By and large I feel like people in the Flow Arts community fit into one of two categories: those that want to pick up all the props and those that want to get really good at just a few or even one.
I’m going to borrow an idea that first appears in an ancient Greek poem by Archilochus in which he describes the difference between these two personalities as being analogous to the temperaments of foxes and hedgehogs. As Archilochus says: “a fox knows many things, but a hedgehog one important thing.”
The idea has been resurrected in the modern era through the works of philosopher Isaiah Berlin and political psychologist Phil Tetlock to describe the difference between people who like to be diverse in their interests and ideas versus those who zero in on a few or just one.
So which one is it better to be? A jack of all trades but master of none or a focused discipline who sometimes misses the forest for the trees?
Okay, so just to say this up front: whenever you split human beings into binary categories, it’s never perfectly clean. People are complicated and rarely does classifying them like this turn out to be terribly accurate.
Also: there are lots of people who enjoy finding labels to define them while others find them restrictive or oversimplifications. Both sides are right. Take it all with a grain of salt.
Now, I’ll go ahead and confess: I’m totally a hedgehog. I made a choice many years ago that I was going to focus on poi more or less exclusively in my flow journey. I didn’t just want to spin poi--I wanted to master it.
I’ve made a couple exceptions over the years: devoting time to double staff and hooping, but by and large I’ve stayed on that course.
This recently came up in a Facebook conversation: there are more than a few prop manufacturers that have tried to get me to try out other tools and my first thought is always: “But...that’s going to take time away from poi.”
I love that focus because I feel like I don’t just engage with the tool--it becomes an extension of me. We meld together and become one and the same.
It can also be frustrating to see someone with more of a fox mentality walk into class and rather than take the time to really drill down all the work they need to the next plateau with their poi spinning, they’d rather run off and have the excitement of getting to know a new tool.
There’s also kind of a cultural divide I see frequently between hedgehogs and foxes where the hedgehogs of the flow world tend to see the foxes as being unfocused and undisciplined. We hedgehogs look at the foxes jumping from prop to prop and think: “Yes, but I’m a real artist because I’m devoted to exploring this prop deeply.”
So here’s the thing: we need foxes.
Every single prop that any of us hedgehogs ever pick up exists because at some point a bunch of foxes jumped onboard. Every prop starts with no movement vocabulary to speak of, so the only people to pick it up are those only interested in the newness of it.
It takes a certain number of people picking that prop up before it’s worth it for prop companies to make it or there’s enough of a saturation of artists using it to really deepen the vocabulary of it and make it enticing to us hedgehogs.
And personally: I think at some point we all start as foxes. I remember first getting into fire spinning and wanting to learn all the things! Picking up poi, rope dart, staff, anything that looked intriguing. I had to make a conscious choice at a certain point that I wanted to master just one of those props, but I’m glad that I took the time to explore a little and find a prop that I was going to enjoy devoting that time to.
It’s fun picking up a new prop! It’s fun to explore the new ways it may make you move or the new ideas it brings to mind. Sometimes this can inspire you and keep you engaged or even give you ideas that can be applied to other props.
And foxes: I know that we hedgehogs can seem really dour and stuck in the mud. It doesn’t seem like we have very much fun as we drill a trick over and over and over again, beating back frustration, exhaustion, and our wearing patience.
And I’ll admit it: we can also be real dicks about what we do. We’ve got a bad habit of judging people who don’t seem to share our discipline, no matter how masochistic it appears to the people around us.
Be patient with us: we just find our satisfaction in conquering these long-term goals. And the things we discover on those deep dives inspire new people to come into our world. Maybe even you!
So when all’s said and done: which is it better to be?
There’s nothing wrong with enjoying the thrill of learning something new, but also make sure you’re honest with yourself: if you’re amazed by a difficult trick just know that you’re going to have to get through a whole lot of painful and dedicated practice to get there. There are no shortcuts and if you’re not ready to do the work yet it can be frustrating to a teacher to spend the time with you only to see you run off to find your next thrill.
By the same token: those of us who are on that path to mastering our individual tools really need to stay humble. It’s okay for other people to pick up a lot of different tools and it doesn’t take anything away from our dedication or discipline. And more than likely the art we’ve learned was only possible because of a whole lot of fox early adopters.
Is it better to be a hedgehog or a fox? Well, the question really is: which a better fit for you?