You Should Have Asked Me That Question Twenty Years Ago!
   by Robert E. Haynes

The great bon vivant, and student of swords and fittings, John Harding, who I have called my friend for more than forty years, was the creator of the quip that is, in part, the title of this paper.

As John tells the story: a young student of fittings came to him with a very weighty question concerning his studies in sword fittings. John's reply to the student's question was: "You should have asked me that question twenty years ago...for then I had the answer." Very clever, yet very profound for all of us!

When one begins the study of any subject the amount of material that needs to be absorbed seems overwhelming, and beyond normal comprehension. If the student is diligent in his studies he will overcome his apprehension at assimilating the mountain of material before him. Naturally he will not understand all of this new information, nor will he be able to remember it all in the future. But a time does come when it begins to make sense to him. This is when the first signs of over confidence may occur. The student is so engrossed at his studies that he does not see a new danger to his studies slowly growing before him. It is not long before the student is so full of new ideas and information, and so sure of himself, that he thinks he has the key to his studies. Naturally few students stop to think about this when all their time is taken with engorging as much new data as they can. Unfortunately the day does come when the student is sure he has all the available information neatly tucked away in his brain. That is when great trouble first begins. John Harding's bon mot was in fact a VERY serious statement. We all reach a period in our studies when we are SURE we know it all! When in fact we know only what we have taken in, and are sure we can dispense whenever we want. The wise student realizes that even though he may know what is considered all the available knowledge about his subject, he has never asked himself one single question concerning all this new knowledge. Is the information true? Ah, there's the rub! In little ways one finds that perhaps not all you have learned is either true or can be held as a supported fact. This is especially true in the studies of the fittings for the Japanese sword. I shall go into this more deeply in a paper titled: LIES MY TEACHERS TAUGHT ME. For now what you need to do is QUESTION, every statement, "fact", idea, or theory that you have learned. You will find that you have learned a great deal that has no foundation in rational epistemology, which is the nature of the history of the writings we all use as our source of ideas, knowledge, and information. The poor student who thinks he can have instant answers form his sensei, and never question those answers, will soon find his mind filled with unsubstantiated theory. As John says: what is fact now will be only theory in twenty years and the student who does not know this is a fool.


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