Instructors>Instructing techniques>Parables

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The following are some parables that teach life lessons.

The Carpenters

The following parable is attributed to Master Ed Parker of kenpo karate.

A young carpenter with a few years of 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 supervisor told him his methods of pounding nails by striking them straight on while gripping the end of the hammer was flawed. The supervisor 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 supervisor, the young carpenter changed his hammering method to please the supervisor 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 supervisor immediately told the young carpenter that his method of pounding nails in a circular motion was all wrong. The supervisor told him to hold the hammer at the top of the handle and to strike the hammerhead straight down onto the nail. Wanting to please the older, more experienced supervisor, 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.

A 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 a 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 that got the job done and pleased the supervisor.

A second moral is represented by the attitudes of the two supervisors in contrast to the attitude of the young carpenter. The attitudes of the supervisors 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 like those of the supervisors. 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 supervisors at first appear rigid and shortsighted, they were not completely wrong in insisting that the young carpenter uses their methods. A supervisor’s job is to supervise workers and enforce standards and procedures. Having more knowledge and experience than the young carpenter, the supervisors were correct in insisting that he use those methods that they knew from experience would produce the desired results. It is only with such insistence that the supervisors could ensure that the product met the desired standard of quality since any deviation from standard procedures or methods might potentially affect 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 ensure students 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, work to obtain it, and then 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.

Growing bamboo

A new farmer moved into a village. Other farmers in the village grew traditional crops, such as rice, but this farmer wanted to grow a different crop, so he could more successful than the other farmers. After studying the climate, soil conditions, and equipment at his disposal, he decided to grow bamboo.

The traditional farmers mocked him, called him foolish, and warned him of his impending failure; they were unwilling to accept change or progress. However, the farmer was unshaken in his decision.
During the first year after bamboo is planted, nothing much happens. This caused the other farmers to increase their criticism while they were harvesting their crops. During the second year of bamboo growth, nothing much happens, so the farmer was forced to endure a second year of ridicule, but his confidence was unshaken. During its third year of growth, bamboo becomes fully rooted and begins its phenomenal growth cycle, sometimes growing as much as a foot a day. By the end of the summer, the farmer had a bamboo forest that he harvested and sold for a huge profit. The other farmers were astonished and began to show interest in becoming bamboo farmers as well.

This parable teaches two lessons. The first lesson is that, when you have knowledge, you have tremendous power. Knowledge gives you the confidence to pursue your dreams and goals, regardless of what others think. The second lesson is that just because you do not see immediate progress; it does not mean you should give up. The reason the bamboo tree does not produce until the third season is because it spends the first two years growing roots and building a foundation so that, when it is ready to grow it will have the stability to stand tall and reach tremendous heights. Without those roots, the tree would fall over with the first strong wind. Had the farmer lost faith and not had confidence in his knowledge, he might have given up during the first or second year.

Martial art students are like crops; some respond almost instantly, while others may need a full three years or more to benefit fully from their training. Therefore, instructors must allow each student to grow and develop at his or her own pace. Although there may not appear to be any changes on the outside, growth and progress are happening on the inside, so instructors must be patient, have confidence, and persevere.

  • Howard, S. D. (2003). The Hammer and the Nail.

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