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Understanding as Tonic in Martial Arts and in Life

We had a great martial arts practice last night. As usual.
I’ve been practicing a lot more on my own, and it’s interesting to see how much progress I make when I do. But I’m also a better practitioner than I used to be.
He Jinbao, our teacher, reminds us to “practice an understood art”. To me, that means two things.
The first is, to practice an art that can be understood. Your senior practitioners should be able to communicate about the art in an understandable, non-magical, way.
The second is, to practice in order to understand. Always know what the goal is with any strike, combination, or stepping pattern. If you’re practicing “shadow boxing” or “forms”, make sure you can always explain to yourself where your opponents’ arm, head, hand, center of gravity, and feet are.
Without that understanding, you’re not practicing martial arts. You’re practicing superstition and possibly some aerobics. Which may or may not have their place (that’s a blog post for another day). Just not in the martial arts.
Fighting is an intricate pursuit, and it’s taken me several years to even begin to understand what I’m doing. But I now have a foundation that I can use to ask smarter questions, to think about my practice, and to plan progress going forward. This is a great place to be. It also means that my practice is beginning to bear fruit: strength, power, technical skill, enjoyment of the art, health.
I guess the moral of the story is—don’t give up on something just because you don’t understand it. Make sure you understand something before you decide whether it’s “for you”.
As I see it, this is an epidemic problem in our world today. For example, it seems like in any given conversation, 80% of time should be spent achieving an understanding. 20% should be given to expanding, challenging, and changing viewpoints.
This applies to martial arts as well as to the world of ideas. Now go forth and seek understanding.

This article is part of my “Martial Arts Journal” series on self-defense, mindset, and practical philosophy in the martial arts and in life. If you liked it, you can read more of my journal entries here.