Before starting the treadmill for my lunch-break run, I put on my stylish black-and-red wireless headphones. If I forget to to charge them the day before or put them in the wrong bag it throws a major wrench into my workout. I listen to podcasts during my runs. This means that I am not completely focused on improving my running performance. If I were to follow the deliberate practice concepts, I would not want to be distracted by the soundtrack, but concentrate on my technique all the time – being aware of my stride length, pace and ground contact point relative to my center of gravity. Instead, I am half-way there – I follow a training program generated by the Runkeeper app, which keeps challenging me in terms of the distance and pace, but I do listen to non-running related stuff to distract me from the pain of the workout.
On my last run, I listened to an interview with Frank Shamrock, who made some insightful comments about warrior mindset. Although he talked in the context from which the term actually evolved – martial arts, many of the associated tactics became well-known in other fields, like business, sports and healthcare. A significant part of the warrior mindset is striving for self-improvement on a daily basis.
The ubiquitous concept of kaizen is usually taken to mean “continuous improvement”. Also, in business context it is often understood to involve all aspects of a company’s operation and all of its personnel. Although the Japanese word “kaizen” itself does not include any notions of continuity or all-inclusiveness (it literally means “improvement”), the continuity of practice and improvement is key in martial arts. This is at least part of the reason why there is a default disdain towards “hobbyist kendo” and the view of many high-level Japanese sensei that foreign kendoka have no appreciation for daily practice.
The improvements don’t have to be large. In fact they can be microscopic in the grand scheme of things, and they don’t have to happen in all areas of performance at once, but there needs to be some improvement every day.
Personally, I distinguish between progress in quantity and quality of work. This applies to any field, not just kendo in my case. For example, when I work on post-processing images from a large photoshoot, simply reducing the number of photos in the pipeline is not sufficiently satisfactory for me as a measure of progress. I try to develop new processing techniques and make mental notes about composition and camera settings for future shoots. This way, working on the particular shoot has the benefit of leaving me with improved skills, even in the worst case scenario, say, if the images themselves would never be looked at by the clients ever again.