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If I Had a Hammer
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Adam Adrian Crown

If I had a hammer
I'd hammer in the morning
I'd hammer in the evening
All over this land
I'd hammer out danger
I'd hammer out a warning
I'd hammer out love between my brothers and my sisters
All over this land

IF I HAD A HAMMER (The Hammer Song)
words and music by Lee Hays and Pete Seeger

When I was a kid, I became acquainted with an old Army buddy of my dad's, a fellow known to all as "Al the Carpenter," just as if "the Carpenter" were his legal surname. He was a self-described and bona fide "hillbilly" from Tennessee or West Virginia, or someplace where state lines were irrelevant. He had an accent that sounded the way home-made sour-mash whiskey tasted and crabbed along on a gimpy leg, a schrapnel souvenir.
Everybody who knew Al the Carpenter, or knew of him, understood that when there was any chore to be done involving any kind of wood and any kind of tool, he was the man you called on for advice before you fucked it up.
Al the Carpenter drove an ancient Ford pickup truck that still ran flawlessly even though the body was so tattered it resembled the sail of a phantom galleon. The bed of the truck he kept covered with a heavy canvas tarp. A lot of guys keep a toolbox in the bed of their truck. But Al the Carpenter's toolbox was the bed of the truck, wall to wall, front to back.
In it were tools of every description and some that defied description. There were some tools he used all the time; some he'd created for a particular task and had used only once. But of course, you never throw a tool away. Can't tell when you might be needing it again.

I had occasion to observe Al the Carpenter in action. I'm sure I missed some of the finer details, being only a child. But as I recall, some fellow was fixing up his house and had run into trouble — or had created himself a mess, not sure which. My dad was helping him out, as were a couple of other guys. I recall free beer was involved.
When they had collectively thrown up their hands at the problem, somebody, probably my dad, put out the call to Al the Carpenter, not unlike the way they send out that special floodlight signal to summon Batman.

Al the Carpenter arrived.
Without a word — a nod was an adequate "hello" where he hailed from — he listened to the exasperated homeowner's wail of woe. Slowly, he stalked around the house, eyeing it carefully, closely followed by the slightly inebriated gang, who mimed his every move, paused where he'd paused, gazed where he'd gazed, no doubt trying to figure out just what the hell he was looking at.
After finishing his examination of the scene, he folded his arms, squinted, sucked on his teeth a little, nodding almost imperceptibly to himself. Then, quite abruptly, he spun on his heel, strode — as best he could with his crippled leg — decisively to his truck. He moved this, rattled that and retrieved an alien contraption which he then applied to the task at hand. In a few minutes, he accomplished with apparent effortlessness, what all the king's men had not been able to manage in half a day.
Perhaps you can imagine the open-mouthed awe — perhaps a little grudgingly revealed — by the witnesses.
"Wull, shoot," Al the Carpenter said in a voice as smooth as his home-brewed hooch. "It ain't nothin' but usin' the right tool fer the right job."

For a moment, I'd like you to imagine a different carpenter.
He's got a toolbox, too.
When he arrives to build your house, he pops it out and takes out the only tool in it: a hammer. That's what he plans on using to build your house. A hammer. Nothing else.
He's not going to cut boards with a saw. He's just going to pound them down to the right length with his hammer. No tape measure; he'll measure everything in hammer-handle lengths. No squares, no screwdrivers, no drills. He'll just use his hammer to…
Right about now, you're probably thinking he's nuts.
Or maybe you're thinking I am.
And maybe you're right.

Nevertheless, his approach may be crazy, but it isn't uncommon.
Somebody learns judo, or boxing or wrestling or aikido or fencing or shooting.
Then every situation that arises, that person views as some sort of judo problem, or boxing problem, or wrestling problem, and so on. But a real fighter is like a master carpenter. He doesn't go around with just a hammer in his toolbox. He's got every tool imaginable, and a few unimaginable.
A carpenter isn't emotionally involved in which tool he uses. He doesn't even have a "favorite" tool or a preferred tool. He just uses whatever tool will do the job best.

There's a scene I kind of love and kind of hate in the original Indiana Jones movie. It's the scene where Dr. Jones is confronted by a swordsman, who challenges Jones by flourishing his wicked-looking scimitar around in a dazzling display. Jones calmly draws his revolver and shoots the swordsman dead.
The reason I hate this scene is because I know that those with small minds will take it as the victory of superior technology or the victory of a superior race and they are wrong on either count.
It is a victory of the superior fighter who knew enough never to fight the opponent's fight. Never let the opponent define the terms of the engagement. Never try to arm-wrestle with an octopus.
Some people say, "Never take a knife to a gunfight," and I'd absolutely agree. But I certainly might take a gun to a knife-fight. If my opponent wants to box, I'll wrestle. If he wants to wrestle, I'll box. I will let him continue to define the fight for himself in terms that do not apply. If he wants to use strength, I'll use dexterity and I'll counter dexterity with strength. If he wants to keep me on the end of his point, I'll get inside. If he wants to close with me, I'll disappear. I will be and do whatever my opponent does not want me to be or do. I will be the problem he can't solve with a hammer.

Let me take the carpentry analogy in a slightly different direction. I own tools.
A bunch of tools.
But I couldn't build a house with a fair wind and following seas. I don't have the knowledge. I don't have the skill.
I just have the tools.
But it isn't the tools that build the house, it's the carpenter. The tools are what he uses to build the house. They are an extension of his mind and body.
You might even say "spirit."
I know I would.

What most people don't understand about fighting is that a weapon doesn't make an opponent formidable any more than my hammer makes me a carpenter. The weapon does not imbue the fighter with power; it's the fighter who imbues the weapon with power. The weapon is merely an extension of the fighter's body and mind, and, yes, spirit.

Al the Carpenter could build a better house using a rock than I could wielding the world's best hammer. He could improvise tools if he needed them, because the principles of carpentry were completely incorporated into him, indistinguishable from him.

A fighter doesn't need a weapon. The fighter IS a weapon. Or looking at it another way, anything — absolutely anything — can be made into a weapon if the person using it is a fighter. A fighter is more dangerous, starved, sick, injured, sleep-deprived, drunk and naked than the normal person is well-fed, healthy, whole, rested, cold sober and armed to the teeth.

Thinking is the lone hammer a lot of people have in their toolbox, although thinking is actually more of a measuring tool, like a tape measure. And there are a lot of things it can measure just fine.
There are other things it can't.
Try this. Take a steel tape and measure me out a pint of water.

Some things — quite a few things — can only be measured by feeling. This is particularly true of things that are continually changing, because feeling occurs in the NOW and reflects precisely what is or is not. Thinking occurs in the before or after and measures a moment frozen in time.
I quite often must teach my students to stop thinking and start feeling. It's not that thinking is BAD. I don't say that you should NEVER think. It's a matter of learning to use the right tool for the right job.

These ideas have applicability far beyond the salle d'armes or the street. Maybe you go to school and study psychology, or sociology, or penology. Suddenly every ill on earth becomes amenable to a psychology solution, or a sociology solution, or a law enforcement solution.
Maybe you're a Republican or a Democrat, a capitalist or a communist, male, female, black, white, gay, straight. Maybe how you define yourself limits your toolbox, too.
But that's another story.

" 'If I Had a Hammer' must have been written for people without hammers. Because before I had a hammer, I probably thought, if I had a hammer, I'd hammer in the morning, I'd hammer in the evening, I'd hammer all over this land, if I had a hammer. Once you have a hammer, you find you don't hammer as much as you think you would."

--Ellen Degeneres

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Saddle, Lance and Stirrup: The Irish/Roman Connection
The Naked Truth | If I Had a Hammer
The Sabre's Edge | Swordfight at the OK Corral
How to Defend a Monopoly | A Propos d'un Accident
The Dubious Quick Kill part 1 | The Dubious Quick Kill part 2
Review and Commentary | Duels with the Sword | Starting with Foil
Liancour's Tercentenary | The Manuel d'escrime of 1877 | The Military Masters Fencing Program
Analysis of the Patton Fencing Manual | The Red Court Fencing's Royal Connection
| The Practical Saviolo part 1 | Saddle, Lance and Stirrup
Demystification of the Spanish School 1 | Demystification of the Spanish School 2
Demystification of the Spanish School 3
| A Brief Look at Joseph Swetnam
| Ithacan Retains Title | Third Time's a Charm
Cross-Training Not Cross-Purposes | Riposte Direct | Use of the Word "Sparring"
Chivalry Makes a Come-back | Teachings of Marozzo |

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This file was last modified Monday, Jul 10 2006, 10:01:07 EDT