I’ve had some rather unique NS experiences. One of them involved me and my colleagues spending many hours with penknives, cutting up some really tough rope and cloth-like material. We were getting rid of obsolete equipment, and separating the metal parts from the non-metal parts so that they could be resold or made use of. This process was called cannibalization, which I thought was a very succinct way of describing a process meant to make the most of something- kind of like the Native American saying “Use the whole buffalo”. We’d sit down outside a store with a large fan, slowly making our way through the repetitive and mechanical process. It was, like all mechanical processes, surprisingly therapeutic once you got the hang of it.
I feel like this process ought to be described in detail. First we’d cut the cloth off a metal skeleton- this involved cutting several threads and loops. Then we’d tie up the skeleton with some excess string. After a while, we discovered that it was possible to cut the multiple threads in one swift slash, which required slightly more strength but ultimately expended much less energy. We found too that there were loops that were strong enough to hold the skeleton together, so cutting them off and re-using them in an alternate context saved us the trouble of cutting more strings and going through the tedious process of tying knots around a metal object that’s anxiously trying to burst out of your hands. It was also much more elegant and the end process far more tidy. I was rather proud of myself for discovering that solution, which I shared with my friends.
We also had to cut thick ropes, and here I found myself lagging behind my friends. I was sawing away at the ropes with my penknife, and made really little progress. I tried short strokes, long strokes, moving in one direction, then both- and yet none of them seemed to work. I was going back and forth over the same stretch of rope hundreds of times with practically no discernible progress. What was I doing wrong, I wondered. Maybe these ropes are truly cut-proof. But how were my friends able to do it better than me? I stopped my sawing from exhaustion and observed the others, and it hit me.
What I needed was force.
Acceleration, speed, decisiveness. My slow, see-sawing motion wasn’t getting through the threads- they were too strong. I had to attack the rope like I was whipping a cane through the air. Tapping someone gently with a cane a million times doesn’t cause anywhere near as much damage as a quick jolt- and the former expends far more than the latter. I took a deep breath and slashed at the rope like a self-conscious samurai. It came apart cleanly, without any of the loose threads that I had to contend with during my aggressive sawing.
Fast forward to field camp during my BMT, and I’m struggling with digging my shell-scrape. The parable of the heroic penknife did not enter my mind, and I felt sorry for myself as I scooped up paltry, miserable amounts of sand with my miniature shovel, burning under the hot sun and the weight of the equipment we had to carry. Hours passed, and I found myself lagging behind everyone else again. (I’m taller than most people, so I had to dig a longer shell-scrape, and I was situated near a bunch of roots, digging in a spot where nobody had dug before, so the soil wasn’t loosened up the way it was for some others further up in front. Miraculously, one of my platoon-mates turned out to be an apprentice undertaker, and he was a master with the shovel. (He finished his shell-scrape in about an hour, and it was delightfully smooth and elegant.) He came over to help me. He took massive, large swings, and lifted up huge chunks of earth. He accomplished in minutes what would have taken me hours to do. It was a joy to witness.
It occurs to me that this is a fairly consistent problem to me. I tend to encounter it in expression- when I write or speak, I tend to use long-winded run-on sentences, trying to explain myself but ending up confusing everyone. It would be more effective to be succinct. The same used to apply to my gym workouts as well- I’d spend about an hour and a half doing lots of little things. My fitness took a leap forward when I switched to doing intense bursts of heavy weights. Sometimes I’d be done in 20 minutes. I think this was a problem I had with my studies then, and is a problem I continue to have with my writing now.
Short, intense bursts aren’t easy to do, because it requires confidence, and confidence comes from practice. There’s always a possibility that you might cut yourself if you try to slash too fast without knowing what you’re doing. So being brief and decisive requires that you thoroughly understand your subject matter. It’s a little bit more frightening, because it demands effectiveness. It’s like being a sniper instead of a trigger-happy machine gunner. It’s harder to make excuses for failure. It’s more comforting, because our incompetence is shrouded by smoke and mirrors.
Decisive bursts. Utilize them.