“This has been my practice: I obey your precepts.” Psalm 119:56
The teachers and parents at the local Japanese elementary school are hoping to pull off a flawless annual sports day. What do they consider to be the critical factor for success? Practice rehearsals! The government wants to educate the public on proper responses to future possible disasters. Their solution? Practice drills! The university graduation ceremony is coming up in a few weeks so what is the number one focus for all the participants? Practice walk-throughs!
In a land that admirably strives for perfection, it often seems that the one-word solution to success for every endeavor is “practice.” While practice is certainly an important element in achieving anything of note, the Japanese seem to go beyond merely tolerating its necessity to the point of actually embracing it. This hyper focus on practice is readily apparent in almost all levels of Japanese society, ranging from business, athletics, hobbies, music, trade skills and ceremonial events. The Japanese word “renshū” (練習) is the most frequently used term to capture this idea of practice combining the actions of “repetition” and “learn.” It is believed that a particular skill or behavior learned through repetition fosters refinement in technique and, presumably, produces improved results. This emphasis on practice explains why an aspiring young sushi chef will unquestionably labor for five years as a lowly apprentice before being entrusted with the seemingly simple task of preparing the sushi rice. The same concept applies to a junior high student who joins the school badminton club, but has to practice their swing for several weeks before being introduced to an actual racquet.
Perhaps this value of renshū is best illustrated by the life of the famous baseball player, Ichiro Suzuki, who set a number of records in the Major Leagues after he was traded from Japan. From the age of seven, rain or shine, Ichiro’s father enforced a daily, rigorous practice routine on him that included throwing 50 pitches, hitting 200 live pitches, fielding 100 balls and hitting 300 pitches from a machine. As Ichiro got older, this daily regimen began to include hurling car tires and hitting wiffleballs with a heavy shovel to increase his strength. Renshū certainly accounted for a large portion of Ichiro’s success as a baseball player, but he later admitted it came at a heavy price.
Practice can certainly have its onerous aspects, even when not taken to extremes, but it is usually a necessary component to success in any meaningful endeavor. One obviously, does not become a skilled musician, chef or athlete without the investment of many hours into polishing their craft. Renshū at its very heart, usually has this worthy objective in mind, but sometimes it is obscured by the oppressive daily grind that typically accompanies such practice patterns.
In the Bible, many uses of the term “practice” have an extremely negative connotation. On numerous occasions the practices of God’s people are described as “detestable;” other negative adjectives like “evil,” “unclean,” “worthless” or “corrupt” are also commonly juxtaposed with the term. However, to do the opposite and live in obedience to God, David testifies to the importance of a positive form of practice in Psalm 119:56. Even Jesus declared the importance of this kind of renshū if our objective is to live lives worthy of God. “But everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.” (Matthew 7:24) However, at the same time, we must never forget that while practice cannot make us perfect, the Cross redeems all our imperfections and failures.