Saturday, June 30, 2012

Two dimensions of a spiritual skateboarder

People have a tendency to avoid discomfort and to pursue comfort. This principle commonly finds expression in three ways:

a) 'Laziness': people often find it hard to expand themselves in a given area: to sharpen one's intellect, to develop new skills, to earn an income, etc. This is because expansion generally requires effort and struggle.

b) Fear: perhaps the element underlying all human psychological limitations, fear paralyzes people  and prevents them from acheiving their goals.

c) Indulgence: people generally like the path of least resistence. If a desire presents itself, the indulgent person gives into it and is sidetracked from attaining a goal.

The virtues needed to overcome these weaknesses are industriousness, courage, and self-control:

 a) Industriousness is the ability to put in effort and hard work toward acheiving a goal.


b) Courgage is where one feels fear but overides it in order to attain a goal.


  c) Self-control involves curbing desires and instincts so they don't distract one from a goal.

In skateboarding , success is largely the product of the convergence of these virtues. The 'lazy' skater is too tired to practice and develop his skills; the cowardly skater sticks to the safer tricks; and the indulgent skater gets distracted from practicing due to temptations. Industiousness, courage, and  self-control are key qualities in a skater's progress.

However, though these qualities are 'virtues', they are not neccessarily 'moral' vitues. This is evident in the fact that a person seeking to steel from others may employ these 'virtues' in order to succeed. Indeed, we find that the most infamous tyrants employed these virtues in hienously immoral ways.

So what are moral virtues? Here are four central moral vitrues:

1. Non- harm: This involves restraining oneself from unjustifiedly causing harm to others when one is tempted to do so;
2. Kindness: Helping others in need of support and co-operating with others to acheive a common goal;
3. Fairness: Treating people equally, especially when one is in a position of authority; not discriminating without justification.
4. Honesty: Without honesty the other three moral virtues are undermined, for people assume that one is feigning beneficence or fairness for selfish ends.

In summary:

Industiousnness + courage + self-control = a good skater

Non- harm + Kindness + fairness + honesty = a good person 

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Is skateboarding escapist?

Some view skateboarding as a sport. I'm inclined to view it as an art form. Art is expressed through various mediums: sculpting, painting, dance, music, etc. In sculpting one produces a solid and rigid figure. Painting, though definite in its final product, offers increased fluidity and freedom of expression. Dance is even more  dynamic than painting, comprising movement in the flux of time. Still, dance involves the movement of a physical body in space. In contrast, music is the most energetic and intangible art form. Out of the mentioned categories of art, I believe skateboarding most strongly resembles dance.

To distill the role of skateboarding we must therefore understand the role of art in general. The following are the views of three notables:

Sigmund Freud believed that people are fundamentally driven by sexual and aggressive impulses. The ideal human state entails ongoing discharge of these tendencies whereby they are temporarily extinguished. He called this the 'Nirvana Principle'. People unable to gratify their impulses and bottle them up instead, are inclined to experience tension and carry out their impulses in fantasy, delusions, and even full blown hallucinations. Art, he believed, is a constructive way of discharging impulses. According to him, however, if one can satisfy his sexual impulses in the real world, he wouldn't need to engage in art! Simply, art is an inferior way of expressing one's impulses, it is an escape from reality.

Arthur Schopenhauer believed that humanity is driven by a subconscious 'will'. A will to live, flourish, express one's self, etc. It is the ongoing struggle to gratify will that plagues life with suffering. However, according to Schopenhauer, relief is not attained by discharging desires but by transcending them through 'aesthetic knowledge.' That is, by learning to perceive reality in a purely intellectual and objective manner until one rises above the relentless tyranny of desires. Art, he believed, allows people to tap into 'aesthetic knowing' because art is generally enjoyed for its own sake and not as a utilitarian means to an end. Hence, in his view, art is not merely an inferior way of gratifying impulses (as Freud thought) but a way of transcending them entirely. Nonetheless, it appears he regarded art chiefly as a way of escaping the ongoing strivings of life.

Fredrick Nietzsche saw people as possessing two opposite modes of expression: a) the uninhibited, orgiastic, frenzied and wild; and b) the measured, contained, and restrained. One who harmonizes these psychological elements by harnessing his explosive energies toward a particular discipline, produces works which are prodigiously creative and 'divine'; simply, he produces art. On this basis, art is seen as the redemptive feature in existence, a revelation of the pinnacle of human ability. Art makes life worth living; art is life affirming. Art isn't an escape from life but an expression of its potential beauty when one lives correctly.

 So what do we make of skateboarding in light of these perspectives? My personal belief is that all three perspectives are true to an extent. Skateboarding does offer a constructive way of discharging sexual and aggressive impulses which could cause psychological harm if repressed. Skateboarding also serves as a medium to temporarily transcend base desires by heightening 'aesthetic knowledge'. But most profoundly, it allows people to bridle their wild tendencies to produce a form of beauty which reveals the potential of life, making it worth living rather than escaping...


Thursday, June 21, 2012

Symmetry and skateboarding

The natural world consists of various forms of symmetry.

A daisy, for example, can be rotated while continuing to appear upright with every turn. In contrast, the rotation of a human head makes it appear in a different position with each turn: upright, upside down, on its side.

However, the head, alongside the rest of the external - and skeletal - body possesses the symmetry of reflection: the right side mirrors the left. If the human body is split in half vertically, the two sides perfectly parallel one another.

Honeycomb exhibits another form of symmetry termed translation,
where any cell of the comb can replace any of its bordering cells without appearing out of place. This of course does not apply to the human body or a daisy where substituting one part with another may be anomalous.          

Still pure water contains all three forms of symmetry. If rotated, water will continue to appear upright; if split into two halves, both bodies of water will perfectly reflect one another; and, any part of water can translate into any other part.  

 Three of these forms of symmetry are visible in a skateboard:

1. The wheels, like the daisy, exhibit rotational symmetry. Regardless which way they're rotated, they'll appear upright.

 2.  Cut in half along its length, a skateboard's two sides will reflect one another like the sides of the human body.

3. Any section of the top side of grip tape, like the cells of honey comb, can translate into another section.  

But where is the all inclusive symmetry of water to be found in skating?

The Torah compares the human spirit to water: 'Pour out your heart like water...'(Jeremiah). Unlike  common psychological models which view the human psyche as comprising 'parts' - I.e. emotion, intellect, creativity, bravery, love, will, etc - Kabbalah teaches that the soul, like still water, is completely simple and symmetrical. And, as water appears to lose its homogeneity when disturbed, the soul appears to manifest diverse qualities when agitated by the body.

The soul of a skater who can maintain inner calm and concentration while skateboarding manifests the fourth kind of symmetry...      


Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Optimistic Skateboarding

Traditionally, one's ability to succeed in an endeavour was seen a convergence of ability and motivation. If a person is highly motivated but lacks ability, his chances of success are limited. Similarly, when one has the ability but lacks the motivation. For optimal performance one must have both ability and motivation.

One of the fathers of 'Positive Psychology', Martin Seligman PhD, has shown that there is a third factor at play: optimism level. Seligman illustrates this with animal experiments where after a few failed attempts at something, dogs become 'helpeless' and give up. Then, even when the experimenter creates the conditions where the animal could easily obtain what it initially failed at, they remain mistakenly passive and disinterested. Seligman refers to this as 'learned helplesseness'. This phenomenon is clearly widespread among people.

However, some individuals are especially prone to feel helpless and others who are almost immune to it. What accounts for the difference? Seligman explains that there are three ways of thinking about one's failings that significantly determine the degree to which failure results in helplessness:

1. Pervasiveness: When a pessimist fails at a specific task, he generalizes the failure to other aspects of his self, and, in the extreme views his failure as a reflection of his entire being. In contrast, the optimist limits failure to the specific task at hand.

For example: After failing to land a tail slide, the pessimist thinks: 'I'm a lousy skater'. In contrast, the optimist thinks: 'I find it hard to perform tail slides.' (General Vs Specific)

2. Permanence: The pessimist assumes that his inability to do something will last forever, while the optimist believes that it is only temporary. (Permanent Vs Temporary)

Back to the failed tail slide. The pessimist thinks, 'I'm never going to learn to tail slide!'. Whereas the optimist thinks, 'With practice, I'll eventually be able to tail slide.'

3. Personalisation: The pessimist is also inclined to attribute failings to his own inadequacies, while the optimist largely attributes them to external factors. (Internal Vs External)

The pessimist: 'I lack the skills to perform a tail slide'; the optimist:
'I didn't get enough sleep last night and am finding it hard to concentrate on this trick.'

Seligman stresses that through self-awareness and practice at countering and replacing one's pessimistic style of explaining failures with an optimistic one, one can become more buoyant and resilient and thereby greatly improve one's rate of progress in skateboarding.

Seligman's formula:   Skateboarding Success = Aptitude + Motivation + Optimism...   

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

A Banging Ovation...

Audiences applaud or clap to express praise. Although applause has become conventional at the end of all performances, a form of etiquette it seems, loud or sustained clapping indicate high praise.

The root word for “applause” is applaudere, Latin for strike or clap. In Roman times, mild applause was limited to snapping the fingers or patting the hand; enthusiastic applause involved striking the palms of the hands together repeatedly to generate loud noise.
Skaters holding their boards while watching a skate competition or demonstration have a different way of applauding, they usually bang their skateboards against the concrete ground. At first glance, this may seem to be a rather crude or bizarre way of applauding. However, there are a few reasons why their medium for expressing praise is appropriate, and, in a sense, superior to that of mainstream culture.

To appreciate this we must first distill the psychological essence for applauding in general. In ancient Hebrew the word for praise, 'Hod', is related to the word 'Hed', echo, where a sound hits a hard surface and bounces off it. Echoes are produced chiefly when there is an empty or hollow space between the sound source and the reflecting surface, such as in a well or an empty room. Generally, the more powerful the sound the more powerful the echo.

The human heart is like a hard reflective surface. After all, we constantly and naturally react to incoming stimuli from the environment. Some stimuli evoke only a mild reaction,  while others, a dramatic one. When one perceives a great accomplishment or triumph, there is a natural need to reflect the positive experience back to its source - to produce an emotional echo. 
Of course, not everyone is capable of producing an emotional echo effectively. As mentioned, an echo requires empty space. Psychologically, this space equates to humility and receptivity, the ability to make space for others within one's self. The egotistical person, however, is 'full of himself' and thus only produces a faint echo, if that.

But why is praise expressed through clapping? Here are a few reasons:

1) People unconsciously  use raw sound as the primary medium for praising others to reflect the relationship between praise and the physical acoustic echo.
2) The palm signifies the human ability to actualize potential. The Hebrew word for palm is 'Kaf'. Its  two letters stand for the words Koach - potential and Poel-actual. This is because the hands are the  central medium for translating psychological potential into actual physical products as when writing, playing a musical instrument, building a house, or repairing shoes. People tend to clap when others exhibit prodigious ability in actualizing human potential. Hence we applaud an acrobat or a poet, not a waterfall or a cow. Using the palms to clap is thus an apt medium for praise since it uses the very instruments which one is praising others for. 

3) Kabbalah teaches that overwhelming and all-pervasive psychological energy has various outlets in the human body: the glowing cheeks of ecstasy, the bounce of laughter, and the clapping of the palms in praise.                                    
On this basis we can understand why skaters bang their boards to express applaud: the struck board makes louder noise than a clap of the hands; the board is the primary medium via which a skater actualizes potential; and the struck board expresses the all-pervasive energy of praise whereby a skater expresses that his entire being - from his head down to his board - is affected by the performer's accomplishment.

So next time you observe someone executing a gnarly trick, give them a banging ovation...