Saturday, January 26, 2013

Everyone Should be Incompetent Sometime

That is, I think every adult should try something completely new every few years. If you don't, how would you get to experience that moment when you realize that you know absolutely nothing. Or worse, that everything you know is wrong, all your instincts incorrect, your movements backwards and inside out. Every time you experience this, you gain countless amounts of empathy for every person you have to deal with in your life who you might otherwise be inclined to view as  incompetent themselves. Instead, you realize that we all have varying degrees of knowledge about different subjects, and at any given time in the situation of the moment, you may be the master, or you may be the newborn, helpless and incomplete.

As a black belt in karate, I could be basking in the feeling that I have Achieved Something. Arrived Somewhere. Hold some vast store of knowledge that I didn't hold before. Of course, most anyone who has achieved the rank of black belt knows that it's just the opposite. It's more like holding open a door to the vast yawning abyss of all that you don't know in your martial art. It's a dawning realization that even your entire lifetime would not be enough to master all of the skills encompassed in your study. That you have barely scratched the surface.

On top of that, my son recently convinced me to join him in studying Wing Chun, a form of Kung Fu. Now I should point out that all of my training in Karate prepares me to be absolutely incompetent in Wing Chun. I would probably be better off if I had no martial arts training whatsoever. When I'm punching, my Karate instinct is to bring my hand back into the chamber position and then fire it off using my hips and whole body to throw a big old punch, focusing on a fist that is parallel to the floor with the striking surface being the first two knuckles.

Which of course is absolutely nothing like a Wing Chun punch, which uses a vertical fist, no chamber, no big hips, short and fast, nothing of what I already know. And likewise the other strikes and blocks in Wing Chun are very different from what I have studied, leaving me basically feeling like I did on my first day as a white belt in Karate - a newborn, knowing nothing, an empty vessel. Or worse, not even an empty vessel. I first have to empty myself, which is much harder to do than you'd think.

Still, I'm loving this new focus, this new way to turn myself inside out. A new opportunity to still my mind, to unlearn and to learn anew. And when I take it back to my Karate classes, I find myself better prepared to understand what I am studying there. My focus in preparing for my 2nd degree black belt is a "package" of 10 kata (or forms), and these kata are all influenced by White Crane Kung Fu, which is different than Wing Chun, but shares some similarities. In essence, I'm learning the origins of moves that were folded into Shudokan karate many years ago.

As I study both arts, I find myself wrapping back around, like the tails of the yin yang symbol, into a place of understanding. A hard art, a soft art. An intercepting fist, a redirecting touch. Both effective in their own way, both with a place in my body and mind.

I'm learning to be empty, and I'm learning to be full.

1 comment:

Marv said...

Learning through incompetence. Understand: "being humbled to be exalted." Recreating yourself through what you are not good at - yet. Mine was not in the physical realm but in the personal: being a grandfather. Two little girls think I am larger than life and I know I am not that good. They are keenly tuned in to everything I do: scary. I have no grandfathering experience or expertise, so I just have to wing it until I catch on.
Good post Robin