Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Body, board, Buick

All human activity requires a combination of internal and external resources. However, the degree to which one draws on either resource depends on the activity type:

a) In walking, the energy and movement generated stem from the person. When running, simply more internal energy is generated.
b) In driving a car, the main resource is external, the car itself, while the driver expends minimal internal energy;

c) Skateboarding rests between these extremes. On the one hand, a skater must keep himself in motion by pushing with his foot, yet, motion is made much  more efficient owing the lower friction levels in the mode of travel. 

 A similar pattern exists in the mental sphere:

a) An individual can make calculations solely using his own intelligence and brain energy to propel the process;

b) he can use a computer to do all the calculating;

c) he can learn and apply mathematical principles to make the thinking process more efficient. The product joins internal and external resources.

Each mode has its pros and cons:

Efficiency: b) is more efficient than c), and c), more than a). To use b) is to have minimal personal input and maximum output. But excessive reliance on external resources can result in the atrophy of mind and body.

Exercise: a) exercises one's mind and body the most; c), less so; and b), the least. However, to use a) as a main form of productivity is to have enormous personal input with relatively little output.

Harmony: b) offers the most sustainable form of functioning being relatively efficient while providing exercise. It offers the greatest balance between external and internal resources. To use b) is to have balanced input and output.

All three modes of operation are important and have their place in human endeavour. However, when faced with relatively straightforward calculations, why use a calculator? Use your brain. When travelling short distances, why use a car? Skateboard instead...

Sunday, March 25, 2012

On Judging people fairly

'Don't Judge a person til you find yourself in his place'
The Talmud

The above aphorism has been interpreted in many ways over the centuries. Here are three basic interpretations:

a) One can never judge others, for one will never find himself in their exact circumstances: I.e. share their genetic makeup, temptations, upbringing, knowledge, feelings, etc;
b) One may only judge another if he effectively imagines himself in their shoes, that is, empathises with him as much as possible. For then, judgement is tempered by a sense of the other's personal hardships and challenges.
c) If one discovers, for example, that someone stole money under extreme financial pressure, they shouldn't judge them unless they've had to cope with similar pressure.

Let's apply each of these interpretations to judging a skateboarder's ability:

a) Ultimately we can never really judge an other's achievement level. This is because achievement is relative to an individuals overall state of affairs. Thus, if we feel the urge to judge others negatively, our inevitable ignorance of their circumstances should preclude any judgement whatsoever.

b) A highly skilled skater can appreciate the abilities of less skillful skaters if he empathizes with their situation - i.e. their time limitations for practice; their lack of natural ability; their acute fear levels, etc.

c) A non-skater watching skaters perform tricks is typically impressed by conspicuously difficult tricks such as high airs or flip tricks down large sets of stairs. However, one who skates himself and experiences the difficulty of learning even basic manoeuvres, prizes skaters' abilities incomparably more - even those that appear unimpressive to the non-skater.

However, all the above does not apply to judging a skater's skill level - as judges at competitions do. For 'objective' skill level can be gauged, and some skaters are clearly more advanced than others. The aphorism doesn't state: 'don't judge a person's actions', for actions can be judged for their moral - or in our case, skill - value. Rather, it states, 'don't judge a person', for who knows, perhaps the inept skater has actually done better with the cards he's been dealt than the more adept one...                         

Monday, March 19, 2012

Bringing it inside

 Today I was invited by James Kennedy to an indoor mini ramp. What was extraordinary about this ramp was its location in the main space of a granny flat, with bedrooms extending from both sides. You could roll right off the ramp, straight into bed.

The ramp wasn't merely part of the furniture, it was the very floor and walls.

The scene reminded me of a study which explored the different relationships people have with art. Individuals that were raised with artwork in their homes were found to treat art as a part of their furniture. In contrast, individuals who came to appreciate art later in their lives were inclined to treat it as an aesthetic object. Hence, whereas the former may, for instance, use an antiquarian desk as their main work/study desk, the latter would be cautious to preserve it by leaving it untouched. Additionally, the former group's appraisal of art was based mainly on personal preferences and tastes, while the latter group's was based largely on theoretical principles.

In other words, the first group exhibit a personal connection to art, while the latter have a more aloof intellectual relation.

Which category does the above ramp owner fall into in relation to skateboarding?          

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Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Pleasure preferences: gentle or intense?

There are two general types of pleasure: gentle or intense.

In a marital relationship, the companion component offers relatively mellow pleasure, while the sexual component is more intense in nature. A stroll along the beach is a calm sort of pleasure, while running is more aggressive. Listening to classical music is subtle, while rock music offers heavy excitment.

Kabbalah compares the tranquil sort of pleasure to water, and the more aggressive form to fire. The former is cool and flowing, the latter is heated and jumpy.

Scientific studies have shown that people have a proclivity for more of one type of pleasure, and may be dissatisfied with the other. This may account for many peoples' need for more extreme activities in order to feel alive.

The biblical archetype for these two kinds of individuals is the story of Jacob and Esau. Jacob is described as one who 'dwells in tents' [that is, prefers the more tranquil pleasure of study and contemplation], whereas Esau is described as 'a man of the field' [a hunter]. Each personality type has it's advantages. It was for this reason that Isaac, their father, wanted to give his blessing to Esau rather than Jacob. Esau is more dynamic, passionate, and energetic.

Often, the two types of personality are incapable of appreciating one another, Typically, the fiery personality views the other as boring; while the water-like personality sees the fiery character as crazy.      

I realize that skateboarding is a fiery activity, one of intense vigour and thrill. I realise that those with a more water-like disposition may consider it to be reckless and risky. They may think skaters are crazy - as I believe bull riders are. This is predictable. Equally as predictable is that skaters will consider many of their enjoyments to be unstimulating, dull, and lifeless...     

The question is not so much, 'Which is better?', but rather, 'which am I?' If fiery people are deprived of constructive outlets for their preferred forms of pleasure, they may resort to less agreeable ways of expressing them...


Skateboarding Algebra

Back in the day, the names of skateboarding tricks were quite simple: Boneless, Tail grab, Egg-plant, Ollie, No-comply, Board-slide, etc. Today, however, when tricks are becoming increasingly technical and complex, a new shorthand language has emerged to signify tricks being performed. For instance:

270 cab to bs lipslide to bs tailslide bs kickflip out;
fs flip fakie 50-50 to 270 fs cab out;
switch flip to fakie manual to big spin out;
switch bs crooks to fakie big flip out,;
nollie flip bs tailslide to bs kickflip out;
(Note: these are real trick sequences!)

Now we need to appreciate just how condensed these sequences really are. Even one individual trick is really quite complex. Take for instance the Front side (fs) flip. This trick involves: 1. an Ollie  2. a flip of the board with one's front foot (Kickflip); and 3. a 180 degree turn in the air in the direction of one's front foot. Considering that each part of a trick sequence can be broken down in this manner - and further, if necessary - a sequence contains a remarkably large amount of information in condensed form.

The need for such shorthand is quite obvious. If magazine writers were required to explicate each trick it would take up an enormous amount of space and time. Shorthand also provides elegant and clear depiction for the reader. However, this advantage applies to the reader who has been initiated into the craft. With his knowledge of the tricks, their names and their abbreviations, he can translate the pithy sequences into moving images within his imagination. The uninitiated, however, would be completely bamboozled by the language. Thus its advantage of ease and efficiency of communication is disadvantageous to the non-skater.

 To some degree, we can compare such shorthand to musical notion. One with knowledge of musical tones and their notations can 'hear' the music within their mind when reading a score. However, they must have additional skill to actually play the piece on an instrument for others to hear. Similarly, a skater may know how to decode skate shorthand into mental imagery, but it is an entirely different matter to perform the sequences on a board for others to see...

Monday, March 5, 2012

Jekyll and Ride

Recently, I had a few ugly experiences at skate parks.

On one occasion, a young child was riding his scooter on an obstacle that an adult skater wanted to use. Instead of being patient or polite, the skater verbally abused the child.

In another incident a rollerblader fell over and injured himself. An onlooking skater laughed and sarcastically said, 'Oh, a blader fell down, what a pity!'

Interestingly, in both instances, the skaters involved are usually nice people. So what caused them to temporarily degrade into monsters?

The two cases are both the same and yet, different.

Let's begin by discerning the differences between them:

The first case is like road rage, where hurrying to be somewhere, people become hostile towards obstacles in their path, including other drivers. Similarly, the skater mentioned above was keen on landing a particular trick and thus saw the child as a frustrating hindrance.                       

The second case relates to appraisal. When we make judgements we draw on internal rules and criteria and try to determine where a subject lies in relation to them. Sometimes they receive many ticks and are deemed worthy of our praise, and sometimes they fail our test and are criticised. Clearly, the above mentioned skater who was sitting and observing others, applauding skaters at times, fits into this category (as do I right now). According to his criteria, bladers clearly have little virtue and hence he was harsh toward them.

In the language of Kabbalah, the former skater was in a state of Netzach - pursuit of victory/success - while the latter was in a state of Hod - praise/ adoration.

Now let's bring the similarities into focus:

In both cases the skaters lost spiritual balance by fixating on peripheral psychological qualities. In contrast, when centred, one feels herself - and thus others - to be primarily living, conscious, and spiritual beings. She thus treats all people with respect, dignity, and compassion. All other perspectives remain subordinate to this central one. Hence, the pursuit of success or one's appraisal of others would never lead to the mistreatment of a fellow human, created in the Divine image.

In Kabbalah terms, one's spiritual centre is Tiferet - beauty/compassion/balance. As long as Netzach and Hod (which, in essence, extend from Tiferet; see diagram above) remain subordinate to Tiferet, they express themselves constructively, humanely and profoundly. Upon detaching from Tiferet, however, they degenerate into destructive, inhumane, and ugly shadows of what they're meant to be.                 

Sunday, March 4, 2012

What is a Busenitz?

It was a typical Friday afternoon as I entered Prahran Skate park. I was immediately greeted by my ten year old buddy, Brody, who was excited that he had landed an Ollie out of the bowl. Then, as I walked to the area where I normally place my items, someone flew past me executing a perfect smith grind spanning several meters.         

'What on earth was that?' I asked a familiar local. 'Busenitz!', he exclaimed.
My mind processed the word and came up with three definitions:

1. Busenitz: expensive and stylish Adidas skate shoes that I really wanted to purchase from the local skate shop but couldn't afford;
2. Busenitz: a word Raph Brous mentions whenever we arrive at a huge gap between two obstacles which we can only dream of ollying;
3. Busenitz: (abbr. Boozen [to drink alcohol] + Yetzt [Yiddish for now]) I.e. an invitation to get drunk.

Assuming that I wasn't being invited to have a drink, I eliminated the third definition on account of its irrelevance and tried to make sense of the others. Realizing that the Busenitz that flew by me was a person, it suddenly struck me that Busenitz may be his name. Then, as I enviously spied the Busenitz shoes he was wearing (suffering from severe psychological dissonance as I grappled not to transgress the Tenth Commandment: 'Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour...) it dawned upon me that Busenitz is a professional skater after whom a particular Adidas shoe is named. Then, after watching him skate for just a few minutes, observing the incredible speeds at which he performed tricks, and seeing him transform what to me seemed like a reasonably sized park with decent sized gaps into a little parking spot with a few pot holes, I also grasped why his name is associated with the bridging of large gaps.

I now have another definition of 'Busenitz':

4. Busenitz, Dennis, is a professional skater from the U.S. considered by many to be one of the top street skaters in the world. The hallmark of his skating is the ferocious speed with which he performs his tricks and his ability to make apparently insurmountable gaps seem small...      

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Dovid in the Herald-Sun: Radical rabbi's movement of faith

From: Herald Sun March 03, 2012

Radical rabbi's movement of faith
Skateboarding rabbi
Rabbi Dovid Tsap uses skateboarding to connect with young people.
Picture: Mike Keating  Source: Herald Sun
By John Masanauskas
 DID you hear the one about the skateboarding rabbi?
It's no joke: Dovid Tsap is a rabbi who happens to be obsessed with skateboarding and he reckons it's kosher.
"Skateboarding is a form of motion in the physical world and being a rabbi is a form of motion in the spiritual world," he said yesterday.
"So skateboarding and being a rabbi are in harmony with each other."
Tell that to the judge, some might say, but Rabbi Tsap, 34, insists his passion is helping him to connect with young people.
"There's nothing wrong with skateboarding," he said. "It's a sport, it's a form of exercise and if you can use it as a medium in order to help others then it's kosher."
Wearing religious garb, Rabbi Tsap regularly skates with youth in inner-city areas such as Docklands and Port Melbourne, and he even blogs and has written a book on the subject.
A member of Chabad-Lubavitch, a major Orthodox Jewish movement, Rabbi Tsap admits that he is seen as eccentric by some of his peers.
"For a rabbi who is supposed to be dignified, what I do is really unconventional," he said. "I've had a few curious people asking me, 'What are you wearing?', asking me interesting questions, but I've had nobody mocking me or scoffing at me."
But Rabbi Tsap, who resumed skateboarding last year after doing it as a teenager, said the sport's pros had nothing to fear from him.
"Everybody wants to have a game of skate with me because they know I'm going to lose, I'm not very good," he said.