Do you ever think about analogies when you teach? I love analogies and the way you can take one lesson from another aspect of life and connect it to a current situation. Japanese philosophers do it all the time. Taoists will connect stories from thousands of years ago to a current situation to better make sense out of what seems nonsensical. There is a famous story about a stonecutter who is building a wealthy mans house. He longs to have the power and money of the wealthy man. He seeks to become that man and then realizes once he achieves it, he wants more. He wants more power and more money. He achieves it, but realizes that he still doesn’t have all the power he desires. He wants to be the sun and then the clouds and then the wind. He wants to be the strongest and most powerful within all of the universe. One day he realizes that the most powerful force is stone and he wants to be stone. Nothing can move it. Stone withstands the forces of the elements. So that is what he becomes. He becomes a stone and see’s that he is more powerful than even the wind. One day a man with a hammer cuts the stone in half to build a house. He is devastated, because he was once that stonecutter. He learns that within all of us is the power to find happiness with who we are and the circumstances of our environment and most importantly…what connects us to one another.
So why do I tell this story? What is the analogy? It’s that time of year again. September is in full swing and that means that the first of a season of competitions is upon us. It’s the time when we find out if all of our summer work mattered and if we ventured down the right path or the path filled with roadblocks and weeds. Some will leave September frustrated, while others will leave it confidently and prideful. There are some people who have already given up and are just waiting for the clock to tick by so they can start what they are really planning for, which is winter guard season. Some have been looking across the street and saying, “I want to be there instead of here.” I want more performers. I want a better designer. I want more money. I want a better staff. I want it to be winter guard season. I want this season to be over. I want it to be cooler. I want there to be less rain. I want. I want. I want. In the process of the “wanting” many of us lose what it is we have. We lose the present and the kids involved. Wanting something else is an easy trap to fall prey to and a hole we all fall into at one point or another. Some people can’t get out of the hole and they never will. They never see the daylight of the present, because there is always seems to be something better on the horizon.
I spent years of my guard career wanting more. I wanted to be seen standing at the top of the national stage and among the pageantry elite and within that, I often lost the present hoping for more. I became relentless at cleaning phrases and trying to prove that I was better than others. Now to me, that is how I thought you became part of the elite. Becoming relentless in your goals is how I thought the elite did it. There’s a catch, though. Being relentless only works if you understand that you will only ever achieve your goals by not trying to achieve the goals of someone else. To stand among the elite, requires that you know there really isn’t an elite. There are people who are better than others. There are people who make more money at this than others. There are people who sit on the Boards and who judge the shows. There are people who wear the medals and collect the trophies, but none of them are the elite, because it simply doesn’t exist in the way we want to believe it does. It is simply a game that cannot be won.
I know guard instructors who believe that the better they costume their guard, the better they will be and the higher they will score. There are people who think that because a name is attached to their program, then the better their kids will become. Then there are the people who think they don’t have the right type of kids to be successful. There are people that bitch about the parents and the lack of money. I have learned over time that no matter how my guard is dressed or who I teach with, it won’t make the kids happy and doesn’t necessarily make me happy. Names, medals, costumes, and fancy silks only look good on the surface to those who think you are better than them. Those things only look good to the people who don’t realize what they have and in the end, all of those trinkets end up in boxes. Time passes and what we did with that time had nothing to do with the “what.”
Teaching a color guard is a gift and within that gift is the ability to give it back to young people who have yet to unwrap the package of pageantry. It doesn’t matter how much money we spend on the costume, because in the end it won’t make us happy if we aren’t living for who we are and what we have, which is today. All we have is today. We don’t have next season and tomorrow isn’t guaranteed. I think the happiest I ever was in the activity was with my very first high school guard and I didn’t even realize it. It was 1994 and our fall budget for uniforms, silks, and poles was $500. That was it. The school was a Title One school and there was no more money for the show. With that $500 I learned how to find uniforms at the Goodwill and borrow silks from other bands. I learned how to paint flags and use old make up to bring out the costume. I knew that the guard was up against programs with more money and a better staff. The only thing I knew to do was keep cleaning. I needed to make them untouchable from a training and technical standpoint. At the age of 24, I knew that if I could make them spin and dance well, then we might have a shot at beating our competitors. We had nothing fancy to hide behind, so we had to be the cleanest and most visually stunning spinners in our class. Not one moment was taken for granted…not one transition…not one count. With my 13 kids, I spent every moment with them living in the present. I made them great. In the end, we won color guard and the effect caption at every marching band show we went to. That was when I learned that shiny toys don’t make you great. Living for what you have and in the present is what makes the elite great. With that ragtag guard, I learned what made me great. It would take me another 15 years or so however, to start to appreciate the power that made me who I am.
Some of our greatest instructors in the activity have never worn a medal and they don’t seek to attach their guards to big name designers or spend ungodly amounts of money on powerful consultants. They learn their craft. They read. They ask for help. They take the kids they have and they seek to know them. They don’t look to the other side of the road at greener grass and they find the gold nuggets within the coalmines they work in. And you know something? They are perfectly happy. It isn’t just instructors either. Judges do the same thing. Who are you judging? Where are you judging? What panel were you assigned? Are you “going in?” More. More. We all want more. To be where you are and value the road you are travelling is one of the hardest lessons those in our activity have yet to learn.
As we start this competition season let us all remember one thing. Whether you have a guard of 45 or a guard of 5, each one of those kids deserve a guard staff who care, who live in the present, and who don’t mind being the stonecutter. When you look back on this season, will you see someone that used their time wisely and prioritized that time or will you find a person that made excuses to avoid the lot they were given. Will you find a person who enjoyed buying costumes more than they did spending time with the kids? Will you find that you were the instructor who presented a facade by living in a past that didn’t really exist or ruminated on a guard yet to be? Who will you be? It doesn’t really matter I guess, because whether you have the ability to reflect on yourself or not, the kids you teach have already been doing it. One day when all the scores have been posted and all the medals have been put away, those kids will be grown and they will think about you and what you gave back to them and it won’t be the costume or the show they will think about, it will be how you carved stone into art and made them feel great through the lessons of hard work, discipline, and love. Teach wisely my friend.