In the last lesson we investigated improving our climbing by applying a concept from William JJ Gordon’s book Synectics. We looked at making something that’s familiar, strange. By playing with words, we investigated new ways to climb. We identified something familiar in climbing—pushing with legs and pulling with arms—and made the familiar strange by reversing these. We experimented with pulling with our legs and pushing with our arms. This led to improving our climbing by making heel-hooks to pull with our legs and mantling to push with our arms. 

Another concept that Gordon suggests for making the familiar strange is altering a natural law. We identify a familiar natural law in climbing: gravity. We contemplate how we could turn the law of gravity upside-down. We do this by considering what it would be like if gravity didn’t exist and we’d be weightless. We experiment with what it would be like to climb weightless. 

Climbing in a weightless state would be easier since we wouldn’t have to struggle against gravity. But weightlessness would cause new problems that we need to attend to. Weightlessness causes us to float, moving in various directions other than upward. We need to maintain balance and firm contact with the rock so we don’t float away. Our movements would need to balance themselves so our overall direction is upward. 

I went to the gym to experiment with this. I imagined being weightless as I moved. Any individual move caused a movement in a particular direction, not always upward. I imagined the need to maintain contact with the rock so I wouldn’t float away and could direct my movements upward. I paid attention to the feeling of balance and maintained firm contact on holds with my feet and hands to control my movements. I made sure three limbs maintained firm contact as I moved one limb. 

I noticed that, as I lifted my right foot to a higher hold, my left foot pressed into its hold more firmly, and my hips moved slightly down and to the left. Movements were created in various directions: an upward movement of my right foot; a downward movement as my left foot pressed into its hold; and a slight movement of my hips down and left. All these movements needed to be summed up to create an overall upward direction. 

Two things became apparent. First, I needed to press my feet firming into the holds and grip firmly with my hands to maintain intentional contact with the rock. Doing this heightened my overall body proprioception; how my body felt in space as I moved. Second, I pressed into the footholds more intentionally to emphasize the overall upward direction I needed. I noticed that I moved more slowly when I climbed this way. Moving slowly heightened my sense of balance. It also helped me be aware of how much body tension I needed to move as an integrated unit. 

Experimenting with weightlessness gives us insights into climbing movement. We learn the importance of maintaining firm contact with holds and our body’s positioning in space as we move. Then, we integrate these new insights into our usual way of climbing. Here, we maintain awareness of our whole body, from the quality of contact with the holds to the body tension we need for making moves. 

We make the familiar strange by altering the natural law of gravity. Doing this doesn’t make climbing easier; it creates new problems to solve. Experimenting with weightlessness creates problems of maintaining appropriate body awareness and how we connect with the rock. These help us improve our climbing.


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