A few years ago, a friend asked me what I’d do if I had a million dollars. I didn’t have to think before answering – "I’d move to Okinawa, Japan to train under Grand Master, Morio Higaonna-Sensei". It was only later, that it dawned on me I didn't actually need a million dollars to pursue this dream...
So now here I am, living in a little apartment above a busy Japanese restaurant barely 2 minutes walk from Sensei's Honbu dojo. I've been training with him daily now for 6 months and decided it was finally time to start recording some of my experiences and "ah-haa!" moments.
Well, it's been a little quiet around here of late and one of my recent commentors pointed out that “writing is a discipline too" and one that “shouldn’t be neglected”. This is true. But, when life gets busy I think we sometimes have to choose between training and writing and for me training tends to come out on top.
The comment did make me stop and think though about 'staying power' and what it is that enables us to stick to the things we set out to do.
In Naha we had a dojo diary – a daily training log where students would record their names. "Dojo history" as Sensei calls it. This little book did have a funny way of talking to me. On the odd occasion when I'd miss a session, the blank line would have a peculiar way of making me feel guilty. But for the most part, the book and I were on good terms.
Sometimes I'd flip through the pages examining the handwriting and names – the ink sometimes smeared from dripping foreheads and sweaty hands. I wonder how many hours of training that book has seen?
Malcom Gladwell in his book 'Outliers: The Story of Success' talks about the 10,000 hour rule as one of the secrets of greatness. It's no surprise that mastery requires an enormous amount of time and practice. But, according to Gladwell, this may be even more important than natural talent. True mastery and success may be as simple as applying yourself to practice 20hrs a week for a period of 10 years.
I wonder though if sheer quantity of practice is really enough? Surely, the people who are able to undertake that degree of practice exhibit other qualities – not least, a love and passion for what they do that ensures their practice is motivated and meaningful. In the context of martial arts, it's just too easy to 'tune out' and go through the motions. I find it hard to believe 10,000 hours of 'poor practice' is really all it takes. After all, mistakes patterned in are all the harder to erase.
Regularity and quantity of training is clearly important but the quality of training must be there too. Maybe as Randy Borum points out, it's "perfect practice that makes perfect" - 10,000 of deliberate, focused and systematic attention to training and a willingness to persist even when it's not fun. And, I wonder if this isn't what Sensei's getting at with the dojo diary – a personal record of our own hours and a challenge to ourselves to make each hour of our practice 'perfect'.