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Houdini Swimming

(Or, WOW! How'd He Do That?)

Originally written as an e-mail response to Stacy Warren who never fails to get my creative juices flowing.

When I go to watch a magician, I can, for a short time, willingly suspend my disbelief and be entertained. After that I’m all caught up in trying to figure out how the “illusions” (commonly referred to as “tricks” or “gimmicks” within the trade) are performed. I liken it to watching a world class athlete in motion. You can sit there and marvel at the grace and fluidity that marks his effortless body flow in seemingly impossible (for mere mortals) exploits. But once you are impressed, it seems natural to want find out what separates us from them. And it usually boils down to years of learning and untold hours of diligent and intense (and often unique) preparation.

Magicians are no different. By spending the majority of their waking hours learning to control their hands, learning about the psychology of attention and misdirection, learning about the physics of smoke and mirrors and tiny cramped places, learning how many places around the human body where intradermal pouches can be created (Houdini had developed over 40 places around his body where he could hide a keys, wires, lock picks, cards or other objects under his skin), learning about sightlines and visual perspectives, learning about rabbits and elephants and saws and swords and top hats and magic wands....the magician learns to hide the effort and mechanics and preparation. A well-rehearsed act shows only the highly refined tip of the magician’s iceberg.

What I find truly impressive about “real” magic is the extraordinary lengths the illusionist goes to in an effort to elicit the “WOW — How’d he do that?” response. A bit like the athlete whose performance becomes just that much more impressive once you know what all went into getting the final performance result — that little piece of the athlete’s whole endeavor. v

© H2Ouston Swims, Inc. 2000

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Emmett Hines is Director and Head Coach of H2Ouston Swims. He has coached competitive Masters swimming in Houston since 1981, was a Senior Coach for Total Immersion Swim Camps for many years, holds an American Swim Coaches Association Level 5 Certification, was selected as United States Masters Swimming’s Coach of the Year in 1993 and received the Masters Aquatic Coaches Association Lifetime Achievement Award in 2002. He recently overhauled his popular book, Fitness Swimming (Human Kinetics, publishers) and the second edition was released mid-2008. Fitness Swimming has been published in French (entitled Natation, pub. by Vigot), Spanish (entitled Natacion, pub. by Hispano Europea), Chinese (entitled Jianshenyouyong), Portuguese (Natacao Para Condicionamento Fisico, pub. by Manole)  and, soon, in Turkish and Italian. Currently Coach Hines coaches the H2Ouston Swims Masters group in Houston, TX and works privately with many clients. He can be reached for questions or comments at 713-748-SWIM or via email.

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