Ice Network

Hamada stresses importance of basics, simplicity

Japanese coach tells students: 'See the music and hear the movement'
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Mie Hamada celebrates with student Marin Honda after the skater's third-place finish in the short program at the 2015 Junior Grand Prix Final. -Getty Images

Mie Hamada is one of the leading skating coaches in Japan. She brought three skaters to Barcelona: Marin Honda and Yuna Shiraiwa, who qualified for the junior final, and 2015 world silver medalist Satoko Miyahara, who competes in the senior final. Between two practice sessions, she talked to icenetwork about her views on coaching and the impact of skating in Japan.

Icenetwork: How long have you been working with your students?

Hamada: Since they were little, actually. I took Satoko when she was 7, Marin when she was 8 and Yuna when she was 6, I think. I take my children from elementary school to the senior ranks. I am rather busy, but I still manage to give classes. I have class once a week and teach children, beginners. I really like it.

Icenetwork: How would you compare them?

Hamada: Marin has several brothers and sisters, and one of her sisters is a very famous actress. [Marin] is only 14 but is already very independent from her parents. She likes to feel the music. She likes to perform. Yuna is an athlete, whereas Marin is an artist.

Icenetwork: How do you explain the incredible success of Japanese skating?

Hamada: Our culture requires a very strong discipline. This is very important for us, and a great help. In any other country, things would be harder to control. Children have so many interests outside of skating nowadays: fashion, all kinds of games, games on television. Nowadays, it's very difficult to have them concentrate on one sport.

Icenetwork: Is it not the same in Japan?

Hamada: It is. But at the same time, Japanese love skating, thanks to great champions like Mao [Asada] and Daisuke [Takahashi] and Yuzuru [Hanyu], and many others. They have drawn many fans to skating. We have huge audiences and numerous skating shows. This has enhanced the skaters' motivation. It's such a nice experience to skate in front of thousands of people. It has provided a strong motivation to the skaters' parents, too.

Coming back to what makes Japanese skating so successful, I must say also that we, Asians, have that compact body that helps in jumps and flexibility.

Icenetwork: How do you manage to keep coaching your girls from childhood to adulthood, through their difficult teenage years and their body changes?

Hamada: As a coach, I don't see big changes, actually. I see that every day bears a little bit of development. Satoko works very hard every day, even though her body is changing. Because she is working so hard and is so committed, she can reset and adjust day after day to the change. I don't have any trouble there.

I must say also that the Causasian and the Asian people are quite different in that respect. The Caucasian bodies do change much more dramatically than the Asians'. We do have body changes, but they are not as big. Of course, this will depend on the person, but on average it will be that way.

Icenetwork: Coming back to discipline, how do you maintain a balance between being strict with your skaters and yet still being open enough to let them express themselves?

Hamada: First, you need to accept discipline, because you have to learn the basics. All my pupils have to learn the basics. That's the foundation, just like in classical ballet. They need to learn the steps, the technique, the jumps, body posture. Once they have acquired the basics, they can show their character. They may give their opinion. Yet, let me make it clear that expressing an opinion is not the same as selfishness. An opinion can't be: "I don't want to do this or that." Once the basics are known, then opinions may be expressed, but not selfishness.

If you work hard and well, you will have a good future. Our pupils know that. Lazy people only keep complaining, don't you think? If people want to achieve something and dream big, they need to work hard at it. If they don't, they will keep complaining that didn't reach their ambitions.

Satoko is wonderful. She expresses opinions but never any selfishness. She is a very nice girl to work with.

Icenetwork: Do you have a big team around you?

Hamada: I have a whole team with me at Kansai University: Yamato Tamura skated at the Nagano Olympics in 1998, and Haruko Okamoto skated at the Grenoble Olympics in 1968. Haruko teaches figures.

Icenetwork: You mean you still teach school figures in Japan?

Hamada: Yes, we do. Of course, we don't teach them the way they used to be taught in the old days, in the early mornings, on clean ice and watching tracings. But all children have to learn rockers and counters and brackets. We know that it is very important for their skating skills. They need figures for their edges and for their steps, but also for improving their upper-body posture...and to point their toe! In figures, you use your free leg as an anchor, and that's useful in free skating as well.

Icenetwork: Could you explain to us also how you work on expression? It is so different in the Western and the Japanese cultures.

Hamada: My daughter and my mom perform traditional Japanese dance, with costumes. In our culture, expression is not on the beat, like in Europe or America. Feelings are not outside but inside. Japanese are more calm. Sometimes it's hard to understand when you are not aware of it. Everything comes from the inside. Expression is within yourself; it has to be strong and calm at the same time.

It's just like a Japanese garden: You don't have huge trees and statues and fountains all over, as you do in Europe; you just have sand, and one stone. Everything is simple but beautiful. That's what I want my skaters to express in their skating: Be clean and calm and strong, so that the audience feels the pure beauty of your skating. Don't get distracted by too many things; just be there.

Icenetwork: How do you handle music?

Hamada: When I teach my skaters, I always ask them, "How do you feel about your music?" Music has to come from the heart. My words are always the same: "See the music and hear the movement." It's like my motto. When you hear the movement, then you can get a feel for its beauty. When you see the music, it means that you are expressing it.

Icenetwork: How did you learn your beautiful English?

Hamada: I was a national skater myself. I skated at nationals. I came to the United States for one year and stayed in California. I took from several coaches there.

I learned so many things I didn't know about skating in the U.S. There are still many (things) that I don't know, actually! But I did appreciate all my coaches who taught me that year. (laughs)