Saturday, December 3, 2016

Don Day 3

Another day of clear progress for Don. The first part of the video is an application of Chi-Skiing to counter turn the pelvis against both the turn and shoulders – activating the core muscles and preventing rotation – while protecting the spine. Don experienced fluid skiing for the first time as the body rotation problems vanished and his arms started behaving naturally (instead of reaching with the pole) spontaneously. The second part of the video is on very steep (slalom stadium) terrain controlling the speed with careful use of “get yourself out of your way” dynamics, adductors and feet-forwards technique. Don succeeded and it was important to go this far because it supplies the tools for safety on steeps. From here on in we will work to consolidate and improve on the skills already defined over the past three days.


Big Picture

Following today’s warm up run Don expressed some understandable frustration at not quite being able to see the big picture of what we were aiming for. He wanted me to ski and simultaneously call out what I’m doing in the terms we had been working with. Although I do have a conscious dialogue in my own head when focusing on each aspect of movement the reality is that there are many layers of this in the subconscious where about 95% of all activity is controlled. I had to recalibrate my brain quickly into “demo mode” and just call out the points relevant to dynamics (into and out of the turn), skating and timing. To be able to do this I had to explain to Don that if starting a turn from a traverse, where the body is in the vertical (to gravity) and you are moving forwards, you have to stand on the lower ski / leg and fall over it downhill, taking over with the uphill leg as your body crosses over the skis. When turns are linked then the flow of the body across the skis is a rhythmic continuation of the end of the turn. Once this distinction was clarified we were able to proceed.

I put Don’s concerns to rest by explaining that at this stage I’m focused on specific isolated universal skills which will make far more sense to him when they all start to work in harmony. We can’t have the whole without the parts being made first – and ultimately the whole is very much greater than the sum of the parts anyway. Still, it’s reasonable to want some overall idea of where we are headed and Don felt that he required a sort of sketch of that picture to be able to feel comfortable. This is probably useful as it may also help to coalesce all the parts more effectively – or just simply instill some confidence.

Some aspects of perception are developed in sudden shifts – “paradigm shifts” are common. Other issues only slowly come into focus – like a stereogram image that mysteriously takes shape as the brain reorganizes the information. I expect both of those developments with the material being studied here. I’ve seen some people take five or ten years for the “penny to drop” on some of those issues. The great thing is that when it happens it’s always rewarding and worth the wait. Most real skiing skills are extremely counter intuitive – which is why perception is challenged and why it is eternally fascinating and enjoyable. It’s also why there are a lot of numpties out there who bomb around out of control, deluded about their ability and utterly oblivious.

Yesterday I mentioned how the process of learning is really determined by “self organisation”. In any complex system where there are a few rules and constraints between interacting parts then the system self optimizes. Edward de Bono termed this phenomenon “lateral thinking” but that’s not a good description. Like de Bono I found this process out for myself through studying the relevant hard science on “self organization”. This is an “out of control” process and the skills coalesce into a sort of meta-skill. The reality is that for most complex systems there’s no big picture – just an emergence. What emerges depends entirely on the parts and their relationships. We don’t have a linear path to learning that we are in control of – and holding on too hard to that illusion can be detrimental. Always trust your own feelings – pay attention to them and don’t always allow logic to systematically override. Almost nothing about science discovery involves logic – it’s not logical it’s phenomenological.

Some details on the phenomenological aspects of dynamics…



The main goal for today was to address Don’s body rotation issues – but not directly. I wanted to try to teach a special awareness of internal body mechanics that when done correctly might have the desired effect on rotation. I gave a brief explanation of “chi walking” from the brilliant author Danny Dryer as an introduction but then moved on rapidly to the relevant application (which Dryer himself did not think possible in skiing!). Conventionally people are taught to have their shoulders facing downhill towards the end of a turn. Meanwhile the skis pull the legs around the turn and also the pelvis – always causing some degree of twist in the spine below the 12th thoracic vertebra (bottom ribs). The problem is that this twist is in the wrong direction and causes posture to fall apart and for the lower back to be destroyed – plus it blocks the turn development with the lower hip and leg becoming an obstacle.

The correct way to organize the body is to pull the hip back (outside leg) as the ski proceeds around the turn. The hip comes further back than the shoulder making a slight twist in the lower back in the opposite direction from the conventional approach. This twist aligns the femurs correctly for using the adductor muscles and the subtaler joints below the ankles plus it allows the postural reflexes to be activated in the muscles of the lower abdomen and around the spine as well as access to the core muscles. The difference is dramatic. It also refines the “get yourself out of your way” dynamics and allows incredibly fluid turn transitions – which is what Don actually felt.

While teaching this to Don I demonstrated the postural reflexes by asking him to grab a pole horizontally in front of him and lift me up. With the spine in the wrong (conventional) position he just felt his back. In the correct (Chi) position he felt nothing in his back – but instead felt the abdomen contract to protect the back. This is reflexive caused by pressure sensed through the feet and facilitated by good alignment.  (Article investigating the validity and surprising relevance of “chi” as an energy concept)



Returning to carving exercises (with slalom skis for precision feedback) but now including the new found hip angulation from the Chi posture, Don was able to far better hold an edge on the traverses. This is the first step towards being able to eliminate all the tensions currently blocking the attempts to carve. At lower speeds or tighter (slalom) turns much of the edge angle comes from the hip and this is impossible where hip rotation exists. Don’s “snowplough” and “face the shoulders downhill”  history had taken him down a path of pushing the skis out and blocking with his hip/body rotation and eliminating all natural “get yourself out of your way” dynamics. Good progress was made here and practice is now necessary to take this further.



Feet Forwards

We finished the day by adding the sensation of pushing the outside foot forwards. This was first done in a static exercise with the skis off – pushing the inside edge of the boot around – cutting an arc in the snow – but preventing hip and body rotation! Don did this with remarkably few complications. Once the “push” sensation is understood it can be applied on skis – the outside ski from the start to end of a turn. The push – combined with dynamics – is the main mechanism for controlling turn radius. This is critical for control on steeps and in racing. Don immediately felt the turns easier and tighter. Initially on the steeps he struggled because he baulked at coming over the downhill ski and so blocked himself. Once this was pointed out it was quickly corrected and the result is recorded in the video clip above.


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