Mastering the Commonplace

“The person who can vacuum an entire house without once losing his or her composure, staying balanced, centered and focused on the process rather than pressing impatiently for completion, is a person who knows something about mastery.” -George Leonard

Mastering the Commonplace, chapter 13 of Leonard’s ‘Mastery’, finally sunk in today. When he wrote about taking the time to be balanced and centered for each movement of washing the dishes, drying them, and putting them away, I scoffed: I am a busy man. The last thing I want to do is spend more time doing the dishes. I understand and completely agree with his position that we are a goal oriented society; in an attempt to see quick results, people often rush through tasks, and it costs them more time, energy, and money than doing it right in the first place. This is easily exemplified by my computer programming, where taking the time to code correctly in the first place saves time in the long run even if it postpones the initial results.

However, I believe that doing the dishes is a simple enough task (especially using a dishwasher) that rushing through it will not end up costing me time in the long run. In order to reserve more time to dedicate myself to mastering other things of greater importance to me, I resolved to continue to put the dishes away as quickly as possible. Pixador, a friend of mine from capoeira, has previously told me about how he approaches dish washing – he does it exactly as Leonard prescribes. I could see how that fit into Pixador’s routine and worked for him, but I did not think it would apply so well to myself. Pixador, if my memory serves me correctly, was referring to a time when he was washing dishes for his job. Approaching that task with capoeira in mind was a fantastic use of his time, since he would be at work washing dishes either way. He might as well put his time to good use in a way that benefits his journey as a capoeirista. His effort to focus on each movement has persisted to this day, although I do not know if he is still washing dishes as his job. For me personally, I am not stuck at work when it comes time to do the dishes. Any time I save on this task at home could be spent playing the berimbau, practicing Portuguese, exercising, or doing any number of other tasks that further my study of martial arts. Time is a  precious resource, and I do not want to waste it on dishes…or so I thought.

In tonight’s capoeira class, I was doing my best to focus on using correct technique for each individual move I did during warm-ups. Mestre Curisco has been frequently reminding us that we need to focus on using correct technique every single time we enter the roda. Any time spent in practice that isn’t spent giving 100% effort to do the best we can is time that is not being utilized to the fullest. By always focusing on doing things to the best of our ability, proper technique can eventually become a habit. Still, using proper technique all of the time is easier said than done. Even without the added pressure of avoiding kicks that are flying at you from all directions, it’s easy to lose focus during drills and fall into a rhythm of going through the motions. When the auto-pilot comes on, muscle memory kicks in – muscle memory that at this stage of my training is still improper technique.

That’s when it hit me. It’s HARD to try and do your best on every ginga, every esquiva, every kick. I already knew that, but tonight I connected it to mastering the commonplace. The only way to develop the focus and mental aptitude required to execute every technique to the best of your ability is to practice focusing. One way to practice is by focusing to the best of your ability on everyday chores – driving, dish washing, vacuuming, etc. Even as I write this sentence I am making an extra effort to approach the task of writing this blog with mastery in mind. I am focusing on sitting up straighter, keeping my feet flat on the floor, and breathing evenly and calmly as I type. If you can make this effort during your daily tasks (a taxing endeavor for sure), you can develop a habit of doing everything in your life to your fullest potential. Ideally this will permeate into training and the effort that was once so demanding will become automatic.

I am resolving to approach more of my daily tasks with mastery in mind, and I have every expectation that both my life and training will be better for it.
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2 thoughts on “Mastering the Commonplace

  1. This can be applied to social situations as well. It’s hard not to get angry when people don’t do what you expect or think they should. Emotional balance is just as important as physical.

    I was teaching a class today and was repeatedly challenged by one individual regarding exactly what I said and how I presented the material. I was tired and felt the urge to snap at her, but somehow managed to stay professional. Later I thought about the situation, and realized her complaints were accurate (though not tactfully expressed) and was pleased that I responded appropriately.

  2. Reminds me of a quote from the Last Samurai:

    “From the moment they wake they devote themselves to the perfection of whatever they pursue. I have never seem such discipline.”

    Granted, it’s a very Hollywood take on the question – but I was impressed by the notion when I first saw the movie, and I’m impressed by it now.

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