Train as Fast as You Can

One of the things we focused on in Cyril Poissonnet’s class tonight was speed. We worked on training only at a pace where we could still do the technique well. We noticed how we would often get impatient and rush, and our form would fall apart. It was a really useful exercise to train keeping an awareness of that. I should incorporate it into my day-to-day training.

Cyril demonstrated doing a few things slowly, and correctly, and then speeding up to the point where they fell apart. He instructed us to go “as fast as you can,” but only as fast as you can. If your technique gets sloppy, slow down to a speed where you can do it well.

It reminded me of something similar Patrick Cassidy Sensei told us during his most recent seminar at Aikido of San Diego. Cassidy Sensei asked if we knew what speed people are supposed to drive on the winding mountain roads of Switzerland. No one knew. The answer, he said, was “as fast as you can.” I’m sure you can imagine the confused looks! 

“And no faster." 

Of course Cassidy Sensei was making the same point. Don’t go faster than you are able. Important advice in many areas. We all feel pressured, we all rush, we all want to get there sooner. And as the saying goes, "the hurrieder I go, the behinder I get.” We often need to slow down to do it right.

In the arena of horse training (if you’ll forgive the pun), you’ll hear “the more you rush, the longer it takes.” I have a t-shirt from Robin Shen of Enlightened Horsemanship that says “I train my horse slowly because I do not have the patience to do it quickly.” You can’t gloss over important steps in training. You need to do them correctly, or you’ll spend ages later trying to undo your mistakes. Or you’ll end up in trouble when you suddenly discover one of the “holes” in your horse’s education.

In military firearms training they say “slow is smooth, smooth is fast.” I like that way of putting it. The way to get to fast is through smooth. The way to get smooth is to go slowly. Hurrying won’t get you there at all.

In my musical training, teachers constantly reminded me to slow down, play it correctly, use a metronome. Oh, the tedium! “Yeah, yeah… OK sure, I’ll do it.” And then I’d “practice” playing faster than I could. I was imprinting playing badly, of course. I was learning how to screw up, not how to play well, at speed or otherwise.

The thing that finally got the point across, for me, was a week-long fingerstyle guitar workshop with Woody Mann, at the Augusta Heritage Center’s Blues Week in West Virginia. I knew he was an incredible player (treat yourself, listen to him in this YouTube clip). What I discovered was that he’s a brilliant teacher as well. It just didn’t look anything like I expected. Here I am, having flown across the country and driven for hours to the Middle of Nowhere to Learn to Play The Blues. Awesome! First day of class we get acquainted, get comfortable, and start playing. Slowly. Really slowly. With a freaking metronome. Seriously? “One and two and three and four and…” I came all this way to do this?

But we all did what he said. Our little group class worked through about 4 tunes, practicing together several hours every day with Woody’s guidance and instruction. We learned a lot, of course. New techniques, tips, cool sounds… But mostly we played the songs, slowly, together. And smoothly. Cleanly. With expression. It was almost hard to notice that we were playing a little faster each day. We never did fall apart. By the end of the week we were all playing all the tunes… well! And up to speed! Amazing.

I never would have really gotten it about slowing down enough to play correctly if I hadn’t been essentially “stuck” doing it for a week. 

I know this works, this training slowly. I just need to remember every day to do it. Thanks, Cyril, for reminding me today.

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