focus on tricks that are easily transferred to most other places that I skate. In contrast, Raph typically takes to a particular obstacle and attempts to assail it as though climbing a mountain. Consequently, his tricks tend to be relatively more specific to the particular places that he skates and less easily carried over to other places.

This divergence in style reminded me of the subject/object dichotomy often discussed in philosophy. The term subject can be seen as referring to a conscious and purposeful being whose being in the world involves a spiritual relationship with the world: a love for his children, ownership of his home, a need for money, and a respect for life. In contrast, an object can be described as an entity lacking consciousness, whose presence in the world is merely an occupancy of time and space.
When a subject uses an object to perform a task, it connects to his spiritual being and becomes an extension of the subject’s purpose. Hence, a hammer (object) used by a person (subject) to build a home becomes a part of the soulful expression of the subject.

In truth, a person is himself composite of both aspects. His body is a distinct object inhabiting space and time, while his consciousness, which relates to, rather than resides within, the physical world, is a subject. The more one identifies with his body, the more he becomes an inflexible object, confined by time and space; while the more he allows his subject to prevail, the more he transcends the constraints of the physical world.

On the other hand, we may view object orientation as superior to subject orientation. In this scheme, the two terms can be related to the better known terms of objectivity and subjectivity. Objectivity implies an ability to transcend self in order to focus on a task at hand or to view an issue without bias, while subjectivity implies strong self-consciousness and pre-occupation with the self. One who is objective asks, 'what is this thing?'; one who is subjective asks, 'what is this thing to me?' One who is subjective is incapable of taking himself out of the picture. One who is objective, however, can lose himself in an activity or when focusing on an object.

Of course there's no contradiction between these two accounts. The two terms can be used in different ways. Hence sometimes subject implies a spiritual being and object implies a physical item, while at other times, subject connotes preoccupation with self, whereas object denotes self transcendence...

Monday, August 22, 2011

Of form and matter

Artwork consists of two basic aspects: physical matter of which it is made, such as wood and paint, and a spiritual form, such as its shape and design. In Kabbalah, physical substance is referred to as chomer, matter, and spiritual design, tzurah, form. The hallmark of artistic talent is the ability to fuse the two together.
Though taken for granted, this talent is prodigious. Form, which initially lives in the spirit, imperceptible to anyone but the artist, is drawn down into concrete matter where it is revealed for all to see. Simultaneously, physical matter is dramatically transformed. What was a gross piece of physicality becomes an expression of abstract ideas and deep sentiments. Matter is subsumed within form. Through art, the spiritual 'descends' into the physical and the physical 'ascends' into the spiritual.
Arguably, this principle applies to most human endeavours and is not unique to art. The businessperson, for instance, applies abstract concepts of statistics to improve his business, and doctors use medical theories to treat patients. Nevertheless, a major difference exists between art and other activities. In most activities, form is subservient to matter; in art however, matter is subservient to form. In business, theories (form) are applied to increase material prosperity (matter), and medical theories (form) are developed to heal the body (matter). In contrast, an artist uses paint (matter) to express abstract images or concepts (form), and someone dancing uses the body (matter) to manifest the joy felt (form) at hearing music. In short: a politician may use the abstract concept of lying to advance his career; an artist may use a politician to depict the abstract concept of lying.
Similarly, divine creativity involves the fusion of form and matter. In creating the world, God clearly combined form and matter. The sun, for example, consists of a physical substance, its matter, as well as shape, size, and function, its form. The same applies to the entire natural world: every entity has its matter and form.

Aside from form and matter, entities consists of a third dimension known as tzurah amiti - 'true form.'
These three parts are visible in human speech:

 1. the raw breath and voice underlying all speech is matter;
2. the shaping of breath and voice into particular sounds or combinations of sounds (as in words) is form; and
3. the idea that a speaker wishes to communicate through a specific word is the true form.
For instance, if a person wants to communicate the idea of a house (true form), he'll shape his voice (matter) into the particular sequence of sounds that produce the word 'house' (form). The 'form' of each word spoken is thus based upon the 'true form' in the mind.
In creating the world God utilized the same model. The human, for example, consists of matter, as it is written, “God formed Adam from the dust of the earth.” He also consists of a form that distinguishes him from all other creations. Yet the human form is itself based upon a deeper form, a true form, which is the unique spirit that God wants to reveal via the human.
The human spirit is capable of a top-down response to reality: understanding can comes first, followed by an emotional reaction, and finally, a change in behaviour. God formed the human body to parallel this spiritual nature. Thus the head, the seat of intellect, is at the top. Beneath it is the heart, the primary repository of emotion, and lower still are the legs which neither think nor feel but merely transport the person from place to place.
If we examine the form of an animal, however, we find that the head tends to be at the same height as the body. This reveals the nature of its 'true form' or its spirit: though an animal possesses all three qualities mentioned above - intellect, emotion, and action - unlike the human, its intellect cannot control its emotions. 

How does all this translate into skateboarding? At the simplest level, a skateboard consists of a basic form and matter. The matter being the wood, metal, and plastic of which it is made, and the form being the shape and design of the board and its various other components. However, the typical skateboard serves two different functions: a) travel and b) trick performance. Travel is a pragmatic aspect of skateboarding, where the board is simply used to get from one place to another. Trick performance, however, is an art form. Tricks are performed as expressions of skill, grace, and beauty, as ends in their own right. 

As a practical manner of transport, form is subordinate to matter. Hence, the skateboard is designed to enable safe and smooth travel. As a medium for expressive art, matter is subordinate to form. Hence, a skateboard also has features which serve no function other than trick performance. So a skateboard (and the activity of skateboarding) not only fuses form with matter, it fuses the two general types of form/matter relationships into one. 

This may explain, in part, why skateboarding is such an all pervasive aspect of a serious skater's life - especially in that of one who doesn't drive yet. Skateboarding caters to the two fundamental human needs: the practical and the artistic. The true form of skateboarding, like a cloak, envelops the two poles of the human condition...  


Saturday, August 20, 2011

The humble rise; the arrogant fall

'...Though you soar aloft like an eagle...from there I shall cast you down...says the Lord' (Obadiah)
'...and they shall go from strength to strength...' (Psalms) 

Something I've frequently observed - and experienced - at the skate park is that a person who swells with egotism upon landing a difficult trick frequently falls shortly afterward. On the other hand, one who falls quite badly, often gets up and immediately lands a difficult trick. Why does this occur?  

Here are two explanations:

1. An individual who experiences success may become over-confident. As a result, he proceeds to perform tricks with less caution and limited awareness of what he's doing. In contrast, one who has just taken a tumble becomes more keenly aware of what he's doing.

2. One who succeeds at a trick may become arrogant and more self conscious. When he proceeds to perform tricks his self consciousness steals much of his attention and detracts from his ability to focus on his skating. One who's taken a fall, however, may be temporarily humbled, loses interest in himself, and is thus left with more mental space to concentrate on his skating. 

By way of analogy, if you're at the top of a wheel, whichever way the wheel turns it brings you down. If you're at the bottom of the wheel, however, any turn of the wheel lifts you up. The trick is to remain humble in life, for specifically then are you disposed to meet success after success.             

Having said this, I've also observed what seems to be the opposite of the above. Chiefly, when a skater lands a trick, he commonly goes on to land many more tricks in rapid succession. And, when one fails at a trick, especially after numerous attempts, he's rendered incapable of landing even those tricks which he usually lands? There is no contradiction. The issue here relates to confidence, not arrogance. Landing a trick can increase one's confidence level which brings one to commit to landing further tricks. While failing to land a trick can decreases confidence, and brings one to a moderate sense of despair which taxes one's energy levels.  

Confidence is not to be confused with arrogance, nor despair, with humility. In fact, they are opposites. The arrogant person is smug and expects applause for what he's achieved. The confident person, in contrast, feels capable of achieving much, and is motivated to do so. Similarly, the deflated individual feels weak and impotent and is thus impeded from progressing. By contrast, the humble person feels that relative to what he can achieve he's achieved very little. He too is thus inspired to advance.

Both humility and confidence foster growth and progress; both arrogance and despair bring stagnation and stifle progress.   


Monday, August 15, 2011

Shapes and letters

 Dots are signified by the letter Yud, י. Yud is the building block of all the other letters, for a scribe begins writing all letters with a Yud and then extends it to form specific letters. The shape of the Yud signifies strong contraction and concentration. The word Yud connotes a hand - a Yad - which is capable of contracting and holding something firmly. Yud is the adhesive element in reality.

Psychologically, the dot signifies the ability to maintain focus on a goal, the ability to hold thoughts within one's awareness for as long as is necessary. Without this ability, one's energy tends to dissipate and one meanders aimlessly through life.
On the skateboard, the Yud manifests as the nuts on the bolts, the strong points of adhesion which, though small, hold most components of the skateboard tightly together.
The square signifies a platform or a contained area such a room or box. It is related to the letter Heh, ה. Grammatically, Heh is used to signify a definite article - 'the' - where one refers to a specific and clearly defined object. Compare: 'do you like apples' with 'do you like the apples'. The latter has a clearer boundary.

Psychologically, it's important to have clear boundaries and rules to live by. These provide the consciousness with stability and allow one to monitor where he's headed and how he's progressing. Without clear cut rules one is forever insecure or unmotivated to make a move. On the other hand, one must be capable of thinking out of the box - to break the box open - when necessary or appropriate. Hence the letter Heh is one of only two Hebrew letters which are broken into two components. One must have boundaries but not be trapped by them.          

 The wooden deck, the platform on which the skater comfortably stands relates to the square and the Heh. (The curvature at the front and back ends of a board, which are associated with the circle, offer leverage for the performance of tricks and for directing the board. The basic board, however, is rectangular.)
  Lines are related to the letter Vav, ו, which means a 'hook'. Grammatically the Vav's function is conjunction, ('and'), which connects - or 'hooks' - two concepts together.

Psychologically, the line signifies a direct approach, for the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. It is about being simple, honest and straightforward. The key ingredients for a healthy and genuine relationship between people.

The 'hangers' of skateboard trucks (the axles) are two lines running horizontally across the board, connecting the wheels on both sides. Bolts are lines running vertically through the board linking the wooden deck with the trucks.


The circle is related to the letter Samech, ,ס which means support. Circles are often in need of support as they are prone to roll away. On the other hand, circles are often used to provide support: a belt holds up a pair of pants by surrounding the hips, helmets surround the head, elastic bands keep clumps of hair together, a hug is often expressive of emotional support, etc.

Spiritually, the circle signifies the ability to move and shift in one's manner, thinking, life goals, etc. Though movement is a sin qua non for progress, it must be guided to ensure that one travels in the right direction. Without control, who knows where one might end up.
The wheels at the bottom of a skateboard hold up the entire board. Yet, at the same time, they are in need of constant control since they allow the board to roll away.     

The above four letters and their corresponding shapes parallel the four letters of the ineffable name of G-d.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Levels of awareness: concentration and sensation

In Kabbalah, awareness is associated with Da'at, the ability to mentally bond with objects of contemplation or sensation. However, Da’at has an upper and a lower level. Upper Da’at, concentration, is the ability to will oneself to focus on something for a desired period of time; lower Da’at, sensation, is the ability to be stimulated and roused by mental objects. Concentration entails gathering mental energy and directing it toward one point; becoming aware of one thing to the exclusion of everything else. Sensation, on the other hand, involves 'feeling' or being sensitive to the the contents filling the mind to the point that one is emotionally and physiologically affected by them.

Concentration bonds mind with object; sensation bonds heart with mind. 
Without concentration one's mind is not in sync with reality; without sensation one's heart is not in sync with one's mind.

Concentration and sensation are inseparable: concentrating on something inevitably yields some degree of sensation, and sensing something brings one to concentrate on it. However, there are varying degrees of emphasis. For example, when watching a compelling film, sensation is typically the dominant quality, and concentration on the film follows after it. (Or in other words, if the film wasn't stimulating, one would cease paying attention to it.) In contrast, when studying a subject which one finds rather boring, willed concentration becomes the dominant quality and sensation depends upon it. (In other words, if one stops willing himself to concentrate on his studies, he wouldn't be stimulated by it.)

Ideally, concentration should prevail over sensation. There are at least two reasons for this:

a. mental stability: one who's able to will himself to pay attention to whatever he believes is required of him at any moment, rather than being compelled to attend to what offers more excitement and stimulation, is more mentally stable.

b. Deeper perception:  People are naturally inclined to focus on the more colourful, large, dangerous, tasty, rich, etc objects in the environment - those which speak directly to lower Da'at - and to ignore subtler patterns or aspects. The ability to will oneself to concentrate on objects of choice allows one to become aware of and appreciate more elusive aspects of reality.

Many people, including myself, claim that skateboarding is enthralling, bringing one to temporarily forget about everything, including (thank G-d) personal problems and woes. Some people even identify this state of consciousness as a highly focused and meditative one. I beg to differ.

In general, meditation involves the attainment of mental stability, self-control, self transcendence, or an enriched and expanded awareness of reality. Meditation, in all its forms, involves the strengthening of upper Da'at. When skateboarding, however, one's mind is completely absorbed in the activity because of its appeal to lower Da'at. One concentrates fully on skateboarding because the mind is drawn by the powerful magnetism of lower Da'at. In short: skating is very exciting.

However, skateboarding offers a good opportunity to meditate: to practice upper Da'at. Since skating grips lower Da'at so strongly - for one naturally pays attention to aspects of a trick which are more obvious, be it in terms of danger levels, trick technique, self image when performing the trick (do I look cool?), etc - it challenges one to transcend the magnetism by intentionally concentrating on the dimensions of skating which are more subtle and sophisticated, and to develop general mind over heart rule.        

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Fire, air, water, and earth: the evolution of Skateboarding

In Kabbalah it is taught that the world is built of four primary elements: fire, air, water, and earth. (In scientific jargon we might refer to these as solid, liquid, gas, and energy.) Earth is heavy, solid, and stable. It is the base upon which all the other elements coexist. Water is malleable, flows downward toward the earth, and takes on the shape of the container into which it is poured. Air is lightweight and diffuses to the sides. Fire ascends, consumes the other elements, and is most lively and dynamic. The elements thus form a ladder of progress from matter to energy, with the element of earth being the lowest (most material), and fire, the highest (most energetic).

Observing the chronological stages of the evolution of skateboarding we see how it has progressed up the hierarchy of elements. In the earliest stages, in the 50's and 60's, skating was pretty much limited to travelling from place to place. And, even when skaters began to perform tricks or engage in competitions, the craft was primarily about exhibiting stability and balance: handstands, one footed skating, slalom racing, etc. A heavy and rigid style clearly predominated by the element of earth.

In the 70's a group of young free-spirited surfers from California began skating as a form of 'surfing'. The 'Z-Boys' or 'Dogtown boys' as they're known, used roads and banks like waves, carving them with the flowing, graceful style of surfers. More than anything, they revolutionized skateboarding by bringing it into the empty swimming pool, skating along its steep curvature. Their skating was akin to water, taking on the shape of the pools that they skated - that is, until they started to get airborne.                           

At some point the 'Z-boys' could no longer be contained by pools. They began skating with such speed and intensity that they'd ascend above the pool lip and gain 'air'. This was the beginning of a whole new era of skating. In the 80's it was half-pipe skating which dominated the scene. This form of skating emphasized not the carving of transition, but the attainment of 'air' out of the transition edge or coping. It was here that Tony Hawk - by far the world's most famous skater - began to dazzle the crowds with his enormously high airs, and his 720 degree rotations in mid flight. The name 'Hawk' was most befitting for the skating legend who ruled the element of air.

From the 90's till today, skating has taken on a most dynamic nature. Skaters will use every object possible to perform tricks: ledges, stairs, handrails, curbs, walls, roads, banks, roofs, wheel chair ramps, benches, picnic tables, bent poles...everything serves as fuel for the consuming fire of skateboarding. Even the skateboard itself is being using in every conceivable way possible: tricks are performed off the tail, nose, travelling forward, travelling backward, and switch. Tricks have also become exceptionally technical with skaters cramming more and more complexity into their every manoeuvre. Skating has transcended the element of air, it has tapped the explosive energy condensed into the small warhead of an atomic bomb. And  it has subsumed all the other elements in its flames, for modern skating incorporates all the former styles. 

                               There seems to be no limit to its fiery ascent...                        

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Rhythm and Rhyme II

Rhythm is not limited to song and dance; rhythm is part of existence at large.

Birds flap their wings with a rhythm; the night/day cycle follows a rhythm, as does the seasonal cycle. People talk and write with rhythm, walk with rhythm and breath with rhythm.    

Rhythm coalesces the multitudes of diverse things inhabiting the world.

The lion is sensitive to the rhythm's of its prey. It crouches in the grass observing the repetitive movements of its prospective meal. With precise timing it pounces. A frog attracts the opposite sex through rhythmic messages; some birds engage in a marvelously coordinated dance prior to mating. Through music many people become united, as in a choir, orchestra, or a dance troupe. And melody itself harmonizes diverse notes and sounds into a seamless flow.

     Rhythm is felt and responded to.

A converter exists that transforms rhythmic input into rhythmic output; that 'hears' music and converts it into lively patterns of dance. Humans have an additional capacity of using their own rhythmic output as a new wave of input. He can listen to himself sing and slow or step up his pace and raise or lower his pitch or volume.

 Every skateboarding manoeuvre has a unique rhythm.

One must learn to hear this rhythm, to break up manoeuvres into their parts - beats - and to play them with the right timing and tempo. And one must listen attentively to their own rhythmic output to check that its in synchrony with the rhythm of the manoeuvre, modifying one's performance again and again until its finely tuned.

Excellent skaters execute tricks with audible rhythm.

Every manoeuvre is a short musical score perfectly measured and composed - and exquisitely played. This is why their technique is so fluent and smooth, for music affords cohesiveness between diverse elements: different instruments, different people, and different notes and tones. In the masterful skater, it is music that coalesces the various parts of a trick - alongside the skater, his board, and the surface on which he skates - into a graceful melodic unity.



Saturday, August 6, 2011

Rhythm and rhyme I

Many people skate with earphones in their ears, listening to their favorite music. They may simply enjoy music, think they look cool, or want to avoid interacting with others at the skate park. But regardless of their motivations, research has shown (the following post is a synopsis of a research article by Peter Terry and Costas Karageorhis) that there are solid advantages to listening to music while engaged in sport or exercise:
  • increased positive moods;
  • pre-event arousal or relaxation; 
  • dissociation from pain and fatigue; 
  • improved motor skills when rhythm is matched with required movement patterns;
  • music with a tempo slightly faster than one's 'work rate' can aid athletes in stimulating themselves to go beyond their boundaries.        
 The above researchers have pinpointed four factors that contribute to the motivational nature of music. These are listed below in order of their believed importance. From highest to lowest they are:  
1.Rhythm response: the natural response to musical rhythm, especially tempo;
2.Musicality: response to pitch, harmony, and melody;
3.Cultural impact: the pervasiveness of the music within a society or culture; and
4.Associations: extra-musical associations that a piece of music may evoke such as 'Eye of the Tiger' with Stallone's triumphs in 'Rocky'.
They have also studied three categories of sport related music:
1. Asynchronous: Where music is played in the background during a sport activity without any deliberate attempt to synchronize one's exercise with the music.

2. Synchronous: Where one deliberately performs repetitive movements - i.e. running, rowing, cycling, skipping, aerobics, etc - in time with a beat or tempo.    

3. Pre-task: Where music is listened to prior to participation in a sporting event in order to either arouse or relax athletes in preparation for the event.

All three have been shown to have beneficial effects evident in the performances of many athletes. Some of the more famous cases are: the Ethiopian runner, Haile Gebreselassie, who in 1998 broke the indoor 2000m world record synchronizing his stride to a pop song; the Olympic Winter Games bobsled gold medalists of the same year who trained daily while listening to Whitney Houston's One Moment in Time; and another Olympic champion, super heavyweight boxer, Audley Harrison, who listened to Japanese classical music before bouts in order to ease pre-fight anxiety...

Thursday, August 4, 2011

The invisible fifth wheel

An elegant model of learning formulated by the educational theorist, David Kolb, views learning as a cycle consisting of four stages:

            Kolb’s Experiential Learning Cycle

    The first stage, concrete experience, is where the learner has an experience. In the second stage, reflective observation, she consciously reflects on that experience in detail. In the third stage, abstract conceptualization, she attempts to develop a theory and derive general rules that describe the experience. In the fourth stage, active experimentation, she plans on how to test her theory (or revised theory) in practice which, in turn, leads to the next Concrete Experience.

    Let's apply this wheel to skateboarding:

    1. Concrete Experience:  A skater tries to execute a varial heel flip and fails;
    2. Reflective observation: She takes the time to reflect on her experience, replaying the experience in her mind in a detailed way.
    3. Abstract conceptualization: she analyzes her reflections and concludes that the trick depends heavily on a precise timing of when to flick the board with one's front foot in order to make it rotate.
    4. Active Experimentation: She considers ways to improve her timing in practice.  
    5. Concrete Experience: She tries to execute a varial heel flip with modified timing and fails again...

    Hopefully the skater will continue repeating this cycle until she meets with success.

    One may enter the cycle at any stage, but the above sequence must be followed. If a person is weak in part of the cycle their efficiency at learning and improving will be reduced. Let's briefly discuss some of the symptoms of a deficiency in any given one - one can be deficient in all four - of the stages in the cycle:

    1. One lacking Reflective observation fails to recall the details of an experience and is likely to devise a theory about her experience based on too little information or a vague or distorted impression of the experience.
    2. One lacking Abstract conceptualization is inclined to rely on trial and error rather than a more effective and efficient intelligent approach.
    3. One deficient in Active experimentation consistently fails to find ways of applying theory in practice, finding it hard to translate abstract general principles into concrete and highly specific activities. As a result, she repeats the same mistakes over and over again.
    4. One deficient in Concrete Experience tends to remain an observer, intimidated by the risks involved in novel experiences. In skateboarding this may surface as a lack of commitment to attempt new tricks.

    Every skater knows that if there's a 'flat spot' on one of the wheels of their skateboard, the board travels more slowly and clumsily. The same applies to the learning wheel: if one takes a short cut through the system by bypassing any of the stages, she creates a 'flat spot' in the wheel which may dramatically slow down her rate of progress.