Tie on your skates and jump on the ice. We've got lots of life lessons to discuss today...

A Balancing Act

A lot of people think that ice skating takes some special feat of balance. In reality, just basic skating around the rink isn't all that difficult as long as you have a decent pair of ice skates on your feet. You should have strong boots and the blades should be balanced properly under your feet. Notice, I said that the blades should be balanced under your feet, not that you need to balance on the blades. If your boots are supporting your ankles and the blades are positioned correctly on your boots, you shouldn't have any difficulty keeping your feet upright. Standing upright on skates doesn't take any particular balancing skill, but controlling where you go and what you do on your skates, that's another issue entirely.

It seems a bit unlikely that you should be able to stand up on a small blade under your foot. It's not that hard to understand, though, if you take a pencil and balance it on your finger. You know that there is a point on the pencil where the weight balances perfectly. You can even balance it on something smaller -- a pin or the point of another pencil.

In Hebrew, the word for balance, shivui mishkal, literally means something like "equivalence of weight", much like the English word "equilibrium" which comes from the Latin words for "equal" and "weight". That mental image helps me lot when trying to understand how any given move actually works.

But what is weight, anyway? It's not how big something is. That's size. It's not how much matter is in something, that's mass. Certainly you learned in school that the mass of a thing isn't the same as its weight. Weight is the force that is exerted on a thing by gravity. In physics that's the mass of the object times the local gravitational acceleration. That's why your weight is different on Earth than it is on the moon. The moon doesn't have as much gravity to pull you down.

So, what we can say, then, is that equilibrium, is really about evening out the forces on the two sides of some specified point. In ice skating, that point is somewhere on your skate blade, but where?

If you take a look at the bottom of your blade you'll see that you don't really skate on 5mm or so of steel. You're really skating on two, much thinner edges. When you go straight you are fully on both edges. When you turn to the right you are putting most, if not all, of your weight on the right-side edges of your blades. It doesn't take a lot to push you onto an edge. Moving your arms, shifting your shoulders or hips, leaning a little, or even changing where your eyes are looking can all change your balance and push you over onto one edge or the other.

But still, whether you are on one edge or two, you are balanced because the forces that are pulling you in one direction are equal to the forces that are pulling you in the other direction, whether that force comes from gravity or muscle power in any given position.

Tomorrow I'll talk about balance in the layback spin. But first, tell me, what are the challenges to balance in your life? How do you equalize the forces that pull at you?


Noa said...

Nice explanation, Lisha. I like it. However, can you clearify the role of the eyes at the equalization of the forces? In addition, you should notice that in ice-skating we always go out of balance- because if we haven't- we will actually stay in the same position...

Lisha said...

Thanks, Noa! I talk a lot about the eyes in Look Where You Want To Go. As for the other issue of balance... you are so right. That's actually the post on Thursday. It's called "Moving Balance", so keep on reading! ;)

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