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Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The right tools.....

 "If you only have a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail." -Abraham Maslow.

Today, a friend needed some tools and I was asked if I had a socket set with a spark plug socket. Usually, I carry a toolkit with me in my car at all times, but I left the toolkit at home months ago and never put it back in my trunk. I felt badly that I didn't have the toolkit with me, and it reminded me of a situation that happened years ago......

One day, during my Mighty-Mites class, we were practicing inward strike (or inward block, in other systems), and little Timmy asked "Sifu, why do we do inward strike like that?"

I paused for a second to realize that he wasn't asking "Why is it called inward strike?" but "why its done like that". If he had asked "why is it called?", that would be easy to answer! "Because it goes *inward* toward our centerline!"....but he asked *why* it was executed like that, and honestly, I didn't have an answer because he took me by surprise. Most kids always ask "why is it called this or that?". All the other kids chimed in, "Yeah, Sifu, why do we do it like that?"

Wow, simple question, and I had no answer. I could have explained all the academic points of proper weapon placement, mapping, and choice of techniques for a given self defense situation, but the kids were 5 years old.....would they even care about all that academic mumbo jumbo that probably wouldn't make sense till they were at least 8 years old?

At that time, it was getting around time for a short water break, so I said, "I'll answer that question after break...." and I let the kids take their break. As I was walking to my office to get my water bottle, I noticed that the locker that carried all our tools was ajar. As I shut the locker door, I thought "That's it! Tools!" I gathered up a hammer, a few small nails, a screw, a bolt, a nut, a flathead screwdriver, a Phillips head screwdriver, and a wrench, along with some pieces of board from a previous board breaking class.

After break, I called the class together and said "Remember a few minutes ago, when Timmy asked 'why do we do inward strike like that? Who remembers?" All hands raise, all voices ring "I remember! I do!"

"Well, who has ever watched their Mom or Dad use a screwdriver? Who knows what a screwdriver is?" All hands raise. I pulled out the screwdriver and said "This is a tool that is used to put screws (held up a screw) into things like wood or a wall." I showed them the flathead and the Phillips, and started the screw into one of the board pieces with the flathead (single slot screw). I let each of them try to turn the screw a few turns. Then Anne exclaimed "Hey, the other screwdriver won't fit! Its got a different shape!"

"That's right! Good eye, Anne! This flathead is the right tool for this job, since the screw only has one slot. The other screwdriver, is that the right tool?"  "NOOOOO!" said the class. "Same type of tools, they both are, but one doesn't work for this job."

Then, I started a nail into the board with the hammer. After I got it a little way into the wood, I pulled out the Phillips screwdriver and tried to "hammer" it with the tip and the handle. The kids laughed. "Is THIS screwdriver the right tool?"  "NOOOOO!"

Then, I took out a bolt and nut, pushed the bolt through several layers of paper and turned the nut on. "Now I gotta tighten this bolt!" I used the hammer, and the kids laughed. "Well that's not gonna work. How about this?" I used the screwdrivers. More laughter. "Well, dang, that's not gonna work either. Let's see, let's try this!" I grabbed the adustable wrench and fitted it onto the nut. "Wait! This thing can fit on the bolt!! Michael, can you turn this and see if it makes the nut go tighter?" Michael turned the wrench a few times. "Its working! its moving!"

"See? We have to have the right tools for the job!". I stood up and said "Michael, I want you to pretend that I'm an attacker, and I want you to show the your best side kick to my knee!.....don't hit me for real though!" Michael got up, assumed his tiger stance, and did his best side kick with a kiai. "Very nice! Now, I'm gonna change my position, and I want you to side kick me in the knee again!"  I fell to both knees, and bent over a little bit to hide my stomach. Michael got into his tiger stance, then said "But I can't side kick your knee, you're hiding 'em!" The class erupted in giggles.

"That's true! So your side kick to the knee is probably not the best tool to use, huh? But the job is, put down the bad guy, so what other tool can I use?"  The class shouted out "front kick!", "Palm strike!", and other weapons. "Those are all correct! But, we can't use all those tools for all the places you can hit. Tell me, what target is open right now?"


"True! Can you kick that high?"

"No! Too high!"

"What could we use, then?"

"Palm strike!" 

"Timmy, show me how you'd use palm strike to face". Timmy ran up, and did a great palm strike toward my nose. (very close! Whew!)  "Right, Tim! You got it!"

"See? We always need the right tools for the job. "How about punch? Can you punch me in nose NOW?" I turned my body to face away from Timmy. "No! Too slow to run around to your face!" Timmy said. So I said "How about inward strike? Where can you strike?" And without warning, he landed his inward strike to my ear. Whew, luckily, not enough power to bust an eardrum, but it woke me up for sure!

"I get it!" Timmy said. "Sometimes ya gotta use other strikes when ya can't do punch!"

"That's right, Tim. Did you feel that inward strike was the best tool that time?"

"Yeeeaaah. It was easy! Is that why inward strike is done like that?"

"For this can't-get-to-my-face-job, Timmy, yeah!"

Little Paul was looking at the pile of tools nearby, and piped up....."Sifu, but this thing....(held up a phillips screw) didn't use the other screwdriver! (he picks up the phillips head). Hey, this thing fits in BOTH this one AND the other one (single slot screw)! Hey look!!!"

"We'll......go over that another day, Paul...."


As adults, we know that certain professions have certain tools that are needed for their jobs. Plumbers tend to have a slightly different toolset than carpenters, and carpenters have a different toolset than, let's say, car mechanics. But as Paul pointed out, sometimes a single tool can span different jobs. In martial arts, we learn how to use all our "tools" for multiple "jobs", in an myriad of ways. In life, the more "tools" you have, the greater the chances you can "fix" what needs to be fixed, or the greater the chances you have for figuring out how to construct something.

Do you have multiple "tools" in life? Or do you carry only one or two tools only because they're the only ones you know how to use? Why not learn how to use other tools? 

Our past experiences, our opinions, our outlooks, even our predictions, are types of these tools. In simple example, If all you know and expect from life is negativity, then guess'll see everything, no matter great it is, as a letdown or a perceived insult.....your perceptions will have operated on only the tools that you know how to use.  On the other hand, if you're overly confident and positive and don't allow reality to come into your mode of thought, then problems that need working on, won't get worked on if you think that the problem will solve itself just with positive intent. There has to be a balance....a point where *all* our tools in our toolboxes will be useful for our specific jobs. We must purchase our tools wisely, and if need be, seek instruction from someone else familiar with a particular tool, on how to use them. 

Now, if I could only figure out what I bought my big impact wrench for.   :)