Mastering the Way: The ancient Chinese philosophers were generalists rather than specialists. They discovered that what seemed like unrelated disciplines actually have a common basis.
Here is a brief outline of the Way -
- Master the Way to acquire skills easily.
- Focus on the process. The act is valued over the outcome (like watching a performance). The outcome is the sum of the experience.
- Effortless action. The Way is basic, simple, natural, and flexible.
- Expression of your inner spirit. Be water, be fluid and adaptable.
- Become an expert. An expert comes from experience, experience comes from experimenting - applying and learning.
Master the Way to Acquire Skills Easily:
Chinese philosophers understood that there was an underlying concept behind all skill.
Skill is external, the Way is internal.
If you understand the internal, then you can understand the method for acquiring any skill. There are several concepts in regards to the internal - focus on the process, effortless action, expressing your inner spirit, and become an expert.
Focus on the Process:
In Kung fu and other Chinese art, they valued the process over the outcome. The act is seen as the highest form of achievement and what is left is "mere skill".
Chinese saw art as applied philosophy. Normally in philosophy and in science people dialogue about what is truth. Science, itself, is about arriving at truth, but in art, it is about using truth as a means to an end. In art, what matters are the performances, the piecing together of truth or knowledge. It is the result of 10,000 things.
I think this concept explains achievement well. We should notice the moments we are expressing ourselves, where we are really putting ourselves into our art, and not just focusing on attaining the result. Paradoxically, by focusing on the process, a higher level of skill will be attained.
A well known Chinese scholar, Zhuangzi, said, “the root of human problems stem from their lack of freedom."
Zhuangzi’s philosophy is the philosophy of freedom. It is a philosophy that places life in infinite time and space to gain experience. He learned his philosophy through watching nature.
Modern Shaolin monks also observe nature and find insights to their art to more deeply understand gongfu.
A senior Shaolin Monk at the Shaolin Temple described an insight he had while making tea. “The water pouring into the tea cups is like the smooth and integrated movements of Shaolin martial arts -- to attack like the release of a strong tiger and to withdraw like a swift cat."
Effortless action is about finding the internal path where you unblock yourself so that you can express your personal freedom. The more blocked you are, the more effort it will take to attain the skill.
When you watch a master it looks easy because he or she has found how to perform it effortlessly. They have found the Way.
In the beginning when learning something, often there is a struggle as you are mentally grasping the concepts, but afterwards you begin to feel it out and can start to express it. When you can express it, you are reaching a high level of gongfu.
Expression of Your Inner Spirit:
In the video below they describe that one can practice a skill, but to unlock higher levels of ability, you need to merge your mind, body and spirit into your practice.
While this may seem like a deep or complicated concept, it can actually just be simplified down to feeling. Or like Bruce Lee put it, "We need emotional content."
That is the philosophy behind gongfu. It seeks to capture the feeling, when you get that feeling, everything flows.
You can enter this state purposefully through moving. The reason this works is because emotions are actually in the body and the feelings are interpretations of your physiological state. So creating certain movements actually change your feelings.
A leading neuroscientist in the field of emotions and cognition, Antonio Damasio, explains this,
Moving to capture feeling is like capturing a rhythm. It is the concept that music runs through everything.
Feeling is also about using intuition. A synthesis of a broad range of experience stored in your subconscious.
When you enter that state of positive feeling, things somehow align.
You can attain a higher level of performance simply because of the feeling you have created. Musicians mention that when they "feel a song" it flows out of them. So it is this, entering that state of true expression, of true feeling that goes to your very core.
It is when we are in our head and calculate and scrutinize decisions and actions that the process becomes laborious. This prevents expression and often feels unnatural. Essentially we are out of balance.
A modern Chinese philosopher, Peimin Ni, who is also a professor at Grand Valley State University in Michigan, USA explains gongfu in this way:
One might well consider the Chinese kung fu perspective a form of pragmatism. What the kung fu perspective adds to the pragmatic approach, however, is its clear emphasis on the cultivation and transformation of the person
A kung fu master does not simply make good choices and use effective instruments to satisfy whatever preferences a person happens to have. In fact the subject is never simply accepted as a given. While an efficacious action may be the result of a sound rational decision, a good action that demonstrates kung fu has to be rooted in the entire person, including one’s bodily dispositions and sentiments, and its goodness is displayed not only through its consequences but also in the artistic style one does it
The kung fu approach does not entail that might is right. This is one reason why it is more appropriate to consider kung fu as a form of art.
The kung fu approach suggests that we take philosophy as the pursuit of the art of living well, and not just as a narrowly defined rational way of life.
Become an Expert:
Become an expert by experimenting. Begin by taking a concept and then setting a 100 Day Gong to see what can be done, what can be achieved.
An expert is simply someone with experience who has gone through an experiment and now has the understanding of it.
Gongs are method that get you to focus but at the same time apply the principles of gongfu - effortlessly expressing yourself.
Normally, when people set goals they become laser focused on the outcome, but it creates a kind of anxiety about it, like "I have to get there" mentality. However, with gongs, it also gets you to focus your mental energies, but at the same time, it expands your mind and awareness.
So take one thing that want to become good at, and apply it in a small way over a 100 days to see what will happen. And soon, you will slowly start to master that skill and your self.
Read: (1 of 3): The Quest for True Fulfillment
Read: (2 of 3): Mastering a Skill