Friday, June 11, 2010

The Tradition Starts Here

Apparently it was President Harry S. Truman who made the phrase “The Buck Stops Here” famous. Evidently the saying originates from the expression “pass the buck,” which indicates an inclination to shift responsibility for unpopular acts. A sign with the adage was given to the president by a U. S. Marshall, who saw the original at the Federal Reformatory in El Reno, Oklahoma.

Since President Truman was an avid sportsman, for years I assumed the term was associated with hunting. That, as it turns out, is not the case. Unfortunately, I never actually considered why deer might be stopping by the Oval Office. I do, however, understand there was a great deal of wildlife in the White House during the Kennedy and Clinton administrations, so my ignorance may be partially justified.

Taking a page from President Truman’s play book, at Twin Rocks Trading Post we have a saying of our own. It goes like this: “The Tradition Starts Here.” Now, for someone who is constantly fussing about what is and what is not traditional, this may seem an odd slogan.

With an eye towards resolving this quandary, I consulted Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary, which defines tradition as: “1: an inherited, established, or customary pattern of thought, action, or behavior (as a religious practice or a social custom) 2: the handing down of information, beliefs, and customs by word of mouth or by example from one generation to another without written instruction 3: cultural continuity in social attitudes and institutions 4: characteristic manner, method or style.”

For over 20 years Barry and I have advocated, supported and promoted innovative Navajo basketry and rugs, and have even helped create the contemporary Navajo basket movement and the Twin Rocks Modern style of weaving. In spite of that, I have never been clear whether either of these movements is or will at some point become “traditional.” To be completely candid, Webster’s was not overly helpful when it came to sorting out this issue.

It was not until this weekend that I began to understand the term’s most fundamental meaning. Jana, Kira, Grange and I were testing for our next belt levels in Shorinji Kempo, a defensive martial art we have been been studying for about three years. During the test, the instructor explained that in traditional programs, there are only three belt colors; white, brown and black. It is only in the United States that you have a rainbow of shades.

Apparently in the Far East, when you begin studying the art you are assigned a white belt. Over the years, as a result of ongoing practice and volumes of perspiration, that same white belt turns brown. If you stay with it long enough, the brown belt turns black, and you are considered a master. The color, therefore, has everything to do with hard work and nothing to do with vanity. That, as they say, is the tradition.

At the trading post, I have noticed a similar, although opposite, progression. When Barry and I opened Twin Rocks in 1989, our hair was black. Over the years, it took on a slightly lighter tone, more brownish. Although my evolution has been more accelerated than Barry’s, we are now arriving at the white phase. Although I am not sure anyone will call us master, maybe we are on the path to becoming traditional, in which case the tradition did start here. Where it will end is anybody’s guess. Even President Truman would have to admit that the buck has to start before it can stop.

With Warm Regards,
Steve, Barry and the Team.

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