Below is an excerpt from an appropriate article on this day. The full post may be read here. Enjoy.
MARTIAL ARTS IS LIKE LEARNING TO COOK
As any experienced and skilled cook/ chef knows, there is a process to learning to become skilled with cooking. A number actually, quite a few ways it may happen. In just about all, there are common elements. Well, in learning Martial Arts, it is no different. In fact, much the same could be said in learning many arts.
For instance, cooking implements are generally utilized. Some kind of food is involved. If not a heat source, there is some method of making the food healthy and proper to be consumed by humans- many Nature has made, ‘ready to go;’ many don’t come this way, however. There are often recipes utilized, which have been developed and passed on for some period of time. And there may be ways of learning to make do with whatever is on hand, or to take the recipes and modify them as needed or desired (like changing the seasoning).
Much the same is involved in learning to be a skilled martial artist; and especially in learning to become a skilled teacher of martial arts.
Examples include: there are generally methods of learning to stand and move properly (for each style); ways of learning to coordinate mind and body and technique, and various other factors, in a harmonious and functional way; physical conditioning methods of some sort; there are often a range of training methods involved, from simple to complex and diverse in nature; there may be ‘recipes’ that are followed, prescribed and set methods and routines (like forms/ kuen/ kata); and other common elements.
Now, as one becomes proficient with all of this, at some point in training, the aspiring ‘skilled martial artist,’ like an aspiring cook/ chef, may be shown or somehow taught to take ‘recipes,’ and to modify them somehow. This may be quite simple, like changing the height and width of stances for the elderly or people out of condition for some reason; to much more complex modifications. From experience I can tell you that there are quite a few ways of doing this and learning this.
Next, someone who has been taught well and has practiced well, may be shown or otherwise taught, to actually make their own, ‘recipes,’ just as a chef or skilled cook will do. Now again, in martial arts training and learning, there is a continuum and wide variety of ways this may happen. From simple to complex, and high and low. A student or practitioner should look at this as natural, like again adjusting the seasoning or changing an ingredient. As I am sure most people realize, cooks do this all the time. Go watch one of Emeril’s t.v. shows for an amazing example, with a live band no less!
Now, this is not something that a beginning student generally is going to be doing, nor recommended to do. But it is in fact, part of the training blue- print. I have had this kind of training, as did many others at the school and with the teacher I come from (generally Sifu level instructors/ disciples). But for those who were paying attention, in fact, you noticed that he always taught this way. You just had to be open and in the moment, paying attention.
For instance, I witnessed one of our instructors, a very humble but super disciplined and talented man (and former Chief Instructor), compose and perform an entire 35 movement leopard form on the spot, with 5 minutes given to prepare (part of his 3rd Higher Level Test). And it was an excellent and coherent form! He knew his basics so well, and was so experienced, he didn’t even seem nervous at all. He just put it together and did it. Another example of this kind of ‘backdoor’ teaching is the first form I ever learned, my teacher’s version of the Yang style taiji short- form. We learned it over the course of 1.5 years, very slowly, one or two moves per month. But the thing is, over the course of this time, and over the years that followed, if you paid close attention (I did), he almost NEVER did it the same way twice. The tempo might change, little details of movements, postures, steps and stances, etc...this was his way of teaching us many variations, different version of this ‘recipe.’ And yes, I remember them all, including what became codified as beginner versions, advanced versions, versions for Senior’s, and more. And, of course, he did this with other forms and methods as well (this is an old, traditional teaching method).