Tuesday, April 27, 2010
My friend Chris and i used to work out early in the morning by the lake in TY Park in Hollywood, Florida back when the Florida Renaissance Festival was held there. Often times when people would wander by and see us training they would have something to say about what we were doing. We dubbed these people, "the Experts." These are the people who, no matter what it is you are doing, they know more and love to tell you about it. When your chosen path is fighting, you meet the experts quite often.
Males in this country for the most part all believe that they are the invincible warrior. I have met very very few people who have ever lost a bar fight, but many people with dashing tales of how they trounced fifteen men and swept away the damsel in distress while sipping on cognac and reading the Wall Street Journal. For a long time i believed there had to be one guy, somewhere in the world that had a record of about 0 and a million that was getting beat up by all these heroes of the modern age.
I have a few other examples. I used to teach at a high school in Philadelphia called Crefeld. I did an after school program and taught Jeet Kune Do. On sparring day i would work out with the kids to help them with their technique and see how they were doing. There was one student who was clearly an expert, about fourteen, knew everything there was to know about the martial arts. We sparred and at the end i started to give him a few tips. He interrupted me and said, "in a real fight i would have just come up underneath with an upper cut and knocked you out." I asked, "Why didn't you do that then?" He had a slightly shocked look on his face, "I didn't want to hurt you, i would get in trouble." I nodded, "Let's do it again and this time i want you to hurt me, i waive you of any trouble you may get in." We sparred again, same results. I asked him if he tried that time and he said with a slightly lowered head that he did. Then he was able to hear me. I was proud of him for admitting it.
Talking to another friend at the brew pub one night he was going on and on about fighting. I finally said, look, why are you good at what you do? It is because he practiced that thing. At the time i was teaching and training well over forty hours a week and i said, look, i am pretty good at this because it is what i do. Just like professional plumbers are better at me when plumbing is concerned, pro basketball players are good at basketball, people who practice fighting are better at fighting. His response was, "Well the thing you need to know about me is that i have killed 147 people with my bare hands." There is always that i guess, if indeed he did, he is probably good at killing. Not a skill i want really, but i digress.
Both of these two were experts. Both of them talk like they knew more than i did and their initial reaction was to defend their fighting acumen. The first of the two was able to empty his cup and hear what i had to say. He went on to learn something from the encounter. My logic to him which he understood was, "I have been training for far longer than you have been on this planet. You are not going to beat me. I have teachers that i can not touch because they have a lot more training than i do. If i put my ego away i learn from them and become better for it." The second expert could not hear me, there was too much of a need to defend an ego involved so stories were created to protect the innocent.
Fighting is a weird thing. Especially for we boys in the society. I call us boys intentionally because when we get involved in that whole posturing-story telling-flexing thing, boys is what we are. The people who know what they are doing do not have to strut. There are plenty of "experts" in the martial arts. I especially see them in Jeet Kune Do. So many people will tell you that they are doing the real Jeet Kune Do and John Doe has no idea what he is talking about. This is directly contrary to what Bruce Lee said. He felt that the name of JKD should be given up if people started to get hung up on it. Jeet Kune Do was supposed to bring people together and many of us in the arts have taken that idea and broken it. Traditional stylists are far better for the most part at respect and humility.
Dan Inosanto, the man who started the Jeet Kune Do philosophy with Bruce Lee, arguably the best martial artist on the planet, is also one of the most humble people i have ever met. He brings people together. When Guru Dan finds a new style he goes to learn it, insisting on starting at the lowest possible rank. This is because he understands what Bruce was talking about, what they both were talking about really. He has an empty cup and a true thirst for knowledge. Many try to mask their ego behind a show of cockiness and fancy belts. They want you to believe they have some sort of secret knowledge and that they know the answer, that they are expert. They are contrary to the example set by Inosanto.
The difference between the experts and someone like Dan Inosanto, when you come down to it, is confidence. People who strut and tell you how good they are are really insecure. They try and convince you of their grandeur because they are trying to convince themselves. The things they are saying are on shaky ground. The true master does not strut to you or show off because the master does not have to. They know what they are capable of and it sits on a firm footing that can not be shaken. Thus they are able to learn form those around them because the knowledge of someone else does not threaten the knowledge that they have, it can only enhance it.
I have a long way to go. I know many people far greater in skill than i am. I also know many who have less. I learn from both types of people. I am not better than those who know less or worse than those who know more. Where i am at is based on the experiences of my life and the things i have done with them. I am not an expert but i will share with you my humble opinions if your cup is empty and you are ready to learn. I am ready to learn as well.