Four “Non-Secrets” to Becoming a Liberated Martial Artist

by Christopher Kent

In this special report I’m going to share with you four “non-secrets” to becoming a liberated martial artist – I refer to them as “non-secrets” because, while in actuality they are “principles”, many people are unaware of them –

My name is Chris Kent and for over thirty five years I’ve been intimately involved with Jeet Kune Do, the martial art and self-discovery process developed by the legendary Bruce Lee. I am the author of two books on Jeet Kune Do published by Empire Books.
The Encyclopedia of Jeet Kune Do – A to Z
Jeet Kune Do: Guide to Equipment Training

I am also the co-author of two Jeet Kune Do books published by Action Pursuit Group (formerly CFW Enterprises).
Jeet Kune Do Kickboxing
Jun Fan /Jeet Kune Do – The Textbook

In addition to my books, I have written and produced three series of training videos and DVD’s.
Masterclass Jeet Kune Do ( released by Empire Media)
Jeet Kune Do From A to Z (released by Inside Kung Fu Magazine)
Dynamic Jeet Kune Do (produced by Health For Life)

When I first began training in Jeet Kune Do, like most other people I was primarily interested in the physical aspects of the art. However, as my knowledge and understanding of the art grew, I soon came to the realization that what separated Lee from every other martial artist of his generation was his mind or “intelligence.” It was “the mind behind the fighting machine” that allowed Lee to transform himself and achieve the incredible level of skill he attained.

Recognizing that it was the result of applying the mental to the physical, rather than simply adding physical to physical that resulted in Lee’s incredible achievements, one of my primary objectives became to develop my knowledge and understanding of the philosophical principles and thought processes he used. In addition to training in the physical aspects of Jeet Kune Do, I spent countless hours investigating and researching the sources Lee drew from in his process of intellectual growth. Due to my friendship and affiliation with Bruce’s family, personal assistants, students and friends, I was privileged to have access to so much of his material, including his personal library, writings, etc., and had the opportunity to see things that many others haven’t. Seeing the nature and depth of his research and conclusions firsthand was truly enlightening, and I have made it part of my
mission, as one of the pre-eminent torchbearers of Lee’s martial legacy, to continue building upon the philosophical ‘framework’ originally established by Bruce, and sharing the concepts and principles with as many people as possible.

The following four principles are essential in helping you cultivate the proper approach to training, keep your mind, attitude and sense pliable and receptive, and develop your ability to think critically. By utilizing them in your training you will be able to free yourself from any form of restriction or confinement, be it physical or mental, and actualize your full potential.

1. Recognize YOU Are It.
On the wall of my school I hangs a small set of curtains above which is a small placard containing the words, “The Secret of Martial Arts”. When someone pulls back the curtains, they find themselves looking into a mirror which reflects their own image and which has the words “You Are It” written across the bottom of it.

Many would-be martial art students, when they come to inquire about training, are often looking for “secrets”, for some sort of magical moves or special techniques that will solve all their problems for them or transform them into some kind of “ultimate fighter” or “holy terror” in three quick lessons. Their attitude is, “I want to be admired by my friends and feared by my enemies. Show me the secrets that will make me invincible.” What these people fail to realize is that in martial arts there aren’t any “secrets” that are responsible for success and ability, and that the time they spend in trying to find them could be much better put to use in their own personal development. Some people will study one martial art, followed by another, then another, or even several different arts at the same time. When questioned as to their reason for doing this their reply is, “I’m searching for the ‘ultimate’ …”

In both of the above cases the individuals involved have missed the boat. They are busy looking to external sources for the answers or the truth and, as a result, fail to understand is that there isn’t any “ultimate” out there, and the only “secret” to attaining proficiency in martial arts is an individual’s willingness to work hard at developing themselves and cultivating their innate ability to the highest level.

Martial art training isn’t about “styles” or “systems.” It’s not about magical methods or “secrets.” It’s about you, the individual. It’s about cultivating your body as a ‘martial instrument’ and using it to communicate and express yourself with complete freedom. It’s about developing your understanding of efficient human movement in combat and about how, in the process of learning to use your body, you can come to understand yourself.

The ultimate lies within you. It’s been there all along. In the same way that Michelangelo stated that the statue of David already existed in the block of marble and that all he to do
was remove the material in order to reveal him, all you have to do is hack away the non-essentials to reveal the true you. So recognize that YOU ARE IT. Become your own sculptor. Put your energy and effort into the sincere and honest development of yourself physically, mentally, and spiritually, and utilize your training as a vehicle through which to obtain self-knowledge. Dedicate yourself to discovering the real you and then honestly expressing yourself with complete freedom.

2. Focus on “Process” not “Product”
Many people, when they’re considering taking up martial training, will ask the instructor, “How long will it take for me to get a black belt?” In Jeet Kune Do, due to the fact that no type of belt-ranking system exists, the question usually becomes something like, “How long will it take for me to become certified as an instructor?” When the person is asked why they want to get a black belt or become an instructor, most of them respond with, “Because then I’ll know that I’ve made it… I will have arrived.” But made it where? Arrived where?

It’s interesting to note that the majority of people who take up martial art training usually stop once they attain a black belt (or its equivalent). Some continue their studies, but most don’t. The reason is that these people are “product-oriented.” They are more interested in getting some kind of “product” such as a black belt or an instructor’s certificate than on what they learn about themselves in the process of getting there. Their attitude is “Okay”, I’ve done that, what can I do next?” This attitude is easy to understand. It is due in part to the fact that our culture today has become very “product-oriented.” Whether it be earning a black belt in martial art, attaining a degree from college or university, or reaching some particular position within a business, today’s society places much greater emphasis on the “being there” as opposed to the “getting there” — on “product” rather than “process.”

Let me ask you a question. What is the purpose of your martial art training? Is it to reach a particular goal and attain a “product” such as a black belt or an instructor certificate? Or is it to actualize your full potential and attain the highest levels of performance of which you are capable? If your answer is the latter, then you should focus on “process” not “product.”

Martial art training is a journey of personal growth and discovery. For any martial artist, training is an on-going, evolutionary process which is fluid, continually changing and adjusting to fit their individual needs. By focusing on the process you will create an atmosphere of fluidity and freedom in which you can move in any direction in your training and explore and examine various aspects of yourself. You will view yourself as a constant “work in progress”, something never completed or finished. This, in turn, liberates you and offers you freedom. Freedom not only from external sources such as the opinions, dictates and standards of other martial artists or martial art styles, but perhaps more importantly, freedom from yourself; from unrealistic expectations of yourself, from overly self-conscious attitudes, self-doubts, etc. Recognizing that you are a participant in an on-going process in which you are continually growing and discovering new things about yourself, you will view each training session as a learning experience, an opportunity for improvement to take yourself to a new level. Finally, putting your focus on process will help keep you fully present and mindful during your training. You will invest whatever you’re doing with your full concentration and your mind won’t be drifting off toward distant, future goal.

Focusing on process in no way implies that you should not have any goals in their training or that the idea of striving to reach an objective such as a black belt is wrong or negative. Goals and
objectives serve a useful purpose in that they can give us a vision or a sense of direction. As the saying goes, “You can have the best ship in the world, but if the captain doesn’t know where to go
it’s just going to drift around.” Furthermore, goals can help motivate us to continue training. Motivation is one of the first things to leave, especially when a high degree of effort is required. And any form of martial art training requires commitment, energy, and effort. Focusing on process simply means that you shouldn’t allow the final objective to overshadow the process, so that chasing after an end-product becomes more important to you than what you learn about yourself along the way.

When it comes to martial art training, the people with the staying power are those who have developed a passion for the process. While they view each training session as another step along the path of their journey, they take the time to enjoy each step fully instead of directing their attention ahead and outside the present moment. As noted Zen master Alan Watts once stated, “If the goal of dancing were to reach a certain spot on the floor, then obviously the fastest dancer would be the best. The point of dancing is the dance itself.” And the same applies to martial art training. If you put your energy into each step, if you focus on the process, you will ultimately reach your destination. And what’s more, you will have enjoyed the journey.

3. Refuse to Accept Boundaries and Limitations
Although Bruce Lee eventually christened his martial philosophy Jeet Kune Do, he resolutely insisted that it should not be categorized as a “system” or “style” as these terms are conventionally defined, because he felt the words were inaccurate in relation to what he was attempting to do, which was to liberate people from being bound by a set “way” of doing things or looking at things. To emphasize this point, he placed two lines of Chinese characters around the circumference of the emblem symbolizing his art which, when translated into English, read: “Using No Way as Way; Having No Limitation as Limitation.”

“Using No Way as Way” is about refusing to be restricted by or “bound” by any martial art style, system or method. Styles create boundaries. Anything included within the style is deemed acceptable, and anything outside of the style is deemed unacceptable. Styles give you have set ways of dealing with things that you cannot deviate from. In styles they say things like, ”You do it this way” or “We don’t do it that way in our style.” If you ask why not, the answer is “Because we don’t do it that way in our style.”

Why is it so necessary for you to not be bound or restricted by “set” ways or methods? Because anytime a way of doing things is prescribed in inviolable terms as something fixed or set in stone, it creates a “locked in” mentality and your capacity to learn or grow as a martial artist is severely compromised.

If you refuse to look at any other approach or blindly cling to one particular way of doing things, you will become bound by the limitations of that way. As a result, your actions and responses will become “patternized” and predictable, and you will lose your ability to cope freely to a combative situation with all your resources. If you are bound to a particular style or method of doing things, you will lack the adaptability and pliability required to “fit in” with an opponent, adjust to their strengths and weaknesses, and deal with them effectively.

By not attaching yourself to any one style or “way” of doing things, you obliterate boundaries and maintain the freedom to not only draw from any and all forms of martial art methods, but also to both use and dispense with any techniques as the moment requires.

Refusing to be bound by systems or methods doesn’t mean that if you find something which works for you that you shouldn’t use it because it’s a “way”, or to simply not to do anything because it will become a “way.” There’s nothing wrong with having favorite techniques, actions, etc. It simply means don’t become bound to only using it at the expense of everything else. Don’t lock yourself into only one way. Don’t make anything “THE way”. Be free to do what you need to do in a combative situation.

“Having No Limitation as Limitation” deals with liberating yourself from any form of limitations, be it physical, mental or emotional. Confrontations between the mind and body are an integral part of martial art training. As you travel along your path to mastery of the martial arts you will inevitably, at some point along the way, find yourself coming up against various barriers or obstacles that will attempt to prevent you from continuing. The barrier might be a physical obstacle, such as a lack of flexibility, inadequate strength, or lack of coordination. It might be a mental barrier, such as being overly self-conscious and afraid of looking silly or awkward when working out. Or the barrier might be an emotional one, such as overcoming the fear of getting hit while sparring. Even a single element or aspect of martial art training can become a limitation if you are not careful. I’ve heard many martial artists make comments such as, “Kickboxing is all I need” or “Grappling can handle any situation.” These individuals are so comfortable and confident in their “way” that either they can see no need for or refuse to look at any other approach. The problem lies when these individuals come up against an opponent who is a better kickboxer than they are or who can nullify their grappling skills. If they lack the ability to adapt and are unable to go outside of the realm of their way in order to deal with the opponent, their “way” will become a limitation and they can find themselves in big trouble.

How you deal with each of the barriers and obstacles you encounter will determine whether they become a limitation or not. If you wish to grow as a martial artist and move ahead in your training, you must confront the barrier you encounter. Instead of seeing it as a limitation, sift your perspective to view it as a challenge, nothing more than a temporary condition. Recognize it, understand what it is, and then figure out how to remove it or work around it. In this way you will “have no limitation as limitation.”

4. Research, Absorb, Reject, Add …

The following four-step process offers you a prescription for personal growth as a martial artist:

Step 1 — Research Your Own Experience

Personal growth comes through experiences. As a martial artist you need experiences in order to grow. A martial artist who has never actually experienced full-contact sparring against an alive and non-cooperating opponent is at a definite disadvantage when it comes to knowing what will and will not work in a real combative situation. But you also need to research those experiences if you wish to enlist them in your personal development and aid you in your search for truth. Researching and understanding your own experience can inform and enlighten you.

Researching your own experience doesn’t simply mean researching your martial art background or history. An experience can mean anything you’ve just done or been through in your training. For example, perhaps you’ve just finished an intensive sparring session against a particular opponent. Immediately after your workout, or after a shower and a meal, take some time and review what you experienced during the sparring session – Research your experience. Think critically and ask yourself questions such as, “What value did this experience have for me at this time? What purpose did it serve with regard to my personal growth? What did I learn from it? What bearing might it have on any future sparring sessions I might have?

Step 2 — Absorb What is Useful

“Absorbing what is useful” means that if, as you research your experience, you discover something or a specific way of doing something that works for you, or that you feel is useful to what you’re doing, you absorb it into your structure. Absorbing what is useful is not mere ‘eclecticism’, as many people mistakenly assume. It’s not simply a “collect what you like” approach whereby you randomly select and accumulate various techniques and actions from here and there according to fleeting fancy or personal taste, and toss them loosely together to create some kind of “hybrid” martial art that you think will have the best of everything. To absorb something means to take it in and incorporate or assimilate it. When you absorb, the things you absorb become incorporated into a single usable product, rather than a bunch of separate element sitting side by side like links of a chain that are not connected to each other. In addition, when something is absorbed, it is often modified during the process and as a result, may end up either only faintly resembling what it initially was, or not resembling it at all. For example, if you combine the two metals copper and zinc, you end up with the alloy, brass. With brass we can no longer see either the copper or the zinc, even though we know they are still there. When selecting things to absorb, your selection should done carefully and intelligently. As you become more experienced you’ll be able to recognize and discern whether or not something has applicability to you and what you’re doing, thus avoid wasting time and effort on it if it doesn’t.

Step 3 — Reject What is Not Useful

If, in researching your experience, you find something doesn’t work for you or isn’t useful for you, you should feel free to reject it. However, before you reject or discard it, make sure you know why it doesn’t work and why you’re rejecting it. To be able to do this, self-knowledge and experience must enter the equation. Simply because you might not be able to do or use something successfully at a particular moment doesn’t automatically mean that technique or action is useless or invalid. Some martial artists will reject a particular kick, throw, lock, etc. simply because they cannot do it at that moment. Or they attempt to use a technique they’ve just learned against an opponent during sparring and it fails or they mess it up, so they decide the technique is no good and discard it. In both cases the individuals haven’t spent sufficient time practicing the technique and attempting to understand it. So don’t reject something until you have thoroughly examined it and know why you are rejecting it, because in so doing, you could be throwing away something invaluable simply because you don’t recognize it, or because of your lack of understanding. Finally, recognize that because something didn’t work for you at one time, doesn’t mean that it won’t work another time. By the same token, understand that what may have been useful for you at one time may not be useful now. What you absorb at one stage of your process you may reject at another stage. So it’s imperative to maintain a very flexible attitude.

Step 4 — Add What is Specifically Your Own
The final step is to “add what is specifically your own.” This doesn’t mean that you should add something simply for the sake of being different from everybody else. Rather, it relates to bringing your own natural attributes, qualities, personal preferences, etc. to whatever it is you’re doing in order to truly express yourself totally and completely.

As I stated at the beginning of this report, there aren’t any “secrets” in martial art training. The whole thing is YOU. One of Bruce Lee’s favorite sayings was, “Knowing is not enough, we must apply; Willing is not enough, we must do.” Merely reading the above principles won’t liberate you. You must integrate them into your thoughts and apply them to your actions. Understanding and applying these principles will help you cultivate the proper perspective and mental attitude toward your training. This, in turn, will allow you to throw off the chains of “style” or method”, and offer you the opportunity to actualize your full potential and become a truly “liberated martial artist” –

Copyright – Chris Kent (2009)

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