Is the internet the ‘Kung Fu’ of absolutely everything?

Kung Fu” is usually a martial arts term, right? But the actual meaning is “Skill achieved through hard work.” In anything. You can have ‘Kung Fu’ of knitting dog sweaters, baking layer cakes, or doing the crazy cups song.

But you need someone to show you the way, someone to show you the secrets and encourage you through the learning process.

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For centuries, the only way to get really good at something was through an apprenticeship. You’d toil under a Sensei, Sifu, or Line Manager who would teach you their trade, typically shrouding their work in secrecy to protect their craft.

Now you simply plug in, switch on, and – hey presto – there’s information about any skill you want in seconds. How a butler cleans silver – Click. How to make a fish trap in 30 seconds – Click. How to make a wristwatch using junk in your garage – Click. Click. Click.

How-to films dominate YouTube. There are over 292,000,000 results for the term “how to,” the top hit being HOW TO COOK A HUMAN.

There are also roughly a zillion tutorial films out there from very respectable teachers. eLearning is skyrocketing, especially in India, China, Malaysia, and many more rapidly developing countries. Academics is swiftly becoming accessible to anyone with a data connection and a screen.

Consider: half an hour of work filmed in a classroom of a very ordinary – but very good – teacher can be seen by more people in a few days than in 10 years of Billy Graham filling stadiums. We are living in amazing times.

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So, has the internet killed the traditional samurai warrior? Is the internet responsible for the dying crafts of yesteryear?

Absolutely not – far from it. Sure, there is a lot of free information out there. Yes, there are millions of Pinterest boards chock-full of unrealized ideas, gathering digital dust. But there are also a small handful of people that are still engaged, involved, and willing enough to put in the work it takes to get really good at something, to reach their own Kung Fu.

The cavalcade of information on the internet is just the start. People that are interested enough to learn are interested enough to investigate more. Once they get their first taste of information, they seek out deeper knowledge from other people – real people with skin, bone, and a total lack of pixels.

Here’s a story about someone in our office and a guy he met on the internet.

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Matt O’Brien, one of our in-house digital marketers, also happens to be a founding member of Studio Oxytocina. He calls tattooing “a samurai culture,” referencing both the level of skill and seriousness required. The flow of educational information trickles from individual experts that new artists have had to seek out: an economics of scarcity of knowledge.

Matt’s a tattoo collector, not an artist. When I spoke to him, he told me, “I don’t draw. I’m a digital marketing guy. So I see getting as many people as I can connected to great artists as my contribution to the tattoo community.”

A few years ago, Matt started up a series of long-form educational webinars about tattooing while interning at Off The Map. The biweekly videos consisted of several hours of seminars, round table discussions with top artists, and collector talk where a non-tattoo artist interviewed high level folks in the industry. 

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Lucas Luz was a talented kid from Brazil that began to tune into Matt’s webinars – and he really tuned in, eating them up for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. He learned from greats like Guy Aitchison and Jeff Gogue, all while bouncing from studio to studio and drawing during every other waking minute.

18-year-old Lucas had the drive and the connection. 21-year-old Lucas is currently residing on Matt’s couch in Barcelona.

This is what Lucas said when I met him:

“Think about it this way, if a person draws for one hour per day, in one month he will have 30 hours of experience. In 10 months he will have 300 hours of experience. If he draws 10 hours a day, he’ll reach 300 hours in just one month. What if he drew 15 hours a day? That’s what I did at the beginning, and what I still do now when I can.”

So Matt O’Brien, a guy from small town Massachusetts with great love for but absolutely zero talent in tattooing, uses his digital marketing skills to put on webinars, enabling a kid from Brazil to learn directly from the greats. Now they’re both working in one of the best tattoo studios in Barcelona.

(If you are ever in the ‘hood, go and say hello to Matt and Lucas at Studio Oxytocina.)

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As a greater percentage of humanity gets access to that magical data-plus-screen combo, the internet is opening doors for just about everybody to learn what they want and share what they know.

So – no, the internet isn’t the Kung Fu of absolutely everything. It’s still real live human beings that continue to push the boundaries of knowledge and skill. The internet simply gives would-be apprentices a beautiful way to listen and connect with people sharing what they know, just like the masters of old.

 

Speaking of tattooing – here’s a poignant little film that we made about love, beauty, and tattoos, with original music from The Mostar Diving Club. It’s the first in a series called Everybody Loves Someone.


For more of their work, check out the Instagrams of Matt O’Brien and Lucas Luz.

7 Comments

  1. Jimmy Nelson Reply

    Great article and interesting insight into meaning of Kung Fu. Also fascinating that the number one YouTube video when you searched for ‘how to’ was ‘how to cook a human’. I got ‘how to unmodify your car’. Bit dull I know. But. Is Matt safe in your office?

    • A better question might be: Is our office safe with Matt in it? Not sure I’d trust anyone from “small town Massachusetts” any further than I can throw him.

      Might be that YouTube was just catering to my close, personal interests. Does your car require unmodification, Jimmy?

  2. Fascinating story! Never before has the phrase “we’re standing on shoulders of giants” become so true, we should all be thinking of giving our grain of salt to the community like Matt and become part of the giant 🙂

    • Hell yeah! Recently I’ve been pondering over how I might be able to use my squidgey little words to help save the oceans – I’ve got a super soft spot in my heart for marine critters, and was really inspired by interviewing Matt and Lucas re: how they orient their lives to put what they want to see into the world.

      Poems for porpoises? Essays for eels?

  3. I love the internet. Its like a giant brain firing billions of synapses every second, a thriving, pulsing, hive-mind of knowledge and creativity we can tap into. A big brain to stimulate all our little ones.

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