Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Hammer and Nail

The following parable is attributed to Master Ed Parker of Kenpo Karate.

A young carpenter with a few years experience in construction went to work for a new company to increase his knowledge and carpentry skills. The young carpenter’s hammering technique had been admired by carpenters at his old job but the new foreman told him his methods of pounding nails by striking them straight on while gripping the end of the hammer was flawed. The foreman said that, while he held the hammer correctly, he should be striking the nails with a circular motion rather than hitting them straight on. Wanting to please the well-known foreman, the young carpenter changed his hammering method to please the foreman and found the new way just as effective as his old way.

After a few years, the young carpenter went to work for a bigger company. The new foreman immediately told the young carpenter that his method of pounding nails in a circular motion was all wrong. The foreman told him to hold the hammer at the top of the handle and to strike the hammer head straight down onto the nail. Wanting to please the older, more experienced foreman, the young carpenter again changed his way of hammering and found the new way just as effective as the other two ways he had used.

The moral of this parable is not that each method of hammering was correct, but that each method was the appropriate choice under the given circumstances. The question is not whether circular motion is superior to linear motion or whether all methods are equally valid; it is a question of which method is most appropriate for the situation at hand. The young carpenter knew that under each set of circumstances, the best technique to use was the one one that got the job done and pleased the foreman.

A second moral is represented by the attitudes of the two foremen in contrast to the attitude of the young carpenter. The attitudes of the foremen could be considered rigid and close-minded. Rather than embracing the young carpenter’s ability to satisfactorily perform a task in a unique manner and taking the opportunity to absorb such knowledge, each of the foremen, being stuck in their own paradigm of what was correct, forced the young carpenter to conform to their methods, thereby losing the opportunity to learn and grow from the experience. In contrast, the young carpenter remained flexible and open-minded, and was able to adapt and succeed in each circumstance.

Unfortunately, many instructors have attitudes similar to those of the foremen. They think their style or curriculum is superior to all others. Such close-mindedness hampers their growth and the growth and potential of their students. Even though most instructors pride themselves on being adaptive and progressive, many may display much obstinacy and stagnation.

Even though the attitudes of the foremen at first appear rigid and shortsighted, they were not completely wrong in insisting that the young carpenter use their methods. A foreman’s job is to supervise workers and enforce standards and procedures. Having more knowledge and experience than the young carpenter, the foremen were correct in insisting that he use those methods that they knew from experience would produce the desired results. It is only by such insistence that the foremen could insure that the end product met the desired standard of quality since any deviation from standard procedures or methods might potentially effect the end result.

Instructors insist that their students perform a technique in a particular manner. It is not that there is no value in other variations in a technique; it is that, to insure student’s have a solid knowledge of the art being taught, instructors must insist on proper, proven techniques. There is a time to be open to the ideas of students or other instructors and to learn from them, but there is also a time to be insistent and to teach the art as it exists.

Even when instructors are open-minded, they must also understand that there are some absolutes. Sometimes techniques and theories are wrong. Instructors should not blindly accept everything as true, even when the information comes from their own masters.

What lessons may be learned from this parable:

  • My way or your way or his way may not be the only way or even the correct way. Only the unique circumstances of a particular moment in combat may determine which way is correct.

  • We should all try to stay inquisitive, adaptive, and open to new knowledge and new possibilities.

  • We should seek wisdom, learn to recognize it, and work to obtain it and impart it.

Remember that the nail, once set, will not move or adapt. The hammer, being mobile, may adjust and correct the course of the nail to ensure it holds true. There is a time to be a nail and a time to be a hammer; a time to be a student and a time to be a teacher.

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