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Learning from the Inside Out

motivation Mar 20, 2019

By Karen Eden


We were having lunch with our good friend Tommy several years ago. Tommy, a plumber by trade, is a good-hearted guy with a simple life. We began discussing how quickly technology is changing, and how we are almost forced to keep up with all the changes that take place.

“I had a really hard time learning computers, but I eventually figured it out,” he told me.

“Figured it out?” I responded, quizzically.

I wondered how someone with no prior experience could just “figure out” how to initially operate a computer.

            Tommy explained: after much frustration, one weekend he simply went out and bought a used computer. He then shut the door to his workroom and tore the entire thing apart.

“If I can see how it works from the inside,” he told me, “then I can figure out how to operate it from the outside.”

I looked at Tommy and smiled from ear to ear. People often stereotype plumbers as “not the sharpest knives in the drawer,” and Tommy’s laid-back demeanor doesn’t immediately dispel that impression. But my friend had torn an entire computer apart and put it back together, in order to teach himself how electronic technology works!   

This conversation with Tommy made me think. As martial arts instructors, we, too, should make a greater effort to understand our martial art from the inside out. I mean, do we really know what the moves are for when we’re teaching them in forms, or are we just choreographing what was taught to us?

I remember once watching a martial arts forms competition on TV. The grand championship was narrowed down between two young men. The first finalist came out in a shiny uniform. He screamed until he was red in the face with every punch. He also added music, in which he would hold his kicks straight up and down at pre-planned riffs.

Then the next finalist came out. He was a Japanese competitor in a simple white uniform and black belt tied around his waist. He didn’t do any Cirque du Soleil kicks, or scream bloody murder. He did execute his traditional form with such precision that, to this day, I’ve never seen one better. Well, he lost.

In my opinion, he lost in a performance-based competition. I can guarantee you that this young man knew his form inside and out. He knew the meaning behind every kick and punch he executed, and it showed. It didn’t show for the judges who didn’t know traditional martial arts themselves. But it did show for those of us who had trained and questioned the “why” behind the moves that have been executed for hundreds, if not thousands, of years.

I’ll be perfectly honest in telling you that I don’t know the practicality behind every single move in every single form that I know, either. But today, I do take the time to ask more questions, sometimes calling my own instructor from Pittsburgh just to seek those answers.

It’s one of those things important to our canon of knowledge. If we don’t get the answers now, the founding fathers who taught us in this country will no longer be around to help us. A significant number of them, from all arts and styles, have already passed away. So we should not take our ability to ask them for granted.

As for Tommy, today he can fix just about any computer out there. As a matter of fact, like most people who work with their hands, he can fix just about anything, period. I have discovered that some people aren’t book-learners, but that doesn’t mean they don’t learn.

Tommy says he figured himself out a long time ago. And if he can just get his hands on something and spend a little time working it from the inside, he’s good to go. It’s a quality that this martial arts master finds most admirable.


You can contact Master Karen Eden at ren[email protected]

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