“The Japanese word shokunin is defined by both Japanese and Japanese-English dictionaries as ‘craftsman’ or ‘artisan,’ but such a literal description does not fully express the deeper meaning. The Japanese apprentice is taught that shokunin means not only having technical skills, but also implies an attitude and social consciousness. … The shokunin has a social obligation to work his/her best for the general welfare of the people. This obligation is both spiritual and material, in that no matter what it is, the shokunin’s responsibility is to fulfill the requirement.” – Tasio Odate
Kayaking is too frequently taught as dogma. I don't believe this is the best way to learn something. I work very hard at two things. Being the best teacher I can be, and doing the best forward stroke I can do. I don't think it can be taught by one method. I have used many over time, and I have learned to tailor lessons to the people in front of me. Not everyone learns the same way. Why should we teach them the same way, particularly something as difficult to teach as the forward stroke.
Bruce Lee knew that fighting styles shouldn't be taught as dogma. He took this, and he took that and he combined them to create his on style of 'no style'.
It is that combination of things teaching, and the forward stroke, that I feel is my Shokunin. It is my obligation, to not only continually refine my forward stroke, but to refine how I teach it. Don't get me wrong. I think I am a good paddler, but there are many who are better. I am great at expeditions, but there are many that are better. By I am obsessed by the forward stroke, and appalled by the little bit of attention it gets.
I am continually drawn back to the film "Jiro Dreams of Sushi" because it is at once so inspiring and so humbling. Today I was struck by a sentence, spoken by the man who sells eel and octopus. That is all he does, is sell eel and octopus. Jiro's son goes to him - as he does all his fish vendors - because they are experts at their craft. Jiro is an expert at making Sushi, but he goes to people who are experts in fish. He knows he can't possibly know as much as they do, because they specialize in just one thing. The eel man said, "even at my age I am learning new techniques. even when you think you know it all, you are just fooling yourself, and you feel foolish."
I haven't held kayak paddle as long as this man has held octopus. I think I am at the point, after 20 years, where I am starting to get good.
When you choose to do something, you have to choose to do it well. You have to say, Today I am going to be the best I can be. And you have to say it everyday. If you don't you are letting yourself down. But if you do this, you will excel, in whatever you do. If you are a brick layer, strive to be the best bricklayer.
too often I see people who fail, because they don't want to try. I work hard to be as good as I can be. If I know I can't compete I move onto something else, I am not saying I have to be the best, because I am certainly not, But I have to be MY best. Which is why I am no longer a paramedic.
every time I get into the cockpit, I am thinking about all the minutia. The feel of the boat, the feel of the water. The feel of the paddle. I am working to be the best paddler I can be, particularly as it relates to the forward stroke.
You may think that this level of attention is a little crazy. It's just paddling after all, but it makes a difference, at least to me. And the pay off is when I see a student start to get it. Or when I have that perfect day, and the paddle glides effortlessly through the water. That is when it is worth it.