Zen and the Art of the Shot Put

Putting a 12-pound shot of iron onto a 34 degree sector really isn't so difficult. It requires a bit of strength, and a bit of form. The requisite strength is virtually inchoate to even the slightest pubescent frame; the form is learned easily enough. So why do people slave under weight sets, ghost throw in the summer heat, and study tens of hours of tape, just to compete in the shot put? Because, like any art, the shot put is a part of its agent's person, and to master the shot put is to master a function of one's self.

To the untrained eye, the shot put might seem like a graceless, vulgar motion. The putter cradles the shot to his neck; sets himself into either a high squat or a low slouch; launches himself across the circle painted onto the ground, into a foot board, tossing the shot as far as he possibly can. But the shot put is, in fact, when done properly, a coordinated, extraordinarily considerate effort. There are a number of precise motions that need to be mechanized, points of balance that need to focused upon, positions that the body must assume, before a shot can be successfully put forth -- in competition, or in practice. When a putter steps into the circle, he must first locate himself, and position his feet. For some, this requires walking across the circle, touching the foot board with a foot, turning around, and pacing into position. For others, it is just to proprioceive the feet as opposite the center of the foot board. One way or the other, this method is utterly scientific. Then comes the balance. The putter must lower himself in preparation for his first motion: A rotational thrower will squat, legs shoulder width apart, feet forward, with his torso meeting the lap at a 75 degree angle, while a lateral thrower will balance the whole of his weight over the flat of his dominant foot, bending that leg at the knee, staggering his free foot back, and aligning his upper body with the leg of the staggered foot -- all whilst leaning as far over his forward foot as he possibly can. And then for the launch! The spinner will throw his dominant leg over the other, penetrating deep into the circle lengthwise without rotating his hips more than 270 degrees, planting that foot as a pivot, and then rotating backwards over it about 180 degrees, this time planting the other leg 200 degrees in for optimal hip rotation on the execution of the throw... God damn, I'm sick of writing this description already, and I'm only on the foot placement of the spin! Do you get it? After you master the foot placement of a rotational throw, you still have to learn to manage the speed of your rotation, the placement of your hips... and, oh, don't forget about holding and balancing that 12 pound chunk of metal mounted by one hand on your neck in the midst of all of this. There's just a lot to putting a shot properly!

Obviously, the most important method of learning to put a shot is practice. Whole afternoons of practice. Whole seasons of practice. But with practice and improvement, focus also needs to be improved. When I throw, I meditate. I breathe, in through my nose, out through my mouth, inhaling for four seconds, holding for seven, releasing for eight. I close my eyes. Visualize the perfect throw. Find the center of my mass, feel that cherry-pit sized center sitting six inches deep in my body, just above my groin. I know all of the moves! Those just take time. But what about settling my mind so that I can do them all in order, and time them properly in the .63 seconds that it takes for the shot to leave my hand? Nothing short of absolute spiritual suspension will do.