Almost 8 years ago I posted a quote from Toshiro Kageyama (1926-1990), a professional Go player. It speaks to what it means to be (what is required to be) a professional. I return to that post often and encourage you to read it. I want to focus on a part of it here and add a new interpretation.

[To be a professional], the fundamentals have to be handled subconsciously. For example, if you watch the way a star infielder moves in baseball, you will observe that no matter how difficult the bounce or how hard the line drive, he meets it frontally, faithfully following the fundamentals.

In fact, if you watch how an infielder moves in baseball, some of it is before the ball is struck by the batter or even thrown by the pitcher. Moreover, it’s not random movement. It’s specific, routine movement. This is important preparation, and it happens even before the play has begun. It’s not part of the game, but it’s what helps the players play the game at a high level. It’s part of the canon of fundamentals.

There’s the thing and there’s what you do to best prepare to do the thing to your fullest ability.

Trumpet playing is like this too. As with any instrument, there’s a lot of preparation involved to reach any level of proficiency, whether amateur or professional grade. These include things one should do in the seconds before one plays, akin to an infielder’s preparation before the pitch. I don’t need to describe them. Suffice it to say that until recently I wasn’t consistently doing them, as was pointed out to me at a lesson. I wasn’t doing them even though I knew I should do them. At times I was deliberately not doing them.

To eschew the fundamentals is self-limiting. Why do that?

Certainly there are lots of reasons one fails to prepare, even if one knows how. One of them is a lack of seriousness. This may stem from a feeling that our modest abilities are not worthy of preparation. Maybe we worry we’d look like we’re putting on airs to do all that professional-looking preparation just to make an amateur sound or to field a baseball like a novice.

(In truth, these are relatively subtle movements, not grand gestures. There’s no rational, objective reason to be embarrassed about them. Moreover, just because we do them doesn’t mean anyone thinks we think we’re professionals. To feel that way is to be overcome by a warped sense of vanity.)

There’s a disrespect in an attitude that leads to deliberate avoidance of preparatory fundamentals. We’re not respecting the thing we’re trying to do. And, we’re disrespecting others in our presence with whom we are trying (or should be trying) to achieve the best performance (like a rehearsal or lesson).

These insights cannot possibly be unique to the trumpet, or to baseball or Go. Everything I can think of requires preparation to do well and a serious, respectful attitude to do that preparation. This certainly includes writing — something I can legitimately claim to do at a professional level.

When I teach writing, I convey some of the preparatory fundamentals. And then I observe lots of students failing to do the fundamental things they profess to know they should do to improve. This is very common.

It’s probably not always a lack of seriousness, a lack of respect. But sometimes it could be. Whatever the endeavor, if this is the source of the problem, it’s rather disappointing, isn’t it? I would think recognizing that should be ample motivation to change.


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