The Benefits of Open-Thought

诀 曰: 本 拳 基 服 膺, 无 长 不 汇 集。- “Oral Tradition: Adhere faithfully to proven principles and sound doctrines; adopt all beneficial maneuvers and techniques.”

This bit comes directly from a book on one of my most beloved martial arts, Yiquan. While like many of our other topics, it has very little to do with kungfu, and much to do with the state of the mind.

Here, something very special is happening. To some degree, due to Confucian ideas, Chinese martial arts are very much adhered to in as purely of a traditional manner as possible. If your master did it, you do it, but quite often don’t even know why. My sifu used to do this little hand spin at the transition of Lu to Ji in his Yang Tai Chi form, and all of us who studied under him did the same. It’s how we were taught.

One day, I asked about it. He smiled and said, “I trained for years in White Crane (白鶴拳) and I just make that motion now.” That’s where it came from…another style totally, but that was so ingrained in him that it had grown into his students. Why did we do it? Because he did. I still do it…it’s almost like a signature to know from where I learned, and that’s reason enough to keep it.

That doesn’t make it a requirement at all, though. It’s habit turned to memetic turned to tradition. I am glad to be able to answer “why” if I was asked today about it. I almost smile now just thinking about such a subtle thing.

My point, here, is that many things are transmitted through traditions for reasons that we may not even fully understand. How often do we see that bad habits are “passed down” from one generation to the next? Is this genetic, or is it learned?’s not always as simple as either/or. It may be both nature and nurture.

What does matter is that we keep an open mind to possibilities that we may not have considered. As Suzuki once famously said, “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few.”

Let us all strive to keep this perspective, which may be “no perspective at all.” If we are honest, we all have feelings and judgements about what may be right for us, but they may not be optimal, or even beneficial. We can begin to heal and improve when we are open to the possibilities around us. Especially in the cases of anxiety and depression, we may quite possibly be espoused to styles of thinking that are worsening our conditions.

So, let us all keep ourselves open not only to the fact that others may have techniques that may actually help, but that there is hope for us that things can actually be different.

…and let’s not be too quick to assume that someone else is wrong simply because they “don’t do the little hand twirl.”

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