A Brief History of TI: Part 3 of 5
by Terry Laughlin

Posted on April 5th, 2011

1998-2002    TI Becomes a Way of Thinking About Swimming

By 1998, I’d begun to regularly encounter two surprising phenomena: First, workshop attendees who had studied martial arts (like aikido), movement disciplines (like yoga or Feldenkrais) and even dance or music often told us TI learning methods reminded them of their own discipline – while bearing little resemblance to their experience with conventional swimming approaches.  Second, people who’d read the TI book, or taken a workshop said “TI changed my life” or told us they’d developed a real passion for swimming. From this phase, two key ideas emerged:

Swimming is a Movement Art. Swimming had always been considered: (i) a lifesaving skill, (ii) a way to exercise, or (iii) a sport. It was also thought to have much in common with other endurance activities. But comments from such a diverse group suggested the possibility of something I’d never contemplated — that there could be universal principles underlying all skilled movement. Knowing that some martial arts had been practiced for thousands of years (while swim coaching went back only a few dozen years), I began studying them. Two books, in particular, expanded my consciousness.

The central lesson of Zen in the Art of Archery by Eugen Herrigel was contained in this sentence: “Zen archers don’t practice to shoot bullseyes; they practice for greater self-knowledge.”  Next I read Tao of Jeet Kune Do by Bruce Lee. I’d expected it to be a how-to manual for the specific techniques of his specialty, kung fu. Instead it proved to be a guide to a way of thinking about self-awareness and mastering a skill. TI began to consciously embody similar ideas soon after.

Swimming is a Practice. What we do while swimming has most often been described as a workout – I.E. something intended to work lungs and muscles.  In the late ‘90s we’d begun to favor the term practice. At first we meant “To improve a skill through studied  repetition.”  The books on Eastern philosophy used the term practice to infer a more expansive idea: “A path to personal growth and happiness.” The passion expressed by so many TI Swimmers confirmed that solving the challenge of swimming well offered such a path, along which one could experience moments of fulfillment, empowerment — even transcendence.

With these influences, TI began to metamorphose from a way of doing swimming to a way of thinking about swimming . . . and by extension, about life.

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