The Gentle Way

Right out of college, my first job was working for Catholic Charities at a residential treatment facility for boys. The facility had once been an orphanage called Paradise School for Boys, and although it did not always live up to that idyllic name, it was some of the most fulfilling work I have ever done. I’m not ashamed to admit that I teared up a little the last time I drove away.

Paradise was run by a retired Army Staff Sargent by the name of Ray Leso. Mr. Leso was an absolute bad-ass. He had served as a ranger in the 101st Airborne Division in Vietnam. He was a master of hand to hand combat and every morning he ran the five miles through the woods around the bucolic grounds of the school, punching trees just to keep the callouses on his fists in top shape. With all of my anti-authoritarian penchant, even I had a hard time not snapping to attention with a “yes sir!” every time he spoke. And yet, for all of his bad-assery, he was a master of self control. He understood leverage and motivation.

Perhaps it should come as no surprise that Mr. Leso also loved Judo.

I’m not into martial arts, but as I understand it, one of the principals behind the practice of Judo is maximum efficiency from minimum effort.  Another is the idea that softness controls hardness. 

Jigori Kano, founder of Judo taught that “resisting a more powerful opponent will result in your defeat, whilst adjusting to and evading your opponent’s attack will cause him to lose his balance, his power will be reduced, and you will defeat him.”

As a woodworker who primarily chooses hand tools, consideration of these principles has started to become second nature. Whenever I am working too hard at something I take a step back and think, is there something I’m missing? Is there an easier way to do this? How can I adjust myself or my work to make this more efficient? How can I cause the work to lose its balance so that the transfer of power becomes more effective.

Yesterday I was planing the surface of a cherry shaker bench against my planing stop and a couple of bench dogs. In this configuration, the board extended past my second bench dog such that every few traversing strokes on that end would shift the board and I would need to reset it. That was annoying. After a few rounds of this I stopped to see what I could change and rather than re-setting it against the planing stop again I grabbed a scrap of 1/2″ plywood and clamped it in my leg vise effectively pinning the board it between the plywood, the stop and the dog and restraining the board tighter against every stroke of my plane.

Thirty seconds of thought saved me thirty minutes of work. I’ll take that trade.

Your move, cherry.



One Comment Add yours

  1. I think, Jim, that you have managed to express far better than I ever have the common ground between martial arts and woodwork. I constantly find a common ground between my Jiu-Jitsu and my woodwork, and part of that is definitely the concept of “maximum result for minimum effort” that underpinned my martial arts training.

    Liked by 1 person

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