Life Filled with Poetry
“A talented person, is talented in all” – wrote
Lion Feuchtwanger. That does apply well to Jacob Smushkin, a
professional figure skating and hockey trainer. His work demands the
presence of a constant creative spirit, without it, he risks to turn
from a pioneer to a simple artisan.
For more than a half a century of activity, Jacob
never betrayed his principles of originality and innovation. The
results speak for themselves, while still being in USSR he defended a
scientific thesis, published a few books and his figure-skating
trainees held the highest posts in podiums. That is why the name Jacob
Smushkin is rightfully described in the recently published in Russian
guide as the “Who is who of Russian figure skating”.
Here, out west, he was forced to start again from
scratch. Immigration did not break him, on the contrary. Escaping from
the shackles of the soviet system, Jacob as if gained a “second wind”.
Through hard work, bad luck, disappointments, the only thing left
permanent was his thirst for creating, belief in himself and the
unwillingness to sit twiddling one's thumbs, waiting for a miracle. As
a result, thirty some years later, the name Dr. Smushkin, became in a
sense a quality mark in the North-American hockey. Among his students
are NHL players, winners of many prestigious tournaments, and his chain
of hockey schools in Canada, USA and Sweden enjoys an outgoing
However, this article does not come to discuss the
sport regalia of Jacob, but what was for many years his secret second
passion, poetry. Exactly that is what long-time ago became a constant
companion for the honored trainer. It helps him to express in words all
that is experienced in seventy-four years of life, all which was
thought of, endured and cherished with love in the very depth of his
heart. “It is an incomparable feeling,” said Jacob, “when inspiration
strikes and thoughts are splashed on paper. It is an elevation of the
soul. I worship that state!”
Part of his poetry is autobiographic. Here you can
discover the hungry war childhood of a simple boy from Moscow, episodes
from the Soviet reality and sketches of the “western life”. You can
find poems that are reflective, full of philosophical content and
wisdom of a person who saw a great deal in his life. As well as lyric
poetry dedicated to that only woman that in the evening of life became
his guiding star.
Here are just a few examples of the work of Jacob
Imagine yourself Moscow, the year is 1941… Fear,
cold, uncertainty, and in the midst of it all a eleven-year old
An athlete-runner I
became at war
and siren yelled I run fast
Scared, as if
I was a caged beast
quickly, to hide from the blast.
After a few
months of such training
that it was not the fear, but the thrill
appeared suddenly, without warning,
piercing howl commands “begin!”
I felt as if
I was a champion
When I was
the first to go,
running tracks of loud halls,
that saving door.
It was war, as Jacob said himself, that
brought-up those qualities in him which helped him, in his life after,
to fight and perpetually reach his goals. War, as paradoxical as that
sounds, was a good servant. War covered him with problems over his
head, from which a fifteen year-old teenager came-out a grown man,
strengthened by his daily fight for survival. Any hardships that one
can face in his life, can either destroy him, or make him stronger. To
Jacobs credit be said, that he belongs to the kind of people which will
not break under any circumstances. When in the future choosing the
profession of a trainer, he made the effort to install that important
quality in his students.
On ice life
is different, there are different rules and laws,
There is no
bureaucratic hassle or despair
There is no
police, no road signs or stop lights,
Here all is equal
On ice I can live
listening to my heart
Teach my students
as I can and know.
physics, no limitations
For those who are
willing to work hard and learn.
At skating rinks
all over the world
baby-birds I raised
Strong and proud
eagles and howls
Who now see me as
their second dad.
“The Ice Country” helped to develop in Jacob
all that was given to him by nature. It helped him to find his real
destiny, and has given him the chance to fulfill himself. Here, in the
world of free-sliding, far from sport-unrelated petty quarrels and
hassle, Jacob was able to feel himself as a real creator. He was lucky
to maximally detach himself from the system, as though neutralize
himself from its decaying influence - he was a teacher, a mentor,
an enlightener to his pupils, but he never mixed “big sport” with
politics. It helped him to remain truly free.
The Soviet Union of the sixties and seventies… those
who remember those times understand how highly professional one should
have been, being a non-party Jew, to hold a high port in the sport
hierarchy, publish his own books, and even simply working in a chosen
profession. President of the Moscow Trainers Board of The Federation of
Figure Skating, Vice President of The Trainers Board of All-Union
Federation, an expert consultant for the USSR league, author of the
books “Figure Skating” and “The Art of Figure Skating” – all that is
Jacob Smushkin. And despite of it all, a pathfinder, an innovator, an
outsider, a person despising authority and retaining his free spirit,
at all times.
It was the thirst for freedom, as the desire for
fresh air in a crowded smoky room, which pushed Jacob to immigrate in
the beginning of the seventies.
I couldn’t be
In my country of
There, I, a
and limits had.
I was left indeed
But to forever
leave my stepmother-land,
Make my way to
And build my life
I became a
Laying the way for
other sportsmen like me.
I became the
champion, and as my prize
I got not a medal,
not a cup, but destiny.
…And there was hard work, a long way to recognition and success,
but talent, hard work and determination did their part. “Yasha from
Russia” climber the North-American hockey Olympus.
He invented “Gym on Ice” – a special combination of
gymnastic exercises on ice, which contribute to the development of
hockey skillfulness. He write three books, dedicated to the mastery of
hockey. Those books became manuals for whole constellation of
athletes in the world. He organized a chain of sports
schools in Canada, USA and Sweden in which his special methodic is being
taught. He teaches his students, that in the basis of the highest
athletic achievement leys “the ability to think, understand quickly,
think sharply, and create well”. Creation, creation,
and again, creation. In everything and all the time. A motto of a
restless mater. In that motto leys also the secret of his youth.
However, his recipe for a the elixir of youth would not be complete if
we forget to mention without one ingredient – love. Age does not
control true feeling. In the evening of his life, God granted Jacob
with that one and only which you wait for, at time, all your life.
I am twice your
And your ways I so
So the age I do
With you, my youth
With you, life
begins once more.
I write poems, I
do not sleep at night,
The music in my
heart is louder then before.
What else does a person need to be happy? A
work that gives him pleasure and fulfills his potential, a beloved and
a loving woman by his side and an insatiable interest for life, in all
Recently a book was published in Toronto, called “Smushkinisms”, which
included his “life plot”, sketches, and philosophical reflections about
Man, Creation and Love. In addition, a separate part dedicated to
aphorisms, short, meaningful phrases, holding wisdom, wittiness and a
lifelong experience of that remarkable person.
All those who are interested to know how to stay
young at such respectable age, and also those who can’t stay
indifferent to poetry will find interest in that book. “Smushkinisms”
are available at Russian book stores, and also by that number (416)
Read the works of Jacob Smushkin, and feel by yourself the vivifying
charge of his love for life, optimism and kindness.
various Toronto Russian Community newspapers)