Monday, June 01, 2009
Chop Wood, Carry Water
Take a healthy young man, hand him a cane knife, and send him out to the fields to earn his living chopping the stuff down for the local sugar mill. I surmise, that, after a few months of eight-hour days, six days a week, that young fellow would be, assuming he didn't cut his own foot off, pretty good at swinging sharp steel.
Keep him at it until he is, say, forty, and after fifteen years of doing it, I would be willing to bet good money and give big odds that he'd be expert at waving that sharp back and forth. He would have learned how to husband his energy; the most efficient ways to protect his joints and muscles and would be adept with both hands. He'd know where best to slice a cane to take it down with the minimal amount of effort; how to quickly sharpen his blade -- and to know exactly when it needed to be sharpened.
Send a couple of strong-arm boys at him on his way to work one morning to steal his favorite lunch, and if he had his cane knife in hand, I wouldn't like to be them. This is a man who knows how to cut things, knows how it feels to connect with something solid. Even if the attackers each had knives, the advantage would, I'd have to guess, go to the cane cutter. This is his tool and after years of playing with it, he'd know what it would reach and what it would or would not cut.
I saw a cane cutter throw an apple in the air once and quarter it with two easy swipes of that fat and ugly blade, then hook one of the pieces on the way down, and I got the impression he could do that all day long every day of the week, and blindfolded on Sunday.
Now. Put the cane-cutter up gainst a swordsman, one who has practiced for years. This gets a little trickier, doesn't it?
On the one hand, people will offer that cane might kink or snap back now and then, but it doesn't swing steel swords at you. Cutting plants, no matter how tough they are, isn't like cutting somebody who cuts back. The sword player knows how to block or parry or avoid an attack.
On the other hand, fifteen years of lopping cane gives you shoulders you can break rocks on, and an eye for how, where, and when to cut. A half-assed block is apt to get knocked aside.
Other factors at play, of course, but it makes you wonder. According to the dictates of specificity, the more detailed and focused you become at a task, the narrower your scope, the closer you get to mastery of that particular function. If you focus on behind-the-back pool shots more than any other four guys, you'll probably get better at it than them.
Michael Jordan was a hell of a basketball player, one of the best to play the game, and a superb athlete; but as a baseball player, he was minor league and never going to get to the big show. Some of his athleticism transferred to the baseball field, but that was not his forte -- he started too late. But nobody playing baseball, (and few playing basketball) could keep up with him on the court.
On the third hand, getting too specific might not serve you as well as being a generalist in some situations, and, as always, it will depend on what the situation is ...
Still and all, add cane cutter to the list of guys I wouldn't want to see with a sharp heading my way -- along with butchers and surgeons.
When your only tool is a knife, every problem starts to look like a steak.