...sweat of my brow...
The Immortal Kung Fu Hipster yeah but still
My son and I have spent most of our Saturday watching Danny Rand run from his role as Iron Fist and try and fail and then forget to commit to reclaiming his father’s company. Now, Rotten Tomatoes has come at Netflix’s newest series really hard and It’s pretty easy to see why- a white dude who is better at Asian arts than all of the Asians who appear on the show, as bad guys pretty much universally, isn’t really what anyone is clamoring for. It also often feels like rather than just existing in the same universe as Daredevil that it borrows from the man without fear pretty heavily. Still, even given these and other things that I’m not going to go over because this post isn’t a critique of the show, I couldn’t stop watching.
We’re into it because there are parts of the show that are really cool and resonate a lot: there’s a clear tension between linear Japanese and circular Chinese martial arts styles on the show with the implication that the practice allows the practitioner the tools to be great through a certain frame but greatness ultimately is up to the pragmatism in manipulating that frame and commitment of the practitioner. Also, I like the fact that Iron Fist’s big weakness is drugs and how they dull one’s chi. Earning a transcendent mental state, be it a flow state or deeply meditative one, is through hard physical and mental work and drugs are a cheap shortcut/out and not something that conveys lasting gains on the user. This is all classic martial arts philosophy and Danny Rand is a throwback. The core of martial arts in the classical conception is always the physical, mental and spiritual development of the practitioner through difficult work.
When can I just hang my black belt on the wall?
This is deeply personal stuff for me as I was a competitive kickboxer and still consider myself, albeit out of shape, a martial artist. But before I could apply the adjective competitive to my kickboxing pursuits I was a guy trying to make it through a training session without collapsing from exhaustion. What got me through a lot of those first training sessions was the thought that once I get the hang of this it isn’t going to be hard any more. 50 pushups would be a synch, bagwork would be automatic, shadowboxing would be fun.
My trainer said something important though a couple of weeks in, “It never stops being hard because once you reach a new level your output is higher and you see and do more. If it feels easy then you aren’t trying.” That was a disappointing but inspiring revelation to me. 50 pushups would just become 100, single punches would become combinations, shadowboxing would be at breakneck speeds and require intense visualization. We weren’t on a path to easy if we were looking to be whatever our version of great was and easy and great were/are, yes, mutually exclusive. It would always be a challenge that brought increasing abilities and more importantly- perspectives. I think the same idea applies to almost any worthwhile pursuit.
Principal martial artist
I think about this a lot in terms of the principalship in my 2nd year. In the summer I thought ok I figured out all these difficult and foreign things: budgets, my voice for confrontations with folks who needed to be held accountable, obscure paperwork, planning and leading the development of skilled and novice practitioners, etc. so year 2 will joyously be much easier.
How quickly we can forget even the most profound lessons we learn.
While district paperwork sharknados no longer have me up late at night with deadline anxiety, increasingly difficult questions around students’, teachers and families’ needs in terms of community, learning and care do. My point here is that that is a good thing for me and for our community. The work is harder now because I am better at it and my abilities and perspectives increasingly take into account the deeper truths and different perspectives of this work, conversely, I see and do more of what I hope is good.
Harder might be the wrong word to describe the work as the challenges we take on are those we are ready for because just as after those first weeks the kickboxing sessions didn’t get easier, and neither has the principalship, they were more difficult in ways that I was prepared to meet; we continue to push ourselves but a blind spot once removed is from then on a place you see from.
An eternally difficult mission or task is a sobering thought. It means that, as my mentor would say, the work is always work. We all get tired and we all seek peace and rest especially when things outside of our mission or perhaps parallel missions demand focus, energy and time from us. That means we need to take breaks not that we plateau. Taking breaks means taking care of yourself and those who are in relation to you so that there is time for healing and renewal. Plateauing means separating yourself from your potential and the potential you hold to do good on behalf of others.
This will always be a challenge but it will never be a challenge we don’t have the skills and perspective to continually move towards
2/9/2017 Practitioners or Workers?
Do practitioners or workers educate students in your school?
Getting it Done
Work is about doing- showing up and plugging away at a task. Work has set formulae and blue prints that you follow. A worker knows that they are in service to a process or a set of plans. To do well is to follow the process and the plans to the best of one’s ability.
To subvert the process and plan of work is to be a “hack” and not in the complimentary, millennial start-up, Tim Ferris might interview you sense, but rather taking shortcuts so you don’t have to “work” as hard.
Thinking back to a time when I was a 19 year old electrician’s apprentice, hack was the ultimate insult. It seemed that at every jobsite, under every foreman, and as an apprentice they would throw you out in the field at every type of site and foreman to see if you were a suitable fit- from finding electrical panels for the bespectacled service call veteran at the local community college, to digging trenches for the tobacco chewing John Waynes who lay the pipe in the dirt, to all of these men the work of our predecessors was pure hackery. Every foreman made it clear that following the rules was what would define our work as either good or just acceptable or a lawsuit and that we were expected to be better at it than anyone else on site. To apply creativity was to compromise the work and, especially with electrical work, possibly the safety of the customer.
But I’m a “Creative”!
After staring at a set of blueprints with a foreman, whose name I forget but who called me strawberry because I didn’t drink and I brought three strawberry crushes to the trailer when our crew was supposed to skip a meeting and drink together (I was with them in spirit if not intent!), I realized that the level of detail in the plans called for complete adherence, that truly any deviation could destroy or at the least subvert the whole. There was no room for creation for me- to try and apply that would most likely lead to its inverse.
I had to go.
I realized what was most valuable to me: the opportunity to question, to create, to try something and fail and learn from it and adapt my practice until I had created something I believed in. The joy I’d experienced helping students while in high school as a youth counselor, my learned affinity for solving problems of and between people (I grew up as the oldest of four and in my mother’s daycare), a call to social justice work- these were all large factors in my decision to pursue teaching but the impulse to create and help others in creation was a core need I had that I saw being met through the practice of teaching.
Are you a worker or a supervisor of workers? Is this in conflict with your values and needs? Do you believe that the learning process cannot be mapped and laid out from afar like a blueprint? What will you do?
Moving to Practice
To be a practitioner is to be one who can ask questions, who is practicing: actively getting better and making value judgments that lead to improvements in one’s practice. It requires adaptation based on continual assessment and a positive orientation towards “hacking” or creative solutions to existing structures and plans.
I understand all teachers I work with to be practitioners and if they come to me with the orientation of a worker my goal is to help them understand themselves as and make the transition to active practice.
Supporting teachers who come from the opposite orientation is a whole separate article. This doesn’t discount the importance of the tools of a worker and the value of the orientation when it is appropriate to the task: the ability to follow a plan, to show up on time, to understand and adhere to a set of expectations are incredibly valuable.
When designing and facilitating learning experiences folks must be challenged to move beyond those skills and towards more autonomous thinking. Plans must come from within the teacher and in relationship to their students as we aren’t building a thing but creating a sequence of experiences that lead to divergent questions and understandings while requiring the acquisition of set skills.
Before anything else can occur, there has to be a mindset shift that moves against the grain of mainstream educational trends. Practitioners are the only types of educators who can facilitate the conversations, design the experiences, and respond to/encourage the questions that our students have. Hack the plans you’ve been given or design your own coming from a knowledge of yourself, your students, your discipline, and your city.
How do you practice your craft? What are you reading/experiencing right now that informs your practice?