“Martial Arts should be a way of life, not a job, hobby, sport, but a part of you and the way you live your life.“
— Frank Gutting
It is sort of a cliched truism that serious study of the martial arts is a way of life. Any activity to which you devote significant time and energy becomes part of your being and shapes your identity. Devoting yourself to proficiency with a musical instrument, playing a sport, or even learning a language will change part of your essence. But for some reason, pursuit of the martial arts elicits a fundamental change in your way of living more than many other activities.
Sifu often says that I-Liq Chuan is more than just learning about the martial, it’s also about life and yourself. While learning about the interplay of force, body movement, and fighting is part of the training, learning the art requires a study of your inner self. Sifu has told us several times that he will teach anyone willing to put in the effort to learn, even people who might be labeled as “bad” or “evil.” My initial reaction to that claim was that Sifu is so good, of course he has no concern with teaching anyone; it’s highly improbable that they will become good enough to challenge him. It took a bit of pondering to see what he meant.
Since I-Liq Chuan is a concept-driven art, paying attention and being mentally present are crucial for learning. Before the skills can be taught, the student’s mind (sensorial awareness) must be able to perceive the conditions of the moment. Rote repetition of movement is only to develop baseline neuromuscular control and rough kinesthetic feel. The more important aspect of the training is the attention to the senses. Our senses (sight, smell, sound, taste, touch, and thought) are our gates through which we perceive the world around us. Development of martial skill in I-Liq Chuan requires focusing the mind into the moment to truly perceive what our senses are telling us. To perceive the true nature of moment and see it “as it is,” we must at least be able to listen to the information we receive through our senses. We must train the mind to detect what our senses can actually perceive and learn to free ourselves of the mental obstructions which skew our perceptions.
In addition to the tough work of training mental focus, it can be quite difficult to mentally let go of the constructs through which we interpret the world. We may not even know they exist until we realize that our sense perceptions differ from others’ perceptions. In some cases, we may even deny that our perceptions of the world are colored and that the mental filters even exist. To free our minds and see clearly again, we must delve into our own minds. We must explore the inner depths of our own minds to recognize the judgements, biases, and irrational attachments. The recognition of our own mental baggage allows us to let go of it and begin perceiving the world as it really is. Exploring your inner self leads to fundamental changes, usually for the better. But it can be an unpleasant task to dive into the depths of one’s own pysche. Buried memories, distasteful self-realizations, and possibly even inner demons can be encountered while exploring the inner reaches of the mind. All of those unpleasantries must be faced before they can be let go to free the mind.
Meditation and self-reflection become a crucial part of the training. Improving martial skill requires heightening your awareness. Developing the awareness in turn necessitates training and exploring the mind. The task of entering one’s own mind is no easy task. A person has to be willing to face whatever might turn up and put forth the effort to change and improve. Without the effort towards self-reflection and self-improvement, the awareness will not open up sufficiently to allow perception of the essence of martial skill. A talented student learning the art with malintent will find the art difficult to learn; the malicious purposes are just another form of mental clutter that will cloud the mind’s ability to perceive and mask the essence of the skills. Sifu has no worries of teaching bad apples simply because they cannot advance very far without first improving themselves from within.
Study at the higher levels of I-Liq Chuan (or any physical art for that matter) is more about studying and improving yourself than it is about become bigger, faster, stronger, etc. The human body can only move in so many ways, generate only so much force, can only move so fast. While the human body is undoubtedly capable of physically amazing feats, its capacity is dwarfed by the dimensions of the mind. Training is ultimately more about tapping the potential of the mind–something that affects more than just martial skill, it affects all aspect of life and the essence of your being.