Here is the long-boat of Thailand. What intrigued me was the design of the propulsion system. As illustrated, you can see that the propeller is attached a long shaft. This intrigued me, as a Singaporean, I would reckoned that such a long shaft will result in an immediate loss of power. The vibration from the long shaft will make sure of that. Even though I am not an engineer by profession, I instinctively assumed that the long shaft enables the vessel to navigate shallow waters.
I came back to Singapore and asked the best person, Steven Lim, a practising Marine Architect. True enough, it was designed for shallow waters, what we cannot fathom was there is plenty of shallow waters all over the world, and we only see this in Thailand. This is unique only to Thailand, as far as our well-travelled minds can remember.
Not only did Steven explained this rationale to me, he went on to give me a complete plethora of propulsion designs. what is jet propulsion, shrouded propellers, what is ‘VPP’, variable pitch propeller. In conclusion, we both agreed that what the Thais had, is as perfect a design as it can be, primitive, but it worked, in their context. They do not need a hi-tech, mumbo jumbo, like jet propulsion. In short, the Thais had a good policy of if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. And this design has been working for at least the past 30 odd years, Steve saw this when he went to Thailand back in the 80s, I still see this in Krabi just a couple of weeks back, so it worked for them and there is no need for any ‘improvements’. They do not need to reinvent the wheel.
The point here is two prong, one Steven’s knowledge in his field of expertise. He knows to a great depths marine related design, he knows what this is done, and how it is done. He, however, did not immediately think that the design can be improved. He didn’t improve things simply for the sake of improvement. It works, so leave it. The other point is, if were to bring this question to any Thais, or even to the boatmen themselves, it is likely that they wouldn’t know why their boats are designed that way. They know how it operates in great convenience, none will be educated to a degree to know the merits of a shrouded propeller vis-a-vis their long shaft, propeller.
I’m not saying that they are ‘stupid’, it is just not in their realm of knowledge to know what they need to know. Likewise if we were to install a jet propulsion for their long-boat, it is very likely that they will damage it, given their limited mechanical and technical to handle a relatively expensive and sophisticated jet propulsion.They need to know what they need to know, period.
We, cannot live with that, as martial artists, we cannot simply do, because our instructors does it. We need to observe and question, find the answers for ourselves. Things made by humans is a design, is a reason for that design. We need to know, understand the entire dynamics in totality, then we can confidently leave the matter to rest. until then we cannot say that we are ‘experts’ in our field of choice.
One thins about our agreement is that we know that this albeit primitive design, is a perfect design. Surely there is a loss of power from the slack, but it still brings the boat from point A to point B, which is all the Thais need. We could have been overly zealous and say, hey the Thais can use some improvements on their design! let’s do this let’s do that! they can get from A to B faster! with better fuel efficiency.
But the Thais are not interested in all that, we need to know and recognise the contextually perfect tool. They have a tool that is in harmony with their lifestyle, with their livelihood. They do not need an improvement, for the sake of the improvement. We, the forever progress seeking human beings, sometimes overlooked that some things worked well enough for us to leave it alone.
Knowing that, should not stop us from learning, we need to know, like how Steve know, the entire tool of his trade, and knowing when to leave a perfect design alone. So we need to know how Aikido work for us, and know what is perfect enough for us to leave it alone.