Monday, October 28, 2013

The Evolution of Artistry in Men's Gymnastics: 1969-1972

OMG! That routine was so artistic!

FML! Artistry has died, and the sport is so boring!

Artistry is all about having lovely balletic lines!

There are many opinions about artistry, but no one on the gymternet has looked at how the Code of Points has defined the term "artistry" over the years. So, that's what I'm doing.  This week, it's the 1968 Code's turn to be scrutinized.

Last week, we saw that the 1964 Code of Points was concise without much explanation. Not so with the next iteration of the Code.

In 1968, the Men's Technical Committee wrote a novel, and that's because--at least in part--the MTC no longer could rely on terms like "harmony" and "rhythm" and expect people to understand what they were talking about. They had to define their terms, and it wasn't easy for them. As we'll see, they were driving the struggle bus, so prepare yourself for many "WTF" moments.

Let's start our journey with the deductions section…

Floor Deductions:

You should recognize these deductions from the 1964 Code.

  • Lack of harmony, rhythm and flexibility [i.e. suppleness in 1964], deduct every time… Up to 0.20
  • Lack of harmony, rhythm, and flexibility during the entire exercise… Up to 1.00

What's different? The 1968 Code of Points actually tried to define terms like "harmony" and "rhythm." But Ooooo EEE! It's hard to follow the FIG's explanations. Let's take a looksy…

What is rhythm?

According to the Code, routines were made up of "accents" and "non-accents." The Code defined accents of movements as "the pushing off of the legs or hands. Accent is also understood as a suspension, or as an acceleration, change in duration or direction of movement, change in radius of the turn."

So, umm, pretty much every skill in gymnastics was an accent? Huh?

It seems that way, doesn't it? But if I may ventriloquize on behalf of Dr. Karl Appelt, the man who wrote the definition of rhythm, not all skills are accented. Appelt was trying to say that gymnasts needed to show tempo and dynamic changes in their routines. They needed to mix big skills with less flashy skills. They needed to mix fast skills with slower skills. They needed to show tension and "relaxation."

Which explains a lot, like, why kicking out of a skill was so popular back in the day. Believe it or not, kicking out wasn't a question of aesthetic beauty. It was a way of fulfilling the demands of the Code. You see, kicking out of a skill was a way of fulfilling the rhythm requirement. Think about a double back that ends in a kick out. The skill showed both tension and relaxation within a certain skill. Tight tuck = Tension. Opening up = Relaxation. In addition, it was a way of changing the speed and rhythm within a skill. Tight tuck = fast. Opening up = Slowing down.

Ergo, rhythm requirement = fulfilled.

What is harmony?

Heck if I know. The FIG had a Fokin confusing definition of harmony:

"Transition from one part of the exercise to another forms an agreement which equals a curved-like line corresponding to the character of both parts. This line is short as far as movement is concerned. It becomes more pronounced when tow parts of slower rhythm, or larger movements which are pronounced, follow one another."
A bell curve? Really?

As you can see, within the FIG, there's a long tradition of bombastic, pedantic prose. Grandi wasn't the first, and he probably won't be the last.

Again, if I may ventriloquize on behalf of Arthur Gander, the man who wrote this definition… The term "harmony" was a way of discussing the transition from one skill to another. The judges wanted to see smooth transitions between skills. If a gymnast were to perform two slow skills back to back, he needed a smooth, slow transition between the two elements. If the gymnast were to perform two fast skills back to back, he could have a faster transition between the two. "Awkward gymnastics," as Gander called it, was defined by "hasty" transitions from one element to another.

In other words, by 1968's standards, the lion's share of today's floor routines are "awkward." Tumbling pass, quick turn, tumbling pass, quick turn--those are "hasty" transitions, and ultimately, that's what the nostalgists decry on the gymternet.

So, rhythm and harmony were the components of artistry?

Not really. While gymnastics fans have come to define artistry in terms of harmony (i.e. the non-acrobatic skills that link tumbling passes), that was not the 1968 definition of artistry. Artistry was wrapped up in the idea of virtuosity and personal expression (very 1960s of them):

"Virtuosity applies to the area of execution. There are virtuosos in all areas of art, in music, in rhetoric, in dancing, in gymnastics, etc. The virtuoso exhibits an unusual talent for artistic execution. A musician becomes a virtuoso when his brilliance rises above the level of technical accomplishment and so deeply impresses us that our very souls are moved. To do this, he must put his own soul into his work. A dancer shows his virtuosity when he, in his presentation, is able to express his virtuosity with lightness and superiority in movement so that, although driven to maximum exertion, the impression exists that he has yet to fully extend himself. It is similar in the case of gymnastics… He is able to capture the souls of the spectators and to fill their hearts with joy."

Of all the definitions, this one is the easiest to understand. In other words, artistry was a question of:

  • How someone performs a skill. Mainly:
    • Whether it seemed like the performance came from the person's soul
    • Whether the audience felt impacted.
  • In other words, artistry was, in one word, subjective

And therein lies the problem of artistry: Artistry, by definition, is subject to personal tastes, and taste is not universal. It's incredibly individualistic. So, one floor routine might touch my soul, but it might not touch your soul. One floor routine might be artistic in my mind, but it might not be artistic in your mind. How can you judge artistry?

Unfortunately, that was not the only problem with the 1968 Code of Points.

On the one hand, the Men's Technical Committee sought virtuosic performances with exquisite execution. On the other hand, they valued risk-takers, and for those who took exceptional amounts of risk, they made exceptions for their execution. There was a rule called the "possibility for leniency" rule:

"Combination deductions for optional exercises with especially risky connections or parts, or parts which show special originality should be judged less severely than optional exercises without risk and originality. This is true in the all around competition and partly true in the finals."

This rule may or may not still be in effect today…

The 1968 Code of Points went into effect in 1969. Unfortunately, there aren't many floor routines on YouTube from this time period. Here's one of the few routines that I found:

When it comes to "harmonious transitions," a good example pops up before Sawao Kato's second tumbling pass. Out of his back extension roll, Sawao Kato gently lowers his feet down to the ground, and before slowly gliding into his roundoff, Kato slowly circles his arms. (Slow movement to slow transition to slow movement.)

Regarding rhythm changes within a certain skill, you can see a rhythm change in Kato's back extension roll, which shoots up quickly and then pauses, accenting the handstand. Additionally, you see a change of rhythm in his slow back walkover. It starts with a slow arch back, and then, he hops quickly from his hands to his back, changing the rhythm and accenting the fall to his back.

As far as virtuosic artistry is concerned, I'll let you decide for yourself. Were you moved by this performance? Did you feel like Sawao Kato was performing from his soul?


Related links:

The Evolution of Artistry in Men's Gymnastics: 1964

1 comment:

  1. I love Kato's routine. I'd much rather watch that than modern routines. If I just want to see great tumbling, I can watch a tumbling competition. I love the interesting transitions, the originality, the flow of the routine. I don't think my soul was moved, but it does make me happy watching it!