TILTING AT MORE THAN WINDMILLS
Albert Einstein once remarked, “If you can’t explain it to a six year old, you don’t understand it yourself.” The philosopher and essayist Henry David Thoreau emphasized “Our life is frittered away by detail …simplify, simplify, simplify.” Columnist and author Amish Tripathi forewarned “[if] you want to convey a complex philosophy, it’s advisable to keep it simple, day-to-day lingo.” Great advice from some of the world’s most prominent and imaginative thinkers. Yet, where is that thin line between simplicity and inconsequence, between explanation and cliché? If it doesn’t come with easy-to-follow instructions, should we just chuck the damn thing out? Clearly, there is a complexity to quantum physics that would elude even the brightest child prodigy. And though Einstein is summarily recognized by the equation E=mc2, I’d bet my shirt the majority of people on this planet haven’t the slightest clue of its meaning or significance. And even though the Theory of Relativity is based on the straightforward premise that mass and energy are interchangeable at the subatomic level, it’s still a hard concept to wrap one’s mind around. Shakespeare had poignant insights into the human condition. None of my friends owns a copy of The Riverside Shakespeare.
Trust me, I’m not pointing fingers at anyone’s level of acumen. My point is that many things are just freakin’ complex – and worth examining in detail. Mr. Rogers, of television fame, challenged his teenage audience in the areas of information processing and critical reasoning. He felt that any child, with help, “could figure anything out if you take the time to walk them through it.” The work needed to unearth the truth is worth it. Now, of course, we will blame the onset of uber-tech, social media, an overload of options and distractions. We will observe the success of user-friendly products. We’re so overly accustomed to information being fed to us already pre-chewed and semi-digested, that any efforts to find the real news seems pointless. Instead of novels, we’re reading banal 140-character soundbites by chest-pounding Twitter warriors. Most of my clients (teens) are mind-numbingly obsessed with Tik-Tok or some other app du jour. There is a blight of short attention spans. Slogans work. Wordy descriptions don’t. I started this blog (The Educated Guide To Better Sports Performance) as a vehicle for a smarty-pants discourse on all things movement-related. And I’ve spent the past years attempting to dispatch the essential elements of athletic performance, in Whitmanesque-fashion, that contain their own multitudes for the masses.
If you know me, you know I’m a Pose Method guy (the definitive approach to motion mechanics). Nicholas, aka Dr. Nicolas Romanov/Pose creator, is my mentor. He reduced his methodology to three elements: Pose-Fall-Pull. That’s as rudimentary as it gets. So, when I hear people describe “Pose Method” as “running at 180 strides per minute” or “forefoot landing” or “leaning while taking short steps” or even worse, “controlled falling after the push-off,” I feel like casting them off the cliff, crashing to the earth far below. The real spirit of Dr. Romanov’s efforts was to tie together the many disparate, though interconnected, threads of the human ecosystem – and present them accessibly. The reaction to Pose abridged has often cascaded into jealousy, admonishment, misinterpretation and trivializing from peers and fellow scientists. There are general principles, beholden to natural laws, that govern who we are, why we are, and what-the-hell we are under the constant influence of gravity. Pose easily stretches across a wide range of disciplines and subjects. It requires some intellectual curiosity or a childlike tabula rasa. When I first met Nicholas, the depth of his didactic approach was very apparent in the reading list I encountered during my initial coaching certification. There were sections on Physics, Philosophy, General Science, Systems Theory, Biomechanics, Track & Field Training, and Running. These were written by authors as diverse as Aristotle, Ludwig Von Bartalanffy, Arthur Lydiard and Leonardo daVinci. It was mind-blowing to say the least (and a list I keep referring to year after year after year).
For a nerdy geek like myself, the thrill has always been finding the connections: Pose specifically, and life generally. What hidden truths did Romanov unscramble in his determined attempt to solve a seemingly simple problem: find the proper way to teach his graduate students how to run? I’ve been fascinated by the sheer inclusiveness and brilliance of his discovery. Ironically, he saw the lens of Pose through discus throwing, and relied heavily on the teachings of martial arts and ballet to formulate un système efficace. But as they say, with great power comes great responsibility. The rabbit hole of Pose has its struggles: his methodology snickered at, his ideas bastardized. For me, I have yet to find a manageable way to present the beauty of what is possible with movement in accordance with Nature. The Japanese have a word satori, which beyond its spiritual context, speaks to the deeper dive, the insight needed for the basic truth about a subject to emerge.
Recently, a good friend wanted me to listen to a podcast. The guest of the show is a noteworthy biomechanist. I listened, and quickly cringed at her hackneyed approach to the subject of running mechanics and injury (basically, her remedy was to just take off your shoes and go). I was annoyed enough to stop what I was doing, sit down and frantically send him my thoughts – in full page glory. Upon reading my rant, he joked, “Wow, a lot here, but that’s what makes you special and great. I see this as a huge positive as it simply gets people thinking that mechanics matter and gets them to look to a running coach for a solution rather than a shoe. Few people will understand the intricacies and details. They will hear expensive sneakers make me run the wrong way, I need someone to teach me the right way. “
In many ways my friend is correct. It’s a tough pill to swallow for me, because those nuances are what makes my job so cool, the journey so rewarding. ‘We have to get better at thinking,” says Ryan Holiday in Stillness is the Key, “deliberately and intentionally about the big questions, on the complicated things. There is no intellectual shortcut.” As I work on a translation of one of Romanov’s books with a colleague of mine, it’s easy to envision Nicholas as the covert Russian spy, tempting our minds with nootropics of knowledge, prying open our craniums with the speculum of dogma. It’s hard to resist. My floodgates have already opened. At this point, I refuse to be an apologist. One day, perhaps, I will find the magic words that will satisfy both brevity and succinctness of thought. Until then, I’ll live by the paraphrased words of Roger Smith (A Sense of Movement: An Intellectual History) who pleaded that there should be a willingness to engage a “vivacious interest” in the realm of human movement and performance, understanding the relevance “culture, aesthetics, anthropology,” and more have on our commonest gestures evolving towards the grand spectacle of sport. “We need to look and think and study deeply if we are ever to truly know,” Holiday aptly concludes.