What juggling taught me about practice time

Last week, I learned to juggle. I attended a free workshop and with no prior experience in juggling and around 3 hours of practice, I managed to do the basic “cascading” move and several others, a bit more advanced moves. All in all, nothing spectacular, but the fact remains that I learned it pretty fast. I have a martial arts background which obviously necessitates reflexes, so it had to help too, but aside from that there was no prior experience or background.

So, which factors made my learning curve so rapid? One is obviously good teachers. The guys and the girl that held the workshop were very good teachers, everyone with their unique style of teaching but always focused on the person they were instructing. This is what I wrote about before, the value of mentors in life. With a good teacher you learn much faster than by yourself.

The other one is hard work. The basis of Kung Fu, I knew this from before. When you invest your time, you truly invest it, you don’t slack around. And when you do this, you also touch another eastern concept – being in the moment, which is the basis of Zen.

The third one is intelligent work. Practicing really hard isn’t going to do you much good if what you’re practicing is shit. Intelligent work is, for example, a drummer practicing with a metronome. Hard work and intelligent work rarely come together, which is unfortunate. When you are aware of what you are doing, when you keep track of what you are doing and when you evaluate yourself and your progress, being cognitively present in the process, actually trying to understand it, then you work intelligent. You cannot think about what you’re doing and be in the moment while you do it, that’s impossible. But you can think before you enter your Zen-zone, and you should.

Now, what does all this juggling-talk have to do with becoming overhuman?

Well, aside from the fact that you certainly benefit on a neurological scale from learning a new motor skill, not to mention reflex development, there are many interesting lessons that can be drawn from it.

It doesn’t matter if you specialize or if you try to become a generalist in your practice (e.g. basketball player vs. mover) the same thing goes for everyone – practice time is precious and finite. I see myself as a generalist. As Ido Portal puts it: “If you specialize, you will pay a price.” This means that, unlike your Muay Thai fighter or your hand balancer, I try to do things that are outside my training curriculum. That’s the reason I attended a juggling workshop.

 

Do you know what’s the difference between me and you? You practice gymnastics, I practice everything.

 

This quote, from “The Peaceful Warrior”, sends a very strong message to me. And with it comes the knowledge that the time you have to practice everything is precious, so you better practice good. Find tools, mechanisms, systems that make you master things quickly, and find systems and mechanisms for maintenance, so you don’t lose what you learned.

I hope it is clear that I’m not talking just about motor skills and body movement, but self-development as a whole.

You should find your own systems, but nothing stops you from getting inspired by others’. Here are mine (this list will probably change with time; this is what I do now):

To master and maintain mastery of a skill:

  • finding good resources, good teachers and good training partners: this one has several problems, for example the Dogmatic teacher or the Unpleasant teacher. Both these guys can teach you a lot but they are quite difficult to work with. Sometimes, you are not sure that what you’re being shown is complete bullshit or something useful. Wax on, wax off anyone? What I would recommend here is taking a step backward and looking at things like this: is your teacher better than you in the skill you wish to attain? Is he a lot better? If the answer is a firm yes, then proceed with your teacher’s program but allow yourself to think, to ask questions, to probe, to intentionally do it wrong to see the reaction of your teacher and so on. Sometimes, the action you’re required to do will be very useful for your skill. And sometimes it won’t. There is no way to find out if you don’t let some time pass and see the effects on you, but you can always probe.
  • working hard: already mentioned it – when you do something, don’t slack off, do it, be focused.
  • working intelligent: think about what you’re doing, try to find new ways to train (build up your creativity by doing this), evaluate yourself, compare yourself to other people and if they do better than you, find out what it is they’re doing that’s giving them an edge over you.
  • alternate between perfecting one part of the skill and learning new stuff around the skill. This is best explained with an example: when trying to get a good handstand, sometimes you should practice a regular handstand and practice hard, but sometimes you should just try to do even more advanced stuff like one-armed handstands, planches and so on. Often, doing things that are even more difficult than the thing you want to do will make that thing easier.
  • visualization: learn to visualize your skill and practice it in your mind. Visualize success before training, and it will help you succeed.
  • do dangerous shit/do shit on the first take: don’t try to do things and rehearse it a trillion times before you do it – just do them. As Yoda put it: “Do, or do not, there is no try!” If you’re afraid of a backflip, but you know you can do it and you did it before, then you just have to do it. When you throw yourself in dangerous situations, you certainly grow.
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