Master. What Does That Even Mean?

Believe or not – this word means plenty different things for us, makers, sometimes even creates some up-roaring comments. I was thinking about this a lot in the last few years and recently, after discussing this topic with one of my friend, who happens to be a very fine bootmaker, one of the best on the field – and he said.. “I would not be able to pass the master exam”. Hell yes, of course he would, with flying colors. If we would have any.

But before we get to the master exam, let’s talk about this: what does it even mean? Why do this mean something THIS different?

First of all let’s start the research with the etymology.

The word itself can refer to hold a certain position, holding an office. In this case authority and command. Obviously – this doesn’t apply in our case. “Master if the Temple” or “Master of the Rolls” is not even close to what we, craftsmen use this word. 

In the old times, master was a prefix. From this prefix, we got mister, than Mr.

The other application is way closer. 

“”Master” is the ordinary word for a teacher” (https://theodora.com/encyclopedia/m/master.html)

This is what we are talking about here. Despite the common understanding, which – if I understood well – people believe that master stands for a craftsmen who can do 64 spi, when he is doing backflips with closed eyes and skive cordovan leather with bare hands – NO. Master means teacher. All crafts, arts, science wants to survive, wants to preserve their knowledge, traditions somehow. Some collects that in books – shoemaking, and as a matter of fact any craft, is very behind in this topic, some choose the path of passing down the knowledge from generation to generation, master to apprentice. “Master” in this meaning has nothing to do with position, World-champion skills or authority. Master is practically a teacher degree.

If you want to quote me on this topic – it is the one sentence, you must include “Master is a teacher degree.”

Are you against teachers? Teachers will educate your kids, educated you – and even you have some mixed feelings (we all do) – their contribution is unquestionable. So – what is wrong with certification? When you choose a doctor, you surely want to see a certified one, you go to a lawyer – I bet there will be shiny, gold stamped-framed degrees on their walls, even your vet has to have certification so Fido survives that ugly rush. Isn’t it weird, if one hold some grudge against “craft-teachers” aka “masters”?

There is only one thing worse for a trade than being lost: if the traditions are tinned down. We can’t expect from a student to know which master is good, where they can learn the pure traditional trade – or if they choose not to learn that, sure, then let them choose otherwise. Which is really not cool – disguise traditional making with something… different. That is just not right. When someone spends a mentionable amount of money and time on learning and figures years later that it was in vain. That is not fair. It is not about shoes or boots. It is about everything – if you spend year learning French then when you visit France it turns out, that your teacher had no clue how to really speak French – you will be upset. After years of hard training in sport, you always have the last place in competitions and a some messed up joints – you will be upset. How it is any different in trades? It is not. Students deserve information, so they have a chance to make good decisions. Of course, there will be bad masters – there are also bad doctors, lawyers, coaches, language etc. There is not much you can do about it and for those things you will still insist of certifications. 

I had this conversation a lot of times and at the end most of the times I felt like I could explain why it is important. Not for everybody – that is impossible. USA doesn’t have the tradition of “masters” and I am sure it will be difficult to introduce, but ask yourself, if you are a bootmaker or shoemaker. Are we OK? Do we need to do more for the next generation or everything is just fine? I can hardly imagine that you think it is fine. Teaching one or two students is great. I really mean it. That is preservation. Like keep a couple of animals in the zoo so they don’t extinct. For survival you need a lot more. Teachers.

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