Federer, Nadal and War and Peace
About ten years ago a friend of mine was talking about Rafael Nadal, which surprised me as she had no interest in sport. But she had an interest in Alexander Technique, and wasn’t surprised Nadal was injured. ‘Civil war’ was her phrase. He was at war with himself, always trying to impose his will upon his body, forcing it to act in the ways he demanded. And that way injury lies. This was contrasted with Roger Federer, who seemed at ease with himself. He was working with his body, relying on grace and poise to produce the strength and mobility.I was reminded of this recently watching the Australian Open. Federer won the tournament (graceful as always, and at the age of 36 years and 173 days the second-oldest winner of a grand slam singles title) while Nadal retired hurt with a hip injury.
A house divided against itself cannot stand
So while Nadal’s approach clearly produces incredible tennis, I’d say it also produces great strain on his body. FM Alexander wrote about this over a hundred years ago. He said that if we would only learn to use our bodies efficiently, then there would be “no question of what we have termed ‘civil war’” within the body – rather, “the whole physical machinery” would be “coordinated and adapted” to our way of life. The more we aim for co-ordination, the healthier. The more we force, the more damage we do.
Alexander did talk a little about sport in this regard. He used to say that "Bradman had the capability of seeing a cricket ball as clearly as most people see a football and, remarkably, he was able to take two decisions about how to play the shot in the time between the ball pitching in front of him and rising to the bat”. And if Bradman "failed to connect with a ball even on a big occasion, he’d just say to himself, ‘Oh, I was too slow for that one!’ There was no emotional upset or deep introspection about whether he’d be able to play the next ball – an attitude he considered quite normal, but one which , to his surprise, was not evident amongst his fellow players, who would often worry themselves into semi-paralysis about their form or lack of it.”
Civil war or personal peace
A personal civil war will come at a cost, and this war is not necessary or inevitable. Alexander Technique is one way to lessen the war and improve the coordination, and so find a more peaceful way to achieve the things we choose to achieve – whether that’s winning tennis grand slams, beating England in the cricket, cooking a great meal, playing a difficult piece of music, making a speech, or getting to work on time. Perhaps peace comes at a cost, too, as Harry Lime says in “The Third Man” – “In Switzerland, they had brotherly love, they had five hundred years of democracy and peace – and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.” And now, Roger Federer.
Quotes are by Walter Carrington and Sean Carey from "Explaining the Alexander Technique : The Writings of F.M. Alexander"
Bradley Newman teaches the Alexander Technique in Sydney. For more information see firstname.lastname@example.org .or email Bradley on