Gymnastics is tough. While other sports may be cardiovascularly more challenging, there is no other sport that forces the practitioners to manage their body in three dimensions while spinning on two axises upside down, and oh yeah…be incredibly strong AND flexible. The closest cousins are moto-cross and ski jumping, but gymnastics is still harder. It truly is the next development in our evolution as a species. Or perhaps our de-evolution and a reversion to our monkey progenitors.

As the sport evolves the body and the minds of the practitioners, can the way we practice change as well? Can the very concept of competition change? Is competition even necessary? It can be asked, “Is competition just a latent form of narcissism and insecurity?” I find that so many boys quit gymnastics not because they don’t love gym, but rather, they don’t like the stress of trying to better their peers. Gymnastics is hard enough without coupling it to the idea of testing. Ultimately, if your self-worth and your self-esteem are products of your “success”, eventually you will loose it all. I know so many coaches that were the “it” gymnasts or athlete, only to not be. But, the continue to try to find validation in the “success” of their athletes. I’ve been there…I’ve done that. Looking back, what a rotten thing to do to children.

Last weekend, we tried an experiment in earnest. Several coaches and I got our kids together for a group training. For a clinic based on love and mutual desire for all boys to do well. We met at our gym, and all coaches and gymnasts helped each other, coached each other, and loved each other. But most of all, we pushed each other to be the best we all could be. The national championships are still 2 weeks away, but our goal, and what resulted, was the feeling of all participants are in this together. We are going to nationals not to compete but to demonstrate and to love.

Kohei Uchimura has won the World Championships 3 years in a row, and accomplishment that no one has ever. In fact he won by over 3 points. It could be easily said that he is the greatest gymnast of all time. As we go into the Olympic, Kohei has stated that he wants to re-imagine gymnastics from the inside out. The perfection of form.

But, like the  Japanese do with all things, he is trying to make an artistic statement with everything that he does. The Japanese are known for making everything beautiful. A tea ceremony, a zen garden, or calligraphy all done in an attempt to make them as beautiful as possible.

As Kohei tumbles across the floor it is as if he is painting with a calligraphy brush, each movement an attempt to paint the character of the skill as beautifully as possible. On his triple full dismount, it is as if the final signing of the scroll, he ceremoniously finishes by breaking the brush. Nothing more need be said. That WAS it, the printmaker breaking his stone.

On pommel horse he leaves no doubt that he is not only strong but he has balance, the perfection of a Samurai doing a Kata with the sword. On rings he demonstrates that his Xi or internal force is strong, but also precise as he hits all positions and sticks his difficult dismount.

In Karate, the ultimate goal is to strike only once. Our romantic notion of Errol Flynn wielding a rapier for a 20 minute sword battle doesn’t fit the Japanese aesthetic of doing a thing once with finality. Kohei, is in essence a master ninja, patience as he waits for this turn to vault. All masters must master themselves first; the way to mastery is through patience. Then, when his time has arrived, he lines up his intention. Practicing his stroke with his hands, he decides how to split a stone in two with one stroke. The vault is performed, and the stone falls to the ground without the blade being damaged.

Finally, parallel bars and high bar leave no doubt who is the greatest of all time. No holding back. Dance…and dismount. Stick.

As I paint, coach, or do anything, it is all in an attempt to create beauty. Beauty in my painting, drawing, actions, words, thoughts, and interactions. My goal is to paint and love others with the perfection and beauty of a master samurai, for this is what I have found: The way to peace is found in gratitude. Love, help, make Art & Peace.

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