Reading and Questioning

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“It is only when one reads what men wrote long ago that one realizes how absolutely modern the best of the old things are.”
– Allan Jacobs, The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction

We need to read more about the rich technological past in our sport and at the same time question our present techniques. I find little exploration into new possibilities by our present day biomechanicians.

We have to know why we do movements in a particular pattern. We have to think holistically for the best results of our efforts. The final movement patterns must be simple and energy conserving. All extraneous movements must be eliminated. Everything must lead to flow and smooth movement.

The final pattern must fit the movement patterns of great athletes from other sports. The sculling stroke must parallel the pattern of the fluid golf swing. We must realize the similarities between sports. Are efforts must be effortless. So we are obligated to study the movements of the great athletes from other sports.

Three of the four books that I recommend are R.C. Lehmann’s The Complete Oarsman, G.C. Bourne’s A Textbook of Oarsmanship (This was a favourite source of information for the DDR rowing), Steve Fairbairn’s On Rowing, and Richard Burnell’s The Oxford Pocket Book of Sculling Training are all about the technically, conventionally trained athlete. For unorthodox reading try Jimmy Joy’s The Quantum Sculler.

I plan to develop my own great (little) book series. The books should lead one to significant development of his or her mind. This is a short list of a literary odyssey that will lead to the full development of the inner man. This is a far stretch beyond our readings of the technological questions in our sport.

One of the giants in the 20th Century in this area has been the German mystic Rudolph Steiner. To begin this journey we start by reading two little books on Zen, i) Zen in the Art of Archery by Eugen Herrrigel, and ii) ZenMind, Beginner’s Mind by Shunryu Suzuki. These books provide a great foundation and are full of information for a sound psychological state in sport and life. They are great foundations for the athlete’s posture as the athlete sits and reflects on the pronounced teachings found in the books.

Then we move from the east to Europe and Germany with a look at Rudolph Steiner through Peter Selg’s Rudolph Steiner as a Spiritual Teacher. “He describes Steiner’s walk to the podium. He imagines someone larger, more “monumental” in stature. They were taken aback by Steiner’s rapid, light footed walk to the podium.” Here was levity personified: the human body as rhythm assuming form. To me this quality of movement represents the body coming together with the stillness and emptiness of the mind.

At this point three little books are very helpful for our study of the mind, i) D.T. Suzuki’s The Zen Doctrine of No Mind, ii) Tao Ching by Stephen Michell. This study of poems is very fruitful (A good athlete can enter a state of body awareness in which the right stroke or the right movement happens by itself, effortlessly, without any interference of the conscious will. Tao Te Ching, from the Foreword.) As is Thomas Merton’s The Way of Chuang Tzu. When an archer is shooting for nothing, he has all his skill. If he shoots for a brassbuckle. He is already nervous. If he shoots for prize of gold. He goes blind. Or he sees two targets. He is out of his mind. He thinks more of winning than of shooting- and the need to win drains him of power.

The eminent English author, G.K. Chesterton provides and excellent biography on the humble Saint, Saint Francis of Assisi. Humility is not often suggested as a quality for great athletes and great coaches, but, I feel it is worthwhile pursuing, especially if we are going to achieve openness in our minds.

Finally we circle back to Rudolph Steiner’s How to Know Higher Worlds. Up to now you have striven as an individual. Now you must join yourself to the whole, so that you may bring with you into the supersensible realm not only yourself but also all else that exists in the sensible world.This where we are headed. To find Higher Worlds and to assist with this project, The Eminent Naturalist, Dr. Loren Eiseley, provides some interesting insights and science in his little volume, The Immense Journey.

Eiseley writes, Flowers changed the face of the planet. Without them, the world we know-even man himself-would never have existed. Francis Thompson, the English poet, once wrote that one could not pluck a flower without troubling a star. Intuitively he had sensed like a naturalist the enormous interlinked complexity of life. We must look beyond our country, beyond our earth to the universe and its welfare.

It is also helpful to return to the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius. I did this with Hobart Freshman during the winter of 2015 giving them snippets of Marcus Aurelius on a steady basis each week. I feel that it is important to the development of the efficient athlete that we marry the physical, technically proficient athlete to the mentally well trained athlete.

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A line drawing of how the blade enters the water at the nexus point.Ned Hanlan on Toronto Harbor