The biggest “secret” of the martial arts is that there are no secrets. You are human and therefore have access to insider knowledge on all the strengths and weaknesses of the human body. This information is very useful when preparing for a human attacker and, until ET arrives, this is whom you should be most worried about. The reason that the techniques you are taught seem like miraculous revelations, is that you haven’t been paying attention to your own body. Sure, you know how long your arms are, or how many fingers you have, or which way your elbow bends, but how much deeper does your understanding go.
Martial arts begins as martial science. Understanding the biology of the body helps us to choose targets and prioritize what we need to protect. Understanding physics lets us know how to apply weight, strength, speed, balance and leverage. The “art” is when all this understanding becomes so internalized that our bodies move correctly on their own, and each and every movement becomes an expression of our unique selves.
There are always going to be people ahead of us in discovering the secrets. Sometimes these people hold this knowledge over us and refuse to share what they have learned. They take on self-appointed titles like “master” and hint at all the things they won’t teach. It is important to understand that even though these individuals may know things, they are all things we can know too, without their help. We just have to work harder, pay more attention, and not succumb to our preconceptions.
There are also people ahead of us who share what they know and we call them teachers. As much as I believe that everything can be figured out on one’s own, the process sure goes faster when someone provides some hints, ideas, feedback, and encouragement. The simple addition of an alternative perspective is often enough to spark growth and development.
But ask yourself this question, “Can I take one small idea and use it to learn about other aspects of my art, on my own? Or, to really learn well, do I need to be spoon fed every detail, for each individual area of my training?” If, in a moment of honesty, you think you fall more into the second category than the first, it is time to re-evaluate how you learn. If you don’t develop the tools to extrapolate knowledge on your own, you will always need that detailed instruction. If your teacher, who has been so patient up to this point, retires, you may well give up your own training.
Learning generally begins with being given the answers. But, to learn for a lifetime and develop real, tangible skills, you have to move beyond this mode of thinking. At a certain point, good teachers will increasingly give you questions and make you find the answers yourself. Eventually, you have to provide both the questions and the answers. This takes time and confidence but we can all start by remembering that, no matter how amazing something may appear, figuring out how it was done is always possible. The instruction manual lies within our own bodies. We just have to have the patience and determination to read the whole thing.