“By three methods we may learn wisdom: First by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and Third by experience, which is the bitterest.” -Confucius
I was sitting on my girlfriend’s couch one blustery winter day reading a book called Pocket Peace:Practices for Enlightened Living by Allan Lokos, when I first read this quote. As I read it I immediately started to visualize these three paths translated to learning on the mat and knew that I had to further explore this idea as I felt that I had experienced all three paths with similar results in feeling as those described. Note the irony; employing principles from a book called Pocket Peace, a book written by an apparent Buddhist, to better understand how to learn to choke and potentially disable people.
To define wisdom we must call on a most powerful resource of knowledge, Google. Google offers three possible definitions; for this purpose the definition “the soundness of an action or decision with regard to the application of experience, knowledge, and good judgement,” will be used. With that definition in mind let’s take a closer look at these three paths to wisdom
- Reflection– To better understand reflection, let’s think of some synonyms; thought, pondering,deliberation, even meditation in extreme cases. With reflection comes visualization, a technique used by so many greatly successful people including but not limited too, throngs of successful athletes, business people, actors, salesmen, etc. Confucius says that ‘reflection is the noblest path’ because it requires a person to actively seek out the answer to the problems they face by looking inward, theoretically before changes are necessitated by experiences that force a change in behavior due to an unwanted outcome. An easy example would be a person coming in before class, sitting on the mats and thinking their way through submission options from their favorite guard pass.
- Imitation– Both the highest form of flattery and according to Confucius the ‘easiest path’ to wisdom. Why figure out the problem for yourself if someone else has already come up with the answer, besides isn’t that what teachers are for? This is probably the most common form of learning done and is commonly seen throughout the animal kingdom. Royce Gracie used BJJ to beat his opposition in the early UFCs including Kimo, a hulking Hawaii’an who was more like a wrecking ball than a martial artist, and even Ken Shamrock, who also successfully employed submission fighting techniques. Many people in the world of fighting began to imitate the Gracie fighting methods because of their apparent effectiveness- suddenly ground fighting and submission skills became a necessity in the cage.
- Experience- Of course we can never truly learn something without experiencing it’s function in action, but cultivating our evolution through negative experiences is what could potentially produce ‘bitterness.’ For instance, one of my most profound memories of starting BJJ was getting absolutely smashed by a big brown belt named Donald. I truly had no idea that a man could produce so much pressure and create such a helpless situation. Enter side control. Professor had taught us side control escapes, he had told us to get onto our sides, never flat on our backs. It would have been much easier to initially imitate Professor but no, this I had to learn from experience, and bitter this experience was!
The first six months of wisdom gain in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is overwhelmingly experiential and yes, much of it comes with a bitter taste; sore throats, sore joints, sore ego, bruises, gi burns, crushing pressure, and so on. Mixed in with that experiential learning is some imitative learning and as your training progresses experiential gains in BJJ wisdom should start to decline. At a certain point imitation seems to prevail. Once the student successfully imitates some very important movements and concepts they should be able to begin down the path of reflection. Eventually, the goal should be to be mostly reflective in gains of wisdom, but you see that just isn’t that easy.