Russ Venditto On The Bushcraft Learning Process

Our first online course, titled “Becoming A Bushcraft Instructor,”, has been a great experience thus far. We’ve had some thoughtful discussions about our first book, Hare Brain Tortoise Mind, which examines how the brain processes information. I’ve been learning a lot from the discussion. As a sample, below is a post from Russ Venditto on the learning process and how it translates to bushcraft. Enjoy, and if you want to join us check our our online network at

“It is by logic we prove; it is by intuition we discover.”

I’d say that learning about a concept, or that having gone over information in d-mode — even multiple times — isn’t enough to fully understand a subject. This goes for science, math, literature, or anything, really, but since we’re looking at this from a bushcraft instructor’s point of view, here are my thoughts. Throughout this whole chapter, I kept thinking about the manual skills involved in a bushcraft course: use of an axe, use of small hand tools, and firemaking methods, to be specific. It is very important to have a grasp of the theory behind these skills. Giving Tommy an axe and saying “here, figure out how to use this” could be disastrous. Far better to brief him on the axe, on safety, angle of attack, proper kinesthetic technique, and so on, than to leave him to his own devices. BUT…

But because the student has been told how to do something, he or she is not magically gifted with the ability to do said something. There needs to be a learning period, in which the student has to discover how to apply the information that has just been passed on. “Here’s a spokeshave, this is how you use it” is great; the instructor shows the student the motions used to shave wood with this wonderful tool, and the student has an idea of how to use the tool. He feels confident that he can reproduce what the instructor has just done… until he tries to handle the spokeshave and suddenly realizes that it is a LOT harder than it looks. At first, that is. After some time — or after much time, depending on the person — using a spokeshave becomes second nature, something that now magically IS as easy as it looks.

The same magical transformation applies to firemaking (as it does to every other discipline, I’d imagine)… when learning it for the first time, you are shown and told what to do, in small steps. The first three dozen times you try to make a coal with a hand drill, you get a ton of smoke, but no fire. Then one day, on your forty-third attempt, a coal appears. How?

I would guess that what is happening here is that while d-mode is telling you that you are failing at your task, the undermind is storing all of the information gathered during your attempts. Over time, you develop an intuition on how this whole hand drill thing works. Your undermind goes on evaluating and sorting this information — this works, that doesn’t — the entire time you are working at the project, and also while you are NOT at work. You have a much more complete understanding of the skills required of a hand drill on your thirtieth attempt than you did on your third, even if you still have not produced a coal.

The quote applies becuase at first we learn the skills, the theory, that which can be verbalized, as Claxton says. That which CANNOT be verbalized — all of the intricacies and idiosyncrasies involved in the physical process — have to be learned through doing, and over time, we develop an “intuition” on the topic, be it axemanship or field botany. I think this is why a focus on “process, not product” is so effective.

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