The Role of Virtuosity

2 Feb

The best part of my Crossfit Level 1 certification was the half hour we spent discussing the role of virtuosity. It’s a word used often in gymnastics, which explains why it is relevant to a Crossfit class.

But its a part…maybe the most integral part…of Crossfit that I think is relevant for every aspect of life.

Virtuosity is defined as “performing the common uncommonly well.”

Isn’t this what we want to teach our kids in school and our direct reports in business and our students in music programs and our athletes on the field?

When it comes to any skill, technique, movement, or art form, we must begin with the fundamentals.  Eventually, we move onto originality and risk, although constantly reemphasizing fundamentals.  But virtuosity is, according to my Crossfit training guide “the mark of true mastery (and of genius and beauty).”

One of the ways I live a life that is rooted in the present and full of joy is by choosing something to study each week.  It helps keep work and gym and home life intertwined and enjoyable.  This past week, I observed people “performing the common uncommonly well.”  What better way for me to learn virtuosity than from those I interact with daily?

There is the Crossfit champion who performed the same shoulder to overhead movement as everyone else…but with an amazingly impressive cycle time and the ability to push 120% in the last crucial minutes.  The speed at which he moved such a heavy weight made people gasp.

There is my boss at work, meeting with employees on big issues and small issues and handling divorces and mental illness and child trauma with a grace and wisdom that I can only hope to attain a piece of someday.

There is the coworker who writes computer code for me – and does so brilliantly. Efficient, logical, fast, yet he puts his own “handwriting and style” as it were into the code in such a way that everyone else can tell it was his work.

There is the guy at the gym whose box jumps are so lithe and graceful, I am convinced that he is part wild cat.  It’s really hard to jump on your own box and not destroy your shins and still watch him jump on his but it actually (stupid as this sounds) feels like an honor to watch him jump.  That kind of mastery of something ordinary (don’t we all step up on stuff daily) is rare.

There is the former coworker who juggles work and school and three little sons, who is severely handicapped.  She has an amazing sense of humor, a deep love for those little guys, and a hard life.  Yet she, and my friend who just kicked some cancer ass, both approach their lousy odds with a masterful humorous approach and a desire to love life – even the bits that completely suck.

Sometimes its easy to want to skip steps at work (will the auditor really notice?) or skip movements at the gym (is someone else really counting my 75 burpees) or skip chores (will my clean apartment be enjoyed by anyone but me?) but the desire to practice virtuosity – to take the ordinary and mundane and make it uncommonly wonderful – as well as my ethics and personal honor code, always win out.

At the end of my Crossfit training guide, it says: “It is natural to want to teach people advanced and fancy movements. The urge to quickly move away from the basics and toward advanced movements arises out of the natural desire to entertain your client and impress him with your skills and knowledge…[But] If you insist on basics, really insist on them, your clients will immediately recognize that you are a master trainer. They will not be bored; they will be awed. I promise this. They will quickly come to recognize the potency of fundamentals. They will also advance in every measurable way past those not blessed to have a teacher so grounded and committed to basics.”

It is this statement which makes me happy I insisted that all my 7th and 8th graders show all their work on math homework or it was automatically wrong.  Basics matter.  It is this statement that makes me grateful for everyone: the teachers and pastors, my parents and siblings, my gym coaches and running partners, my bosses and coworkers who has taken the time to teach me basics. To insist on basics.  To not rush to anything showy and flashy and impressive but to help me build a solid foundation with the right skills.

Because, before you can perform the common uncommonly well, you have to commit to knowing and doing and finding joy in the common first.  Virtuosity is only a seasoning, not the whole meal.



3 Responses to “The Role of Virtuosity”

  1. tri-grandma-try February 3, 2014 at 4:12 am #

    Thanks Liz, a real encouragement to me today!

  2. Maria Scard (@mariascard) February 3, 2014 at 5:42 am #

    Brilliant Liz I loved this we miss you

  3. s February 3, 2014 at 7:21 am #

    I agree with Cindy — a great reminder and encouragement. I often get impatient and want to push beyond the basics, when there is such satisfaction and even a stronger platform for everything else when the basics are done well.

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