Apprenticeship

I believe that some time ago, I talked about this.

This old Japanese guy is acknowledged as the best sushi chef in the world. Nothing special, right? You born into it, you learn it, and you are there… lucky one, hmm? But… when you watch the movie, you realize, that he offers apprenticeship options. 10 years. Only after this term he issues the degree (actually I can imagine that it is very easy to find a job with that anywhere in the world, including Japan). The learning process is humiliating. No fancy sushis in the first years, only folding hot towels, wash squids, etc. (it worth to watch the movie).

Why am I talking about raw fish food? I am not. I am talking about the learning process and the path you achieve something. I remember, when I was a student, we did not touch shoes for the first few weeks. We practiced some boring works for endless hours – sharpening knives, cutting small leather pieces, last toes, build up heels from scrap leather pieces, etc. No welted shoes in the first year. At all. Not even leather soles.

In this world, everybody needs instant success, learn something a few month, start an own business, talk with professionals just like consulting about details. I am really sorry to say this – but especially in America. Everything comes easy, why an ancient craft wouldn’t, right? I does not.

The difference between – almost good and really good is huge. Years of learning. You can learn how to craft a pair of shoes in exactly 5 days – not a big deal – but learn how to craft a beautiful shoe, well that takes 5 years, nothing less. No “trial and error” way – that would take 50 years or even more. No. The traditional way – master and apprentice. Long. Boring. Sometimes humiliating. Stressful, but very rewarding at the end, you just need to get there. This is the way of learning.

Sorry to say this – you mean it seriously, you do it seriously. No royal way. Is it difficult? We know. It was difficult for us too. That is one of the reasons why only a few fine craftsmen left.

12 thoughts on “Apprenticeship”

  1. Of course you are correct. But I think the problem is one of semantics. In the USA, there is a confusion between knowledge and skill. Most of yesterday’s jobs required real skill. Today, skill and knowledge are confused and mixed. What is obvious to many Americans is that so few of them know the difference between skill and knowledge, and even fewer still have any real skill. Skill takes years to acquire–knowledge one can google.

  2. So true. Ive been 35 years in the shoerepair business. And now i would love to learn making shoes, but the day is full of shoes to repair. To anyone who thinks that you can learn shoemaking just like that – forget it! Ive been tearing shoes apart and put them together again my whole working life, since i turned 16, and to start making shoes i will have to start all over again! Some of the steps in the process i can bring with me, but there is so much to learn…. Nice video Marcell.

    Peter Homér

  3. Nowhere is this more evident than in the handcrafted “scene” in Brooklyn. It seems that people believe that if they have a website and an instagram account, they are qualified to sell their goods to people at outrageous prices. In looking through some of the sites from brooklyns supposed leather crafters, I see bags with unfinished edges, and stitches at something like 3 per inch (because it takes time to hand stitch). Too many people want to have a business first then learn as they go. I started as a Chef, and looking back at the point that I thought I knew what I was doing, really I just didnt know how much I didnt know. I think that behavior is quite insulting to people who have devoted their lives to learning a craft.

  4. I completly agree, and I think it is not only in America, but a symptom of the time we live in, people wants results here and now, they are not used to focus on any subject for a long time.
    I am a goldsmith, educated the old way as an apprentice. The first 6 months all I did was soldering thing chains…

    Bearing that in mind I would still like to make my own shoes. I know they will never be anyway near as good as a pro can do it, but they will do for me.

  5. In those days of impoverishment, people are more tempted to repair than buy shoes. You are wright, it is a bit annoying, but when I show people what I do, they understand. I studied as an apprentice for three years, and practiced for almost thirteen, but I never stop learning. My school has closed many years ago, and now there is no school left in Romania to form a new generation of shoesmakers. Sometimes I feel like the last kind of dinosaur.

    1. I think you’ve hit the nail on the head. Constant learning and the desire to learn. That’s what is important for becoming great at something. Knowing that you’re never done learning. And this goes for anything in life I think, not just old crafts.

      What I humbly disagree with is the fact that it needs to be humiliating. I’m sure there are people that need that a few times to get rid of some arrogance. Making it a pre-requisite for learning a craft at all, I do not agree with. I was never humiliated by my teachers when I learned my day job (not a craft, really, although some want to see it that way). Yet I have a passion for it and I want to keep learning and improving and I’ve been doing this for about 15 years now.

      And now I want to start learning to make shoes, the old way. I will make really bad shoes and it’s going to take forever and I’m not going to make a business out of it 🙂 I like old stuff though. Waxed jackets. Leather shoes. Leather and fur ushanka. Leather gloves. Who needs Gore Tex? And a hand forged coat hook. Easier to learn making shoes than to start being a smith in your garage, so I chose shoes.

  6. This might be off topic, but I am wondering if there is any news on cordwainertools.com -been under “scheduled maintenance” for quite a while now. Will it ever be up and running again?

  7. I read this and it really rings true. I am a self taught leather worker and I am still learning everytime I pick up a tool or look at a piece of leather.

    I want to learn shoe making for the joy of learning a new skill. Even it takes another 20 years to reach the skill level I am now as an armorer. If at the end of my days I have made only one pair of perfect shoes it will be a worthy journey.

  8. It makes sense to start apprenticing at an early age to truly learn “Old World” craftsmanship and make a career out of it. In America, there is this saying that you are never too old to learn and foreigners love how here age is not an issue to go back to school. At the age of 49, I would love to learn how to make a shoe, but only as a serious hobby.

  9. please can u take me has an apprentice, i really to want to design and make good shoe for men and women, i contacted some institution in Italy they are asking for a lot of money which i don’t have. i want to know the technology behind those designer shoe(paul smith, clarks, Gucci). here in Nigeria we import this kind of shoes, so if i can learn from a professional like you, then i can establish my own shoe manufacturing company then i will be happy and fulfilled, please kindly help. falayetosin@gmail.com

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