I Know absolutely Nothing.

by Kevin

It’s a bit dramatic, isn’t it? The sort of thing you expect from a martial arts blog, something to allude to the idea of mushin, or even the idea of leaving preconceptions at the door to leave way for “The Way”.

There is nothing philosophical about that here.

Oh, sure – I think I know a few things. I’ve been taught a bunch of things by an excellent teacher, read a bunch of books, talked to a bunch of people and even made a few things. Most of those things I’ve fortunately managed to sell to people to help support myself, and I’ve even won a few prizes and recognition for my work. Does that contribute in any way to my base of knowledge, as something that I can apply to other situations or projects?

Absolutely not.

The last few weeks have been hard. I mentioned in my last post that there was a sense of “reality” that’s become apparent in the work I’m doing here, that I really need to lock down basic techniques and studio practices. The thing I didn’t mention (because I was still thinking about how to relate the two) was the notion of putting yourself under scrutiny, in order to challenge the knowledge you have, and to (possibly) completely rebuild it. It’s one thing to develop knowledge – but how do you know that it’s true? How do you know if it’s something that will withstand scrutiny? You test it. And possibly reject that it’s “true” to establish a new body of knowledge.

And that’s the challenge right now – to test knowledge in a situation where it really matters; to truly think through processes and materials, and to develop a way of really “seeing” what I’m doing.

When I first got here, I really wasn’t sure how I needed to proceed. I knew that I had to leave preconceptions at the door and approach the work with an open mind. But I also knew that I would have to draw on what I thought I knew in order to properly assess (or rather, for Ford to properly assess) if that knowledge was valid. And to be perfectly honest, I’ve discovered a massive disconnect between how I was taught to do things (being a combination of actual teaching, tutorials and conversations had online, and my own process experiments back in Canada), how I did the work back home, and how I’ve applied everything to the work I’ve been doing here. Sure, I’ve muddled through and learned A LOT in a very short time so far. But a spotlight has been shown on HOW I’ve gotten through those things – and that spotlight shows every little bit of sloppy technique, lazy studio etiquette and ego that can throw a project into disarray.

Ego is the big one, much to my dismay.

Ego trumps knowledge every single time, making the above musings about knowledge entirely moot.

For example – just this morning I set up the patinating station to colour three sample squares of copper alloy. Everything was clean, fresh and ready to go. After a little bit of problem-solving to resolve some unevenness, the samples were done and I was quite pleased with the process and the colour (patination is something that I’ve always known I needed to get better at, because it’s so finicky). But the next job was patinating a brass tsuba, and for some reason it all fell apart. The work area became messy and disorganized, and gradually the problem-solving became faulty… sending everything into a spiral until it was calmly pointed out that each step in my process was likely causing contamination of the next step.

Now. I KNOW this. I’ve been reading about this process for years now (from the only reliable source), and am normally fastidious about keeping my workspace clean. And I knew that it was how I needed to start out when I began this morning. I can’t for the life of me understand how the knowledge fell apart and prevented me from keeping a clear head about the process. Or maybe I do and don’t want to see it. Ego is a strange thing – I don’t consider myself an egotistical person, but in the last few weeks it’s become apparent that ego is a HUGE part of how I look at the work. And it fucking hurts to realize that.

They say experience is the best teacher, and that you only learn from making mistakes. But if your ego is fragile, then those mistakes and experiences get amplified so badly that they begin to cascade into everything. This is something I MUST learn to let go of – not only to do this kind of work, but as a way to live my life. I knew that there would be some of that during my time here – the idea of tearing oneself down in order to build up again more properly…but I had no idea it would be so gut-wrenching and relate so sharply to the work. It hurts.

Still – I got a good copper patina this morning, a good iron patina yesterday, and tomorrow is a whole new day. That brass tsuba is still waiting, and I have a clearer picture of how to go about it. So maybe that’s the first step – not just relearning a bit of knowledge, but learning to not let oneself get in their own way.