Learning something new means unlearn all you have learned
The author recounts here his meeting with Bruce Lee, with whom he wishes to train.
"Why do you want to study with me?" he asked.
"Because I was impressed with your demonstration and because I've heard you are the best."
"You've studied other martial arts?" he asked.
"For a long time," I answered, "but I stopped some time ago and now I want to start over again."
Bruce nodded and asked me to demonstrate some of the techniques I already knew. We went out to my driveway and he watched intently as I went through the various katas, or exercises, from other disciplines. Then he asked me to execute some basic kicks, blocks, and punches on a bag hanging from a rafter of the garage.
"Do you realize you will have to unlearn all you have learned and start over again?" he asked.
"No," I said.
Bruce smiled and placed his hand lightly on my shoulder. "Let me tell you a story my sifu (e.d master) told me," he said. "It is about the Japanese Zen master who received a university professor who came to inquire about Zen.
"It was obvious to the master from the start of the conversation that the professor was not so much interested in learning about Zen as he was in impressing the master with his own opinions and knowledge. The master listened patiently and finally suggested they have tea. The master poured his visitor's cup full and then kept on pouring.
"The professor watched the cup overflowing until he could no longer restrain himself. 'The cup is overfull, no more will go in.'
" 'Like this cup,' the master said, 'you are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?' "
Bruce studied my face. "You understand the point?"
"Yes," I said. "You want me to empty my mind of past knowledge and old habits so that I will be open to new learning."
"Precisely," said Bruce. "And now we are ready to begin your first lesson."
This does not mean that Bruce prevented me from applying a critical mind to his teaching. In fact, he welcomed discussion, even argument. But when challenged too long on a point his reply was always, "At least empty your cup and try."
Later I learned that Bruce practiced what he taught. As a youth in Hong Kong he had studied wing-chun, a branch of kung-fu, under the celebrated master, Yip Man. When he came to America as a teenager he observed Ed Parker's kenpo-karate, taking from it many hand techniques that appealed to him. From taekwondo he borrowed the devastating kicks that make the Korean style so formidable. He also studied other styles of martial arts, taking from all of them whatever he thought useful. Although considered one of the best martial artists of his time, he was always learning, always in a constant process of change and improvement.
He truly kept his cup empty.
Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.
That was the real secret of the Tarahumara (ed. group of indigenous people of the Americas living in the state of Chihuahua in Mexico who are renowned for their long-distance running ability): they'd never forgotten what it felt like to love running. They remembered that running was mankind's first fine art, our original act of inspired creation. Way before we were scratching pictures on caves or beating rhythms on hollow trees, we were perfecting the art of combining our breath and mind and muscles into fluid self-propulsion over wild terrain. And when our ancestors finally did make their first cave paintings, what were the first designs? A downward slash, lightning bolts through the bottom and middle--behold, the Running Man.
Distance running was revered because it was indispensable; it was the way we survived and thrived and spread across the planet. You ran to eat and to avoid being eaten; you ran to find a mate and impress her, and with her you ran off to start a new life together. You had to love running, or you wouldn't live to love anything else. And like everyhing else we ove--everything we sentimentally call our 'passions' and 'desires' it's really an encoded ancestral necessity. We were born to run; we were born because we run. We're all Running People, as the Tarahumara have always known.
As [the martial art student] studies various things and is taught the diverse ways of how to take a stance, the manner of grasping his sword and where to put his mind, his mind stops in many places. Now if he wants to strike at an opponent, he is extraordinarily discomforted. Later, as days pass and time piles up, in accordance with his practice, neither the postures of his body nor the ways of grasping the sword are weighed in his mind. His mind simply becomes as it was in the beginning when he knew nothing and had yet to be taught anything at all. In this one sees the sense of the beginning being the same as the end, as when one counts from one to ten, and the first and last numbers become adjacent.
The mind must always be in the state of "flowing," for when it stops anywhere that means the flow is interrupted and it is this interruption that is injurious to the well-being of the mind. In the case of the swordsman, it means death. When the swordsman stands against his opponent, he is not to think of the opponent, nor of himself, nor of his enemy's sword movements. He just stands there with his sword which, forgetful of all technique, is ready only to follow the dictates of the subconscious. The man has effaced himself as the wielder of the sword. When he strikes, it is not the man but the sword in the hand of the man's subconscious that strikes.
[...] true knowledge [...] is experiential. How do we explain the taste of sugar? Verbal descriptions do not give us the sensation. To know the taste, one must experience it. The philosophy of the arts is not meant to be mused over and intellectualized; it is meant to be experienced. Thus, inevitably, words will convey only part of the meaning.