Posted on: March 18th, 2014 by Paula Lazarz
People have accused me of this on occasion –
granted they are usually people who don’t know me very well –
but I have been accused nonetheless.
I think it is safe to say those of us who came up in the arts over the last 15-20 years, did not do six months of horse stance training exclusively before we could do anything else. Yes, we did hold that horse stance for 5, 10, 15 minutes in class more often than students do now, but our classes ran for 1.5 hours (or more) per day.
I also think many of us would not claim to have the skill level of the old masters of legend, but we have developed the understanding of what it takes to develop that skill level. We have the confidence that with enough sacrifice and hard work, this skill level is available to us.
It is possible to hand down the traditions to a new generation and give them the potential to surpass their ancestors.
Shaolin Kung Fu is a complex system with a myriad amount of influences. Because of this, it is possible to work a concept of Shaolin as a stripped down physical exercise, as part of a form, as part of a two person drill or as a live, more spontaneous practice. People will take to one method or another or they may dip their toe in the water of each of them. Generally, one method over another might work better to gain understanding for different individuals.
We must remember that historically the Shaolin Temple was a busy place with many people coming and going on a daily, weekly, monthly and yearly basis. We like to envision a secluded place on a mountain with no distractions, but in its various heydays, Shaolin was in the thick of it, playing host to various religious practitioners, scholars, warriors, politicians and average travelers. There is a certain adaptability that has to be maintained to accommodate this influx of people coming and going. There must be flexibility of mind.
Many things inform my Shaolin practice. One is Buddhist practice and philosophy. One aspect of Buddhist philosophy is “skillful means”.
This can be loosely defined as gradual or progressive instruction that employs different approaches and teachings. Human beings have an abundance of varying capabilities and capacities. Each individual must be guided on a path appropriate to their individuality. This must be done while still adhering to a criteria that makes what is being taught unique to itself.
We as instructors have to make the material come alive for our students. The students living in this culture, at this time, with this set of circumstances.
No ancient art survived by force-feeding a population its principles.
Following are some adaptable aspects that need consideration for today’s martial art student.
Classes have to be paced taking this into consideration. Two, three, or four concepts need to be presented and then revisited in a circular fashion to keep attention.
Classes have to be shorter because students culturally feel the need to rush from activity-to-errand-to-activity.
Yet, we live in a increasingly fast-paced culture based on immediate rewards. On this point, more than anything, we must apply skillful means. The student must feel challenged, then rewarded and then strong every step of the way in proportion to where they were when they walked through the door. Only by experiencing this can they eventually commit to the long haul according to our art.
The Black Sash Begins With Beginner’s Mind
I have always been told earning a Black Sash means you are finally ready to learn – TRULY learn at a deeper level.
I believe THAT is what bringing a student to Black Sash in our culture is all about. What better gift can we give our students in this Information Age then the gift of Beginner’s Mind? ……the gift of humility, gratitude and wonder that is inherent in Beginner’s Mind? With Beginner’s Mind, the student has an idea of the depth of the undertaking they have embarked upon.Better yet, they have the tools to truly endeavor to learn.
In closing, I would like to quote from The Analects Of Confucius. I feel this quote helps to personify the Shaolin emphasis on human potential. It reminds us instructors that goals for our students are actually goals for ourselves.
“(If) you want to establish yourself; then help others to establish themselves. (If) you want to develop yourself: then help others to develop themselves. Being able to recognize oneself in others, one is on the way……” [6.28]