Deliberate Practice

In the previous articles we looked into the Preparation for Practice. and the Mental Workout and why it is the so powerful. We also discovered Practicing is an Art , not a skill

The whole point of practicing is to improve. You should always know what you want to accomplish before starting your bonsai practice session. A good way to organize your thoughts is to have a set of goals. You can have an overall goal such as becoming a professional bonsai demonstrator, or learning enough techniques to help during an artist demonstration at a regional convention or create a significant bonsai in a collection. Then you need to have a medium-range goal, such as learning wiring by the end of the year or have the initial design by the end of the season. After that, aim for a weekly goal, like improving your two branch wiring. Finally, have a daily goal, such as fixing a particular tree or reading a chapter on the golden triangle. The daily goal is the primary thing to concentrate on during the session, but you should also work on the weekly goal. Goals give you a target that you can aim toward, give you direction

There is a Japanese saying that translates into "keep one point," or only think about one thing at a time. Concentrate on one thing and do it correctly enough times to start making it a habit. Suzuki used to say that knowledge is not skill, knowledge plus 10,000 repetitions creates skill, or automatic execution.

When it comes to understanding expertise the "10,000-hour rule" which suggests that it requires at least ten years and/or 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to achieve an expert level of performance in any given domain. Those are some pretty big numbers. So large, that at first I missed the most important factor in the equation.

Deliberate practice: Meaning, that there is a specific type of practice that facilitates the attainment of an elite level of expertise.

Deliberate or mindful practice is a systematic and highly structured activity, that is, for lack of a better word, more scientific. Instead of mindless trial and error, it is an active and thoughtful process of hypothesis testing where we relentlessly seek solutions to clearly defined problems.

Deliberate practice is often slow, and involves repetition of small and very specific sections of a skill instead of just playing through. For example, if you were a musician, you might work on just the opening note of a solo to make sure that it "speaks" exactly the way you want, instead of playing the entire opening phrase.

Deliberate practice also involves monitoring one's progress - continually looking for new ways to improve. This means being observant and keenly aware of what happens, so that you can tell yourself exactly what went wrong.

Let's say that your bonsai first branch does not fit with the rest of the design. How long is the branch? Does it have movement? Is it too thin? How much longer is the branch than you wanted it to be? How much more movement did you want?

The branch is too thin, too short, with no movement. What did you do? What do you need to do instead to make sure the branch is thicker and has movement? How do you ensure that the length is just as you want it to be, and how do you get a consistently clean wiring to get the right amount of movement?

Now, let's imagine you wired several branches and recorded each trial repetition, and could review each branch to see the last attempt. Which combination of ingredients gives you the desired result? Does that combination of elements convey the mood or character you want to communicate to the viewer?

If this sounds like a lot of work, that's because it is. This explains why few take the time to practice this way. To stop, analyze what went wrong, why it happened, and how you can produce different results the next time.

Simple though it may sound, it took me years to figure this out. Yet it remains the most valuable and enduring lesson I learned from my over 20 years of training. The principles of deliberate practice have remained relevant no matter what skill I must learn next. How I spend my practice time remains more important than how much time I spend practicing.