jo skates

Thoughts about skating and the practice of everyday life


Skating knowledge

The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge.

–Stephen Hawking

The one thing I will add to that wisdom is that the illusion of knowledge isn’t just about the things that we think we understand through our brains, but also what we feel through our bodies.

The accomplishment of a particular skating move, for instance. When I am able to move successfully from one edge to another, I feel like I’ve “mastered” something. I pat myself on the back. I keep doing that transition, thinking it is the right way to do something. I go on for years. It feels not just normal (“the way I do things”) but right (“if I did things another way I wouldn’t be able to do them at all”). I invest years in this kind of thinking.

At some point, I realize that I can’t go on doing things in this way. Maybe it’s that I can’t get any more speed, or I can only do this move in isolation. Maybe there’s some kind of pain involved that lets me know that what I’m doing is putting unwanted pressure on a knee, an ankle, a foot.

I start to realize that something’s wrong, not just with this particular move, but with the way I skate in general. A coach will point out that a particular joint (say, the hips) is not moving correctly. Even after working on a relatively simple move (say, chassés in a circle, or back crossovers, or swing rolls, my favorite) I realize that I don’t feel comfortable.

I’m told that the reason I can’t do something is because I’m literally moving the wrong way: my hip remains stuck in “forward” when at some point it needs to move back; my ankle still isn’t bending; I’m not on the correct part of my blade. And being told these things, I try to comply, but it feels really scary. After a few minutes, my muscles are exhausted, and I feel like my brain is trying to manage too many moving parts.

It’s terrifying not just because I’ve ingrained these habits but also because I’ve built up parts of my ego (the “feeling good” parts–oh no!) by thinking that I know how to do something.

So I go home, and rather than cry (there are far many more things in the world to cry about), I write about grunting and screaming in my blog. And I realize that in order to really learn how to skate, I have to let go of the overall illusion that I know what I’m doing.

I watch a few videos (Yuzuru Hanyu, Alexandra Trusova) and I marvel not only at those quads but the fact that their hips move in perfect harmony. And I read obituaries of Stephen Hawking and realize what a master he was–and not just of physics. And I go to bed early and sleep late (spring break, after all) and think about all the skating I’m going to learn today.




Close call

So today I pulled out some cans of tuna from an upper shelf, and the ones on top fell down and hit me in the face. Ouch! Now I have a black eye, but I’m also really grateful that I didn’t put my eye out.

Come to think of it, this has been a week of close calls. Parking meters that have just run out by the time I’ve gotten to the car (but no ticket), late to meetings (but didn’t miss anything), slippery roads and cars skidding in front of me (but no accident).

And then there’s my right outside swing roll, which has been giving me some trouble. Laurie pointed out that I wasn’t really leaning into the circle on the second part of the swing roll. So I tried to lean that way, and went back just a little too far on my blade. Enough to make it really scary–but I didn’t fall. Whew!

Either these are reminders that I lead a charmed life or signs that I need to build up my margin of error. But whichever it is, the outcome is the same. Put the tuna cans on a lower shelf. Make sure you leave enough time on the meter. Get those hips underneath you!

With regard to that last reminder, it’s actually been a really good week. I’ve been finding it easier to connect the ankle bend (shin levers forward) and lean into the circle with glute activation. Will try to find a better way to explain it, but for now, I’ll just say that it is a form of edge security.

Okay, time to share pictures of the ice sculptures and ice palace in St. Paul.

And a very sweet adagio movement in a trio by Brahms for clarinet, cello, and piano. Brahms was going to retire, but then he heard this clarinetist (Richard Mühlfeld), and then came back to write a whole series of gorgeous pieces.

Moral: life is full of close calls and, if we’re lucky, unexpected second acts. (And third, and fourth. . . )

Lesson notes:

  • forward swizzles (really emphasize those inside edge pushes)
  • forward cross strokes (timing of free leg, and quality of circles)
  • back cross strokes (keep shoulders square)
  • swing rolls (keep lean into circle, be consistent about arm and torso positions)
  •  forward inside edges (turn out for push)
  • forward inside three, back pivot, toe, toe, cross in front, step forward and repeat sequence on other side
  • forward inside three, back outside three (think about free leg inside circle rather than dangling to the side)
  • inside mohawk, back inside three, forward swing roll (don’t touch down, weight in proper position on back inside edge)
  • power pulls (use ankle and knee action, should accelerate; backwards–also keep your free leg just behind skating leg, but don’t use it to pull)




Snow dharma

So last Monday we got over a foot of snow in just a few hours. Needless to say, it made driving tricky. I made it to the rink okay (that was midday) but by the time I left my office it was really slow going. It took me nearly an hour and a half to get home (and it’s usually only around a 10 – 15 minute commute).

I have a good friend in Tokyo, and she said that it snowed heavily there as well, which is a big deal. She sent me a picture of her campus where students had built a snowman, or as they call them there, yuki daruma. This is based on Bodhidarma, the well-known Buddhist monk, who is called Daruma. The snow version only has two spheres, rather than our typical three-ball American version.

I love the idea that even though Yuko and I are many miles apart, it snowed for both of us on the same day. I also love this new variation on the snowman, and how I finally understand why this sculpture in our sculpture garden has only two spheres.


Gary Hume, “Back of Snowman” (2001)

The yuki daruma, or snow dharma, reminds me that there is something more to snow than just inconvenience. Time to contemplate, appreciate, and commemorate! Such big words for simple actions.

Speaking of simple actions, here are some notes from last week’s lessons:

  • I heard a lot from both coaches about the principle of bending your ankles rather than your knees. When I bend my knees, I tend to let my backside go out and pitch my upper body forward (like doing a squat). So Laurie told me to think about my shins like levers being activated in the “forward” position. Wow, this works really well. We did this on my warmup forward swizzles, with an emphasis first on the inside, then the outside edges. Part of my issue is still unequal amounts of weight distributed across the blade (my right ankle is still stiff, so the lever on that side requires more concentration).  We also did this with swing rolls and cross rolls. Success!
  • Inside edge swing rolls need more attention so they don’t start off flat.
  •  Forward outside three, back edge: don’t back out of step forward.
  • Back crossovers: should be little effort with more speed, and equal pushes.
  • Inside rocker, change edge, back outside three. This led to a much more focused session on. . .
  • Inside rockers: really think about the position of the free leg and how the skating leg and free leg motion work against one another (turning out and in). Also think about upper body lean, which requires speed.
  • Outside brackets. Haven’t tried these in a while. Still challenging, but I’m getting a better idea of what direction I’m supposed to go.



Insights on practicing

So my teenage son wrote up two lists that include insights about learning and practicing  from his cello teacher, the legendary Mr. Howard. In earlier posts, I’ve adapted many of his ideas to skating (“Bow change motion, no matter what your age!”) is one of my favorites. I thought these were very useful for skating as well!

Mr. Howard’s answers to “What do you need to learn?”

  • Learn how to learn.
  • Learn now to practice.
  • Learn how to use time wisely.
  • Learn how to hear, really hear.

Mr. Howard’s Five Steps to Practicing

  1. Identify the problem.
  2. Isolate the problem.
  3. Analyze the problem.
  4. Figure out a creative, imaginative, and effective way to practice it.
  5. Practice, but not until you’ve done the previous four steps.



Little resolutions for 2018

Well, 2018 is fast upon us! I went to a public session today, and like every session I’ve been to this week, it was quite crowded.

Part of the draw is that it has been really, really cold here–much too cold to take advantage of the many outdoor rinks. So skating on these holiday-week sessions is a bit like “Survivor.”

Along with the other figure skaters, I’ve been staking out my little piece of the rink in the center. And we try to avoid one another–not because we don’t like one another, but because that’s the way skating works–while the other recreational skaters carve ruts into the rest of the rink. And the ruts get deeper and deeper, and closer and closer–sort of the skating equivalent of Jaws. You get the picture!

But at least I got to skate. And what’s more, it was free! I think a combination of New Year’s Eve and the cold weather made the rec center into a skating party, complete with free hot chocolate at the skate rental booth (I passed on both). They even had a DJ.

Unfortunately for him, one of the first things that happened was that party-pooper me went over to complain that the music was too loud. He turned it down, but it was still loud enough that I had to stick my headphones in my ears just to block some of the sound. Ah, much better. I like the music–just a little quieter.

This got me thinking that the reason I’ve had such a hard time thinking about resolutions for the new year is that I can’t think of any big changes that I want to make to my life. Oh, I can think of a number of big changes that I would make to the world if I could (huge ones). But for the immediate and do-able present, just little changes to my daily routine.

  • Get to bed a little earlier. Sleep a little longer.
  • Start practicing a new piece of music–or maybe just the last movement of the pieces I’ve been working on.
  • Lose five pounds.
  • Stretch for a few minutes every night before bed.
  • A little less sugar. A few more veggies.
  • A little less time spent worrying about the daily news.
  • Leave for the rink five minutes earlier so I can have a little extra warm-up time.
  • Edges a little deeper, alignment more consistent, a little more core action.
  • Spend five minutes of each session actually skating to music.

That’s actually quite a list, but the comforting thing is that it’s all about stuff that I’m already on track to do. It doesn’t take an entire change to my world-view to make it happen. It’s just a little more and a little less of what 2017 was all about.


Jo and Jeff survived the New Year’s Eve session!

Happy New Year, everyone!



It’s about time

So the busy semester has finally come to an end (just a few more things to wrap up this weekend). The winter weather that Minnesota is known for has finally arrived (dropping to sub-zero for the next week). I finally got that long-overdue haircut (five inches gone!)

And that left inside three? Piece of cake.

In fact, my edges have never felt so good. I just got my skates sharpened, which probably helps. But I definitely also feel much more “on edge” than I have in a long time.

Sometimes I think I just don’t remember back  to when my body was a lot younger and more limber. But honestly, I swear that my body and blades are starting to connect in ways that (gasp!) suddenly make sense. And the possibilities suddenly seem endless.

Time is definitely on my side, I hope. There were two inspiring articles in the N.Y. Times this week. One was about older dancers. These include Eiko Otake who says:

People now comment, ‘Eiko, you are moving faster!’ I joke back and say, I don’t have much time left!”

Be sure to watch the last video with tap dancer Brenda Bufalino, who is 80. She says that “The body has this incredible way of healing itself, of finding itself anew.” Amen to that, I say!

The other article is about skating regulars at the Brooklyn Skate Club. One 28-year-old woman says:

When I was little, I skated at birthday parties and stuff, and then maybe four or five years ago, I went skating with my friends, and I was like, this is the highest high I’ve ever felt. I was like, I love this — this is what I want to do. In 30 years I’ll be good at it.

Another skater in his 60s has a theory that skating will help prevent senility or dementia. (My own theory is that even if I have dementia and can keep skating, I’ll be so happy  that I won’t care). My favorite quote, though, is from a woman who says that at the rink they call her by her skate name, the “Silver Fox.”

Ooooh, what skate name should I have? Skate angel? Tiny Dancer? Ice Queen Minus the Tiara? Pair Team Minus the Tall One?

Animals: Hello Skating Kitty? Flamingo? Nimble Marmoset? (I kinda like that one)

Star Wars: Joba Fett? Master Joda? Jo-bee-wan?

Looking forward to ringing in the new skating year with my good friends. They go by “Her Highness in Purple” and “Sunshine” on the ice, but their real names are Sonia and Kari (a.k.a. living proof that skating keeps you fun and beautiful!)


My son’s favorite Brandenburg!

Lesson notes:

  • back crossovers. Make sure you don’t cross over onto a flat; push under with inside edge on the other side of the midline.
  • forward inside edges. Think about where your navel is facing and which side of the core is engaged (I tend to be slightly twisted towards the left).
  • back outside swing rolls. Be more neutral with upper body position.
  • forward outside loops. Extra tension on the free leg extension as skating side bends. Smaller circles. Untwist into new side, under the arms.
  • mohawk, back push, back outside three. Quicker timing on the mohawk-push back.
  • forward three, back outside three, toe through, repeat on other side. More speed, don’t let left hip go out.
  • swing roll, change edge, forward inside three, cross in front, push to back outside on other foot, step forward and repeat on other side. Ack! Make sure you are rotating to face inside circle on the forward inside edge before the three, then just flip foot (rotate leg into hip). Ack!
  • forward outside rocker, two back cross strokes, back outside rocker, two forward cross strokes. Strong back outside edge (look back) out of rocker; think of where the edge needs to go.
  • forward inside rocker, two back inside edges, back inside rocker, two forward inside edges. On the back inside edge, your position should be as if you’ve just done the first part of a progressive (push under to inside edge).


Sculpture garden

Unseasonably warm Thanksgiving holiday! This made a pre-dinner walk around our newly renovated Minneapolis Sculpture Garden seem like a must-do.

The most iconic of the works here is “Spoonbridge and Cherry” (1985-1988) by Claes Odenburg and Coosje Van Bruggen. I didn’t get a picture of that one this time around, but I did take some of the other sculptures.

The Sculpture Garden is within an easy walk of my home rink, which was closed over the holiday. I had to drive a bit to get some skating time in over the weekend, which I gladly did. I was all fueled up on turkey, stuffing, and pecan pie!

I also had to practice! Had another great lesson earlier in the week, in which we worked on really getting my weight into the circle on back crossovers. Laurie had me pretending I had a hockey stick that I was pushing into the ice, which forced me to lean into the circle. Ack!

She also pointed out that I am not always maintaining a steady edge when I straighten my skating knee. Instead of holding that edge steady, I rise to a flat and then try frantically to get the edge back as I bend again. Double ack! I really have to think about using my ankles (and lean), since that’s seems to be key to maintaining that edge.

Here’s my version of that classic song by Burt Bacharach and Hal David, sung here by the voice behind many of my memories: Dionne Warwick. Only it goes something like this:

What do you get when you lose your edge?
A gal with a flat who seems to hobble,
That’s what you get when your ankles wobble.
I’ll never lose my edge again!