Senior Swimming by Sean Hutchison (2006)


Introduction: This is going to be a very interesting talk coming up. You can look at the speaker. He is obviously a very young man, and yet he has done a few things worth bringing to your attention. He is Sean Hutchinson, Head Coach of King Aquatic Club, Seattle, Washington. His club has reached top 5 at Senior Nationals which I think is amazing for someone that young and really not that well known. Watch out other clubs! I mean that. He has been on the PAN-PAC staff. He is on the World Championship Staff for Melbourne. Watch out! This guy is going places. Sean, I am going to turn it over to you. He has an unusual docket and I am looking forward to the talk. Good luck.

Sean Hutchison: Some of you who sat in on the last talk probably found it was a little bit more, how should I put it, direct and nuts and bolts oriented in my beliefs on at least age group swimming. The talk I’m going to give is a little bit out there, so do the best you can, and there probably won’t be a lot of notes. Enjoy some of the movies if you can. We will watch a couple of movie clips later, and we will talk about that in a minute. The goal of my talk is “The best style is no style.” I am going to tell you what style of training methodology is best (hopefully you don’t believe that).

In the definition I am using for the talk today, style refers to training theory or training methodology. The first question here then is which coach’s style is best? Is there a Dr. Dave Salo in the house? Is there anybody else in here? I just put a few names up there (on the white board) because most people have a general idea of thoughts that they have on swimming and that they are kind of different from each other. They have all accomplished a lot in their own regard as far as what they have attempted to accomplish. Originally, I was going to have you guys stand up and represent the person whom you felt had the best styles, but I am not going to make you do that. If they represent the top of their styles, why would, say for example, Eddie Reese listen to Bob Bowman, who is back there speak? Why would Dr. Dave, who we know is here, listen to Jon Urbanchek and then be able to work on the same staff together at Irvine last summer? What if you had their knowledge at your disposal and could choose that knowledge in the process of developing your athletes or getting your athletes to go faster? What if you come out of last summer, and you have someone who swam a decent 200 freestyle? You look at what they need to do now because they had a successful summer.

We all have our own experiences, and the people who were our mentors are the people that we draw from. We base our conclusions on our experiences, and we base our direction on these experiences. I am putting the idea out there: if you had the knowledge of those five or six people that I previously listed at your disposal, could you look at what the best choice for that athlete would be? Would he be better?

Bruce Lee…does everybody know who Bruce Lee is? Bruce Lee, the martial arts star, was one of the first international action stars. People like Jett Lee and Jackie Chan are always touted as being the next Bruce Lee. Before Bruce became a famous movie star, he was a World Class or perhaps the best martial arts guy in the world. He invented his own style of martial arts and ended up teaching a lot of the best (the ones that won national and international tournaments) martial artists in the world. Bruce was seen as the leader of martial arts in his day. He died tragically at age 32 in the early 70’s. We are going to watch a couple of clips from the documentary on Bruce Lee.

Just a back story on this as I see some people laughing in the back…you have to have a sense of humor about this a little bit. About three or four months ago, I was up at 3 in the morning, and I couldn’t sleep. I turned on the TV, and this documentary on Bruce Lee was on. There were moments in the documentary that hit me like an epiphany. Bruce was talking about martial arts and his life, and he stated everything that I had been pondering about the evolution of swimming over the last year or two. These clips are from a documentary called “Bruce Lee, a Warrior’s Journey”. Later on in this talk, I will have a greater description of these clips which are narrated by John Little. As we watch this, bear with me and humor me if you can: relate the comments by Bruce about martial arts as if he is talking about coaching. Keep in mind that these comments are not necessarily just about martial arts and not necessarily just about swimmers or swimming. Think of the comments in terms of coaching, and look at them from that point of view. The sound is coming out of a laptop, so we are going to do our best to get it to you.

Kareem Abdul Jabbar (who trained with Bruce Lee): “This was a conquest and a rebel in that he thought that the traditional martial arts were way too bound by tradition. People who were not really that effective at martial arts really were not promoting martial arts, but their own nationalistic brand of martial arts and their view of the world more so than a realistic martial art fighting system, and he wanted to get to the pure essence of the art. Lee’s Los Angeles School, located in the heart of Chinatown and without any advertising pulls in not new-comers to the martial arts, but seasoned black belts – all of whom now look upon Lee’s art as revolutionary and upon his talent as other worldly. “In the Sport Week of the Washington Star printed in Washington D.C. on August 16, 1970, three of Bruce Lee’s pupils, Joe Lewis, Chuck Norris and Mike Stone have between them won every major karate tournament in the United States. Joe Lewis was Grand National Champion three successive years. Bruce Lee handles and instructs these guys almost as a parent would a young child, which can be somewhat disconcerting to watch. It is like walking into a saloon in the Old West and seeing the fastest guy in the territory standing there with notches all over his gun. Then in walks a pleasant little fellow who says, ‘how many times do I have to tell you – you are doing it all wrong’, and the other guy listens intently.”

With the top actors and martial artists in America now coming to his home for private instruction, Lee is the toast of the Martial Arts World. However, by the end of 1969, Lee has growing concern that his students are looking to his art as containing a secret way, special techniques that alone are responsible for success and ability in combat. To Lee, there is no such thing as a magic system. The only secret to martial art success is a willingness to train hard enough to cultivate ones own innate abilities. Taking matters into his own hands, Lee now does something that is unheard of in martial arts circles. In January of 1970, at the very height of his popularity and reputation in the martial art world, he closes all three of his Jun Fan Kung Fu Schools. Kareem Abdul Jabar: “When Bruce closed the schools, he felt he was unburdening himself of having to prove through his students that his system had merit. He didn’t want to get into that. He wanted them to evolve and teach, but it was not a thing where you have to teach what I taught. You have to teach what you learned, and that is going to be more than what he taught, hopefully, for those students that understood what he was doing.” How is he going to teach me all of this? “I cannot teach you – only help you to explore yourself – nothing more.”

Lee now trains only a handful of students privately as his art is about personal growth. He feels he must come to know each student thoroughly in order to assist the student in developing the skills and confidence required to free him from the chains of limitation – whether of physical or psychological origin.

Bruce Lee to his student: “What is your instinct?” To pray. “In this position your arms are useless. Are you kicking or stomping?” No. “Then if you wish to survive, what do you do?” I don’t know. “FIGHT! FIGHT! Are we not animals?” Alright? I can’t find much evidence to the contrary Lee. “Fight! Fight him! Is he efficient in close quarters? Don’t make a plan of fighting. That is a very good way to lose your teeth.” There is so much to remember. “If you try to remember, you will lose. Empty your mind. Be formless, shapeless, like water. Now you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. Put it into a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Now water can flow or creep or drip or crash. Be water my friend.” Why don’t I just stand in front of Bull and recite that to him? “Maybe he will faint or drown? When is it?” Tomorrow. “You are not ready”. I know. “Like everyone else, you want to learn the way to win, but never to accept a way to lose or to accept defeat. To learn to die is to be liberated from it, so when tomorrow comes, you must free your ambitious mind and learn the art of dying.”

Kareem Abdul Jabbar: I remember he said – you know – for me if I were going to use Judo-style dying, imagine me trying to get my hips underneath him to throw him for a hip throw. Are you going to try and do that while I beat you down? You would be trying to do something else and you know, he was absolutely right.

What does this have to do with swimming? I think a lot. Limitations: Bruce Lee spoke a lot about limitations in martial arts – limitations for us due to form, and I interpret that as methodology, technique, race strategy, tradition, and an ideological association to training views. Some of what I am going to do in the next few minutes is to recap some of the main points that were important to me in the clip. I relate them a little bit to my thoughts on swimming…the intention being to get some people to think a little bit. Traditional martial arts came down by tradition, and people involved in it were not promoting martial arts but their own nationalistic brand of the world – more so than just fighting. Often, you go on a pool deck anywhere, especially local and regional meets, and you hear people spouting their ideology of this is how we train, this is the best way to train, this is how I do it, and you need to learn how to do it too. Instead we should be thinking about what we are really trying to accomplish, and how do we get people to go fast? We should break out of tradition or break out of a form and possibly go beyond what has been done before. As coaches we often think there is a secret way, but there is no magic system. We tell our athletes that there is no magic system, but a lot of times we will come to conferences and look for just that – the magic system, the recipe to have our swimmers get faster. We talk about that a lot with our athletes, but a willingness to train hard enough to cultivate ones own abilities is what is needed. I asked you in the beginning to think about this concept in terms of coaching instead of in terms of our athletes. If you know you have a need to get better at coaching breaststroke, are you willing to work hard enough to cultivate that aspect of your coaching ability? With the five or six coaches in the beginning that I labeled up there, knowing what their styles represent or what their methodologies are, what can you learn from them? Try and pull ideas from them and use those as a catalog of success rather than implementing one style and merely becoming more specific with that one style.

Evolution in teaching: Bruce Lee was closing down his schools because he didn’t want his instructors to teach what he taught. He wanted them to teach what they learned, and one would infer that they were not doing that. He wanted them to learn more than that or more than what he taught. I again ask the same question, are we implementing what we have been taught or are we taking it one step further?

I didn’t ask this in the power point, but in regards to the biting thing, why would they put something in there about biting? I think it was because anyone who has been involved any martial art or boxing or anything like that knows that you are not supposed to bite. I think they included it because it was the best possible answer at that moment – even if it was non-traditional – even if it was in some ways not acceptable. Not planning for it, however, is a good way to lose your teeth. If you come toward someone with your teeth bared, he is simply going to punch you in the face. The relevance of that for us is simply to use our knowledge and available tools to react.

The cup and teapot: He was talking about being like water and how water forms to the shape of the cup or the shape of the teapot. We all do it…all of us want athletes to come in and fit into our training ideas and our methods and our program instead of trying to figure out what that athlete needs. But what is more important? Shouldn’t we fit to what they need instead of what we want them to need? If you get a pure sprinter and you have him train like your other 15, 16, or 18 year olds, and he does ten X 800’s, is that serving what he needs? They might be able to swim a 200, and you can brag to your friends that you got a pure sprinter to finally get him to swim a real 200, but is that important? If you went to that athlete, that sprinter or to a breaststroker and got him fitted to what he needed and got yourself to fit with what he needed, wouldn’t that work better than forcing them to fit a system that might not work best for him? I think each person has an area that they need to improve or that would fit best with him as opposed to trying to fit within a system.

The art of dying: Like everyone else, you want to learn the way to win, but never to accept the way to lose. No risk, no reward, and none of us wants to be standing there at Nationals, Sectionals, NCAA’s or an Age Group Meet and be the one that has the stinker bowl of swims. Taking those risks is how we learn and how we are going to promote the sport. Instead of just recycling what we have already done, we need to continue to improve our methods.

I assume most of you know Kareem Abdul Jabbar. He is 7’ something versus about 5’ 7, and he was talking about trying to practice judo and about Bruce Lee getting Kareem over his hip and Bruce’s head probably coming up to his hip and how that was not going to work. Some other style would be better even though Kareem was in a judo school. That obviously wasn’t going to be the best thing for him. Maybe teaching him some kind of boxing would be better. Trying to fit the person to the best style that suits him instead of to your own style as a coach is what is needed.

The last clip here is also about six minutes. Just to give us some background information leading up to the timeframe of this clip, it takes place directly after Bruce Lee injured his back and was bedridden for about six months. According to Bruce, he changed his philosophy on martial arts and just kind of evolved into another step of understanding. The woman in the clip is his widow, and she talks a little bit and she is introduced earlier in the documentary. Think in terms of coaching instead of in terms of martial arts or in terms of swimming.

Lee is particularly taken by the thoughts of Krishnamurti, who states that “truth cannot be organized without invalidating it. You have to be a light to yourself….not a light of a professor nor the analyst nor a psychologist nor the light of Jesus nor the light of the good power – you have to be light to yourself in a world that is utterly becoming dark.” I believe that part of the concept that he enjoyed so much about Krishnamurti’s philosophy was one of self-reliance, and if you are looking for truth, you must look inward rather than outward. Lee begins to write about his new insight and its application to martial art. His writings will fill seven large volumes. Slowly, Lee begins to battle back. Although the back injury will prove to be a permanent problem – within six months he has proven both the naysayers and the medical community wrong. Not only is he able to kick again, but he becomes a better martial artist than he ever was before. Lee’s harrowing experience, coupled with his new insight, serves to underscore for him the validity of his belief that there is no help but self help. This includes all help in the form of instruction – in the art of unarmed combat. Even his own beloved creation, Jeet Kune Do, by far the most scientific of all martial arts, is not exempt from his solvent analysis. Lee sees his error in the fact that he had been striving to create the ultimate way or style of martial art to teach to his students. First, he thought he had it with the Chinese way of martial art. Then, more recently he thought he had it in his newly created way of the intercepting fist. However, Lee had now come to see that the ultimate truth does not reside in ways or styles, but within the soul of each individual. “I do not believe in styles anymore. I mean, I do not believe that there is such thing as the Chinese way of fighting or the Japanese way of fighting or whatever way of fighting, because unless human beings have three arms and four legs, we all have a different form of fighting. Basically, we have only two hands and two feet, so styles tend to not only separate men because they have their own doctrines. The doctrine then becomes the gospel truth, and you cannot change. But if you do not have style, and if you are just saying well here I am as a human being, how can I express myself totally and completely? It is just two people who are aware of their own movement – who are observing the other person’s movements and being able to fit in with that person’s movements. There is no set pattern of movement when he does this then I do this. It is just a total freedom to react to what the other person does.” In fact, Bruce inscribed it perfectly on the back of his medallion where he wrote the words that have become his motto and it says – “using no way as way – having no limitation as limitation.” Bruce’s widow: “Over the years this phrase has been somewhat misinterpreted, and people think of using no way as way to mean anything I do is okay, and anything I do is my way. I don’t think Bruce really intended it to mean that way. He just meant not to be boxed in by a certain way so that you never get into a situation where there is only one response. You adapt to what the situation calls for. I think Bruce had that down pretty well.

Bruce: But there is the way there lies the limitations to me, okay – to me. Ultimately martial art means honestly expressing yourself. Now it is very difficult to do. I mean it is easy for me to put on a show and be cocky and be flattered with a cocky feeling and then feel pretty cool and all of that. Oh I can make all kinds of phony things. I mean I can be blinded by it, or I can show you some really fancy movement, but to express myself honestly – not lying to myself and to express myself honestly, now that my friend is very hard to do”.

That is the whole key right there you know, do you know yourself? Do you know your skills? Do you know your weaknesses? Are you able to adjust your life to compensate for whatever is happening and take advantage of whatever is happening in terms of pluses and minuses? That was his approach, and he was an incredible example of that….a walking model of that. In his critically acclaimed performance on the television series, “Long Street”, Lee attempts to teach his student, played by James Franciscus, the higher purpose of his martial art. “Lee, I want you to teach me what you did the other night.” “I already told Miss Bell, I can’t.” “I am willing to empty my cup in order to taste your tea.” “Your open-mindedness is cool, but it doesn’t change anything. I don’t believe in systems Mr. Longstreet or methods and without systems – without methods – what is to teach?” “But you had to learn it. You were not born knowing how to take apart three men in a matter of seconds.” “True, but I found the cause of my ignorance.”

I’ll go through and point out what I thought was relevant. The first part of the idea of light or of being a light to yourself…I think that is what we all are as coaches. If we do that then we have connected with our athletes, but I didn’t include that because I think that is a whole different discussion. I pulled out these two quotes, but I don’t really have much reflection on it. I thought it was interesting. “Truth cannot be organized without invalidating it, and the truth cannot be structured or confined”. Actually I will comment on it. I think all kinds of research, obviously science, have promoted our sport or developed our sport and will continue to do so. This is not a criticism of science or of the application of science. However, any findings based on research or at some levels an average, your outliers, which may be important, are overlooked. Therefore, some truth that was lost in the high and low levels is lost through that organization or structure. Along the same idea – just because some training style or methodology is the best thing for one swimmer does not mean that it is the best thing for another swimmer. You know, we grew up in coaching reading what Janet Evans is – what you know Mark Spitz did or whomever or what Michael Phelps is doing. It doesn’t mean it is the best thing – no offense Bob. If you do the same thing, the only way to have a better result with the refined system is to have a better athlete. If you had an athlete who did exactly what Janet did – the only way to be faster is to have someone better than she was.

I don’t know if I spelled that right, but Bruce Lee invented Jeet Kune Do. It was his version of the scientific martial art, and he got a lot of criticism from the martial art world. That is what he did about fifteen to twenty years earlier. In doing so, he was striving for the ultimate way, and then as he said, within the ultimate way, he found the error in his thinking was that there was an ultimate way. His evolution into no style and his first belief in this Chinese style that he perfected and in his own Jeet Kune Do and the lasting idea of not being bound by any style was basically using his martial art. He was using whatever was the most appropriate tool at that moment, and I think in training, that goes to either a seasonal thing – like the example that I used at the very beginning – whatever is appropriate for that athlete for his or her next step or even that day – the most appropriate for them, not necessarily what do I want them to do. What fits in my plan? What is the most appropriate reaction based on what you saw the day before or the season before?

Talking about style separates men, and again, that is the quote that he had “they have their own doctrines which become gospel and gospel truth you cannot change”. I have never heard that before and with that, you distance coaches you gravitate toward each other. You sprint coaches, you gravitate toward each other. I just like that – I thought it was cool – “using no way is a way; there is no limitation is limitation”. And out of that, the interpretation that his widow talked about that “anything I do is okay”…when I heard that, I was thinking of the idea of the freedom that has become popular in the last ten years. I think we are going away from that, but for a while, not writing down workouts because some famous coach didn’t…Eddie Reese and a few others, and there is a whole generation of people who do not write down workouts. I don’t think there is anything wrong with that, but that is not the reason to do it. I don’t believe in the idea of coaches professing to not have their own style…talking about creating their own original style before mastering a known one.

In other talks that I’ve given, I have used painting as an example. I’ve used Picasso where I will show a realist painting and then a traditional set like ten X 400’s. Then I will show an abstract painting and something that is more non-traditional – kind of going back and forth. The gimmick in it is all the traditional paintings are by Picasso and all the abstract ones are by Picasso, and if you do any research on him and any of you art majors out there would know this – he grew up learning – like any great master did – he learned to be a great realist painter and then he developed his own style. Any of the greats in history – Michelangelo – all those guys – all the Ninja turtles – they all learned from someone, and the method for teaching a great painter was that they would copy the works of their master. They would learn to paint their pictures…copy them exactly… down to the brush strokes. Once they could master that art, master that form, then they were free to move beyond and to develop their own style. I would suggest that you know that USA Swimming is doing a great thing in having this mentor coach program, and I myself spent three and a half years with “”, and I watched what he did. I think that idea of mentoring for anybody, iregardless of age, is a very important step in development – especially if you look at the way other art forms are mastered.

I don’t know how many of you have seen it, but Dave Salo had something he put out twenty years ago that he is embarrassed about now. It was called “Sprint Salo’s Little Pamphlet”, and it talked about his ideas before anybody cared what he had to say. In the back of it, it had 44 workouts. When I first started coaching, I went through changing them a little bit here and there, but I did all those 44 workouts in a row with National level athletes, and with novice type senior level athletes. I did it two or three different times in different years with different people. The idea in doing it, other than spending the time to try and read and understand each one of those workouts just by the numbers on the page, was to look at how those 44 days unfolded. I don’t know if it is true or not, but it kind of gave me – especially after doing it two, three or four times – an insight into what Dave was thinking. It gave me insight on how the thought process evolved in developing his style or trying to implement his ideas.

Do you know your weaknesses? Most of us tend to not like to look at them, but if we are really good at one thing, should we take the time to find out what Coach Shoulberg thinks? If you look at and follow the idea of what I am talking about, the answer would be yes, and then the question is, are you willing to work hard enough and to adjust your life to compensate for those weaknesses?

The main points of what I saw in those clips were not to get boxed into a certain style. Not that there is anything wrong with those individual styles, as they all have merit and they are all valuable, but as far as being as effective as possible, the idea is to be able to draw from all of those styles and implement them for your athletes. Did you ever get into a situation where there is only one response? Adapt to what the situation calls for. Don’t make the situation fit what you want it to.

Alongside the painting idea, I think you have to take the time and do your homework and attempt to master (I am sure there are other components that could be in here, but these are the main components) what endurance is, what technique is, or what is valuable: speed, power, athleticism, sport psychology…you could put anything down there. Today it would be business, parents, what have you?

In the earlier talk and at the National Team Coach’s Meeting, I used some race analysis on 100 butterfly. I talked about the analysis as a kind of stroke management and tried to address stroke length for continued improvement. I talked about how I had Neil Walker and Tommy Ham, who were both 52 high 100-meter butterfliers, and they both were 18 or 19 cycles. I thought about Mike Mintenko, the Canadian record holder who was 18 cycles on the first 50, and I made the assertion that to go somewhere between 51.8 and 53, due to mathematics, you must go out with that speed or with this many strokes. If you go 18 strokes it doesn’t mean you go that fast if you haven’t developed enough strength. Your tempo would be too slow, and you would go out slower, but as far as somebody who has developed enough strength and power to swim fast with a race type tempo, 18 strokes is how fast you are going to go. Ian Crocker, Michael Phelps and the Ukrainian guy that I always forget his name, were 17 or 16 cycles, and they were the only ones that have ever been under 51.5. I made the assertion that you couldn’t go that fast unless you were 17 strokes or less. By the limitations of how fast you can move your arms and still catch the water, at least in the current waves that we’re swimming, maybe some kind of revolution in technique will change where you can move your arms faster and still save the water, but under our current norms of swimming the only way to get faster is to hit that same tempo and take less strokes. Now obviously your underwater can be faster and the current could be faster, but just looking at the pure physics of that relationship, that is the only way that you are going to get faster. Looking at those things, if Tommy and Neil and Mike Mintenko and any number of guys out there in the world who were 52 in the 100 fly, there are a bunch of them under 53 low, there are only three of them under 51.5, and those three are doing 17 or 16 cycles. If you do 18 cycles, and you take what I say as truth, then you have to take 17 cycles to go that fast or to go faster. There is nothing wrong with doing 15 X 300’s on 3:30. There is a time and place for that, and maybe even in that person who is trying to go from 52 to 51 or 50, there is nothing wrong with that. But if your goal is to go under 51.5, is doing 15 X 300s going to yield the result you want? Probably not – at least I say no.

Getting to the end here, I have another short minute-long clip I wanted to share with you. Actually, I have a few more examples that we can also look at. What is the best style? I don’t think there is one. It is the implementation of the appropriate style for that particular person at that moment in their career.

“And yet it can penetrate the hardest rock or anything else, granite, you name it. Water also is insubstantial – by that I mean you cannot grasp all of it. You cannot punch it and hurt it, so every gullible man is trying to do that – to be soft like water and flexible and adapt yourself to your opponent.”

I just thought it was cool. I didn’t really have anything to say about it.

My biggest fear in having this discussion was that I would come off as being “preachy”, and that was not the intention at all. The intention was just to put forth some ideas of an evolution and promote knowledge. I have been trying to implement these ideas for two or three years. I just kind of fell into the idea, and I can’t say that I am smart enough to come up with it by design, but you know I came up with two or three examples that we run into. They will repeat time in the workout and not be able to go faster. Now usually that happens in a situation where there is a lot more distance or higher end aerobic training. How are they going to get better? By doing the same thing? Maybe, but maybe if they did Taylor’s workout for six months or what people perceive as his workout for six months, would they get faster? Poor technique, even though they’re motivated for change, if you heard my earlier talk, my thought is that they are not coordinated enough to change or they have some structural issue that they need to take care of in their physical body, and they are not able to make that change. Usually if you have someone who is capable of and desires to change, then they are able to get better. I urge you to go back and look at each situation, each athlete, and try and come up with an answer rather than saying, “well this person is not going to get any better, but we will keep training him and see if he gets better”. Ask the questions, “what is really going on and how do we address it as much as possible?”

The documentary is called “Bruce Lee, A Warrior’s Journey”. Warner Bros. 2001, written and directed by John Little. I appreciate you not getting up and walking out and listening to my madness.

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