Learn to Learn

Last semester was a great solid training for all of the disciples in my Karate class at MC. Sensei put up many outstanding excercises for everyone, and we love each one of those workouts wholeheartedly. When the second term of the year started we welcome new comers, along with friends of our friends who love to join us for a lesson or two. Sometimes people came for their credit requirement, some came because they have an enthusiam for martial arts, and sometimes they come to learn new experience of what they studied some where before. Back then when I was in Vietnam, that reminds me of an person who came for the very same reason, but the intention was so much different.

I studied some martial arts with an old man, named Mr.An, who lived close to my house. He was a security guard for a nearby elementary school at night and apparently, he spent his whole life living a simple happy life without any fancy material possessions. To us, he was weird and creepy but as a teacher he was a great man. One day my friend and I were practicing in his back garden while Mr.An was busy teaching other students. In the mid afternoon, a person we did not recognize came in through the gate and stood by the hall. We presumed he was a prospective student as often many people came hoping to be accepted into the class. Mr.An nodded to me, telling me to go and greet the visitor. With a bright smile, I went over to say hello. “I would like to study with your teacher.” Said the stranger. This was not a problem as our class was open to anyone. I told the man this and politely explained how the class ran and how we were taught.

After a few minutes the man said, “I have studied some Qigong exercises before.” I politely enquired, “What sort of exercises were they?” The man slowly replied, “They were quite simple, some Standing Positions. I have been learning for 3 years but I would really like to have a teacher.” That questioned my curiosity and so I asked, “Who do you study that with?” The man smiled and said, “I found a book in the store and have been following it.” As my friend, Tuan overheard this conversation, he came over as well to greet the man. The visitor smiled again and said “Hello”.

“Standing postures are very simple and there is not too much you can do wrong.” Said the man confidently. Tuan had to patch up the idea because sometimes the basics c

ould be wrongly executed, too; thus he replied, “You still need to be careful as you can still make mistakes”. “I’ve been doing it for three years though” said the man puffing up his chest slightly. “Maybe so, but just because something seems simple, it does not mean that it is simple. Simple things are often the most difficult to reach”, Tuan explained. “Yes but…” started the man, “Please sit down and watch the rest of the class of you like.” interupted Tuan. “Erm, yes OK.” said the man taking a seat and with that Tuan walked off to me and we carried on practicing.

After ten minutes or about, the man asked me what the different people were doing. Some were practicing Qigong and some were doing forms. “Oh, I want to learn those” said the man pointing. “I would also like to learn that one as well” he continued pointing to another groupd of students across the yard. I just smiled.

Towards the end of the class the man told me, “I think I will stick with the Qigong I have. I feel good doing it. I would like to learn some of the martial arts though. I have also studied some for five years and so I have a good background.” Again I asked, “Where did you study?” and the man replied, “I have a book.” I said goodbye and the man left.

After the class had finished we were tidying up the training yard. Mr. An came over to us and said, “What did you think of him?” he asked. Tuan replied, “I don’t think he will come back.” Mr. An looked at Tuan, “And why do you think that?” he asked. “We he came looking for a teacher, but at the same time he thought that what he knew was so good. He only studied from a book and so it means he thought he is very clever and would not listen to any advice, so how can he learn? After a few minutes I did not want to talk to him anymore. Was I wrong”

Mr.An smiled and said, “Many people do not know how to talk to others. Some people are rude and do not even greet you properly, introduce themselves and thank others for their time. Sometimes though you find these people are OK, they are just naive and have never been taught how to address people. The important thing is they are honest and respect what you do.

Other people however, have a high opinion of themselves and think that they are very clever or gifted.. They say things to make themselves feel good and do not care about the effects of their words on other people. They can upset people easily and do not even realise it. These people are arrogant and ignorant and sometimes dangerous.

Actually, you were already teaching him by saying what you did, but he was too arrogant to accept what you were saying and too ignorant to notice you were trying to help him. In the end you were right not talk to him anymore, as he was not ready to listen to you. He said he has been studying his Qigong for three years but really he has been reading the same book for three years.

He did not come here to study, he just wanted to pick something interesting up, like the books he found at the store. But we are not bookstore and do not bartter and sell our skills. A lot of people do not realise this.”

I said, “Su phu, should I have spoken to him differently?” Mr.An smiled and said, “No you were right to be polite and explain, your job was to greet people and make them feel comfortable. You give them space to decide, everyone will eventually find their own way. But of course, if they can make their decision we can also make our decision: this makes everything fair.”

Paul Luong- 2010

One Response

  1. Viet December 20, 2011