Scratching out figure eights for up to four hours a week was not my idea of a good time. However, when we skated patch, our arena was so quiet you should hear a skate rivet drop. The only conversation allowed was between the coach and the skater with a lesson. Otherwise, the eights being etched and the scribe that grazed the ice were the only sounds. Of course, there was the odd person blowing their nose, sneezing or whispering “psst … blah blah … what time is?”
Those patch sessions, where our hands froze and our noses ran unmercifully, were so peaceful in hindsight. It was almost meditative, when you think about it. To do compulsory figures, we needed a strong core, body aligned and mind engaged. You literally concentrate on nothing but the circle. No corners, no straight lines. It’s a round, redundant circle. Higher up, sprinkle in a rocker or bracket, but it’s still traced to resemble a headless snowman.
For a lark, I recently borrowed a book from the library called “Figure it Out,” by Nina Stark-Slapnik, published before figures were eradicated from competition. It’s basically a workbook and it lays out all the figures under the ISU [International Skating Union]. The book claims a skater can improve their figures with practice, a pencil and a piece of paper.
There’s even a form at the back of the book for a skater to have their coach complete so the skater can receive a certificate.
At my second Regionals, I learned the pencil trick. You put pencil to paper and visualize yourself on the ice, and draw a short axis, which is the short line between the two figure eights. Now push off. I would trace the figure three times, and then axis out. I don’t know if it actually helped me or not.
I didn’t have the concentration to zone in on a curved line for an hour at a time. When I first started figures, I used the pin-dropping quiet time to daydream, rather than carve out a possible test-ready figure [sorry Mom and Dad]. While it appeared I etched out figures, I was going through my free skate program in my head. I always omitted the single jumps for doubles and triples, and received a standing ovation at the end. During patch, no one would bother you or talk to you – unless they needed a tissue. One time I was so deep in thought, when it was time for my lesson, I actually jumped when my coach appeared in front of me.
She commented it was good to see such strong concentration. I just smiled.
So, yes, I really do miss compulsory figures. Just to feel the ice running under my blade, carving out a figure eight for one-hour, hearing edges and nothing else. I miss that sound, and that silence. I think that should be mandatory.