by Glen Moore
I am always getting questions from people asking me how they can learn faster. Usually, I am saddened by these kinds of questions because they reflect the current lack of patience in our society and culture, the schedule-oriented nature of our educational system, and the general lack of knowledge that exists on Taoism and Chinese Philosophy.
My first impulse is to “smack them in the head,” like the old Zen Masters used to do, to hasten their enlightenment; but, unfortunately, I am not an old Zen Master and I do not have enough friends that I can afford to alienate those who would not understand. Still, there are times when the impulse is very strong within me because I have yet to hear a student accept responsibility for his or her own learning process.
There are many ways to enhance your learning process. The most important of all is to accept responsibility for your own development. Often, I hear comments from my fellow students that imply a belief on their part that their learning process is someone else’s responsibility. I hear people saying things like, “I want to be a great martial artist.” But as I talk with them, it becomes painfully obvious that they think the teacher has some magic formula to accomplish this. When applied, this “magic process” somehow will allow them to learn without any thought or practice. What is really sad is when they come back to class having completely forgotten what they were taught in their previous session. Think about how this makes a teacher feel who has put his or her whole life into the art.
What follows are a few tips about how to increase the rate of your learning Ba Gua Zhang (Pa Kua Chang) so that one day my “impulse” will not take over:
1. Live in the NOW.
Taoists talk about living in the now. This is a very important concept. We can do nothing about what has passed and to dwell on it only takes away from the moment and lessens the future. What if you were told tomorrow that your teacher or Shifu (Sifu) would be moving away in a few months and that he would give everything he could give to you before he left. How much would you pay attention then? Would you listen and, then, not practice or think about the principles and theories? Or, would you spend every waking moment practicing and thinking about the art and your teacher? Your passion for learning must be multiplied a thousand times until the only thing left is the NOW.
Next, think about the shoe being on the other foot. What if you were told that you had only a month to live? Would you spend that month worrying about the past or making plans for the future? I hope not. I hope you would live each remaining second like it were your last, and that your passion for that moment would heighten your awareness to a level you had not dreamed imaginable. Live and learn as if each second were your last or that it was your last lesson with your teacher. I promise that your passion and awareness for learning will be different if you do. Remember, your Shifu could leave and go to another country to live at anytime. No one ever knows what the future may bring.
2. Read books on Taoism and Chinese Philosophy.
Many times, in a seminar or in a class, I have seen Master Park attempt to teach something only to abandon the attempt because no one understood what he was talking about and it would have been futile to continue. By reading these books of wisdom, you will at least come to recognize important terminology and concepts making it much easier for your Shifu to teach in more depth. I am not advocating that you attempt to learn by a book, only that you familiarize yourself with terminology and philosophy so that your teacher does not have to take the time to explain the elementary before he can get to the advanced.
3. Study hard.
Research a technique, principle, or theory by developing every question that you can think of on the subject. When your teacher says “one,” you should be able to see and say “three,” “four,” or “ten.” This does not mean that you invent things. What it does mean is that you learn everything you can about each individual subject. First, prepare the questions and then set about finding the answers. Many of the answers will come from your practice, and some you will need to ask about. Master Park, for example, loves good questions – questions that show that you have spent a great deal of time and effort in research. Often, I hear him ask for questions and get nothing, or get some question that shows a very superficial level of thought. You must think of a master like Shifu Park like a physics professor in a college classroom. If you ask questions like “how much is one plus one?,” he will never get a chance to talk to you about quantum theory.
Teachers often use your questions to spark their memories. A teacher like Master Park wants to give; but, you have to help him by asking the kind of questions that spark his memory – questions which are not on a superficial level that show no real effort on your part to learn. Give or inspire no passion and you will get no passion. In my case, for example, I sat down one night and picked an elementary Ba Gua Zhang exercise. I was able to write down several hundred questions about this exercise. It was the simple Ba Gua exercise known as the Single Palm Strike (Tu Zhang). Many of these questions I answered on my own. Then, I went to Master Park to see if I was as big of a “chicken head” as I think I am. All of these discussions were enlightening. Sometimes they were worse than I could have imagined in showing me how much I still needed to learn; but sometimes, it sparked an old memory in Master Park and I heard some wonderful insight I could only dream about but never produce on my own.
4. Respect your teacher’s judgement.
When your teacher asks you if you are ready for something new, always ask yourself if you have integrated experientially into your practice, and into your life, that which he has already given you. Please do not insult him by saying yes if you have not. Let him be the judge as to whether or not you are ready to learn something new. A qualified and experienced teacher always knows if you are ready or not, and many times he is testing you to determine if you have what it takes to learn deeply.
When taught something, spend time with it. I can promise you that very little in Ba Gua is only what it seems to be on the surface. Make your learning experiential, not just intellectual. Intellectual learning alone means little. Master Park calls this having an “empty art.” Taoism is doing. It is the very act of doing that is important. Often, there is no planned outcome save a body movement that becomes a learned response by repeating it over and over until it is burnt indelibly into your subconscious.
6. Just do.
Stop worrying about tomorrow. Spend time in the NOW. It is a shame to waste the NOW. I know many of you have difficult schedules and demands from work and family life. I would never want you to ignore these responsibilities; but, I will suggest that you learn to enjoy and appreciate what you have – instead of always looking for something you don’t have. If you can do this, things will happen a lot faster. Do not get caught up in setting goals. Do not set goals, just DO. When you set a goal, everything in the universe seems to “step up to the plate” just to put obstacles in your path that will interfere with your growth and development. If you want to grow, just DO.
Note, I am not saying that you should not have an idea of where you are going. Just, do not make the mistake of developing inappropriate goals and expectations. I have developed a habit of always asking college students why they are going to college. Do you know what ninety percent of them tell me? They say, “I am going to college to get a degree.” They seldom talk about the learning experience or the knowledge they are getting. Ask yourself the question, “Why am I studying Ba Gua?” Then, do some real soul searching for your answer.
7. “Teach” someone.
Try to explain some important theory, or demonstrate and explain some important technique to someone else. See if you can answer their questions using only the principles and theories from the Natural Trinity: Yin/Yang, Wu Hsing, and the I Ching (Ba Gua). Some of my most profound learning experiences have come from teaching or helping other students. This does not mean that you should try to go out and open up a chain of schools. This would be inappropriate. Just explain things to your peers or juniors. Never be afraid to say that you don’t know something. Just say, “let’s ask Shifu Park.” No one person knows everything.
8. Take a “big hammer” to your television set.
It will only pattern your brain and keep you from learning and practicing. It is both wonderful and horrendous at the same time. Use it sparingly and do not waste your time. After all, time is all you really have.
Please take responsibility for your own learning and development. There is no magic. Follow the right procedure. The Tao will help those who help themselves. It will not do the work for you, but it will work with you.
There are many more little tidbits of information that I can offer but I have bored you enough for now. I just want to end this with a challenge. Start with something like the Basic Palm exercise of Ba Gua Zhang, for example, and see how many questions you can develop and answer. Answer all that you can and see what you have left. Give this serious thought and see where it leads you.
I’m cheering for you to exceed beyond your wildest expectations. Just think, if you take responsibility for yourself, I will not be tempted to “smack you in the head” someday.
Walk in knowledge – Shifu Glen Moore