Friday, February 11, 2011

The Meaning of Life. Also, Stylish Slalom.

Some Philosophy:
First of all, "How to Do What You Love" by Paul Graham. It's so true. I want to read more things like this.

More things like that? Oh, well how about "How to Do Philosophy," also by Paul Graham, and even more awesome, especially since I majored in philosophy in college for many of the reasons that the author himself wanted to do. However, unlike the author, I satisfactorily went away having learned what The Meaning of Life meant to me, which is, in case you wanted to know, to make meaning. It's a simple concept, but not necessarily easy to do, which is evident in all those people busily searching for meaning outside of themselves. I know better, of course, and I have a feeling that most creative people out there do too, that is, if they are not too busy enjoying missing the point of existentialism in the first place, as I used to tend to do. :)

But anyway. Let's jump ahead from existentialism  to post-modernism and get right down to slalom, because freestyle slalom embodies that concept so well.

Manipulating Style
Well, what I originally wanted to blog about today was style. It's been on my mind as I've been designing a classic run for the upcoming season. And yes, the reason that I haven't been here blogging about slalom is because I've been out there doing it, taking advantage of the nice weather as much as I could. I've been trying to find my run all week, and it's coming along slowly. Today it is raining (not drizzling...RAINING...otherwise I might still be out there), so therefore I am writing.

Do you think about your style? I am starting to think about mine. In the past I've thought a lot about other peoples' style, but not really my own. I mean, I know I have a certain way of skating and there are things I like about it and things that I don't, so in that sense I have thought about my style, but it's only very recently that I've been thinking about it as something I can improve with practice, like getting better at wheelings or anything else.

However, I didn't make up my style. It's not something I created. It was already a part of me before I started skating slalom, and I want the way I improve it to be equally organic. If I go out and try to change my skating to fit the vision of what I think good style is, I will only reach it to an extent. I can grasp and incorporate new elements of other styles, but my basic character remains the same. So in order to make life easier, I suggest on working WITH your existing stylistic attributes instead of attempting to scrap your whole identity as a skater and come up with a new one. There is a word for that. It is called "poser."

As a bit of a teaser, I have an exercise I would like to try out in my pilot workshop in 2 weeks that is all about discovering and defining your own style. In my Leadership classes we have been reading a lot of intriguing materials that are really helpful for self-discovery and I think they can be applied to style as well. We shall see how it goes over with the group, but obviously, I hope it is useful and goes well!

Objective Elements of Style. Help! Because I need help coming up with them.
"Style" is often perceived as "merely" subjective, so how can any one style be better than another? The answer is that while there are many different KINDS of style out there, style itself is present in differing AMOUNTS. There are definite objective criteria to consider when talking about a skater's style, the same way there are objective criteria in technique. So when comparing two skaters side by side with completely different styles but technically identical skating, it can still be possible to determine which one has a better mastery of his or her own style, and therefore who should win the battle round. Of course this isn't always easy for judges to see and they are making calls on the fly, so no process is perfect. Regardless, in theory, this should be possible.

So what are these criteria for measuring style? To be honest, I don't really know. I have an IDEA, but I am not done thinking about this subject yet. What are the things that jump out at you as ALWAYS IMPORTANT in measuring style? This is not where we ask ourselves, "What kind of style does this skater have?" but merely "Does this skater have any, and how much?"

I would venture to say that one of the most important factors in answering this question is COMFORTABILITY. Perhaps this concept might show up on judge's sheets as "trick mastery," but that's not my terminology and "comfortability" is more clear to me personally. Skaters who look comfortable are always nicer to watch than skaters who look like they are seizing from the waist up. If there are two skaters turning the same screws down the line of cones but one has Flarms (flailing arms) and the other does not, the skater without Flarms is going to win because he or she looks more comfortable and has clearly mastered the trick at a higher level than the Flarming individual.

I think it's also useful to think about comfortability with regard to a person's basic skating level, though I'm sure people are only judged (and should be judged) in the context of the competition itself. How strange is it to watch someone gliding through the cones in Cobra when that same person can't make it downtown on their skates? That's a situation I just made up, but I can very well see that happening. A person with a high level of comfortability on their skates is going to adapt better to different surfaces, slopes, and situations than someone who has only practiced tricks, and it's going to shine through in their slalom, no matter how easy or difficult the runs are. Look at somebody like Naomi, who doesn't often show alarmingly technical slalom but who looks cooler than practically any other skater, ever, and a lot of it is due to the fact that the woman can SKATE. Period.

What are some other objective elements of style? I really want to assemble theory on this. I'll do some reading. But if you have ideas and want to share, I would be thrilled to hear them.

What I like:
In the evenings after my sessions this past week I have been watching videos of different kinds of skaters in order to try and pick out elements that I also want in my skating. Some of them show technique that I would love to master. Some of them skate perfectly in time with the music. But after backing up and re-watching several videos because I couldn't pay attention to anything in particular and I was just plain mesmerized, it becomes obvious that this is the skating that I want to emulate: slalom that is smooth, connected, and forms a whole instead of being created from Difficult Elements.

Yes, these people are also incorporating Difficult Elements and there are certainly "Wow" moments in their runs, but everything is integrated in such a way that the skating is something to be judged as a whole.
This is a specific style of slalom that I personally really like. There are, of course, many other styles of slalom that other people may prefer, but they are ordinarily not to my personal taste as much as a skater who integrates everything in such a way that the parts are not individually perceived.

I wish my skating was like this. I don't know if it ever approaches it, but at least it does in my head sometimes. :)

When I'm not thinking and am doing that "zen" thing I do with freestyle is my best guess as to when I might even approach this. My skating is certainly not like this in classic runs, where I always feel pressure to make every second of Great Significance because I'm only allowed 90 of them, or in battle where I feel rushed and I bounce around like a circus monkey attempting to show what I've learned in the past few months. My next step is to connect the first, "zen" situation with both classic and battle competitions. Once I can do that, I'm confident my style will fall directly into place where I want it.

Well, I'm far from done thinking about this, but I'd say that was a good go of it for the moment.

On that note, please enjoy this lovely classic run from Jon Larrucea. :)

As always, thanks for reading!


  1. Nice post.

    What about Naomi's 4 pillars of style (smoothness, fluidity, amplitude and posture) as a reference for trying to define when style can be liked by most people?

    Dude, Jon's 2nd 80's passthru at 1:50 (in the video) is just beautiful and so original. I have not seen _anyone_ use those combinations and it looks so amazing.

  2. re: naomi's 4 pillars of style

    good call! embarrassingly good, actually.

    re: jon's awesomeness

    count me in as a fangirl.

    re: the current time of day

    it's time to go to bed honey. and thanks for commenting. :)