Mastery of Technique


There's an old proverb that reads, "Perfect practice makes perfect."

I think that's false.

Mastery is facilitated by MINDFUL PRACTICE, not perfect practice.

And what's perfect practice anyway? And how would you practice anything perfectly (meaning, without any shortcomings at all)? Such a thing makes no sense to me.

To engage in mindful practice, on the other hand, is to approach practice in an entirely different way. A mindful practitioner (herein "MP") works tirelessly to create an atmosphere wherein mistakes are not just tolerated, but encouraged. An MP will, with great abandon, run toward mistakes and seek to make as many of them as quickly as possible. Why? Because he's learned the value of a mistake and of what it can teach him—if he'll let it.

Take Thomas Edison, for example. Even though Edison is credited with inventing the light bulb, he wasn't its true inventor. In fact, the light bulb was probably invented at least 20 years before Edison was born. The problem, though, was no one could make one burn long enough to make it worth manufacturing. That is, until Edison came along and discovered a carbonized bamboo filament that could glow for nearly 1,200 hours before burning-out. Before his "successful discovery," Edison "failed" about a thousand times to come up with a viable filament. In responding to his critics, he was heard to have said something to the effect of, "Gentlemen, I haven't failed in my task. I've just discovered successfully a thousand ways to not make a light bulb." Like Edison, an MP is neither defeated nor shamed by his mistakes. On the contrary, he's formed and forged by them. Such an approach, especially in the practice of martial arts or any physical discipline, requires you to slow down and work diligently on just one aspect of the technique at a time. It requires also that you practice the technique while at the same time doing your utmost to judge its execution objectively, constructively, and light-heartedly. Provided below is an example of how I approach my own practice.

Prior to working on a technique (for example, the right round kick), I tell myself the technique I’m going to throw: right round kick. Since nearly every technique I throw is target centric, I identify also the primary target at which I'm going to throw it: the outside edge of my opponent's leading thigh. I then "practice" stepping out of the way and letting the move just rip forth on its own. I do this in waves of three repetitions at a time. After the third rep, I stop and evaluate what I liked about the performance, how it all felt (both physically and emotionally), and what I'd like to improve upon during the next wave. In terms of areas for improvement, I limit my focus to just one or two things (for example, I might tell myself, "Relax, Dave, and allow your whole body to just whip itself through your target. Relax. Be a whip."). Once I identify what I want to work on, I go to work executing another wave of three reps and then repeat the above, sometimes over and over and over again. All told, I've probably thrown nearly 200,000 right round kicks; and every time I throw one (even now), I identify something I want to improve upon.

Have I mastered it yet? Meaning, have I mastered the right round kick? No (not even close).

Will I ever master it? Probably not.

Does that bother me? No.

Interestingly, the older I get (and the more mindfully practiced I become), the less and less I care about mastery for mastery's sake. As paradoxical as this might read, mastery of technique requires you to no longer care if you master it or not. Mastery, as I've come to understand it, requires a lostness of myself in the event, where I make everything about the move, and where the move itself becomes no longer about me or about how well I'm executing it or about my opponent (real or imagined) or even about hoped-for end-results. In the masterful execution of a technique, you and everything involved become the unfolding event itself.

Where are you, Dave?, the old sage (Socrates from Peaceful Warrior) might ask.

Here, I say.

What time is it?

Now.

What are you?

This moment...

 

IKIGAI Weekly Blog Schedule (per The Training Trinity):

Mondays: Meditative Prayer

Wednesdays: Holistic Discipline

Fridays: Martial Arts Practice

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