Back to Square Two

I mentioned before that I’m trying to get (some tiny fraction of) my embouchure back so I can play in the band’s 100th reunion next month. Unrelatedly — you would think — I also recently did bo kata for the first time in a couple of years, having stopped doing weapons for a time because of wrist problems.

In both of these cases I am profoundly out of practice — French horn obviously more so, just on a sheer time scale, but my bo skills are hella rusty, and were never all that great in the first place. But it’s interesting to see how I’m actually not all the way back to square one, not even on the thing I haven’t done in more than fifteen years.

Even when the muscles aren’t there, even when the movements are stiff and the endurance craps out in record time, something remains. Deep memory still has some recollection of the target I’m aiming for; getting to it may be easier said than done, but at least I know where I’m going. I’m not having to map out terra incognita as I go. Which means, I think, that even a small gain in strength or endurance is a bigger gain in overall skill than it was the first time around, because I partially remember what to do with it.

I find this really encouraging, not just in these specific contexts, but overall. You know how they say you never forget how to ride a bike? That can apply to lots of different things — and probably not just physical ones, either, though it wouldn’t surprise me if there’s some particular neuromuscular thing going on where movement is concerned. (So-called “muscle memory.”) Even when we feel reluctant to go back to an old activity because we’re so out of practice, we may very well not be rank beginners all over again. And there’s a real pleasure in having that moment of “oh, right” . . . even if three seconds later some part of you says “aaaaaaaaand now we’re done for the day.”

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