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We're All Grasshoppers on This Bus

(Martial Arts vs Swimming)

Revised from an item which first appeared in the 1999 Winter Issue of the USMS Coaches Committee Quarterly.

Martial arts masters have been refining their craft for roughly 10,000 years. They teach the universal fundamentals of effective athletic movement—balance, core-body foundation, rhythm and flow—as inviolable components of every undertaking in the sport. “Grasshoppers” are taught to execute their fundamental skills and movements with a high degree of precision at slow speeds and then drilled extensively to ingrain the habit of such precision. This process may last months or years before they are allowed to undertake more complex combinations of motions and full competition speeds.

We swim coaches, plying a trade boasting little more than a century of accumulated knowledge, are primitive, unenlightened neophytes by comparison. Swimming requires mastery of the most complex set of skills existent in repetitive-motion sports. And consider the preternatural environment in which it is undertaken. Yet, if you watch a “typical” Masters workout, we coaches herd swimmers into the pool, give them a few words of encouragement, perhaps pass on a stroke tip or two, then expect them to somehow absorb neuromuscular “knowledge” directly from the water as they execute thousands of high-speed repetitions. I submit that our sport (and likewise our knowledge of how to teach it) is in its infancy. I suspect that in 10,000 years we'll do what martial arts masters do now.

The typical martial arts master has a huge amount of training, experience and supervision before he is ever permitted to accept responsibility for the training of a single Grasshopper.

In swimming, on the other hand, it is common for relatively unschooled and inexperienced (though almost always enthusiastic) newbie “coaches” to be given (or to simply take) responsibility for the training of a passel of Tadpoles. I suspect that in 10,000 years we'll do it differently.

Hundreds of generations have brought the Martial Arts to their current state. Hopefully, advances in information technology will shorten the learning curve in the Swimming Arts. Certainly in 25 years we'll have made some discernable progress.v

© H2Ouston Swims, Inc. 2000

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Emmett Hines is Director and Head Coach of H2Ouston Swims. He has coached competitive Masters swimming in Houston since 1981, was a Senior Coach for Total Immersion Swim Camps for many years, holds an American Swim Coaches Association Level 5 Certification, was selected as United States Masters Swimming’s Coach of the Year in 1993 and received the Masters Aquatic Coaches Association Lifetime Achievement Award in 2002. He recently overhauled his popular book, Fitness Swimming (Human Kinetics, publishers) and the second edition was released mid-2008. Fitness Swimming has been published in French (entitled Natation, pub. by Vigot), Spanish (entitled Natacion, pub. by Hispano Europea), Chinese (entitled Jianshenyouyong), Portuguese (Natacao Para Condicionamento Fisico, pub. by Manole)  and, soon, in Turkish and Italian. Currently Coach Hines coaches the H2Ouston Swims Masters group in Houston, TX and works privately with many clients. He can be reached for questions or comments at 713-748-SWIM or via email.

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