Arthur Ashe, Jr. on Appropriate Tension and Control

Tuesday Quotes are short explorations of music, life, and the daily endeavor of practicing classical guitar. Find more here. Enjoy!

“Never hit a ball harder than it needs to be hit” 

Arthur Ashe

John Mcphee is a renowned writer of narrative non-fiction. He wrote an entire book, Levels of the Game, about one tennis match.

This match was between Clark Graebner and Arthur Ashe, Jr. in 1968.

Now a tennis legend, Arthur Ashe, Jr. was a student of the art of appropriate tension.

He was a fierce competitor, with immense power, speed, and agility.

But unlike many of his contemporaries, he kept calm, cool, and collected.

He was not one to throw racquets or shout at the line judge. He practiced restraint and self-control. He was sensitive and observant.

And he was also confident and secure in himself. He knew his strengths and skills, both on the court and off. But this was not simple bravado. This was born of training and critical reflection.

He was supremely organized in all areas of his life, but also kept a messy room. He relished the balance and thrived in the dualism.

From a young age, he trained himself to not react to injustice or unfairness. He learned not to throw tantrums. He mastered the craft of controlling himself and staying present in the crucial moment.

He controlled what he could control, and accepted the rest.

And likewise, McPhee is a master of clean, appropriate tension. No gratuitous flamboyance when simplicity will do.

And the impact made by both these great men is all the more for the honesty and clarity of their movements.

Both Ashe and McPhee developed the instinct to know how hard to “hit the ball.” In training, they tested the boundaries. This meant they knew those boundaries in the important moments.

They learned to walk to the fine line between too much and not enough. They learned to read each situation and react.

And over time, they continued to refine and hone these skills. In their different ways, each made a fine art of tension and release.

Allen Mathews

Hi, I’m Allen Mathews. 

I started as a folk guitarist, then fell in love with classical guitar in my 20’s. Despite a lot of practice and schooling, I still couldn’t get my music to flow well. I struggled with excess tension. My music sounded forced. And my hands and body were often sore. I got frustrated, and couldn’t see the way forward. Then, over the next decade, I studied with two other stellar teachers – one focused on the technical movements, and one on the musical (he was a concert pianist). In time, I came to discover a new set of formulas and movements. These brought new life and vitality to my practice. Now I help guitarists find more comfort and flow in their music, so they play more beautifully.
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I appreciate the organized, well thought out progression of each level, as well as a measurable means to determine when to proceed to the next level.  I had burned myself out by pushing too hard and playing beyond where I was comfortable.  This course is just what I needed, and I am happy to be back on the road to playing again.


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