Lessons from junior high

On the radio this morning, a DJ was asking listeners to call in and share some valuable life lessons they learned in school growing up, since today is, for most kids, the first day of the new school year. I didn't call in, but I started thinking, what did I learn from a teacher?

I don't know that I remember a whole lot of what I actually studied. Even the experiences that the DJ himself recalled had nothing to do with classwork; just solid advice from a teacher to a student. But one piece of advice I got actually had to do with the class, but it has definitely applied to much more than that since.

When I was in junior high, I played the saxophone in the symphonic band. We were working on a particularly challenging piece of music, but there was one short refrain that the whole saxophone section was having trouble with.

Our teacher, Mr. King, told us to go home and practice just those couple of measures. When doing so, he wanted us to do three things:

1) Play them very, very slowly, at half or even quarter speed.
2) Play them as precisely as possible. Use a metronome, make every note pronounced, etc.
3) Play it over and over and over again.

Since then, this lesson has served me well in just about every other endeavor, including budo. First of all, Mr. King taught us not to skim over our weak points, but to focus on them, to strengthen them. Is there a throw or technique you "don't like" because, truthfully, you're just not as good at it as you are your tokui waza? Mmm-hmm. That's what I thought.

But playing only with the things that come naturally to you, that come easiest won't help you grow and develop near as much as polishing the rougher edges. Pick one thing, and spend a week or so focused on it. And when working on it, do it slow, do it precise, and do it over and over again.

And later on, when it pops out, and it works like magic, don't thank me, thank Mr. King.