As a kid, I was fortunate enough to have role models in Senseis Judy and Reese Rigby. At their dojo, I learned the importance of practicing the “basics” - beginner katas, simple controlled motions, proper stance, breathing, calisthenics.

The basics were prioritized significantly over what otherwise might seem more exciting activities to peers or spectators - things like sparring, bag work, or flying roundhouse kicks. There was a time for competition and advanced technique, but daily practice was grounded in attending to the basics, and stopping when it was time to rest.

There was no particular celebration for completing a beginner’s kata, nor immediate reward for maintaining a horse stance for minutes, feeling the connection between my bare feet and the ground. Instead, there was only “OK - practice that again, Wesley!” or “OK - it’s time to go home now.”

I reflect on this “attention to first principles” as one of the most valuable lessons for a career in engineering. I love working with teams that exemplify an attention and practice grounded in "the basics." These teams typically include people who regularly build small things from scratch for the purposes of learning; they read, re-read, and discuss canonical texts about their discipline, know their tools well, know how and when to test their work, gravitate towards simplicity even when the ego might be temporarily more satisfied by complexity, and listen mindfully.

Thank you, Senseis Judy and Reese Rigby, for the lesson in practicing the basics.