jo skates

Skating in the key of life



The other day I got a fortune in my cookie that read:

As one grows to understand life less and less, one learns to live it more and more.

I think this makes more sense to me in skating terms:

As one grows to understand skating less and less, one learns to skate more and more.

Worked on cross rolls forward and backwards today. OMG, another revelation (a.k.a. another fantasy of mine stripped away).

I used to have the impression that the objective was just to have a smooth glide (or a smooth ride) on one blade, with an effortless transfer into the next skate. So I’ve been blithely gliding back and forth between my skates on these, la di da di da. What I’ve been missing is the actual part of the stroke that puts more energy into the system, the angling of the blade outward that allows for an actual push. I need to create more force against the ice by not keeping my blades parallel, as well as using more ankle bend and foot pressure.

I have been wondering whether I am only just realizing the importance of these basic ideas because I never really focused on them before (too busy trying to make myself look a certain way, rather than actually analyzing the skating part), or because I was physically unable to do it (too many muscle imbalances on my left side). But it’s becoming clear to me that whether this originated in my head or below doesn’t matter; what matters is that now my body is working in a new way.

Some of this has to do with no longer dwelling in the perceived gap between thinking and doing. Skating for me has always played into the classic mind-body problem: conceptualizing the mind (having a thought or ideal) as distinct from the body (performing the tasks that the brain thinks about). My body has a problem doing something, and my mind agonizes over how to make it go.

What was missing from this formulation was the particular way that we “think” or “know” through the body. For instance, when I was working on those cross rolls, I could actually feel the resistance of the blade (when it was at the proper angle) on the ice. Both my coaches emphasize this feeling (what we call proprioception or kinesthetic sense) as a source of knowledge. Ari sometimes tells me that I (and other adult skaters) “think too much.”  I reinterpret this to mean that I have not been really been thinking enough through my body; instead, I’ve been willing my body to do things without actually doing what I am supposed to do.

For instance, I have had trouble turning my head to the right. When one of my coaches says “Look over your right shoulder,” I contort my body into some very strange shapes in order to do this.  And I wind up without even a glimpse of what lies beyond the right shoulder. Both Laurie and Ari have had to take my head (this happened in two recent lessons!) and turn it for me. And the fact that my neck and shoulder muscles are tight afterwards shows me that turning it in this direction is a new thing for me.

Bodily sensation (muscular position, speed, balance, tension) elicits emotion (excitement, elation, sometimes fear and uncertainty) as well as interpretation (a “good” edge, a poorly-executed turn, an indifferent body position). I’m trying to focus on the sensation part; hopefully someday I can integrate and make better use of the emotions and interpretations that come with them. Someday my skating body will catch up with my skating ego; at the moment, it’s important to relegate some of the ego to the background, like the helicopter skating mom that I have become to my basic skills self.

They say that as you get older it’s important to keep your brain active in order to keep those neurons firing. I am really giving my brain a workout these days by turning my head so that I can see over my right shoulder. Call it an exercise in “Jo-prioception,” if only to dignify the practice with a name.

There are many lovely photographs of Scott Moir and Tessa Virtue out there, but have you noticed that so few show them turning their heads over their right shoulder? I highly doubt, though, that this is because they have trouble with this maneuver. No lack of Jo-prioception on Tessa’s part!

I-wanna-hold-your-hand-tessa-virtue-and-scott-moir-24877776-667-1000  tessa-virtue-scott-moir-silver-gpf-japan

Author: Joskates

Don't see me on the ice? I may be in the classroom or at the theater, or hanging out with my family and friends.

8 thoughts on “Jo-prioception

  1. Do your coaches talk about feeling the ice? To me a lot of the proprioception of skating is in the feet. The first time I tried putting Superfeet in my skates I took them out immediately because I couldn’t feel the ice, felt like I couldn’t skate (now, years later, I have much thinner Superfeet built into my skates and that is fine). Then, and this goes with your topic of increasing power with your crossrolls, there’s sound, trying to get that wonderful rip of the blades by pressing into the ice.


    • Yes, they do talk about feeling the ice with your feet–a good tip! That “rip” is a wonderful sound; I have some trouble with my left foot (it’s the one that’s injured) but hope to get that little edge pull back on that side as well. I must admit that I’m not as attentive to sound as I might be, but I’ve weaned myself off using headphones so I can hear the music of my skates.


  2. Very interesting, Jo! I’ve heard that elite skaters keep practicing the basic skills, so your insight is on the right track!


  3. Thanks for the encouragement, Maggie, it’s most welcome!


  4. The head-turning thing is SO HARD! It’s like it wants to do its own thing, and it is amazingly hard to control. My coach keeps saying that the head should always turn last during a jump, but as I mentioned, it wants to be the first to turn so I can see where I am going. 🙂


    • Wow, I can’t even imagine trying to consciously turn my head during a jump. But since I used to jump counter-clockwise, my inability to turn my head to the left was never tested. I feel like Derek Zoolander, who in the movie had trouble turning left!


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