Many enthusiasts or amateurs in Japan are known not to skimp in their approach to their chosen activity. Equipment, training, facilities and dedication should be on the highest level. This is why you see so many high end cameras in the hands of average-looking 50 or 60 year olds. Not to mention the ubiquity of second hand stores for photography, golf or other equipment.
The other day we went for a casual family bowling. The center was full of people having a good time, and all lanes in use. When we had finished our game, a quiet but somehow unusual looking older gentleman took over our lane. He was dressed in light, sportive clothing and pulled a small bag on coasters behind him. It contained his personal bowling balls.
He then punched some code into the console and his name and data came up automatically. He proceeded with some warmup and stretching excercises. It certainly stood out between all the other people, shouting and laughing, enjoying the game with a beer.
I was getting more and more curious about him. Our man sat down and carefully bandaged his hand, then proceeded to layer three or four different types of glove on the hand. It was a real ceremony, even amusing to the point of making fun of him. Naturally I was dying to see him perform, expecting some spectacle.
So he went ahead and… well, it was by no means spectacular, but there was something noticeably different in the way he did it. Our man eventually cleared all ten pins, and just a short while after that the same occurred on the neighbouring lane of beer drinkers. Why all the fuss?
Only later I saw some striking parallels to those of us engaged in photography. Here are several observations, which I encourage you to add to in case you wish:
Like bowling, photography can be enjoyed greatly by anyone, even without giving it much practice and thought. You may strike luck, easily and frequently enough to make it an engaging and rewarding experience.
A serious practitioner will stand out as strange or amusing while performing with much more rigour what others do casually.
Outsiders don’t see the need to put that much thought and resources towards the activity, when you can achieve results with standard equipment or average technique. You might be seen as wasting your money, or just complicating your life with something trivial.
When observed informally side-by-side, the serious practitioner’s results do not seem to stand out as obviously better or more successful, much less justifying the “fuss” and investment. However, most certainly over longer periods the rigourous performer will exceed the casual player’s results, and should consistently do so under a greater variety of circumstances.
The serious performer will in some way or another be aware of “best practice” or the work of others that came before him. He will therefore train and practice according to a common school of thought and will therefore connect to like-minded individuals, even though he may never meet them face to face.
It is primarily a mind game. Displaying your routines in public may embarrass you initially but if you do not develop the self-confidence so it won’t matter to you, you will never reach your full potential.
At the right time, investing in equipment or technique, even if they are beyond your current level of performance is (amongst other things, there are various caveats) a symbolic commitment to the level of performance you are striving for. You are in a way materially affirming your level of ambition. You know that after investing into the best, that what remains holding you back is within yourself.
Once you have mastered a basic level of skill, you will feel increasingly confident to let go mentally and become truly creative. Like in the martial arts, once you have reached the highest attainable level of technique, you will find yourself at the starting point of leveraging what you bring to the game as a person and the mind training begins. That path will not have an end.
I feel rather grateful for my encounter with the lone bowler.