I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times – Bruce Lee
I once asked a teacher of martial arts about this quote and he explained that what Bruce Lee meant was that the mastery of a single movement is far more effective than underdeveloped knowledge of many movements.
There is something attractive about this idea with its emphasis on the patient development of a single movement to the point of perfection. Furthermore, we can see how this approach is vital to cultivating talents and to specializing in subject areas. Yet, we also place great value on “being well rounded”, with its attending benefits of open mindedness, creativity and versatility. I often wonder what the right balance is between these two important perspectives.
Rabbi Joseph Hayyun, the last great rabbi of Portugal in the 15th Century pondered this question as well as he looked at two fascinating lines in the Talmud. The first, from Shabbat 118b, presents a sage who asks his fellow “regarding what [commandment] was your father very careful?” and the second from Pirkei Avot (2:9) in which Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkai says to his students “go out and see what is an upright path that a person should cling to…” In response to these passages, Rabbi Hayyun reflects on the assumptions behind them. Why should a person be careful about only one commandment or cling to only a single good path? Shouldn’t we strive for all of them?
His answer is one I think Bruce Lee would enjoy. Rabbi Hayyun states “while a person needs to cling to all positive things, the right way to approach this matter is for a person to establish for themselves one particular practice to perfect and develop themselves in. Through doing so, one enables themselves to reach other positives practices as well”(Hayyun, Mili d’Avot on Pirkei Avot 2:9, emphasis mine). In other words, if we perfect one area and then consider how that process opens horizons to new ones, we engage both with focused mastery and the benefits it brings, as well as keep transferability in our minds, in order to grow into ever expanding vistas.
Summer is a time for many things, including personal enrichment. Treat yourself to delving into something deeply and know that it can also serve as a great catalyst for the learning in the seasons to come.