In many classic and modern martial arts training tales, masters attempts to free their students of the mental traps they set for themselves, traps that prevent them from getting the most from themselves and their training. They often do so by applying logic that seems self-contradictory. This teaching method comes from Zen philosophy.
Earlier this evening, another student, Peter, was added to our class. He is not new to us. He originally started training in our class last summer, but had to stop because he had to move for his career. With it being his first class back, he was extremely eager to learn and get back into the game.
While working with a particular takedown, Peter asked question after question about where his foot should be, how to get his body into proper position, where his hand should go, etc. So dedicated was he to improve quickly that I’d just finish answering one question and he’d immediately launch into the next.
Eventually, I put a stop to it. “Peter, enough questions! You’re over-thinking.”
“But if I get you to tell me all the details, I’ll learn to do it properly,” he responded, a little sheepishly.
“Allow me,” I said, walking up to him, not waiting for a response. I put him into proper position for the takedown, aligning his body, putting his feet and arms into proper position. “Can you feel the position?”
“Yeah, I guess so.”
“Now, take him down.” His uke (training partner) went down with a satisfying smack.
“Did that takedown feel better?” I asked.
“Focus more on getting the feeling and less on the specifics,” I explained. “Your body learns faster and better than your brain. Not to mention the fact that this takedown will be slightly different on every person you perform it on. If you focus on getting the feel rather than intellectualizing the details, you’ll make better progress.”
Peter nodded what seemed to be understanding and went back to training the technique with his partner. He got a glimpse of something greater than the sum of his training. In the martial arts, it’s not simply about knowing what to do. It’s about being in the moment and responding to what is there. No matter how many details and instructions a student tries to memorize, this ability to be in the moment is what will bring a student to a higher level of training. This is something that modern martial arts related movies have got right with their watered down Zen philosophy.
“There’s a difference between knowing the path and walking the path.” -Morpheus, The Matrix