In the martial arts, learning is an art in and of itself. To learn you must experience. Experience is still one of the best teachers. I like the way my Pendakar in Pentjak Silat, Paul De Thouars, puts it: “To know is good, but to understand is better.”
Understanding comes from experience. This is why schoolteachers set up learning experiences as part of their lesson plans. Learning will take place despite the ability of the teacher to teach and despite methods used by the teacher or school. Learning takes place best where there is a “burning” desire to learn. No matter how well an instructor can motivate his student, no matter how well an instructor can impart his knowledge and subject matter, it is still the student who must possess that “will” and “burning” desire to learn, to experience, to problem solve and strive for perfection to quench that thirst for the unknown. Multi-faceted learning takes place simultaneously on the physical level, the mental level and the spiritual level. Often moral lessons are learned along the way.
Many old-fashioned instructors still look for that thirst, that hunger in their students. A young, prospective student once came to learn from well-known martial arts master. The master told this young students to come back in a week’s time if he “really” wanted to learn, because he only taught students who were serious. The student left and returned a week later. And again the master informed the young student that if he “really” wanted to learn he would leave and return next week. The patient student left and returned in a week’s time. He was again told by the master to leave and return in a week. This procedure went on for six weeks. On the seventh visit, the master again repeated the same thing to the student, but this time the student replied, “Master, this is my seventh visit, and again you tell me I must leave and return in a week’s time. Tell me what am I lacking?” The master replied, “I am trying to build a ‘thirst’ for knowledge, which is necessary in learning the martial arts.” The student replied, “I do not understand.” The master said, “Follow me if you really want to know and understand.”
The young student followed the master to the back of his living quarters. Beyond the house was a small river. Upon coming to the river the master told the young student that now he would “understand” what he meant. The master grabbed the young student’s head and shoved it under water. he held the student’s head under for a long period. The student struggled, but could not free himself. Just when he thought he could hold his breath no longer, the old master rescued the student and asked the young man what he had experienced. The frustrated and obviously upset student said that he still did not know what the master meant, only that the old man had nearly drowned him, and his lungs felt as if they were going to burst. He said he felt a “burning” desire to breathe. The old master replied, “Exactly! You had a ‘burning’ desire to breathe. When your desire to learn and train is as strong as your desire to breathe you will be ready to learn the martial arts.”
That “desire” was increased because the student’s head was held under water where the appreciation for air was most apparent. The old master told the student if he withheld drinking water from him for a number of days, the student would build up a “thirst” for water.
Of course, this story constitutes an extreme case. But it does illustrate an important point. Our level of awareness and consciousness are heightened when we are temporarily deprived of an instructor and his knowledge. This experience helps increase productive learning because a better appreciation level has been reached.
This article was written by Sifu Dan Inosanto and published as part of a series called ” In the 20th Century” in IKF magazine.
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