≡ Menu

Understanding as a Tonic in the Martial Arts and in Life

It’s important to seek understanding. Understanding dispels superstition, brings inconsistencies to the surface and strengthens your offense and defense.

Understanding is a practice of seeking the truth—and learning that there is far more to it than at first presents itself

In my martial arts practice, I’ve been putting in a lot solo practice time, 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, grandmaster of the traditional Chinese combative art of Yin Style Baguazhang, 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 combative training.
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.

I talk quite a bit on this blog about self-defense, mindset, and practical philosophy in the martial arts. If you liked this post, you can read similar entries here.

The digital mural featured is the work of contemporary Chinese artist Yang Yongliang and is titled “From the New World”.