I Don’t Know

Dear Steve,

My name is Darcy. I am a student from McGill University, and we are building a company focusing on using your NeXT machine and the Objective-C programming language. <insert long winded question here about business>.

What do you think the right thing to do is?


Dear Darcy,

I don’t know.

Steve Jobs.

That was my one and only conversation with Steve. I got one more reply in and one more reply back  but you can see how useful that was.

Actually, no scarcasm intended here.

He said a few things with that terse somewhat rude (but not really) reply. He told me:

  1. Just because I know this stuff I don’t know all stuff.
  2. Rely on your best judgment and try.
  3. I’m a busy guy so stop bugging me.

This applies to swords because we get some guys who never ask questions, when they should just a little bit. And we get guys who ask questions when there is no good answer to give other than, I don’t know. Try.

You will fall

Maybe your Mom ran up to the tree and told you to get down because you will fall. Maybe your Mom let you run up the tree. Maybe, because you will fall.

Falling is an essential act of learning. If you fall, you need to know, and the Hugbox above prevents you from knowing. So don’t seek out Hugboxes.

I just spent the weekend throwing my brother’s 4 year old daughter around in the pool. I let her get comfortable and when she said higher, I went higher. A month ago she was in a life jacket, today she is flying through the air as hard as I can throw her, sometimes landing on her belly, sometimes on her butt, sometimes perfectly, waving to her dad.

You have to accept those mistakes if you want to fly through the air.

After watching that, his 18 month old daughter sitting on the edge of the pool with her life jacket on, smiled, slid in on her own and went kerplunk down a foot. Bobbed back up to the top. Smiled. And swam.

Those two little girls have a lot to teach.

Steve telling me “I don’t know” set me free. It told me there was no business god out there with all the answers. Maybe he truly didn’t know. He couldn’t turn my business into a safe space for me. I would have to go out, try, learn from the process and get better at it.

And like my 4 year old niece, you need to fly through the air sometimes and land on your bum and deal with the repurcussions. Sitting on the pool deck wringing your hands forever and never taking the plunge means you will never progress anywhere except into a doctor’s office to get a prescription for anxiety meds.

And in this hobby, believe me, you will fall. Don’t get into it if you can’t handle mistakes. There is no getting around it. I still make them and I pay for them financially. But the more I work and study and figure this stuff out, the better my selections get. That’s better for me and for my clients both.

This hobby requires a lot of learning and there are short cuts. One of which is not letting your focus go too broad but to find a place to concentrate in.

Where to start

Always buy books. Take the plunge. But do so on something that you can reference in the books.

Open those books and read them through and through. Read what is praised, what is dispariaged, and what is just getting meh from the authors. Then try to ask yourself why and see what you can find out on your own. Take some money, buy a good sword, read your books and study your sword. You can stop here, you can continue. Read my other posts about planning your collection.

But… if you are going to study swords you need to study good swords. You wouldn’t go to study food by sampling McDonald’s, Burger King and Wendy’s. I mean, I do eat their burgers. Not good for my health but they are filling and tasty. And I need calories for cellular metabolism. Yes, lots of utility in those cheap burgers.

But they do not extend my knowledge of great cuisine. I don’t learn anything about the subject of food. I do not study a McDonald’s burger. I would be a fool to think that I am studying this.

If I ever want to truly understand great beer, great scotch, great food, great plays, then I need to experience them when they are truly made well.

We can’t understand great swords by experiencing junk. That is just wasting your time punching yourself in the face.

There are ways of getting discount examples of good smiths if your budget is limited. Know that they are cheap because they have tragic issues with them. But that is ok because your goal is education. There is always a way.

If you can afford those with no problems, I recommend that instead. These are the kinds of collectible items you can read about in your books and study an example firsthand.

When the book authors write about sword study they are not saying grab a piece of steel with an edge and study it. They mean grab great work and study that. If you cannot buy it, go to a museum and find something there and study it there. Even behind glass. Study it. Until your brain eats that object and starts working behind the scenes connecting neurons, which it will, and you can internalize great work.

Trips to shows are fun but if you look at your budget and what you spend visiting five a year and then look at five years of five trips a year, you realize that this cost you a good sword. So, balance yourself. Go to a show, save the rest, put to the sword fund. Get a good sword. Study the sword. Improve understanding. Achieve elightenment. Go to sword nirvana.

That’s the path.

Having realized the qualities and attractiveness of the sword, it is natural to wish to own some. The most inconvenient thing about this, I think you will agree, is of a financial nature. If we think only about economics in this way we shall end up getting cheap swords which may easily be disposed of when necessary. This is perhaps understandable, but the true collector learns to transcend financial limitations.

Once apon a time there was a rich merchant named Takeda Kizaemon. He was a great devotee of the Tea Ceremony, but he ran into difficulties and lost all his wealth, ending up as a groom in a stable. But he retained his favorite Tea Bowl whcih he kept in a bag around his neck until the day he died. This bowl still exists and it is called KIZAEMON IDO.

When I was young, my sensei showed me a sayagaki. The inscription said: “Even if you were standing at the edge of the road…”

He asked whether I understood it. I had to say I did not. He explained that “to stand at the edge of the road means that you have become a beggar. Even if the owner were to become a beggar, he would never part from this sword.”

— Nobuo Ogasawara, Retired Head Conservator of the Tokyo National Museum

One thought on “I Don’t Know”

  1. Yes, studying good swords is really the only way to progress, but don’t forget looking for a sword mentor who has those elite Bizen or Soshu blades that you can hold in your hand & study. It can be a huge boost to get you further down the path of understanding! But you won’t find a mentor like this unless you keep your eyes open for him!

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