#89: Mastery and Cleanliness

Week 4. I’ve noticed from watching people more experienced at the potter’s wheel that they keep their work areas incredibly clean. Far cleaner than I do. By the time I’m done throwing, my tools are all over the place, the rim of the basin looks like a badly frosted cake, most of the water from the water bucket is outside the bucket. So I went in an extra afternoon this week during open studio hours to work on two things: throwing a basic cylinder and maintaining a clean work area while doing it.

Cleanliness – or at least, neatness – was the theme at kendo this week too. The club is preparing for the Detroit Kendo Tournament and most of the teachers were busy sparring and judging practice matches, preparing the students who’ll be competing. It left one instructor instead of the usual three or four to work with us beginners, and he went over the basic uniform: how to layer the dogi to avoid wrinkling, how to tie the belts of the hakama, keep the ends flat and sturdy. It’s in part out of respect for the tradition of the art but also to prevent injury, make sure your shit doesn’t come loose when you’re moving at speed. I discovered this week that, even after months of practice, I was doing it wrong.

So much of beginning is overreaction. There is a chaos of all new things. But with mastery comes cleanliness, order. From doing something over and over you learn to waste less, be more efficient with your movements, you set out the right pans and bowls and plates for the breakfast you make every morning, the planets move by their gravities into neat orbit around a star. Maybe there is no violation of these physics. But maybe, by turning it around, by striving for cleanliness, you start reflecting sooner on process. And the learning follows.