November 26, 2014

The Old Fox

"Sifu, I’ve heard about a few incidents lately in which young adults were beaten to death by a gang of people. Do you think that any amount of martial arts instruction would have been sufficient to save the victims' lives?"

“That is quite a question! I’d have to say that no matter how much a student has learned in the training hall, a real-life situation is different from an instructional one. Everything depends on the student's poise. I have stated previously anyone can learn to imitate the movements, but this does not mean he understands them.

Techniques work in correspondence with situations. First, the technique has to be mastered. It has to be correctly taught and correctly practiced. The student has to acquire proficiency in the training hall before he can apply the techniques when he on the street, under real-life attack. He needs to acquire self confidence from correct learning and practice. It's foolish and dangerous to rely on techniques that are not thoroughly mastered. A proper course of training in the training hall will give a student much experience in using these techniques in combative situations. Even though a student knows that it is just a training exercise, he acquires skill and confidence in his abilities to act and react. Without correct training, he's often in a worse position than if had no training at all. Sometimes a student will take a obvious martial arts' defensive pose and invite more aggression from those who have confronted him.

These conditions are difficult. The task is great and full of responsibility. It is necessary to be cautious and aware of our situations and their conditions, and to act appropriately.

No matter how much training a student has, or how good a teacher he has, he has to acquire poise and mature judgment.

Once I had a student who knew the techniques but who also was a hot head. He’d go into other martial art schools and as politely as he could, he'd issue challenges and then show up their best students. His form may not have always looked as good as the others, but he could execute the techniques better than they. But he was still showboating. After awhile he lost his sense of fear... of being cautious and aware of dangerous possibilities. The martial arts to him became an exercise in a gymnasium. He didn't need to be cautious in the training hall where there is always a controlled opposition. But one day on the street he decided to challenge someone and that person didn't play by martial arts' rules. That person had a few friends that my student hadn't seen. He learned a big lesson that day.

I Ching Hexagram 64 tells us that an old fox walks across the ice very carefully. He is always aware of the possibility that it may crack beneath him. A young inexperienced and foolish fox will walk and look around without giving a thought to the ice. He is surprised and unprepared when it cracks. The old fox respects the ice. He understands ice and the way it turns to water. The young fox doesn't respect the changing nature of things. He assumes that what is will always be. He doesn't see the need to always adapt to conditions. He gets his tail wet.... or in the case of my student, bloody. 

I found it best when teaching a technique to let my students know that they should never expect to be proficient in any technique without considerable practice and guidance. Without regular training, they will be in the same kind of situation as a porcupine that is stuck in a hole. The animal's natural state is such that he can't back up and, being stuck, can't move forward, either. He perishes.

Without regular training, skills do not improve but more than this, character and insight do not improve, either. It does not benefit a student to practice only when he feels like it or come to the training hall only when he has nothing better to do, or to train only when he's been inspired by a hero in a gung fu movie. Regular training and practice help him to overcome his impulsiveness and to give him poise and maturity. The porcupine who has squeezed himself into a hole has acted impulsively. He has not foreseen possibilities.

There is always a reaction to everything we do. Our task is to anticipate it. In our journeys we have to think of the old fox who moves warily while walking over the icy pond, who is always alert to the possibility that the ice may crack. He carefully searches for the safest places to walk upon. Deliberation and caution are the prerequisites of success. Without learning this the young fox doesn't survive to become an old fox.