A Basic Understanding of Basics

There is so much to say about basic training.

basics1 For instance, basic training is not basic in the sense of simple. Even when we use the word casually, we split it in two. The first half is the kind of blood and sweat basic training which strengthens us and implants our simplest and most direct movements.  In the second case, we speak rather more largely, using it in the sense of foundational over easy, arable rather than simple. This sounds reasonable; after all foundational means essential and essential IS sort of important. But what is the possible sense of real Kung Fu basic training being so sophisticated and downright stubborn that you are required to hang around for a few years just to understand it? (By the way, if you haven’t experienced this level yet, take me at my word and read ahead to get a preview of yet a higher level of frustration.)

Not only that, but this so-called basic training is so deep and multi-layered that it can take years to grasp some of it.basics2

And then, when you have finally waded into the real basic training, it can seem so at odds with most of what you learned in the those halcyon beginner’s classes. not to mention that some of those routines you struggled to learn also seem at odds with the basics and, even worse, actually wrong.

Don’t think that this is a tirade; none of this is meant to be discouraging. Actually the opposite is true: the kinds of basics I am talking about soon replace any memory of what preceded them. You quickly see that you have been given the “real story” and everything advances trippingly from there.

I think that the paradox of basics that requires something more than basic knowledge of the subject, is really no basics4paradox at all. If we step out of our cultural box, there are correlates to most things in life.

The truth of the matter is what I call Socrate’s Law, namely that 95% of people don’t actually know the basis of what they are doing, and often don’t care. How often does a math student actually sit down and say, “What do I mean 2+2=4? What is “2?” Russell and Whitehead were hundreds of pages into their great work before they had defined 1+1=2. Were they serious? Yes, because there are fundamental questions in every level of endeavor which do not require a bottom-up explanation of everything. In fact, most of us could not get through the “basic” discussion. This is especially true when some field of knowledge, taking physics for instance, is more than the individual, say as an engineer, will ever need.  Why delve into the theoretical underpinnings?

Most Kung Fu practice is done by amateurs, that is, a person who engages out of love for the pursuit . Even at its high point, with professional fighters and teachers, this was always the case, even in the days when an estimated ten per cent of all Chinese practiced martial arts.

Painters spend years boiling perceptions down to their essence, light, color, shape, placement. Physicists look for the simplest possible explanations, turning commonly understood concepts likes distance and time into questions. Writers spend weeks looking for a single, correct word to describe a character or idea.

Kung Fu is no different. Is this type of understanding worth the effort? It has been my experience that there is a certain type of understanding,basics3 applicable to almost any subject worth its salt, that permeates our entire world, our entire human experience.

This kind of insight is very personal and—this part I can guarantee—it creates a subtle shift in your perception of just what is basic and what isn’t. And sometimes the answer is a surprise.



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