Pursuing the Ridiculously Challenging

“Alright, the next drill is even more difficult!” I said to a chorus of groans. It’s accuracy night in line drills and I have been progressively making each drill more challenging. Each target is increasingly smaller, requiring that much more precision.

The drills have essentially moved into a realm where even the most experienced students are having a challenge hitting their targets more than 30% of the time. Is this something we do every night? No. Yet the value of reaching far beyond your capability expresses itself in many ways:

1. Mastery is not about continual success. It’s really about our capacity to respond to and learn from failure. A drill has a relatively small cost emotionally, especially when you can tell that its difficulty is off the charts. Each success in these drills really means something, and each failure still provides data.

2. When the end result is beyond your reach, you have to focus on what you can accomplish. Most goals seem impossible when you first set out for them. Get used to it. Figure out what you can achieve and count your victories there. There’s an even greater thrill when you hit a target you’ve been trying to hit for a year.

3. Failing well is a skill you need to develop. In a duel, I guarantee you will rarely hit your target when you first try for it. There are more factors than simply the target’s size or distance standing in your way. There’s an opponent who is actively thwarting your efforts. Being able to attempt to strike the target and safely make your way out is the truly valuable skill. Hitting the target is secondary, particularly if you cannot achieve a successful entry and exit.

It’s worth setting a target that is well beyond your reach once in a while. At the very least, supremely-difficult certainly puts medium-difficult into perspective.

Devon Boorman is the Co-Founder and Director of Academie Duello Centre for Swordplay, which has been active in Vancouver, Canada since 2004. Devon’s expertise centres on the Italian swordplay tradition including the arts of the Renaissance Italian rapier, sidesword, and longsword, as well as knife and unarmed techniques.
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