One Note Symphony

As the story goes some fans were issued into Itzak Perlman’s house. A secretary told them that it would be just a little while, “The master is practicing, you know.” Even though they knew that a professional practices diligently, they could not help speculating and then imagining what someone of Perlman’s skill level might find to practice: obscure works? major transliterations? complex musical experiments?

 When he did show, the fans all got up to greet him. One of them could not help himself, “You were practicing?”

Perlman nodded.

“I’m just fascinated: at your level, what do you practice?”

“At my level?” Perlman smiled, “…B flat!”

WLS2flipThere are many ways to practice forms and fighting techniques. I was lucky because I was told early in my career about different methods, and that freed me. A few of these may make some students of the art wince, but I have tested them all and, if you understand what you are doing, you can gather much from them.

Over forty years ago, at my first school, I was told to practice fighting techniques with the following approaches. I was shown how to isolate one variable at a time. For instance, these four words:



There was a fifth variable but we will talk about that anon.

The idea was to NOT try to fold everything together. For example, when I practiced for Speed I was told to “be sloppy.” The whole idea was to be as fast as possible—while still retaining the steps, of course—to forget everything but speed, and to discover the particular shortcuts that involved. Power was obvious but the variable you dropped was continuity. You were allowed to actually stop, gather your power, and let him have it. Accuracy means shadow boxing, wooden dummy, bag or even partner work. You made sure each blow struck its proper target and— just as much a component of accuracy—struck with the right weapon and the correct configuration of your limb. A chop to the throat with improper finger position was not considered accuracy. Flow was fairly obvious but not necessarily an easy “A.” The idea was to discover the angles, fulfilled or sliced off, that gave you the best transitions from one move to the next. It was not speed training, exactly, more like efficiency training.

The instructor’s idea was that you have one body and, like a meal, everything would become part of you, would feed the same person. Of course there were dangers; every great practice has a danger somewhere. You might over emphasize the skill you like so your actions get stronger and stronger at the expense of, say, accuracy. And of course, there were those people who just could not break the components down.

What do we suggest they do? Remember that fifth method I told you about earlier? That turns out to be making a specific variable out of trying to blend all the other four variables. For those having trouble isolating, this will be nothing new but they may retain some of the benefits of the isolation technique. 

Are there other variables that can focus us in a similar way? There are many, such as legs only, practicing for balance, practicing like all the strikes are grappling maneuvers and vice versa. A martial artist can isolate, improvise, adapt and create.

At least that is what I think.

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