Everything starts with basics. And when you are young or just beginning a long term study of expertise, or your taste runs to the piano or the basketball hoop, there is always a sentinel line of basics to be crossed before you get to the “good stuff.”
But the surprise—sometimes disappointingly painful or tedious—is that there is no end to the study of basics. When you have learned the most exotic parts of some discipline—let’s say martial arts, for instance—and mastered the strangest weapons, you will put them aside at various points, and return to basics.
People think they hate basics. But what they really hate is the repetition, an assumed implication of lacking skills (“You’re still practicing those moves?”) and the indication that mastery may well out-last your lifetime.
Believe it or not, basics of Kung Fu and its sister arts, never get boring. As you learn more about this ancient tradition you realize that you may get bored but basics are not boring. Basics are a test of consciousness, not of will.
Why do Kung Fu basics never get boring? How is such a thing possible?
The answer lies in the extreme age of Kung Fu training. It has supplied a structure that bears the experimentation of centuries of effort, practice and even lost lives—many lost lives. The harsh conditions of its growth have brought a dense, deep and profound concentration of information in each and every movement.
Think of it this way: how many centuries and false concepts passed before we discovered that color can be understood in terms of the three primaries: Yellow, Red, Blue? Kung Fu basics are like this. They were not invented in the toddler days; rather, they developed in the maturity of the art, and are as foundational as these primary colors. .
Real basics are just that—basic, not simple. Real Kung Fu basics compile seemingly simple actions that align the body, concentrate the intent, rectify the posture, and monitor the breathing, when practiced long enough and with an eye to detail as well as a body willing to adapt.
In so many endeavors the perfection of a physical skill is actually the robotization of the player. Some movement is practiced over and over with no compensatory movement, at the very least, in the opposite direction or on the opposite side of the body. This over-specialization cannot occur in Kung Fu because it is symmetrical but also because there are hundreds of movements. Like the well-oiled hinge, the opening and closing of the body keeps everything young and healthy. Add to this that each basic is like a symphony diluted into a single musical note and, because of this, total resonance will never be achieved.
Basics are discursive. You will circle back to them again and again. Each time you do, you will bring a more matured appreciation. A philosopher once wrote that the worth of a work of art was its “vested viewings”—that is, the number of times you can go back to this work and still see something new. It is the direct opposite of watching the kind of movie that you only need to see once in your lifetime.
People talk all the time about “learning your basics.” But most often they are really referring to learning the rules; something they think they can follow when in doubt. But real basics cover more than a given number of opponents, with a given referee in a given amount of space bounded by eight net barriers. Like the work of art discussed above, the basics for certain traditional approaches can be applied to almost every aspect of life. The trick is to never be confused by what some may call “tradition.” Tradition is not something that people did 1000 years ago. Tradition is something developed 1000 years ago that is still alive today. It is the accumulated and evolved wisdom of human experience, not the passing bling of the day.
Basics never get boring when you bring your life to them, when you listen to what they’ve got to say, when you realize that the “why” question of each basic reveals itself as you deepen the question itself.