There is an old saying that, “When the student is ready, the master will appear.” This phrase is not referring to a list of duties that, when completed, will magically bring a master into a student’s life. On the contrary, the one thing a student needs to do in order to be ready is to decide to learn. That’s it! The master is everywhere, politely inviting anyone and everyone to learn and grow as people. Today people could begin to learn another language that would engage their mind and hone their discipline, yet very few will do so.
Today they could sign up to learn to swim, which would strengthen their body and could save their life. Very few will do so. Today they could begin the study of martial arts, which could lead to lifelong development of their Body, Mind, and Spirit. Very few will do so. Why, when just the simple act of deciding to learn is the first step, do so few people choose to embark upon these journeys?
The desire to learn is not constant in the human animal. It varies by the day and year — but more so varies by the individual. Throughout history, some individuals have set themselves apart by their voracious appetite for Learning — from Buddha and Confucius to Leonardo da Vinci and Charles Darwin. Their pursuit of Learning not only enriched their lives but the lives of all other people since. This desire for Learning has led to mankind’s development from its primitive origins to the current heights of arts, science, and society. This growth has not been linear and it has not been shared by all people equally. It is incumbent upon us as practitioners of Kempo to pursue our own growth and Learning aggressively — in all aspects of our lives. By doing so we may reach our own potential and help, encourage, and inspire those around us to do the same.
Once we decide to learn, and meet the proverbial master who will guide us, how can we optimize the journey? It is not necessarily obvious how one should go about being a ‘better learner’ or ‘more focused on growth.’ The first step is to appreciate that there exists an appetite for growth and to understand that it can be cultivated. Just as a body must be fed and exercised, an appetite for Learning must be fed and exercised. By actively and regularly seeking knowledge we stimulate the parts of the brain used for learning making them more receptive. We also increase our appetite for learning by attaining a sense of accomplishment. Furthermore, the concrete benefits earned by our efforts highlight the value of future growth, further whetting our appetite.
Along with cultivating the desire for growth, we should adopt certain other attitudes toward learning. One essential approach is the ‘empty cup.’ One cannot learn anything new while they are convinced that they know everything. Instructors dread phrases such as “I know, but. . . ” and “The reason I did it that way was . . . “ and countless others. These expressions are vocalizations of a mind that is convinced of its superior knowledge. So long as a student is in this mindset, they can learn nothing — their cup is already full so it simply cannot hold anything more. No matter what we know, we should enter our class with an empty cup — a mind that is open to possibility.
That said, it is possible for a student to be too humble where they cross the line into being meek. In this case they lack the confidence to try new things and to execute movements with intent. When this happens a student can not learn. It is impossible to steer a ship that is not moving and likewise it is impossible to teach a student who is not moving. Only by finding the delicate balance between humility and arrogance can a student optimize their ability to learn and grow.
Cultivating an appetite for Learning and having an ‘empty cup’ while not being excessively humble are abstract concepts but more simply and more immediately there is something that all people can do to improve their practice and thus their results: Prioritize and schedule learning and practice. That is to say, put “Practice Kempo” as a recurring event in your calendar.
Learning is imperative for us to grow and reach our highest potential. Kempo and civilization as a whole are continually evolving because of the quest for knowledge and improvement of all people. That said, not all people cultivate Learning to the same degree. As Kempo practitioners we must strive to be foremost in the quest for Learning.
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