Learning from Falling

March 17th, 2006

This weekend I had a bad fall to the trapeze net during my flying trapeze class. I was lucky and didn’t get hurt, only scraped a bit. (A half inch cut starting at my eyebrow and a friction burn on my forehead). But it was the kind of fall where one could get hurt, and no good instructor would let a student continue to make the mistake that lead to that fall.

The root cause was a mistake many people make quite often with this motion, which is called a “layout.” Basically one does a backward head over heels rotation with a straight rather than a tucked position. During the first half one holds on to the trapeze bar. Then one lets go, rises above the trapeze bar, completes the rest of the rotation and is caught. The common mistake is to rush at the last minute, particularly when the catcher is there. One learns a flying trick first to the net before the catcher is there. In these cases, there is no possibility of a catch, the flyer knows she is going to the net. The layout is one of the hardest tricks to make the transition to having the catcher in the air. For me that’s because the layout it feels like the flyer is going to kick the catcher in the head. For others it’s a fear of actually knocking heads with the catcher. And for many of us it’s the feeling that the catcher is *right there* (!!!###) and so we need to complete the rotation quickly.

Like many others, I do nice layouts to the net and poor layouts to the catcher. I’ve probably caught 50 of these, and catch them regularly. But they are never good catches. They’re OK, or poor, or maybe better, but they are never good. I’ve heard the mistake described in many different ways and understand it intellectually, but have never been able to translate that into action. Over the weekend I rushed a lot. I also made an earlier timing mistake and the catcher was over-eager and tried to make the catch even though he should have let it go so I could land in the net safely. So I landed badly, banged my face up, and was lucky I didn’t break my nose or foot or pull a hamstring, etc.

This caused some suddenly clear thinking. I had to sit out a few turns to recover my balance and wait for the cuts to stop bleeding. During this time I had a revelation. My husband, in a comment breathtakingly like something my Dad would have said, noted that the fall had “knocked some sense into me.” Suddenly I put it all together.

I could feel the position of my body at the moment I made the mistake. I could see in my mind’s eye the visual cue at the moment I make the mistake. I could hear the instructor’s verbal command at the moment I make the mistake, and, most amazingly of all, I could suddenly feel *both* what I do next when the catcher is there AND what I do correctly when the catcher is not there. Suddenly I am holding in my mind both alternatives. The moment is frozen — the kinesiology, the visual, the audio — and I feel the two alternatives. One is panicky, rushed for time, racing for the catch. The verbal command to let go of the trapeze bar is translated into a rush to get to the end of the rotation, not enough height, too much spin, and ultimately the dangerous trip to the net of a few minutes before. The other alternative is free, open, floaty. The verbal command to let go of the trapeze bar is now the signal to *begin* the floaty second half of the trick.

Now I’ll have to wait for my next class to see if all this intellectual activity actually results in a change of behavior!

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