I’ve been in quite a reflective mood lately about my martial arts journey. As time progresses, I find that rather than becoming clearer about the path ahead, the more I learn, the more I realise what I actually don’t know. This involves an understanding about knowing the areas that I don’t yet know. It also includes having an ever-increasing appreciation that I simply don’t know what I don’t know, and to do my best to embrace that when a learning situation is presented. As a result, the martial arts journey could be viewed as one into the unknown.
This is a relatively hard concept to explain and verbalise my thoughts about. So, let’s take an example: a form (hyung/kata).
When we are a new student, most of us see this as a sequence to imitate and learn. We take the learning at face value as part of progressing towards the black belt. Sure, we’ll learn the name of the form and maybe even some basic details, but that’s often the constraints to our learning. As we journey down the martial art path, many become aware that we’re only just scratching the surface. The deeper we dive in, the more there is to learn.
From my own experience, the more I learn about a form, the more I realise the limits to my understanding. I may learn a bit more about the history of the form that I didn’t know before, but will know that there will undoubtedly be more to uncover with further exploration. Knowing what you don’t know is relatively easy to comprehend.
By contrast, I find that more mental development and humbleness is required for acknowledging and handling that we don’t know what we don’t know. Because these learning opportunities appear unexpectedly, having an acceptance to this reality enables one to be open minded when the time comes to receive it and apply it to their journey.
What does all this mean for the martial arts journey?
My thoughts are that this is a key aspect to what character development means in martial arts. Also, it’s applicable to both training and life. This is the meaning that I have attached to it at this present moment.
The more I adopt this approach, the more that I see things along a spectrum of greys. This means that an explanation is perhaps one of many. An application is one of many. Also, a standard guideline will result in different views and actions, based on one’s interpretation within the constraints of their life experiences. As a result, it is developing my ability to think openly and become more aware of my own limitations. For the things that I know I don’t know, I strive to find out. Embracing the unknowns in this way provides a level of calmness and comfort that I didn’t expect.