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the archer - Aligi Sassu

Sometimes to understand your own activity you need to widen your vision, look around to see how the people act in the other arts. If you remain confined in your own world, this will definitely become a barrier that does not allow you to appreciate the possible inspirations from areas that are distant from yours.

Literature can be a source of great inspiration. In literature, seemingly unrelated to rock climbing or mountaineering, I have always found some great ideas that helped me to grow as a climber. The rock climbing and mountaineering literature on the contrary is almost always superficial and full of false heroisms, there are some exceptions, but they are very rare. Among all the books that have inspired my climbing, I would like to mention the book of Eugen Herrigel: Zen in the Art of Archery. Eugen Herrigel, a German professor of philosophy, was invited to give courses at the Imperial University in Japan and decided to learn one of the Japanese traditional arts, the archery:

 

Relaxation

...the Master commanded us to watch him closely. He placed, or "nocked", an arrow on the string, drew the bow so far that I was afraid it would not stand up to the strain of embracing the All, and loosed the arrow. All this looked not only very beautiful, but quite effortless. He then gave us his instructions: "Now you do the same, but remember that archery is not meant to strengthen the muscles. When drawing the string you should not exert the full strength of your body, but must learn to let only your two hands do the work, while your arm and shoulder muscles remain relaxed, as though they looked on impassively. (Zen in the Art of Archery)

The climbing can become a magic. All this looked not only very beautiful, but quite effortless. A climbing problem can be overcome with such ease and consciousness that seem to be aesthetic and easy. But this aesthetic is not artificial, it is an aesthetic that comes directly from the naturalness of the climber. The climbing can look beautiful if it is intelligently managed. Apparently it looks easy and smooth, because the strength is focused only where it is really needed.

This thought is fundamental to understanding how the strength should be managed during climbing: You must not use the full strength of your body. You will have to learn to use only the muscles that are necessary for the action. The other muscles can relax, the tension is not required. The will is the most harmful thing for a smooth climbing. The body must remain relaxed, only the parts needed to make the move are in tension. All the power is conveyed in the muscles needed to make the move: so these muscles become more efficient. The rest of the body seems not to participate and for this reason all seems so easy, looks like a game.

 

Breathing

..." You cannot do it ", explained the Master, 'because you do not breathe right. Press your breath down gently after breathing in, so that the abdominal wall is tightly stretched, and hold it there for a while. Then breathe out as slowly and evenly as possible, and, after a short pause, draw a quick breath of air again − out and in continually, in a rhythm that will gradually settle itself. (Zen in the Art of Archery)

Breathing is the first step towards relaxation. Bad breath is simply a bad habit. This habit comes from stress and too many stimulations in everyday life. Usually occurs by accelerated breathing only with the upper part of the lungs. There are numerous excellent techniques to correct and improve your breathing, which I will describe in future articles.
The first step is to be aware of your breathing. Taking the time for doing it and listening to your breathing is the most difficult step, but it is crucial. Is important to realize yours mistakes, so you'll be able to correct them.

 

Smoothness

...So saying, the Master gripped his bow, drew it and shot. Only now, when expressly watching out for it, did I observe that though the right hand of the Master, suddenly opened and released by the tension, flew back with a jerk, it did not cause the least shaking of the body. The right arm, which before the shot had formed an acute angle, was jerked open but ran gently back into full extension. The unavoidable jerk had been cushioned and neutralized.
If the force of the discharge did not betray itself in the sharp " thup " of the quivering bowstring and in the penetrative power of the arrow, one would never suspect its existence. At least in the case of the Master the loose looked so simple and undemanding that it might have been child's play. (Zen in the Art of Archery)

The flexibility and dynamism are key. All life is in motion, in the eastern disciplines this is one of the main thoughts. The situation of tension is usually followed by a situation of relaxation. The transition from one situation to the another must be fluid. Otherwise your climbing will be similar to the movements of a robot. When you climb try to join the movements, when you do a movement continue with the next without stopping, try to create a continuity. The dynamic climbing is to move flexibly on the rock.

 

Spontaneity

" You must hold the drawn bowstring ", answered the Master," like a little child holding the proffered finger. It grips it so firmly that one marvels at the strength of the tiny fist. And when it lets the finger go, there is not the slightest jerk. Do you know why? Because a child doesn't think: " I will now let go of the finger in order to grasp this other thing." Completely un−selfconsciously, without purpose, it turns from one to the other, and we would say that it was playing with the things, were it not equally true that the things are playing with the child." (Zen in the Art of Archery)

Is the climber who plays with the rock or is the rock playing with the climber? This is the real climbing! When you drop the will, your intentions, the game can start. The will and intentions are not your friends, but are your worst enemies. The will is the biggest obstacle to the relaxation and consequently to a smooth climbing.

You'll have to listen to rock and your body continuously. Situations change , let yourself be surprised ! Your climbing will never be smoother if you repeat from memory the climbs. It can never be, repeating from memory is always connected to the will , and the will does not allow you to relax.

The positions in the climbing guidebooks and repeating the routes without making any change will not help you to climb better. If you repeat the same routes by storing the movements in your memory, probably is because you want to send it at any cost. But just that desire is the cause of tensions during climbing. Try to give up the will and dedicate yourself to the game. You'll have to listen to your body and rock, carefully, very consciously. But you have to be alert all the time, because every time things change. Sometimes you'll not be able to understand the rock in the right way and you'll go in the wrong direction, but this will help you grow: these errors are very useful to increase your ability to interpret the rock. No error will be a waste of time, if you are conscious. This is one of the great mistakes climbers are doing: they tend to repeat routes by memory, for the fear of making mistakes. Who is repeating is always afraid, always hesitant. The result is the loss of elasticity of the movement.

The qualitative difference, between climbing consciously and repeating the learned movements, is immense. If you climb by repeating the positions of the climbing guidebooks you will be an imitator . In this case you will not need your intelligence. Sure, it seems easier to imitate, it is always easier and more comfortable. But your climbing will be a dance only if you're original. Why to be an imitator, try to be original! The nature tells you to be original, no two people are alike. The training tables, and diagrams with the climbing positions on the rock are made for the imitators, the world is already full of imitators. Watch the greatest climbers, learn from them, but do not imitate them. Their way of climbing will never become your way of climbing. What may be right for one person might not work for you. When you find the way that suits your nature, your climbing will change radically, the breath, the concentration will not stop, you'll be ready for the next movement. Gradually you will begin to distinguish these two types of climbing, the conscious from that of the imitator. When climbing becomes conscious the pleasure that results from it is enormous. You will feel satisfied with your way of climbing and there is no need to search for higher grades or further challenges.