The Sun Tzu Math Teacher


I got a new camera rig and one of the drawbacks of buying a new rig is that because they are fully customizable they don’t come with an instruction manual. Thankfully, God invented the internet for such instances. I looked at all the pictures of how other people assembled a similar rig and tried to model mine after theirs. It took somewhere around two hours of largely trial and error testing to assemble the rig correctly (or at least functionally.) Every time I’d set it up incorrectly however I’d think through whatever the problem was with a special voice in my head.

I called him the Sun Tzu Math Teacher. He was always making statements like: “you must know your enemy before you can learn to defeat him.” It sounded like in addition to teaching us mathematics he was also imparting valuable tactical and strategic military knowledge upon us. It’s nice to know that I was getting my money’s worth as far as tuition goes, but in the context of Algebra it always seemed a little out of place. He would walk into the class in his all black uniform and no one would notice he was there. He moved quietly, blending in with his surroundings. It was hard to believe this man was not fighting a war on at least some level.

“You must practice several times before you will have the wisdom to win on the battlefield,” he would say. We were all a little confused as to who the enemy was in this situation. It could have been the problem we were solving or it could have been mathematics in general. He often mentioned how he had spent several hours learning each lesson and had to repeat it several times in order to master it. It seemed only natural that he would develop a hatred for something that seemed to be consuming him. He was very quiet before and after class. Then when class began he would nod at the class and pick up a marker as if it were a sword. He would look at the board in a way that suggested he was suspicious of it for some reason.
“Let us review our previous predicament,” he said with one eye on his textbook and the other leering at the board. He said this in a manner that suggested he was suspicious of the board’s motives and intentions. We all sat back eagerly awaiting some new Mr. Miyagi-like wisdom to roll off his tongue.

“How can you solve?” He would ask. We would stare back blankly waiting for the board to attack him or for him to attack the board. The struggle between these two was imminent and since none of us had any context or clue as to who had been the instigator in whatever wrongdoing had occurred we all awaited anxiously to see what would happen next. He would stand off to the side and look at the board for a moment before peering over at us.

“Before you can master your enemy you must master yourselves, no?” He asked. He would then take out whatever remaining anger he had on math for the next fifty minutes until he waxed on and waxed off the board.

The guesswork with my rig involved fastening and unfastening various rods and rails. Every time I came up with a new arrangement I would ask myself in the voice of my Sun Tzu Math Teacher: “how can you solve?” Then I would remember that I must review several times in order to master it.

“Let us try this arrangement,” I would say then my Sun Tzu Math teacher would reply: “before you can master your enemy you must master yourself.” Was my enemy my rig? Why was this voice the one that I chose in my subconscious to use for this construction?

Eventually, after I completed the construction of the rig I began thinking about how odd all this really was. Most people do not think through their issues in other voices. And why did his voice come into my head when I was constructing the rig? None of it made any sense until I looked at the box for the video monitor that attached to the rig. On the front of the box was an Asian man dressed all in black staring inquisitively at a white wall. In the context of the product that I had bought this made absolutely no sense. I have no idea why that was on the front of the box. Looking at the picture on the box though I did notice a startling similarity between the guy on the box and my Sun Tzu Math Teacher. Perhaps he was reviewing his previous predicament which one can only guess was having to assemble one of these rigs without an instruction manual.


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