Archive for the ‘repetition’ Category

Refine and Repeat really works!

September 12th, 2011 No comments

I’ve been playing amateur-level trumpet for about (cough) thirty years now, but the greatest improvement in my playing might have happened in the last few months.

Why? Because I’ve placed my trumpet and flugelhorn, out of their cases, in the path to my desk at home, so about every other time I walk past them, I play one of them. There’s the repeat.

As for the refine, I can recall the words of Chase Sanborn, from whom I took a lesson a few years ago: make sure every note is played well. To that end, when I play a rough note, I stop, go back a bar or two, then play it again, but with attention to technique this time. As a result, my intonation (pitch) is better, my articulation (attack & release) is sweeter. Since I’m getting more comfortable on the horn, I’ve also been able to rise above basic technique on occasion (see here and here), relax and occasionally get melodies out of my improvisation. Hey, flashes of adequacy! Of course, I still need to work on consistency, repertoire and unfamiliar chord changes, but I’m actually starting to sound like someone worth listening to on occasion.

That’s the thing isn’t it? Maybe you can play the darn thing, but would anybody sit and listen to you?

More practice? More practice.

Categories: jazz, repetition Tags:

11 dislikes? How can you not like Yo-Yo Ma playing a tango?

May 30th, 2011 No comments

Apparently, this video of Yo-Yo Ma playing Libertango has received 11 dislikes on YouTube.

I really like this piece, truth to say. But is it, or tango for that matter, for everyone? Of course not, but that brings up a point: there’s a difference between not liking something, and giving it a “dislike” on YouTube, isn’t there? Is there a difference between feeling a dislike and expressing it?

I hear a piece like this, and certainly can’t fault it for content, intention or execution, since it expresses heart, love of life as well as mastery of craft to me. Now if tango weren’t my cup of tea, would I publicly express a dislike for this video? Nope. I can’t help but feel that those who would express a dislike for this are expressing a dislike of care, precision and mastery instead. As for those who have different tastes in music, they would just avoid expressing an opinion … if the choices were “like” or “dislike”, of course.

So what’s the point? Well, I like to think that people can see the value in craft and honest artistic expression even if they don’t share the taste of the artist.

But who doesn’t love tango music?

Categories: interdisciplinary, rants, repetition Tags:

It’s easier than you think

March 29th, 2010 No comments

Just about every physical-sport-discipline direction I’ve gotten involves some kind of relaxation, letting go, or exhortation to some kind of natural absence of effort. “Relax”, “be soft”, “chill”, “let it drop”, “it’s easy”.

But the thing is, they’re right. It is easy. Once you get it.

Let me elaborate. Each time I’ve “found” something, my reaction has been “oh, is that it?” It feels easy to “get it”. It makes sense. It’s often surprisingly easy, so much so that I feel a temptation to believe it isn’t the right method. Where’s the stress and strain? Where’s the effort?

Do not doubt this: there is effort, but not where we expect it: it lies in the repetition of the simple act. It lies in seeking the extraneous, that which must be removed. The effort also lies in challenging our assumptions and doing the things that we don’t want to do …

… such as “let go”.

I’ve said to my students that Tai Chi is less about “making things happen” and more about “letting things happen”. We have so much baggage associated with making things happen. We want to be in control, we want to show the teacher that we’re making effort, and we want to balance the pleasure of success with the pain of effort, since success without effort just doesn’t feel right. Maybe we feel guilty about it. However, strangely enough, many of us want the success without effort — we want to be given the secret and find success right away. Without doing … what?

… without doing something we don’t want to do.

If you took someone who wanted the success that comes from natural, relaxed non-effort right away, theoretically you could tell them to relax, chill, and let it happen, and they would then achieve natural, non-doing, relaxed success right away. But they don’t, most of the time. Why not?

I think that if they want things right away, they want to be in control. They are afraid of delays that result from being patient. They are nervous and stressed. Impatient. Given that nature has its own pace, being impatient isn’t likely to invite natural results. So, paradoxically, the impatient person delays his own success, by attempting to control the pace of events, by attempting to make things happen.

Anyway, I’ll stick with the idea of “less making things happen, more letting things happen.”

How to make something a habit?

March 2nd, 2010 No comments

Do it again. And keep it up. Duh. Here’s the scoop on Zenhabits.

I like the idea of “do it again, no matter how badly”, since it fits with “refine and repeat”. If we decide that we’ll only do something when we can do it well, how would we ever do it well if we’ve never done it before? Do it, then refine and repeat.

By the way, Steven R. Covey, in The Seven Habits of Effective People, defined a habit as “the intersection of knowledge, skill and desire”. That’s a fine definition, but he left out “repetition”.

Categories: repetition Tags:

Relax! Now!

December 8th, 2009 No comments

Occasionally I get friends asking me to teach them some tai chi to help a problem they have. When the question is asked with a certain amount of agitation, I get some idea of where this is going to go. At first, I tried to figure out an exercise that would get them quick results, but I’ve found that to be impossible. They’re very nice people, but they’re just going too fast. In my opinion, any exercise that involves relaxation needs to be done slowly enough to feel the tiny incremental gains offered by the exercise, and tai chi is certainly no exception.

So here’s the first action necessary to get benefits from a Tai Chi (or Alexander) exercise: stop.

Then go slow. Do the exercise. Listen to your body. Go slow. Listen to your body. Refine and Repeat.

If you find you want to speed up, stop … then repeat the above.

I like moving quickly and efficiently through my day.  Occasionally stopping and slowing down allows me to continue doing that, smoothly, with less stress and agitation. I stop pretty often to just check in, relax, sink, root, whatever … then I move on.

Categories: repetition, shorts Tags:

Stop thinking or your brain will freeze like that!

March 13th, 2009 2 comments

I think too much.
(Maybe I also say “I think too much” too much.)

In classes past, while teaching me a move, Ben would say that I should stop thinking so much. Part of that admonishment stuck with me, but i also pushed back a bit, because I have this attachment to being clever … or to this image of myself as a clever person. But, in an attempt to follow Ben’s direction I would think less (and practise more), but only when doing that move. That class. Then I’d get all clever again, thinking of clever ways to find the “key” to another move, to discover the pattern linking it with other moves, the best way to describe it to someone else, and so on.

Then last night, on a visit to Doug’s class, we were discussing another student. Doug said to me “he’s too much in his head. Like you.”


Now we weren’t working on a move, we were just talking. So I had no alternative but to apply Doug’s statement (echoing Ben’s admonishments) to my entire Tai Chi and Lok Hup practice. Hey, probably my squash, too. So without an exit strategy where I could continue to be clever about whatever move we weren’t discussing, I had to actually consider the statement and reflect upon it more deeply.

Hopefully, with one of my last thoughts on the matter, here’s what came out of that:

Being clever won’t help me with Tai Chi.

In fact, it’s detrimental. For a number of reasons. When I think I’ve solved a problem through reason (“good for me!”), I don’t practice it to make it internal and natural, I move on to the next problem. Alternately, if a problem is difficult to solve through reason, I keep at it … using reason. “There must be a way to solve this!” Bottom line: I’m getting in the way. I’m slowing things down. Believe it or not, the natural pace of things may be faster than the pace when we intervene! So in my impatience, I’m actually making things more difficult.

Not very Zen. Nor Dao.

So, naturally, I felt chuffed when I figured this out. Oops. Bad Steve.

So what to do? Nothing? Ehhrrmmm … maybe not. How about: watch, listen, enjoy the activity, whether I improve or not. Listen to the body because I enjoy listening, not because it will help me improve. And I shouldn’t do this non-doing because I want to improve. That’s faking it, and is just propagating the original situation.

I have to really, really not care so much. Maybe that’s it. Take a holiday from thinking. Don’t use words. Don’t compare. Don’t try to make sense of it. Just sense. Maybe relax the jaw. Drool. Okay, no drool.


Categories: Lok Hup, repetition, Tai Chi, Zen-like stuff Tags:

Repeat and Discover

March 3rd, 2009 1 comment

helixI think too much.

Maybe it’s because I want to figure things out, crack the code, that sort of thing. That’s a useful way of working if the point is to crack the code, or figure things out. But if I actually want to use that knowledge, well … I need to repeat. Practice. Once I get an answer, I need to apply it again and again until it sticks.

Learning a language is fertile ground for this attack. There are thousands of words to learn, grammar, pronunciation, patterns, and so on. Thousands of questions and answers. Xuesheng means student? Great! Next one! How about Japanese? Gakusei? Got it! 

This is all well and good, but as any language student knows, it’s not good enough if we actually want to use the language. We gotta practice. Immersion. Conversations. 

This is refine and repeat. We know what to do, but that’s just the beginning. Repetition locks it in, helps it flow more easily, facilitates improvisation, makes it our own … all that stuff. 

There’s another kind of practice: when a teacher shows you something, then you ask him how to do it and he advises you to “practise”.
But what do I practise? What I showed you. Relax.
How do I relax? Just practise.
When will I know if I’m doing it right? Practise. 
But what –? Oh, just shut up and practise.  

Unfortunately, this feels like practising blind. We’re uncomfortable with it because we don’t want to practise the wrong thing over and over. We have no map. No “metrics” as they say in business.

But we do have a goal, beyond one such as “relax”. It’s wu wei : non-doing. Mushin: no-mind. Effortlessness. To put it another way, we want to practise something until we get to the point where it becomes habit, natural, the thing we do when we don’t think. When we do a move “wrong”, it’s (generally) not bad or harmful, we’re just doing it the way we do it when we do it without thinking. Got that? The “wrong” way is habit, so we want the “right” way to be habit. We want to practise the new way until it becomes second nature. 

But wu-wei is difficult. There’s still an action involved, the thing that we are doing naturally. Do I focus away from the action, focus on the action, or focus on nothing?

I think we all know the answer to that one. <sigh>

Categories: repetition Tags:

Spread ’em!

February 20th, 2009 1 comment

My stiff right ankle is preventing me from sinking on my right leg in Tai Chi. Since I like approaching problems from different angles, I asked our Wednesday morning trainer, Caprice, to help me with flexibility there. We worked on some foot exercises such as “doming” the foot (raising the arch) and curling the toes under, which seemed to go all right. However, when she asked me to spread my big toe away from the others, there was nothing there. I had no idea of what to engage or how to engage it. It was a very strange feeling, and though I’m lucky enough to have never been in an accident, maybe this is a glimpse of what it feels like to have to learn how to walk. Of course, I can only guess at the challenges accident victims face.

So I can lift the big toe, press it down, and do the same with the other four as a group. But no side-to-side. Caprice asked me to be patient and keep working on it. So yesterday, I sat down, brought the foot up on my other knee, and started exploring with my fingers lightly touching the muscle that’s supposed to make the toe move to get some feedback. The habitual tendency was to try to move the toe by turning the whole foot, so I had to suppress that urge and quiet things down. At times like this, a calm mind is necessary to listen and hear what’s really happening inside.

After bending toes, relaxing, bending less, relaxing, I finally got some action in that muscle by spreading all toes apart a little bit. It’s a start. Spread, relax, spread less, relax, calm, and so on. I’m now at the point where I can get a tiny bit of movement from the big toe without bringing everything in the neighborhood into play. But it feels weird. And maybe it’s not reproducible. In fact, I’ve lost it now.

But it’ll be back, as long as I keep at it. In terms of refine and repeat, the refining seems to lie in calming the mind, listening, and trying smaller actions. Which might even work with tai chi.

Categories: interdisciplinary, repetition Tags: