Ottawa·Cool with Cold

Test your strength with this traditional Inuit game, the kneel jump

Cool with Cold is a CBC Ottawa series highlighting people in this city who’ve found creative ways to embrace the season. Today, we meet a father teaching his son a traditional Inuit winter game that strengthens both the core and the community.

'If the ice started to crack, we'd know how to get up,' explains 15-year-old Damian Kigutaq Metcalfe

Learn to compete in the traditional Inuit sport of kneel jump

1 year ago
Duration 2:28
'Inuit were traditionally nomads. We needed to be physically fit in order to survive,' explains Stranger.

Winter is a difficult time for many, particularly during a pandemic. Cool with Cold is a CBC Ottawa series highlighting people in this city who've found creative ways to embrace the season, safely.

Click here to meet a family bringing Mongolian knucklebone back, a woman teaching her kids to make a candy that's best enjoyed below freezing, or to discover why birding is better in winter.

On a bitterly cold day in Ottawa with a windchill of –24, 15-year-old Damian Kigutaq Metcalfe and his father, who goes by the name Stranger, stay warm by perfecting a move used in chilly weather for generations. 

"The kneel jump was a game played by Inuit to make sure that when they were ice fishing, and if the ice started to crack, we'd know how to get up before the ice cracked under our feet," explained Metcalfe, who has become passionate about the traditional Inuit knowledge he's learned from his father.

For the past decade, Stranger has taught kids in Ottawa schools about Inuit culture and games, including the kneel jump — a game still played played both for fun, and to increase strength and endurance. 

Kneel jumpers compete to leap forward the farthest from the starting line. (Francis Ferland/CBC)

It's also among the sports played at the Arctic Winter Games, showcasing athletes from across the North. Other Arctic sports include high kicks, the one-hand reach, the head pull and knuckle hop. 

"Inuit were traditionally nomads, and so we needed to be physically fit in order to survive," said Stranger, adding that surviving also meant enduring months of subzero temperatures.

"We have snow in the Arctic on the ground 10 months out of the year, almost all year round," he noted. 

'We know it’s cold, so why fight it?' asks Stranger, right. (Francis Ferland/CBC)

How to do the kneel jump

To perform the kneel jump, the first step is to crouch on the ground in a kneeling position, feet flat behind you. This position is most comfortable and increases blood flow to the toes, Stranger said.

"Inuit are on the ice for up to three days, so your feet have to be flat, because if they aren't, you could get frostbite in your toes," Metcalfe added. 

Next, the players must jump from their knees to their feet without swinging their arms for momentum, all while propelling themselves forward. 

"You have to land on your feet. The objective is to get as far as you can," said Metcalfe. 

The distance you travel is measured from a jumping line, similar to a long jump in track and field. Metcalfe said he can travel about 30 centimetres, while his father can go about twice that. 

Damian Kigutaq Metcalfe, 15, shows off his kneel jumping technique. (Francis Ferland/CBC)

Stronger core, stronger community 

Like many Inuit games, the kneel jump activates the body's core muscles. 

"The stronger your core is, the more grounded you are," said Stranger. "In a way, the games are about knowing your own body and knowing what your body can do."

'If you land properly with both of your heels on the ground and keep your balance, then you measure from whatever back heel is closest to the beginning jumping line,' explains Stranger. (Francis Ferland/CBC)

Although the game is competitive, Stranger said the goal isn't for players to dominate each other — it's more about helping the community as a whole.

"The stronger that we can make the community, then the easier it is for the individual to survive. I want to make sure that every person in my community is as strong as they can be, and that makes my survival that much more guaranteed," he said. 

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