Monday, April 4, 2011

Quantity Trumps Quality

The ceramics teacher announced on opening day that he was dividing the class into two groups. All those on the left side of the studio, he said, would be graded solely on the quantity of work they produced, all those on the right solely on its quality. His procedure was simple: on the final day of class he would bring in his bathroom scales and weigh the work of the "quantity" group: fifty pound of pots rated an "A", forty pounds a "B", and so on. Those being graded on "quality", however, needed to produce only one pot -albeit a perfect one - to get an "A". Well, came grading time and a curious fact emerged: the works of highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity. It seems that while the "quantity" group was busily churning out piles of work - and learning from their mistakes - the "quality" group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay.

I see similar things in martial arts practice. People will do things once or twice and then start talking. Whenever I am teaching, I tell them the absolute minimum needed to do the technique safely, and then have them practice it again and again and again. Only by repetition can you really learn a physical skill.

It is possible to do things wrong, and for practice to give you bad habits, especially if you are not capable of judging the quality of the output. But most people spend too much time talking and not enough time doing things. If you want to do something well, you have to start by doing it a lot.

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