A few years ago, I visited with Sifu Pete Pajil (Moy Bah Hugh) of the Moy Yat lineage of Ving Tsun (Wing Chun) Kung Fu. I sat down with him to introduce myself and learn about his Ving Tsun. He greatly impressed me with his wisdom and overall demeanor. He struck me as a man of a calm and gentle nature, one who embodied the spirit of Moy Yat Ving Tsun Kung Fu. One of the tidbits of advice he gave me on my Ving Tsun journey was Sao Poh Lei (I’m sure I’m misquoting the Cantonese), but the translation he told me was this: “Learn how to obey, learn how to learn, then throw it all away.” So, what I’d like to discuss here is parts 2 and 3 of this quote.
The beginning of martial knowledge is usually best found with a good teacher or Sifu. I’ve already written an article on how to find a good Wing Chun school, so, take a look if you need assistance in that area. Learning how to obey simply means finding a good Sifu and listening to him or her. In the beginning, we all start out like this. Going to class, doing forms, drills, and exercises not completely understanding the why and the how. Over time, we learn the ins-and-outs of the techniques, we can do the forms easily from memory. We execute the drills with speed and precision. Most importantly, we can use the techniques sparring or in a self-defense situation. We have learned how to obey.
Learning how to learn is much trickier. What is learning how to learn? I can’t speak for Sifu Pajil, but my interpretation of this is to rephrase the statement. Learning how to learn restated is simply learning how to teach yourself. It is said that Bruce Lee studied relentlessly. He would sit down with a book in one hand, a dumbbell in the other hand, while watch a boxing match. It’s not enough to come to class and expect your teacher to feed you knowledge like a baby continually. Yes, we all start that way, but eventually you must also feed yourself. This means studying and investigating martial arts on your own. It’s an adventure of amazing discovers where you learn much about martial arts, but more about yourself. Sifu will always be available for more advanced knowledge or questions, but try to figure some things out on your own first.
Studying martial arts means not just learning about Wing Chun or a single type of martial arts. As a fighter, you will experience many styles of combat, so it’s helpful to at least learn about the most common and popular styles. Also, consider what aspect of martial arts you want to know more about. Do you want to know more about fighting? Are you more concerned with history? Theories and concepts? Lineages? Weapons? Forms? Your interests will likely change over time as you learn and grow, but the idea is to have no limits to your learning. Read and study as much as you can. The Tao of Jeet Kune Do is excellent in helping one understand how Bruce Lee studied, investigated, and his thought process into martial arts. It’s just a collection of notes, but seeing his notes is a great start for developing your own martial arts journal.
Instead of playing a video game or watching a sporting event, look at videos on martial arts, watch a competition fight, try to learn something from them. The best information is typically found in books or DVD series from a good Sifu or instructor. If you really want to reach your own potential, then stop wasting time. Physically, we can’t train every day; our body needs to rest. However, you can keep your mind engaged by learning as much as you can. Now, the idea is not to just fill your mind with useless knowledge, but rather what interests you. Meditate on these things and reflect on them. Take what you learn and train with it; see if you can incorporate something new into your own personal fighting style. If you can’t, then at least you’ll be aware of them if you see them in a sparring partner or opponent.
Once you learn how to learn, how to teach yourself, then we are to throw it all away. Why? What does that mean? It means graduating from your undergraduate in college, then starting over with graduate school. It means to start over, to re-evaluate everything we have learned from Sifu and from ourselves to see if we still come up with the same discoveries and find new ones. It means not relying on what we already know, but think outside of the box, and see what new discoveries can be made. Again, it’s not about collecting a bunch of useless information, but a process of refining and throwing things away. If a technique is good and you “throw it away”, then you will rediscover it again with fresh eyes. Don’t worry. It will come back to you and be more effective because you see it with a mind open to new possibilities and uses for the technique. It’s like reading a book, then setting it down for a few months. When you come back to it and read it again, you notice things in the story or characters you didn’t notice before.
Become a student. Maximize your time. Cut out wasted time. Focus on improving as a martial artist and a human being. Stay focused and determined. Thank you for reading.
Wishing you happiness and peace of mind.
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