When you try to teach Zen, kung fu or anything of real value you present it in parts. You can’t present the whole thing because it is incomprehensible to the student. So each student takes what they can and digests what they can. It is like learning the many tributaries of a river and where they lead but not knowing it's source. In music it’s like learning notes and chords and all their variations so you can play songs. When you just know songs you just know by rote but not from the source; you are just repeating or reciting what you’ve been taught but you’re not creating. It is necessary to begin this way but eventually a greater picture must develop. A student who just gets technique after technique or lecture after lecture is just compiling information and not getting to the source. It is the task of the teacher to get the students motivated from within, to create a welling up of essence that blossoms into a new awareness in the student. This is very difficult to do because most students of anything want to cling on to what they’ve been taught. They want to recite their truths or techniques to prove to others what they have learned. They want to accumulate belts and awards as evidence of their knowledge.
There are teachers that parcel out techniques, bit by bit, like they were precious pieces of gold. They don’t want to teach the ‘whole’ thing, give away the entire system because then they have nothing that separates them from the student. There would be nothing that gives them rank or superiority over them. They would lose their prestige or their throne. They do this out of fear because these lessons/techniques are all they have. These are very poor teachers indeed. They themselves have not plunged into the depths of their art and therefore cling to what appears on the surface.
What the real teacher is trying to do is to light that fire within that drives the student to their own fulfillment. One day as the student follows the tributaries, streams and rivers they will all start to merge and he will look up and find himself facing the ocean, the source. He will be amazed and overjoyed, inspired and alive with all of the possibilities that lie ahead. He will dive in
and become the ocean. He will no longer carry techniques or lessons; they willbecome him. He will want to share this awareness not hoard it. And he will struggle to pass on what he sees while his students do not see it. He sees that
we stand at the ocean facing the shore wondering where the ocean is.
If all you have is a hammer, in either mental or physical skill, then you are severely limited in how you can solve problems. There are many ways to steer yourself out of a situation with varied skill sets and techniques but once you introduce a hammer there is only one way out. What you bring to it is what is reacted to so think about what your skills truly are. If you only have a hammer then all things will be hard. Assess yourself and develop more tools.
There is this strange mind set in martial arts that somehow amassing a large amount of techniques equals knowledge of the art. Somehow gathering all this information makes you a master just by virtue of having it all, it’s like thinking owning all of Shakespeare’s works makes you a playwright. There are those that go from school to school and teacher to teacher to gather these techniques and they feel this somehow makes them skilled fighters. They have the twenty mor saos, eighteen beggar’s hands and thirty six gao siu’s and a plethora of other techniques and know the exact nuanced time each is to be employed. They think their specific knowledge of these things makes them superior to other martial artists. Well, real fighting doesn’t work this way. It is fast and dirty with little or no time for nuanced technique. In my own practice I have found that initially
you need to do something devastating before you can do anything refined. Lately in Philadelphia there has been a spate of muggings with groups of young thugs attacking people randomly. There is no time for a specific beggar’s hand or gwok siu. The reaction to the attack has to be immediate and devastating. There is no time for setting a mantis stance as someone comes in on you; they are all coming in on you at once. You have to be fluid and deadly to survive.
This is a situation that is personal to me and that and I take very seriously. I had a student years ago that was a fine young man and diligent practioner of martial arts. He knew every hand there was and had the classical name for them. He used to tell me if an opponent did this type of attack he would do a dragon fist crossing the cloud technique or some other flowery thing. I used to tell him that it never works that way and he needed to develop a simpler, more direct and ferocious style of fighting. He could continue in his art but needed to distill it to a few simple and effective motions. He never quite bought what I was trying to tell him but none the less practiced hard. One night on his way home he saw a fight break out in a park in his neighborhood. Three guys were beating up on one guy and he went to help. In seconds he was taken down and stabbed. Tragically he died later that night. It was a great loss to his family and all of us. He was doing a good deed and died for it.
I don’t know of the specifics of the fight but I fear that he tried, as he often did with me, to bring his bag of techniques to it. There is no way to know if there could have been a different outcome but I will always wonder about it. Mastering a few hands that will serve you in any situation is much more valuable and vital than a plethora of them. An army trainer recently said to me that he finds a few techniques that really work and drills them literally thousands of times with his recruits. It becomes the core of their motion and very effective. So beware of gathering information over developing knowledge; the difference can save your life.
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