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6 The skill and the habit

Repeated actions build something that we call a 'body of experience.' We regard this as metaphor but it really does suggest that there is a second body existing somewhere in relationship to the physical body of the craftsman. Sometimes it is called 'experience' because the craftsman has gone back to this spot many times before. Each repetition reinforces the sense of familiarity, the feeling of 'being home.' As long as a craftsman has his tools with him, he has his home with him. A habit is actually a habitat — comfortable, perfectly fitting, and well worn. A craftsman lives securely within the intervals of his skills.


In the Ganapati Sthapati workshop craftsman Perumal Sthapati carves all the fine details of temple sculptures. Mamallapuram, IndiaArtisan David Bampton-Greene taking caliper measurements on a Peter Randall-Page sculpture  during the Milestone Carve. Edinburgh, Scotland


There is much we still need to learn about skills. Skills and habits have much in common; habits may just be inadvertent skills. It is as hard to 'lose' a skill, as it is to lose a habit — it might be even harder, because skills merge with a sense of self-identity. Habits, even those that have a genetic component, are often looked on as something that we could profitably do without. Gestures, in general, are not learned directly, and yet they have the precision of the best skills. Exploring the relationship between gestures and skills may shed light on some aspects of the tacit.

There are many things that we can learn through focused effort. Swimming, diving, driving a car, cooking, dancing are all skills derived from practice. Potential abilities need to be developed and maintained or they soon atrophy. Repetition and effort play a role in keeping skills alive, especially a repetition that seems to grab the tail of a previous repetition.

Only by coming into contact with repetitive action can human action and the material world synthesize. The experience of the craftsman is analogous to the comfortable freedom that accompanies the riding of a bicycle. Despite being unbalanced almost all of the time, riding on a bicycle conveys an irresistible sense of freedom, almost a security. Our ability to ride a bicycle belongs to us in a way that commonly received knowledge may not. How do we recognise and convey the extent of this interconnectedness since it stretches from the most extraordinary and expansive to the most mundane. The Tacit seems to appear in unconscious action. Although some argue for innate abilities similar to inherited instincts in animals, it is more likely to be the result of some kinds of learning. We may not always understand enough about instincts whether animal or human to understand what drawing such a parallel would really mean.

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