When I was younger, I was involved in Shotokan karate. There are many things that I took away from the experience that relate to woodworking and being in the shop. Shotokan, like many other martial arts, teaches principles such as humility, respect, compassion, patience, and both an inward and outward calmness.
When we first entered the dojo, we bowed our head and said, “Osu.” Osu is a combination of the words: Oshi which means “Push”, and Shinobu which means “to Endure”. It means patience, determination, appreciation, respect and perseverance.
Every instruction or question in class, is answered by “Osu” instead of “yes” or “I understand”. When performing kata (basic techniques) in class, each technique is often accompanied with a loud “Osu.” When practicing kumite (sparring or free fighting) in class and your opponent lands a good, hard technique, you say “osu” to acknowledge your opponent’s skill. As a measure of respect, fighters at a tournament bow and say “osu” to the front, to the referee and to each other, before and after the fight.
Woodworking, like karate is not learned overnight. It takes years to properly learn the fundamentals. The basic techniques are performed thousands of times It’s easy to get frustrated , especially when progress seems to be slow. To overcome that frustration and continue practicing takes patience and determination. That is osu.
I decided to carve the kanji for osu on the base of a tool cabinet that I am building. It is out of yellow pine that I picked up green from a lumber yard in North Darmouth, Massachusetts. The only problem is pine isn’t the easiest wood to carve. So I’ve been taking it slow. I’m trying to be patient so show my respect for the wood and the idea behind osu. I wanted this carving at the base of my tools to serve as a tool itself – as a reminder to be patient but also to say, “I am ready.”
This morning I received a blog post from Joel Moskowitz, the owner of Tools for Working Wood. He has a post regarding carving that caught my interest. He writes about taking lessons with master carver and woodworking teacher Chris Pye, who has a really nice web site. He has a subscription based site, where you watch videos, but also have the ability to ask questions of Chris. The production value of the site is really high and deserves a look.
If you are interested in carving, check out shopwooding.com for great books and DVDs.