View Full Version : Ambling down the path...

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Keith Larman
07-08-2010, 12:27 PM
My first lessons in sword polishing was to buy a huge number of what are called fingerstones (hazuya and jizuya). I was told to sort them by look, by fineness, by hardness, by taste, by smell, by whatever I could. Then I was to thin them for use, back them, and then thin them more and sort them again. Once I finished that I was told to do it again. So I did. I didn't ask why. I did ask "taste? are you kidding?" No. "Smell?" Yup, smell them too. I was then told to also feel how they felt when being thinned. How they vibrated. I was told to listen to how they sounded when being thinned (hmmm, better put in my hearing aids and turn up the volume).

Over a lot of years I've thinned and backed a lot of stones, many times more than I will ever use in my lifetime.

Years later a guy came by to watch me polish. I was doing what is called "hadori". I pull out this large box that has about 6 boxes inside. Each box has 24 individual compartments. I go through the boxes, looking, and finally pick out a couple stones from one compartment of one of the boxes. The guy asked me "why those particular fingerstones?" I just smiled -- "because they're the right ones for this blade." He looked at the one box for a while and commented that they all looked identical to him. No, each one was slightly different. So he asked how I knew it was the right one.

It just was. Why? Don't really know, exactly. But after having sat there for hundredsof hours sorting the damned things, trying them, using them, and then the years of it simply "sinking in" I just knew. Can't really explain it any other way.

There have been a thousand lessons like this for me in polishing (and sword mounting). Every week I learn *why* something was taught to me 10 years ago. I didn't understand it then. I think I understand it better now.

Kata. Transmission. How do you learn something that is complete and comprehensive when you really can't possibly understand any specific without first understanding the whole? Catch-22?

Apprenticeship in polishing is 10 years in Japan. I ain't there. Some do it a bit faster, some never finish. Some say it takes 10 years to learn all you need to know about antiques, history, etc. Yeah, that makes sense. But it is the 10 years of slaving away, working, learning, absorbing with someone looking over your shoulder saying "put that down -- go sort some stones -- you're using the wrong hazuya".

I don't work on antiques. I work on Japanese "style" swords by western smiths and "shinsakuto" by living Japanese smiths. And I still study. And I still thin stones.

Frankly I've found that the brutal honesty of a good teacher is one critical aspect of transmission. Uncompromising. There's the right way and there is no other way. No debate. And again you come back to the 10 years of hard work and study. To absorb everything so you can *start* to see the basics.

Artist friends, polisher friends, martial artist friends... The best seem to all walk a similar path that has no shortcuts, no quick and easy solutions and no compromises. You do the work, you do it right, and maybe...

Kata is everything and nothing at the same time. I will *never* need the freaking thousands of fingerstones I have thinned. And yet I have an order of more stones coming from Japan. Which I will thin, sort, smell, taste, ... Because that's what I was told to do. And while it seemed, well, odd originally, I learn more each time I do it.

What does this have to do with Aikido? Well... It just seemed relevant.

Chuck Clark
07-08-2010, 01:21 PM
Very nice Keith. It is the way of things... it is how we gain knowledge that becomes art... and michi.

oisin bourke
07-08-2010, 04:50 PM
Fine words!

Keith Larman
07-08-2010, 04:52 PM
Thank you.

Janet Rosen
07-08-2010, 05:00 PM
Oh, man, what a great meditation on learning, kata, artisanship... thank you, Keith.

Keith Larman
07-08-2010, 09:40 PM
My pleasure. More of a ramble than meditation I think... ;) Pretty much inspired by recent posts, columns and threads.

Kevin Leavitt
07-09-2010, 10:52 AM
Great post Keith. Another good example of the synthesis of 10,000 hours!

Janet Rosen
07-11-2010, 12:54 AM
I've posted a lot on my blog about kata over the years. Just added this today and it seemed apropos so I'm adding it as a comment:

I think it was Marcy Tilton, my first sewing teacher, who commented that you have to make a particular pattern/garment three times for it to be "your's;" that is, to have a real understanding of it.

I began sewing in earnest, with Marcy and a couple of other excellent instructors as my guides, around 1980.

Through the 1980s I sewed practically every skirt, blouse, pair of pants, and jacket or coat that I wore.

I designed the baby gi pattern in 2001, and I'd guess that I've made about 75 to 80 of them over the years.

This afternoon I figured out a better way to do one of the steps. Nobody might notice but me. That's ok too.
original post here (http://zanshinart.blogspot.com/2010/07/road-to-mastery.html)

Cady Goldfield
07-11-2010, 10:22 AM
That was superb, Keith. Thank you.

Janet, isn't it interesting that three often seems to be "the charm" in learning something, getting something to work, or making some kind of impact?

In the horticultural world, a well-known and experienced plantsman, Tony Avent, often says that he does not truly know anything about a particular species of plant until he has killed at least three of them. :)

Maybe the "magic number three" has something to do with the minimum amount of exposure and repetition needed for starting the brain/mind's process of hardwiring desired functions or actions. Each time we practice something, (ideally) we observe something new, eliminate errors and refine a condition or an action, increasing likelihood of success.

oisin bourke
07-13-2010, 07:36 AM
When I started learning the shakuhachi, I was told that it took three years to learn how to move the neck properly.

It also took me three months of playing the same bloody piece before my teacher reckoned I could do an acceptable "meri" (A basic technique for dropping the tone).

Sometimes I wonder what others who aren't ambling down the path do with their time...

Janet Rosen
07-13-2010, 05:37 PM
Sometimes I wonder what others who aren't ambling down the path do with their time...

I reckon they are the people who complain about being bored...
yeah, what is it about the rule of three????

Hebrew Hammer
07-14-2010, 02:25 AM
Much respect, I admire your determination, passion, and effort in attaining perferction...I have not the patience nor the will, for such an effort. Very cool.

Jennifer St.John
07-14-2010, 06:49 AM
We do corporate consulting in communication and management. Aikido applied to life and business.

We start by learning how to enter the room...

We tell our new consultants that it takes thirty to fifty seminars to become a solid teacher. And they say, "Are you kidding?"

Often our people find that they encounter people in their training sessions that they have a hard time dealing with in life -- mean boys, tough women, critical old farts etc... We say, "There's no difference between life in general and life in the training room. You have to learn to defeat your demons and your opponents by harmonizing with them -- as a consultant or an uke..."

Thanks. I'm looking forward to quoting you.

Time to sweep the dojo...

07-14-2010, 07:35 AM
Much respect, I admire your determination, passion, and effort in attaining perferction...I have not the patience nor the will, for such an effort. Very cool.

Kevin, out of curiosity, why do you think you don't have the patience or the will to take the "10,000 times" approach to mastery?

Hebrew Hammer
07-14-2010, 10:22 AM
Kevin, out of curiosity, why do you think you don't have the patience or the will to take the "10,000 times" approach to mastery?

Brilliant question Mary!

Not quite what I meant but your question struck a cord. My response was in regards to Keith's dedication to artisanship, his sword polishing endeavors...I admire master craftsman/women and artists although I am not one.

To answer your question, I'm a classic under acheiver Mary, although at this point of my life I am finding determination and will power having once again returned to me. It's more like I'm one who is a Jack of all trades master of none type of guy. I'm fascinated by many things but focussed on few.

In terms of Aikido, I've dabbled in a few classes, but am not convinced its for me. My martial experience comes from mostly striking arts, Kempo Karate, Choy Lee Fut/Chi Kung, and Boxing/Kick Boxing, I find those styles intrinsically rewarding.

My attraction to Aikido is intellectually and verbally in nature. I can blend, but martially I have a hard time not wanting to strike...so I'm a fan of Aikido, particularly hard style practioners like Senseis Joe Thambu and Seagal. I also enjoy those who are in it (thats why I'm on the forum), I am a believer in Internal/External, hard/soft, and yin/yang approach to martial arts.

I hope I didn't drift too far off the path...but you asked! :D

Thanks for your interest Mary and good training!

07-14-2010, 11:36 AM
Interesting reply, Kevin. If I accept Keith's definition of mastery (which I do), I'm not actually sure that willpower and determination play that great a role. That sounds completely goofy, but let me see if I can clarify. When I think of the words "willpower" and "determination", I get a mental image of gritted teeth, of strain and stress and effort. I don't think the 10,000 whatevers takes that kind of willpower and determination. Instead, it's the very tiny willpower and determination to do just one more. And then one more, and one more, and one more, but they're all just done one at a time. I don't know how anyone can accomplish anything by thinking about those 10,000 reps. I know people do, but I'm not one of them.

Of course, if I'm more typical than not, that may imply that most people who actually get to 10,000 reps are the very ones who don't ever think about getting there.

Hebrew Hammer
07-14-2010, 12:40 PM
I can see your point of view and agree that its the more pragmatic approach. Will power and determination may not the words you would use, but I certainly think they apply here. Were you picturing 'gritty determination or strength of will?'

I like your position...so you are referring to the journey..being short sighted as opposed to far sighted, then I do believe that applies to me as well...I have become more existential, continuing down the path....

I am concerned more about the next step rather then where I will be in a 100 or 10,000...the 10k outlook is indeed grandiose.