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How GOOD are your Acro safety instincts?

I have come to realize recently that some aspects of acro safety are dependent very much on instincts...

This may seem obvious to some degree, but I want to explain deeper what I mean by this, and also explain how you can actually train and build up your safety instincts.

In the past months Laura and I have been taking several skills out of spots, and in some training sessions, we have even tried some new skills that we've never attempted before immediately without a spotter.

Firstly, I don't necessarily recommend this for everyone, but I wanted to explain how we've been able to do that.

Just the other day for example we tried a whip-pop tarzan to whale. 

We have done whip pops to throne and others before, but never attempted to whale, and we decided we could try it directly without spotters.

The attempts were messy and all over the place, but in every one it was safe, I would catch what I could and slow the fall, and Laura would roll, brace or resist where needed.

So how did we know this would be okay?

Well, it's because of our inbuilt instincts for safety that we both have now, and the confidence we have in that.

At this point in our practice, our experience and understanding of how things can go wrong, how we can catch and resist, and slow a fall down, give us a good gauge of if we can keep something safe or not.

So when approaching a new skill like the tarzan to whale whip-pop, I felt very confident I would be able to catch and keep the skill safe, and Laura also communicated that she felt safe doing the skill too.

Our communication and trust has gotten to a point that when one of us expresses something like this we don't second guess or question it.

Of course we both need to be in agreement and both feel a yes, but there is no doubting the other persons yes.

My reflections on how to build these safety instincts is based off of my own experiences and growth in acro:

It's hard to explain because it's a feeling and a confidence, but nowadays I just can feel or know that I can keep certain things safe in acro.

I know both the theory of what to do, but more importantly than that I know with confidence that my body has the right instincts to react in the split seconds of a fall.

I think to get to this point takes obviously a certain amount of experience...

I've thrown enough icarians and pops and dynamic acro skills now, a lot with Laura, but with many other flyers too, and there've been many falls, many catches, a lot of learning. 

So I am now used to all the many different ways things can happen dynamically.

So experience is one factor, that means building your experience in similar skills or aspects of acro.

You can be proactive in building your experience, but it will also just happen naturally over time as you practice certain things.

But the other part of the equation is building the instincts.

You might have a lot of experience doing icarians, but if it's always with spotters or crash mats, and you don't practice the ways things can go wrong, the exit strategies, and drill some of the correct instinct responses.

Then you might not react in the best way when something unexpected happens in the split seconds in the middle of an icarian for example.

I recommend building instincts from the ground up.

When we teach an intro to pops or icarians workshop we often cover some aspects of safety like flyers falling and rolling, and bases blocking and slowing a fall.

You can start small in just pops, where the flier or base intentionally misses a hand or leg on the catch, or the flier can lose balance in one direction.

These exercises seem a bit lame and boring at first, but if you repeat them a few times in each session, and then increase the difficulty progressively (e.g. throw an icarian but purposely throw in a direction out of line, and then try and save it.) you will really begin to build the right instinct response.

This is in my opinion an overlooked area of practicing acro, we are so focussed on the tricks and getting them that it's not interesting to spend a lot of time purposefully practicing the trick going wrong.

The other major benefit of this in my experience is that it helps to overcome fears!

If you have a fear of falling backwards in an icarian pop to throne for example, my best encouragement to get over that fear is for the flier to practice rolling backwards, and to practice the base lowering and resisting the flyers fall backwards.

Then to practice purposefully falling back with control from throne, and eventually purposefully pop and over rotate and fall backwards.

By building this up gradually over a few sessions, your body will learn the correct instinctual reaction, and by doing it progressively it will slowly increase confidence and remove the fear.

This can eventually become so liberating to feel no fear in certain skills and feel utter confidence that you can keep them safe!

A few additional notes I'd like to finish with are:

1. This applies in all levels and skills in acro.

It's good to build the right safety habits even at the beginner level with learning how to safely fall out of basic poses.

And at the higher levels of standing dynamics (where the risks are bigger, so it's in some ways more obvious) but keeping in mind the approach to take skills progressively out of lines and practice the different ways they can go wrong and drill the right instincts as a result.

2. Don't rush this process.

If you rush the drills you may not have built enough experience or the right instincts.

And if something goes wrong it can create more fear and set you further back in some ways.

So give it time and take the approach of a little and often.

3. This doesn't diminish the importance of spotting.

Using spotters to allow you to practice the falls and exits with some assistance and extra safety is highly recommended.

And don't be afraid or too proud to bring spotters back in even if you've taken them away in a skill.

We have done this many times where we have taken a skill out of spots, but then we want to change a technique in it or try something different and it feels better to reintroduce a spotter so we can really focus on the technique change and commit to it without as much fear of something going wrong.

And lastly I'll finish with this final point...

Building good safety instincts will make you a favourite acro person to play with, or will make your partner appreciate you even more.

It feels so good to play with a base or flyer that knows how to keep themselves and you safe in the practice, it's super empowering and gives you that security to try and dare a bit more!

I can think of so many examples of great acroyogis who have this, and it's always a joy to acro with them :)

Catch you next week!


Acro Safety Instincts


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