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Interesting Differences.

Last year in April, a friend of ours introduced us to one of her favourite sports, and we’ve stuck with it since – bouldering. Bouldering is basically climbing, but only to a height where you can still (relatively) safely jump down – and consequently, you’re not using a rope or other safety gear. In a bouldering gym, you have thick mats under the walls, so you get a (relatively, again) soft landing when you fall; and then there’s different routes screwed onto the walls, usually colour-coded to show how easy or hard they approximately are.

It’s a very interesting sport, because it’s not only physical. Yes, having a lot of strength and power and endurance does help a lot, as does having a good sense of balance and body tension. But you can substitute quite a bit of sheer strength with good, efficient technique.

And it’s also a puzzle to find out how to climb those problems. A puzzle whose solution is, or can be, extremely dependant on the body size, shape, and type of the climber. We have a climbing buddy who is taller than both the Most Patient Husband of Them All, and I’m on the short end of our group. We also have different proportions in our limbs, and different amounts of strength and flexibility.

A lot of the easier, more straightforward problems are the same for all three of us. One doesn’t have to reach as far as the other, but basically handholds and footholds and technique are very similar. There are other problems, though, where sometimes we end up with three different solutions, and in a few cases, everyone could do all three versions, but one just feels best. In some cases, the other methods just won’t cut it at all – the foot won’t go to the hold, or the arms are not long enough, or there’s not enough strength for a specific move, or the hold won’t accommodate both hands.

So sometimes, you can see the three of us hang out in front of one of the boulder problems, trying to think of all the possible moves one could do, trying to find a sequence that works for the one of us who has problems with a part of that boulder. (Unsurprisingly, quite often, that is me, being the smallest – followed by our buddy, who is sometimes too tall to make our solutions work for him. As much as I might complain about being way too short sometimes, being tall is not always the best thing for bouldering either…)

Recognising the differences in these moves also made me think about the differences in crafts procedures. There, too, is a standard method, with standard tools and movements, that will usually get the job done. However, different people might have different problems with these moves, and in some cases, it will turn out to be inefficient, and there needs to be a different approach. When it concerns methods, like, for instance, in tablet weaving, the same applies to brains. Not everybody is comfortable with the same system – I’ve met people who prefer flipping the tablets instead of reversing direction, people who turn them individually, people who turn them in several packs. There’s quite a few different methods of writing down patterns, too – and obviously they all work, if not for everybody. So in some cases, it’s a question of finding the method (or the teacher teaching the method) that will work for you. That is sometimes easier said than done, and there’s always the possibility that a technique, even if you get it taught in a way and for a method that does work for you, will just not become your favourite – and that’s fine. But if you are just starting out learning something, and get the feeling that you just don’t get it, my recommendations are: persevere and try some more, but also go and see if you can get input or a lesson from somebody else than your first teacher, or at least watch other people doing whatever you are trying to learn. It might just click suddenly for you.

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2 Responses to Interesting Differences.

  1. Anna says:

    That’s an interesting analogy.
    When I trained to be a tailor (in the German dual system), my classmates and I would compare techniques and every master tailor one of us trained under would have things they did differently, without any method being objectively better – so I’d say it’s the same principle there. Sharing knowledge is really great that way, finding a method that works for you.
    On the topic of bouldering: It’s my favourite part of watching competitions when the route setters talk about the beta beforehand and then the athletes all try the problem, some of them coming up with completely different approaches. Also, I don’t know if you know betamonkeys (a climbing/bouldering comic strip), but your post reminded me of a recent one:

    I really enjoy reading your blog, by the way, even though I’m not really involved in weaving, spinning or embroidery. It’s always interesting to read, and I think you shared a link to a climbing podcast some time ago that has become my husband’s favourite. Thanks for all the work you put into this 🙂

    • Katrin says:

      Thank you – I’m delighted you enjoy the blog even though you are not a spinner or weaver!

      I think the differences between master tailors is one of the big reasons for the journeyman system, where journeymen had to travel and work (and learn) under several different masters before becoming one themselves. There are just a lot of differences, some evolved by personal preference, some by chance, some by slow skewing of tradition, and it is always good to learn a few variations. And even more important: to be aware of the fact that there may be more than the One and Only Way to do something.

      Bouldering – yes, I do know and enjoy the betamonkeys strip. Discovered it a while ago, and we had some fun evenings binge-reading until we were caught up, and the technique strip is one of my current favourites 🙂

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