Over my years of studying various subjects and engaging in interesting activities, I have had many teachers, coaches, and instructors. While quite a few of them stood out, taught me valuable lessons, and made a significant contribution to my development, three of them had specific quotes that really spoke to me. I still think about them from time to time.
Disclaimer: These are paraphrased and carry the nuances of what I took away from them.
I have loved the genre of Jazz since I was first introduced to it in grade 6 by my music teacher at the time, Ms. Hagen. Very early on, she encouraged us to practice and highlighted the importance of it. While that is an obvious lesson, she provided an insight that lives on in my life to this day. She told us that practice doesn’t make perfect. It is "perfect" practice that makes perfect. For me, this is such an important perspective to understand because what exactly you practice and how you practice those things matter tremendously. If you keep doing something incorrectly, you can get good at doing it that way and it might even work to a certain extent but it'll never be at the top level - it'll never be "perfect". Just look at Lonzo Ball, he had to "fix" his shot when he entered the NBA even though he was really good at his weird shooting form and it had worked out for him at lower levels. Similarly, even when you know what to practice, the incorrect way of practicing them would also be detrimental or limiting. You could hurt yourself if overtrain or do not recover properly; you could limit your progress if you don't train enough or if you train inefficiently. For example, when I played trombone, I could've injured myself and hurt my performance if I played too much and excessively fatigued my embouchure. If I played a scale a few times as practice, it just wouldn't have been enough. If I played the same scale for an hour in the most basic way, as opposed to playing different scales and different arpeggio patterns, it would've been very inefficient and thus limiting to my improvement. This idea applies to everything that we do. The best way to improve is to work on the rights things in the right ways.
This leads me into the next memorable quote, which is from my former Taekwondo instructor, Mr. Davidson. He talked about how it’s generally easier teaching white belts than those trained in other martial arts because white belts don’t have bad habits. For me, this captures why having a blank canvas can be beneficial. If I practiced the wrong thing or if I practiced in the wrong way, I might be worse off with the muscle memory and bad habits that I would've developed than if I hadn't practiced anything at all. However, past experiences and existing knowledge could be beneficial too. For example, if you trained extensively in certain sports/physical disciplines, your mind-body connection and level of body awareness could be very advanced. At that point, you can consciously make minor adjustments with relative ease. You would have an advantage in learning any physical movement. This concept is something I like to be aware of when I am learning and practicing something new. If I know that a grammatical concept in Italian is different than it is in French, then I would do my best to ignore it and not let it be a bias - I would try not to let it get in the way and confuse me. Likewise, if I know that they are the same, then I would use it to my advantage because I already learned and understood that concept. When I am learning the pronunciation of a language, I identify the sounds that I already know from other languages. I key in on the sounds that are similar but yet different, making sure that I capture the nuance and notice the differences.
The final memorable quote relates to learning and practicing once again. During high school, one of my band conductors, Mr. Kevin Lee (not the MMA fighter), shared an interesting way to think about practice. He talked about how you don’t only practice to get good but rather you practice so that on bad days, you’re still good. Similarly, you don’t practice until you get it right. You practice until you never get it wrong. For me, this provides a lot of nuance to what practicing is about, what improvements mean, and how important consistency truly is. When I work on my shot in basketball, I make sure that my shooting form is consistent. I don't work on shooting until I know what it feels like when the shot goes in and feels smooth from a spot; I do it until that becomes the default feeling and the shot is always smooth from a spot. At that point, when I am having a bad shooting game, some shots would still go in, and when it doesn't go in, I generally know what exactly is off about my shot. When I am sore, I notice how different the shot feels and understand why the shot isn't smooth, why it misses a lot more, and what shots I should be taking given how I feel. For everything that I work on, I think about what I am practicing for and the level I want to get to.
These quotes spoke to me. The lessons they carry have stayed with me. I hope you get something from them and the examples I presented.