Complexity and Creativity

Gosh, it has been a long time between posts and I can’t decide whether it’s due to being immersed in work, or being partially lazy. I feel like there are grounds for a new word to be developed that covers this feeling….. something like labzy, or busly….. maybe even procrastibusy, but I digress, as always in these blogs.

Complexity and creativity…..

This blog builds on an earlier one “Zen and the Art of Route Setting” which ironically I use the same excuse for delayed blog entries…….Go figure.

Jordyn Damasco working it out at Boulderwelt Ost in Munich. Another great example of some thoughtful creativity

I have been lucky enough to have travelled a great deal this year already, around the nation for some events, social and official, as well as other route setting forays at new and existing facilities. It has been so exciting watching climbing explode in Sydney and it seems set to do the same thing in Melbourne. I have been sitting on videos of both National youth and the Japan world cup that I will endeavour to finish editing and release as soon as I can. And I really have no excuse as I have just begun a 7 week trip in Europe with the Australian climbing team, both youth and Opens.

This travel has recently provided me with a very interesting view of route setting both at home and abroad, which, as you may have guessed, is an interest of mine. One of the recent moments of revelation came visiting B-Pump in Tokyo (Ogikubo). I realised a few simple and important things about route setting. Now granted, this is an opinion piece, I have not done any research here, but through observation and experience, I have developed some ideas…… Which may or may not sit well with you.

Creativity and Complexity reign supreme. Now, this may seem simple enough, but the ramifications are, well, complex. This idea comes from one major observation, where people climbing recreationally get the most excited and obsessed about climbs they are ‘close’ to. Which really translates to: “physically possible for me, but I just need everything to go right”. Which means there is something that they cognitively or physically need to ‘figure out’.

Some Ogikubo class displayed by Yossi and Sam at this year’s Open team training after the Japan World Cup

So, if it takes you longer to put the holds on the wall than it does to come up with the idea of what to do…… you’re not trying hard enough. In Ogikubo, they spent 3 days re-setting their central pillar, some 20-30 boulders. Each one was a technical marvel. Complex, creative, enjoyable, varied at each grade, really an immense achievement. Now sure, you may not be in a position to input this kind of man-hours into your product, but then, if you never do, you probably never will. Which means you will probably always be the Kmart of climbing gyms. Quantity over quality. Not necessarily a terrible thing, I mean, people love Kmart, but even when they love Kmart they would probably prefer to buy Gucci, it’s just out of their price range. Not that I think Gucci is particularly good really, it’s just a metaphor ok.

So in practical terms, if you’re a gym and you want to add some real creativity and complexity to your product, the kind of stuff that people really get addicted to, tell their friends about, but you can really only afford Kmart. Pick 3 boulders in your set and spend the time to make them Gucci. Then, after them, fill in the grade blanks with Kmart, maybe with the extra time spent you have 1 or 2 fewer blocks…… but it is worth it. Even if you don’t hit the mark the first time, or second time, or third time, your setters will practise and learn and fail and learn some more and the quality of the product will improve. The complexity and creativity will rise because you are supporting them with time and value in their work. You are taking away the excuse of, “I could have if I had more time” and you are replacing it with, “show me what you got”.

The other thing I discovered while climbing at B-pump, a little more practical and tangible, is this: Good route setting, really good route setting, is all about feet. If your feet aren’t right you fail. This is key. Now, this doesn’t mean that that campus proj in the roof should be stripped, it’s cool, you can leave it, but it’s training, it’s not ‘good’ setting, it’s not really even route setting, just like you don’t call putting up the campus rungs, or the moon board ‘route setting’ right? Put on a hold, then do something with your feet and body so you can reach or use the next hold. This is climbing, this is movement, this is route setting. Creativity and Complexity are masters in climbing, everything else is just exercise.

Stay tuned for the next one. I have some time so hopefully, I will run out of excuses and actually get some of them written! Oh and if you are ever in Tokyo, do yourself a favour and check out B-pump Ogikubo.