Monday, August 16, 2010


I can't stress enough the importance of practice. I paddle frequently - though lately not as frequently as I would like, but still probably more than most - and while I have rituals and routines for when I paddle to practice there is still a fair amount of freedom to it. I will always focus on my forward stroke at the beginning and end of each session. I always get in my kayak and play with edges to make sure I have a good feel for my body, the kayak, and the connection between the two. I will then pick a few strokes to work on.

This past week I chose three different things. Various draw strokes, the low brace turn, and an as yet unnamed turning stroke. I chose these three for various reasons. The draws, because I don't do them frequently. Of the draws, I use the sculling draw the most. The standard draw I will almost never use. Which is why in the video it doesn't look very good - my paddle shaft should be more vertical, but I have short arms. But I practice it from time to time regardless. The low brace turns I like to practice though I don't use them that often. They are just a lot of fun. I recently read in Canoe & Kayak magazine that I should be doing the low brace turn with the paddle in the center of the kayak. So part of my choosing that was to get a feel for the way they said to do it. They way they describe it, it is more of a support for a powerful edge turn, than the paddle actually causing the turn itself. I like my version more, though I will continue to play with theirs and see what it becomes. The as yet unnamed turning stroke, perhaps someone can enlighten me as to what it is called, I actually saw it quite a while ago on youtube, and have been playing with it since then. It is sort of a hanging draw, with the paddle at a 45ยบ angle to the cockpit at the stern. With the blade in the water, it nicely turns the kayak - though I don't like how high I have to place my left elbow to make it effective.

Anytime your elbow is above your shoulder, you are risking an injury. Falling with your elbow above your shoulder is a very easy way to dislocate it. In general we don't like strokes that put our shoulders at risk.

But to me this stroke feels in terms of usability like a cross bow rudder, which is another stroke I am very fond of, and so I continue to play with it. I think it will become a powerful directional stroke. There are times when it is good to control direction from the stern, others from the bow, and still others from the cockpit area.

I started thinking about practice as I was at my dojo. the past few weeks my Sensei has been teaching the class certain techniques that I have come to employ when sparring. I think of them as my own. I am under no illusion that I had anything to do with him choosing them, but I did feel that he was giving away some of my best personal sparring secrets, ways that I move and strike. It got me to thinking about where new techniques come from. Even something as old as the martial arts, every instructor puts his or her own spin on things. They add their own flavor. And so each student will take a piece of that with them. A small portion of the instructor lives on in the ways that their students have been taught.

I feel the same way about kayaking. First and most importantly you must be open to the ideas of others. The magazine I was reading showed a way to do something that was different than the way I do it. I wanted to see if it was better - for me - to do it their way or mine. For now, my way is better - again, for me - but as I said I will continue to play with their method and see if something comes out of it. Secondly it is important to share knowledge, as every time I teach someone something about a kayak, the gift that I receive is what they give me back. Every student adds something to the way I teach. Every student gives me a different perspective on things I have taught hundreds of times. But most importantly you have to spend time in the cockpit of your kayak in various conditions to expand your skill level. Remember ten thousand hours! Some days practice can be working on technical skills, some days it can be working on softer skills. Following a bearing, reading a chart and orienting it to your position. Watching the weather. All things that must be practiced, to become natural.

What I realized at the dojo is what my Sensei was doing was giving younger students something to practice that could become more natural to them. They were just already things I was comfortable doing - maybe next week it will be spinning hook kicks, which I still don't like.

practice from Paddling Otaku on Vimeo.

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