Your Martial Arts Notebook

Bruce Lee became famous for his. Others have them hidden away in garages, boxes and closets. Some are so technical you need something like the “Da Vinci code” to understand them. Others are works of almost artistic depth and skill.

art_mancusoMANB1I still have notes from my first years in the arts. I am a big advocate of the martial arts notebook and have suggested it to hundreds of students throughout the years. I even make a special point of recommending it when certain conditions arise. Typically they might be a special seminar, or even a spate of personal questions which trouble the student.

Notebooks have so many useful aspect s that I could write at great length about them. One of these is simply to formulate your own thoughts. The physical act of writing down the ideas as they occur to you will solidify what seems oily and vanish what seems vapid. Was it Twain who said, “I don’t know what I think about a subject until I’ve written it down.”?

Sometimes people don’t think that their own personal experiences are important enough. “I’m just a white sash.” But, as I tell my people, you are some of the first to study this art. If you are in the West you are in the first three generations of people who have been introduced to Asian martial arts, en masse.

If you are a teacher, even in the most informal of circumstances, a notebook is particularly invaluable. Lesson plans accumulate slowly and steadily with each new class idea, add up until you suddenly seem to have a special selection of really top level presentations. Professional teachers refer to such dynamite plans as “money in the bank”. But the best lesson plans are the ones where you actually return to the notes , after the class is done and the people filed out, and alter the original notes to reflect what actually happened in class. Was the brilliant demonstration really clear? Were the partner exercises effective? Did the class proceed ANYTHING like you had visualized?

art_mancusoMANB2For you, teacher and/or student, the notebook also should be a place to record your nonfactual information. You have doubts and frustrations? Good, write them down (you are probably writing down frustration which have been shared by an endless line of human beings since martial arts was developed). You had an “unusual” experience; mystic, personal or technical: record it. You think you’re on to something; a new insight, a sneaky new movement, a special combination for personal combat: enter it in the notebook proudly.

Proudly? Why you and you jottings? Because you are going to spend hoursweeksmonthsyears perfecting your skill, exploring your boundaries. martial arts is that kind of study not only a “way of life” that the hopeful often quote but also a way of examining life. It is very personal despite all the media hoopla. And personal things like to have some time out of the sunlight to ripen. The time you put in qualifies you, you don’t need another reason. I can’t tell you how many times just the fact they keep notebooks have noticeably improved my students reflected in everything from their practice to their questions in class. At the very least it puts them at the opposite pole form those perennial hangers on who only practice during class hours.

Bruce Lee’s notebooks are famous. Because of them he’s been called the “Da Vinci of the martial arts”. The rest of the story is that many, many martial arts keep notebook’s. Probably the most dramatic of the notebook legends, except it is not legend, where the notebook morphs into “ secret document” is the story of LiuHeBaFa developed by the Taoist recluse Chen Xi Yi who lived in a cave and, eventually, died in a cave. Centuries later Li Dong Feng discovered the cave, rescued the note books and developed what is now the famous LiuHeBaFa style. Now that’s a notebook!

Among Plum’s offering are a few standout items which, though we can’t guarantee they evolved out of the notebook status, bear all the earmarks of that sort of mental evolution at once very personal and, if done properly, universal. Check out some of these examples of “notebook thinking”… and get to work on your own.

Jason Tsou’s “Yang Taiji, the Untold Story
Scott Rodell’s “Taiji Notebook for Martial Artists
LiuHeBaFa’s text “LiuHeBaFa Five Character Secrets


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