“Absorb what is useful, reject what is useless, add what is essentially your own.” - Bruce Lee
“I will never, ever use this in real life!” is a common rejoinder used by the middle school kids I work with. However, it’s a sentiment often held by beginners in almost any discipline.
For example, my very first Brazilian Jiu Jitsu class went something like this: I walked in, warmed up with the class, and then listened with rapt attention as the instructor taught a technique that involved untucking your own gi, wrapping the tale of the lapel over your opponents arm and turning underneath as a way of immobilizing the arm. As a white belt, I had zero idea of when, or even if I would be able to apply this technique. And so, I politely did it the couple of times, and forgot all about it.
A few years later, I saw a Youtube video of a former classmate who used this technique to great affect, and won a jiu jitsu tournament with it.
Much of the information we’re exposed to in a class, martial arts, or otherwise, has a similar delayed benefit. Which leads me to consider the opening quote by Bruce Lee.
To be clear, Bruce Lee was no proverbial white belt. He learned Wing Chun Kung Fu, and then explored extensively the larger world of martial arts. He put in the practice time, and effort, to establish a base of knowledge. He used that knowledge to determine if a given technique had merit for his own practice.
Contrast that to many modern martial arts students, who study one art for a month or so, and decide it’s not for them, and go to the next. They often repeat this process several times. The worst of them will take what they learn, and synthesize their own “style” out of the random bits and pieces they’ve cobbled together.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying you shouldn’t feel free to shop around, and find the right art and instructor. I’m also not saying you should stick it out with a style or teacher that doesn’t suit your needs. What I am saying is that sometimes, we don’t have enough understanding to determine what is useful. We also don’t have enough insight to successfully predict how useful it might be later.
Now since I’m a yoga teacher, I have to throw in some yoga philosophy, right? There’s an Indian parable about a man who had to dig a well, so he and his cows or whatever, would have water to drink. He dug a foot or so down, but finding no water, gave up and went a short distance away. Then he began digging another well. After about a foot deep, he stopped digging, again, because there was no water. He moved a short distance away, and dug a third hole. You guessed it, no water.
Another man, also needing a well, came to the first hole, and was exceedingly happy, because the hole was already a foot deep! He continued digging the well the first man began. Further and further down. Hours passed. The man became thirsty, and his muscles began to ache, but finally, just as he was about to give up, he noticed the bottom of his hole was moist. A little further, and the hole started filling up with water. He had been successful because he stuck it out.
The takeaway? If you have the privilege of studying anything, under a teacher, be open to what they’re offering. Remember, it might not be useful NOW, but it might be useful later. TIme will tell. In the meantime, think of it as practice. The thing that makes experts great at what they do is repeating fundamental things over and over until they’re second nature.