Student and Master

One storyline archetype with universal and enduring appeal is that of the Student and Master. The most interesting variant of this is where you have an arrogant student that comes to believe that he should take his master’s place. Sometimes this student is the main character (e.g., Anakin Skywalker in “Star Wars” or Noboru Yasumoto in “Red Beard”). Often, though, this student is a skilled, though inferior talent juxtaposed against another student that will become a true master (e.g., Elle Driver vs The Bride in “Kill Bill” or Tai Lung vs Po in “Kung Fu Panda”). Sometimes the master dies; sometimes the master lives; sometimes the student learns a lesson. In any case, by the end of the story, we usually have insight into what being a master really means.

“We Are All Made of Stars”

I believe we were all born with the talent to do something great. If we can figure out what that is and work hard at it, we will eventually become masters at it. As I’ve watched my kids grow (the oldest is 7), I’ve seen that each of them was born with their own set of skills. No one ever taught them these things—they just came with certain talent and personality built in.

Working Hard is Not Enough

You have to work hard to master something. There’s no way around that. If you’re meant to master something, it will be fun, rewarding work. If not, then it will just be work. It’s funny, but it can be hard to figure out if your work is fun.

In college, I studied Chemical Engineering, which is unfortunate because I didn’t really like chemical engineering. The only course I really enjoyed was process control, and the only reason I enjoyed it was because you got to work with software. Looking back, I really should have been in Computer Science. Anyways, one day, I remember complaining about how hard my coursework was when a friend (who majored in English) remarked, “Aren’t you supposed to be good at that?”. I thought of how to explain that it was just intrinsically hard when I realized she was right.

If you’re working hard at something that you can kind of do, but you complain about it a lot, chances are you will never master it. You’re supposed to be good at what you’re supposed to master. Working hard is not enough.

Student and Master

In the workplace, you often see someone with experience (a master/potential master) mentoring a junior colleague (the student) who’s just starting out. Maybe the master has even given the student a shot at doing what they do. This can be a tricky situation if the student doesn’t have the talent to master this role.

Part of the problem is that most anyone can work hard to learn the basics of a role and show steady progress. Things may be appear to be going great. However some students, at some point, won’t be able to advance. They may show poor judgment or may not be able to pick up a necessary skill. Working harder won’t work. The student may be good enough to reach a certain level, but will go no further.

This is where the student/master relationship changes. The student may think the master is holding them back. The student may feel that they have learned enough and they’re ready to move on. This may be where a dramatic conflict occurs. Often, this is where friendships end.

In the ideal circumstance, it’s not this way. A student with true potential working with a master is a powerful combination. Of course, there may still be dramatic tension—the student may still be arrogant, may still chafe at having to pay his dues, but ultimately the true student learns. The best illustration of this is “Red Beard”. If you haven’t seen this amazing movie, do check it out. It’s directed by Akira Kurosawa, a master director if there ever was one. Not sure if he had a student. If not, what a shame…


About Rino Jose

Trying to find good ways to develop software.

2 responses to “Student and Master”

  1. Cliff says :

    Interesting commentary. What made you think of it?

    I’ve always been fascinated by the “eternal champion” construct and classic hero’s journey. There was a series of sci-fi /fantasy books (and some academic research) about it. The book series was written by Michael Moorcock (links below). I liked it because the champion (Elric) was actually a bad guy and someone you’d prefer to despise rather than admire. But he typified the eternal champion in that, however tormented and manipulable, he got destiny’s job done… kicking and screaming the whole way… but done nonetheless. Moorcock wrote about several other eternal champion characters that were far more likable, but couldn’t deliver the same ironic imagery that the Elric character had. And just to make sure that we didn’t ever forget it, the last book ends with him blowing the horn of fate to usher in a new age while getting eaten by a soul-sucking demon who’d been lurking quietly with him throughout the entire series.

  2. Cliff says :

    BTW – Loved Kung Fu Panda. I watched the training scene about 5 times. It was so well crafted. I loved the part where the master learns how to inspire Po.

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