Letters & Strokes


Photo by: http://www.flickr.com/photos/nooccar/

Although originally published in relation to kayaking/canoeing this post is applicable to learning, be it  movement or sport.


We start as we start writing, clumsy scruffy letters but in the boat the strokes are often ineffectual clumsy and feel strange.

Practice is all important. A musician practices to get better. To improve and maintain you need to undertake concerted practice.

With a musical instrument the drive is to sound better, and the quality of your playing is easy for you and others to hear. With paddling the clues can be a little more ambiguous, especially when the beginner paddler is concentrating on not getting wet.

Some pointers to the standard of your strokes:

  • Economy.
  • Fluidity.
  • Balance and maintenance of.
  • Success, did you do it easily or was it survival?
  • Are the strokes even side to side?

Some of the points above can be sensed and others need external feedback be it success or third party input.

Set yourself a course or move on the river and repeat, see how effortless and smooth you can make it, how few strokes can it be done with?

Practice the basics (you are not a unique snowflake)

You are not like the snowflake.

Although originally published in relation to kayaking/canoeing this post is applicable to learning, be it movement or sport.

Its all basics, be you recreational or elite.

Whats the difference?

Practice, attention and application.

Every paddler needs the same skills most of the time. To paraphrase the film “Fight Club” you are not special, you are the same as every paddler.

So practice the basics in as many ways as you can. Same strokes different places.That said a single rapid can prepare you for most things given a good mind. Sure there are things that cannot be practiced easily, due to availability of:

  • Faster water
  • Heavier water (more cubic metres aka pushier)
  • Large drops
  • Features

The strokes you will use to deal with these new features will be the same strokes as used on a smaller familiar rapid. This smaller familiar rapid by its nature of familiarity will allow you to relax and experiment. Then when you try harder or new rivers you can concentrate on the new features and not on the techniques themselves.

Practice a variety of strokes and play with:

  • Blade angles
  • Balance of torso,
  • Speed of stroke,
  • Direction of boat travel.

Play games and test oneself.


The article by the coach Dan John explains this in terms of physical training:

Dan John Article


“Everything and nothing” – Teachers Perspective


People go to school and they graduate.

Teachers teach and sometimes pupils learn.

Maybe the pupil learned only part of what the teachers wanted to teach them. For example they may have learned enough maths to get by and then as life developed they get or work out what else they need to know.

You can never be sure what you teach is what they learn as that is their experience. You are not there to sort the whole of the rest of their lives. We all exist in time and the future and their future needs will solved by them and applying what skills they have.

Be careful not to end gain and want more than this:

  • I feel better – yes
  • I feel lighter – yes
  • I am clearer in thought – yes
  • I can do that better – yes

Do you see that they get out of it what they get out of it, it is everything and nothing all at once.

What is the purpose of education, in its broadest and narrowest sense be it Somatics, school or sport?

An answer and one i favour is not performance per se, or even qualifications, it is merely the desire to learn and be interested. School cannot teach everything, but it can give you skills and set you off in a direction.

In the case of sport there is usually only one winner, so what of the rest, have they wasted their time? Or is their value in playing and competiting even outside the rostrum? Is the medal the only reward or can value be had from mastery and play?

In the case of Somatics, if they are in pain, or immobile help them with that and let them be on their way, on their way to be free. Let them find mastery in the rest of their lives and not expect it within the sessions. Our education doesn’t finish with graduation and neither in the confines of a movement session.

Things moving freely.

Further Reading:




Although originally published in relation to kayaking/canoeing this post is applicable to learning in a general sense.


Continuing the theme of self-awareness/sensitivity to improve technique let us look at the use of a witness.

A witness is good for safety, reassurance and feedback.

Over time reassurance is less important as the paddler becomes more confident, safety is a personal thing.

Unless the paddler is calm and using the minimum required effort then they will not develop self-awareness and sensitivity to be able to take comments on board and change their technique or in time become self-aware.

A lot of paddlers listen to the comments but then apply the same amount force, take the same line or use the same strokes this makes the witness of little use. #WorkInProgress

witness - 1st person - 3rd person

Get a grip.

Although originally published in relation to kayaking/canoeing this post is applicable to gripping in a general sense and could be applied to many things such as:

  • Writing: gripping of a pen, quality of handwriting and any pain
  • Cycling: the ability to control the bike with ease and any pain in arms, shoulders or neck.

Continuing the theme of sensitivity.

Gripping hard can cause problems (see carpal tunnel) esp when flexing and extending wrist. But that aside try this experiment seated and with an empty hand. Repeat each step a couple of times. Try with dominant hand in first instance.

  1. Clench fist and relax.
  2. With hand on forearm clench fist again.
  3. With hand on Deltoid clench fist again


What do you notice when you clenched fist?

Takeaway points:

  1. Functionally the hand starts in the forearm.
  2. The harder you grip the tension goes up the arm and stiffens the shoulder girdle.
  3. This tension up the arm results in less mobility when side support is required, which can result in strained shoulder/dislocations.
  4. Try using the back when paddling forward and the arms for other strokes.
  5. Your grip does not need to be that hard, it will prevent a fluid action.
  6. Gripping hard will reduce your sensitivity of the paddles position in space.
  7. So basically relax your grip when you paddle, the correct amount of tension is “enough” and no more.
  8. What is useful tension and what is not useful tension.


Although originally published in relation to kayaking/canoeing this post is applicable to learning a movement or sport.

Messrs Weber-Fechner

Do you sense by hitting or stroking? By pulling the blade mindlessly through the water or slowly and therefore sensing the resistance of the water against the blade? The latter will educate you to the angle of your blade.

This is applicable not just to paddling but to all sensing.

Further reading: Weber Fechner http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Weber–Fechner_law