Tuesday, October 16, 2012


"Training is the difference between what you have and what you want." - Bob Bailey

"Everybody is a genius.  But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will spend its whole life believing it is stupid." - Albert Einstein

I've had these two quotes in my head for a few weeks now.  I agree with both of them.  And yet sometimes I wonder, how do we know if we are trying to teach a fish to climb a tree?  And is that fair to the student?  If you have an absolutely brilliant swimmer, the best little swimmer you could ever hope for, how important is it if they ever climb that tree?  Is it a just a matter of training?  If I was just a better trainer, or worked harder, or was more committed, would I have the world's most amazing arboreal fish?  I began to feel frustrated by the entreaties from more experienced or more accomplished trainers to just keep at it when I hit stumbling blocks, to not lose faith.  If I keep a log book, if I make a training plan, if I write down my goals, if I videotape and review my sessions - if I trained like the pros, well, surely I couldn't fail.  It would be quitting to do otherwise.

Or would it?  Would I be even more unfair if I continue on, urging that fish up that tree day after day?  Who is right?

I wrote these quotes down again yesterday, one above the other as they are here, and I finally noticed something.

"If you JUDGE a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will spend its whole life believing it is stupid."

It does not say, "if you try to TEACH a fish to climb a tree . . ."

Maybe you can train that fish to climb one day.  And maybe it won't be exactly what you envisioned.  Maybe it will be a long process, with a lot of flopping around on the ground, and maybe when your fish makes it to the first branch you decide, well, good for him, and that is pretty amazing and you celebrate that. You celebrate everything you learned, and the fun you had along the way

The problem is if the climbing matters more to you than the fish does.  When you don't see your fish for the beautiful swimmer he is, when you forget the joy you feel watching him circle and dive, when you don't appreciate how very perfect he truly is, that is where you fail him.

Is it quitting if you decide he doesn't need to reach the highest tree-top in his lifetime?  Only you define and decide that.  When you become disappointed, when you get frustrated, when you find yourself wondering why you don't have a regular spider monkey on your hands - that is when I believe we have lost as trainers.

It is up to us what our goals are as trainers.  I believe in having lofty ones sometimes, and I believe in dreams.  As long as we are fair.  And as long as we always remember that the subject and the process matters more than any final product.

Because your fish will climb back down that tree, and you go home together.  You don't go home with the spectators, the classmates, the instructors.  The people telling you to use a different method.  The people telling you to go try a different tree.  The people telling you to get a squirrel next time.  Those people have never seen the way your fish glistens in the waves and the way the light reflects off his scales like a rainbow, and the love you feel for him every time you see that.

You go home with your perfect beautiful fish, who you know is the best swimmer and climber in the entire world.