A New Framework:
The Educated Climber Method
I have always been of the opinion that a climbing arborist is really 2 jobs in 1:
Job #1: knowing how to climb, access, and work-position in a tree, i.e. the “how” to get up there.
Job #2: cutting & rigging, getting required work done, i.e. the “what to do” once you’re up there.
A recreational tree climber has a huge learning curve just to be able to access trees, but they don’t need to know anything about cutting and rigging. Conversely, an arborist who uses a lift exclusively has to know an immense amount about getting work done in the air, but they don’t need to know anything about climbing. A climbing arborist, on the other hand, needs to know everything about both aspects and be able to combine them seamlessly into a complete package of aerial production.
The Trivium: A Framework for Learning
a. Grammar (Knowledge)
b. Logic (Understanding)
c. Rhetoric (Wisdom)
So what exactly is the Trivium? The word Trivium in Latin means “where 3 roads meet.” In classical education, the Trivium was the basis of all knowledge, it was not learning per se, but a preparation for learning. It consisted of 3 themes – Grammar, Logic, and Rhetoric, also referred to as Knowledge, Understanding, and Wisdom. The Trivium forms the basis for all learning and critical thought, and represents a systematic approach for teaching anything.
The concepts taught in the Trivium follow a logical 3 step learning process which, when mastered, form the basic structure of thought and analysis which can be applied by the student to any subject they wish to learn. The process begins with Grammar, aka Knowledge. This is the underlying background knowledge and definitions as applied to a certain subject. In the Grammar stage we absorb the basic facts, i.e. the who, what, where, and when of a subject. The next step is Logic, aka Understanding. Logic is the art of non-contradictory identification. In this stage we answer the why of a subject. The final step is Rhetoric, aka Wisdom. The rhetoric stage is the application of that knowledge in a useful form, in other words, the how of a subject.
The Educated Climber Method
With this Trivium framework in mind, the Educated Climber Method (EC Method) attempts to approach each area of knowledge in the following way. For each topic, we will begin with the First Principles, or Axioms. These are the basic truths which are self-evident, and which we cannot reduce down any further. From there, we move on to Terminology. A shared understanding of key terms and phrases is essential for learning and conveying information. We then move on to look at Key Concepts, including ‘what are we trying to achieve’, ‘what are we trying to avoid’, and ‘how does this concept fit in relation to other concepts?’ Here we focus on logical consistency, or lack of contradiction across topics. Only once we are familiar with the axioms, terminology, and key concepts, can we then move on to look at the specific Techniques and Gear we use to achieve our desired outcome. This approach to learning is designed to give the student a firm grasp of the fundamentals and underlying concepts, which is the exact opposite approach of observational, or rote, learning.
Knowledge without understanding is referred to as ‘rote learning’. Whenever you copy something that you see someone else doing, without knowing why they are doing it, you are engaged in rote learning. Rote learning by itself might come in handy the next time you are in the exact same situation, but change some of the variables and you will see exactly why the understanding or logic of a subject is so necessary.
Now, before we go any further, let me make one thing very clear: I am not an expert. I do not profess to show people the one, “correct” way to do things. I am no authority, all I can show you is how I do things. So please be sure to take everything that I show with a grain of salt, as they say. I’m glad that you’re here, and I hope that this material can play some small role in helping you on your quest to become an Educated Climber.
Start With the End in Mind
Tree surgery is the art of removal. As arborists, we cannot add any branches or foliage or presence or beauty to the trees we climb, we can only remove from them. Be it dead wood or live wood, our sole function in tree work is the removal of tissue from trees in a safe and efficient manner. A good arborist approaches each tree, each leader, each branch, and each cut with confidence because he knows exactly what is required for the situation. This confidence eventually translates itself into increased speed in the tree, more safety for the climber and ground crew, and a more professional job performance overall. The true professionals in this trade combine theoretical knowledge with practical skills derived from training and experience to tackle complex physical challenges in real time. We treat all trees with an incredible respect, never forgetting that these impressive and majestic specimens are also huge, 3-dimensional puzzles capable of incredible destruction. It is this unique perspective that drives us to constantly learn and improve our skills and expand our horizons on both a personal and professional level.
Our trade comprises an enormous body of knowledge which is ever expanding. Thanks to the internet and the vital link between communities of professionals that it fosters, we have seen an explosion of innovation in just the past decade. Every year there are constant improvements in equipment, gear and techniques, and the pace of change is accelerating. It is fast becoming a full-time job to stay current and up to date.
This site is designed to help accelerate the learning curve for new recruits. It is in no way a substitute for schooling, on-the-job training, and experience that comes from doing the work and putting in the time. I do not hope to present a snapshot of cutting edge thinking and methodology in this information age, but rather a more basic foundation of timeless concepts, skills and techniques. With this foundation in place, the student then has a framework from which to evaluate the cutting edge and add to their knowledge base, piece by piece.
The information and techniques presented herein represent the author’s own education, experience, observations and insights gleaned from climbing and rigging in countless trees over 15 years. I consider the greatest asset in this trade and in this life to be an insatiable hunger for learning. Saying this, the attitudes that have helped me most over the years are:
1. Always assuming there is a better way to do something than the way I currently do it.
I have always made it my goal to apply this type of thinking to everything – whether I have been doing the thing in question for just a short while, or my entire life. It is a mindset that has opened many doors to learning and fulfillment. It goes beyond merely keeping an open mind, and involves actively seeking out better ways of getting things done by treating everything as a process of continual improvement.
2. Gathering facts and establishing truth through constant experimentation and experience as opposed to accepting truth from authority.
As Francis Bacon once said, “Truth is the daughter of time, not of authority”. One must never blindly accept as truth the stated opinions or “true facts” of those in positions of power or authority, whether you consider that authority to be somehow legitimate and authentically earned – or not. You must actively search for truth, don’t just outsource that work.
The reader is encouraged to view all content from this author and indeed from any author, as opinion rather than dogma. There will be material presented here that you do not agree with. I am fine with that. We must always be mindful in our critical analysis to carefully consider all the information given, in order to ensure that we do not throw the proverbial baby out with the bathwater. It is your duty as a lifelong learner to question everything, regardless of the source. If I can request anything of the reader it is this: please do not consider my word on anything as gospel, and please do not consider me an authority figure on anything. I am simply a student, and this site is simply my thoughts and opinions on complex issues.
My name is Patrick Masterson. I am a husband, father, arborist, entrepreneur, and teacher, as well as a podcast addict, homesteader, and semi-professional used book collector. Have you ever had your 7-year old make fun of you for having too many books? Yeah, I’m that guy.
Before the internet, books were everything. If I had a project, I went to the library and was lucky to find a book on the subject that was only 20 years old. Nowadays if your sources are more than just a few years old, your information is probably hopelessly outdated. We live in a time of unprecedented change, and information is the new currency.
Early on, I discovered that I could learn anything, anything at all if my interest was high enough. Given the resources and sufficient time, the only barrier to mastery was my own will to learn. Now for me, the will to learn is either there or it isn’t. It is not something that I can talk myself into. The will to learn must be authentic for the learning to be authentic.
I began climbing trees with rope and saddle in 2007 and I have worked as a staff-climber, contract climber, and tree service owner since 2008, in and around London, Ontario, Canada. Throughout my career I have always wished I had a dedicated space to capture and share the knowledge of tree climbing with others. Educated Climber is that space. The information presented here is opinionated and raw. I do not burden myself with political correctness. I am not affiliated with governing bodies of the trade. I am an actual, working, production arborist and tree climber.
When you work with experienced people for long enough, it is very easy to get out of touch with your former self. You start to take for granted so much of the skills and knowledge that you use on a daily basis. This is why most seasoned veterans prefer working with experienced people – everyone knows their role and what is expected of them. It takes a greenhorn on the jobsite to help you appreciate just how much knowledge you really have. This is why teaching someone from scratch is so expensive and time consuming. Most people have trouble teaching complex concepts, mostly because they have never taken the time to really think and dwell on the topic long enough. They usually figure out what works and what doesn’t, and then when they try to teach this knowledge to someone else, they end up showing the how, but not always the why.
And this is what draws me towards teaching. Good teaching forces me to fully wrap my head around something, to explore the logic of it, the why and not just the how. I am forced to identify inconsistencies and question everything. I try to teach to other people the way I would like to be shown. As a lifelong student myself, I am the guy who is never satisfied with just knowing how to do something, I always want to know why. Why do we do this at all? Why do we do it this way when there are all kinds of other possibilities? Is this really the best way to do this?
Part of me worried that the name might sound pretentious. I certainly don’t go around referring to myself as “The Educated Climber”. The site is geared towards the education of a climber, and so I named it Educated Climber.
This site is designed to catalogue the core information, skills and techniques required for long-term success as a professional in this trade. It is my goal to present a comprehensive package for arborists of all stripes: practical, physical knowledge as well as technical, theoretical knowledge. It is designed to be consumed in a non-linear fashion: take what you like, ignore what you don’t.
There is so much conflicting and contradictory information available on the internet. My hope is that you will find this site highly valuable, informative, and useful as a primary resource. Never stop learning, never stop sharing, never stop growing – in work as in life.
Climb High, Work Smart, Read More.
Patrick Masterson (@TreeMuggs)
Co-owner, ConservaTree Inc.
ON Certified Arborist #444A-
(Formerly ISA Certified 🙂 )
Continue Reading: Tree Climbing Basics
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