Does practice really make perfect?

Wax-On, Wax-Off from “The Karate Kid”, 1984

I have always had an uneasy relationship with the phrase “Practice Makes Perfect”. On one hand it makes sense while on the other there is something I feel missing in the statement.

I am not alone in this based on the different iteration on this phrase because there is common wisdom that says there is no such thing as perfect and that perfection is so, so arbitrary. This school of though produces modified versions of the phrase such as “Practice makes Good” or “Practice makes Progress”.

Personally, I find the word perfect in the phrase must be read within the context of there is no perfection such that what the phrase now means is that we need to keep on practicing towards perfection even though perfection will never be attained. This fits well into the concept of Mastery where the attained level is never based on the practitioner but is the determined by factors outside of him, especially by his peers. If that is the case, the practitioners concern is never the attainment of perfection but the recognition by his peers. In this scenario, the phrase can be written as “Practice Makes Masters” or “Practice Produces Masters”or “Practice Path to Mastery”

Another modification to the popular phrase that I also enjoy is that there is a second part to the phrase that is seldom mentioned. In this case, the phrase is “Practice makes perfect therefore, be careful what you practice!” This particular one is a favourite of mine because it surfaces awareness of what we are practicing and suddenly we become selective in what we want to practice.

This leads to another favourite addition of mine. This time the phrase is modified to become “Deliberate practice makes masters”. I find this to be the one that encompasses the best of all the concepts. In addition to all the goodness of all the above, it also add onto it an element of reflective learning where the practice is deliberately looked at so that learning and wisdom can be extracted so that the progress towards mastery is more effective.

This chain of thought is an example of that wonderful learning I call spiral learning; where you take a concept and start adding onto it other concept and context so that clarity, wisdom, realisation and understanding is achieved.

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