Tuesday, 8 June 2010
If I Rest, I Rust
This is the motto of the great tenor, Placido Domingo.
It is applicable to a range of great achievers in any number of disciplines, but the concept of how to work and study, how to practice, differs from person to person, from art to art.
I have found this to be true myself - though sometimes it is difficult not to rest... or to become busy with other things or side-tracked or to become absorbed in other areas of practice. This is particularly true of the learner who feels a need to develop in several areas..concentrating on one may result in resting in another, with subsequent drop in level of overall technique.
While this is natural to a certain extent, there are also basics to any art that cannot be rested with impunity, which must be maintained all the while you are working on improving other areas of your skill. For the learner, the trick comes in knowing what you are doing, what you are not doing, and what you have to concentrate on to do.
This is one of the advantages of having a teacher who regularly 'tests' you. By testing I don't mean any kind of formalized test, but of simply looking over your performance, and your own concomitant desire to perform well. When I was studying sumi-e, my teacher would visit me once a week and review the work I had done since the previous week. On the few occasions I had nothing worth showing, I felt quite bad about it.
There have been other occasions when I have thought my ability the the area I had been concentrating on was sufficient... to continue to practice would be to overwork the technique and make it stale rather than improve it. Usually this was when I had been working on some specific area of technique which I finally felt I had a handle on. Of course, although I might have sorted out one part, almost invariably another area had been neglected and I was unable to perform the technique as well as I should have.
But rest for one person might be normal for another - compare two of the greatest fencers of the twentieth century, Nedo Nadi and Edoardo Mangiarotti. In his fascinating book, "By the Sword", Richard Cohen notes describes how both men were trained by their fathers, who were also fencers of some skill. While Nado was made to train two, then three sessions daily, always fencing against the senior fencers of the club, Mangiarotti's training was far more relaxed - he rarely trained more than a couple of hours a day. Both men went on to win many Olympic and world championship medals, with Mangiarotti following on from Nado as the leading competition fencer of his day. Clearly there is more to learning than simply "time on task".