Catching up #3
Another blog that would have been posted last year, before our internet provider decided temporarily to put a stop to it all.
Out of My Depth: Learning how to Tumble Turn.
I wondered what it must be like to learn something new. By this I mean something physical, rather than cerebral - I have a 'Learn Spanish' app on my iPad which I've used twice. Kinaesthetic learning is what our son does every day. As his ballet training progresses, he has to learn increasingly complicated techniques and sequences. It becomes more demanding at every(literal) turn. I cannot imagine what this must be like; I've not really succeeded in learning anything physical since learning to ride a bike as a child.
Ballroom dancing was out of the question - I'd only worry about the tightly fitting sparkly shirts - so I decided instead to learn how to tumble turn. This is what some swimmers do when they reach the end of the lane. Instead of huffing and puffing and doing an awkward restart, they gracefully turn in the water and push off again in one fluid movement. It's a much more elegant way to continue swimming, and it looks a bit like a dolphin. I've seen a couple of people do it in the pool. They are dynamic, accomplished and efficient - a higher type of being. I want to be one of them.
I had no idea of the mechanics of how to do this - but that is the point. I wanted to engage with a physical skill which presented itself as initially impossible so that I could experience the stages of incompetence, competence and then hopefully mastery. The journey of the unknown unknown passing through the known unknown and becoming the known known - as Donald Rumsfeld or the managements experts refer to it.
It might have been a good idea to pick a incompetency which didn't involve the sensation of drowning in the early stages of development. The YouTube video that I watched made it look like a simple and natural movement - like skipping or jumping. This is not the case. I learned two things immediately. The first was that when you actually do the turn, you lose all sense of where you are, and which way is up. The second is that water goes up your nose and painfully hits the back of your throat. Counteracting the first of these difficulties involved preparing for the turn by visualising the position I would be in, and then initially doing it with my eyes closed. Combatting the second was easier - I just had to remember to breathe out through my nose as the turn was taking place.
I began to dread getting to the end of the lane. I would challenge myself to do it this time, and if I attempted it just twice on any day, I would feel a sense of exhaustion mixed with fulfilment. It took a week before I could execute the move without coughing and spluttering and feeling a burning sensation somewhere in my pharynx. I was always hesitant and many times I terminated performing the turn seconds before it was due to occur through no other reason than fear.
Over a period of about a month this is what I learned:
- You have to be mid-breath or at the top of the breath in order to turn. The feeling of running out of air in the middle of a turn induces a primal sense of panic.
- If you start the turn too far away from the wall, you have nothing to kick of against, so you just lie there under the water - excuse the pun - floundering
- Only push off from the wall when you are certain that you are aiming your body in the right direction. Launching yourself across someone else's lane, or towards the bottom of the pool results in embarrassment
- Flip back over onto your front as soon as possible after the turn. The videos that show people gliding effortlessly on their backs are all clearly CGI. My own long glides have always ended in a spluttery and ungainly gasping for air.
The most interesting element about this adventure involved a point in time about three weeks in. As I was becoming more familiar, and my confidence was burgeoning, I began to start making mistakes and having to stop mid turn. In fact at some points I had to re-remember the technique that I had learned initially. Habits were creeping in or I was forgetting the strict order of the sequence of moves which meant it felt like I was back at the beginning all over again. This was the most frustrating stage, and the one that made me most angry with myself. However, after a month of work, my tumble turns are now graceful and precise. It is my preferred method for turning around at the end of the pool. I do it almost automatically. It is the nearest I am ever going to get to feeling like a fish, or an astronaut ... or a ballet dancer.
I have two final thoughts:
- If our son has such a rich inner dialogue for every new technique he is mastering, his life must be exhausting.
- I bought some cheap mask-style goggles a while ago. They are fluorescent yellow. They were reduced. No one else wanted them in that colour, I presume. I also always wear a swimming hat. It occurred to me a couple of days ago that, even though my tumble turns are magic, I must look like a minion splashing around in the water.