In the martial arts it is difficult to understand the distinction between “partners” and “opponents.”
As a Kung Fu student it is very important to understand the difference between a “partner” and an “opponent,” especially since these two can either make or break your practice.
Most martial arts schools use the “opponent” mindset. Using the term “opponent” works against the attitude that our instructors desire the student body to have when working together. The student should avoid attachment to the notions of victory and defeat, as well as positions of authority, where one person is greater than another. This attachment, although ego-gratifying, does not allow room for the potential personal and spiritual growth that one can get out of his/her Kung Fu training. A healthier mindset for the student to adopt is that of a “partner,” not an “opponent.” To be a “partner” is to be aware of the person you are working with, and to work to accomplish a certain goal together. To be an “opponent” is to be self-absorbed in what you are doing, and to be unaware of how it affects the people you are working with; it is only to demonstrate who is better, thus creating a victory/defeat scenario. The old masters warned us of this attitude by saying, “the man who is concerned with victory and defeat is a narrow-minded and shallow individual.”
The main reason training in Kung Fu is to learn and grow: to evolve to the next level physically, mentally, and spiritually; NOT merely to enhance the ego through victory. Use the practice to grow beyond the egotistical self and break through your own limitations. This is the real goal of practice. So, why is it denied in most schools here in the west? Generally, instructors hesitate to delve into the spiritual realm by teaching the mental and spiritual aspects of the practice. Many times, instructors don’t feel qualified (or even drawn) to teach the deeper, more philosophical aspects of the practice. Most instructors feel much more comfortable being aligned with an exercise and self-defense program. It is easier for the general public to understand. Many instructors are not comfortable bridging the gap of the mind and body, exploring the philosophical nature of the practice itself. They are afraid of offending anyone with ideas or concepts that may appear foreign. The general public doesn’t really understand what martial arts is all about, except from what they see in movies or may have heard secondhand. Some people may get offended by some of the ritualistic practices associated with Kung Fu, like bowing to a Kung Fu altar. These people simply will not like anything that they do not understand, especially if it is perceived to have a spiritual undercurrent to it.
Therefore, many instructors have decided that they will only focus on the physical aspects of the martial arts, but by focusing on the physical aspects exclusively, they strip away many opportunities for growth. The goal of the practice is to unite the mind, body, and spirit as one. In order to accomplish this, the student must understand the deeper, more philosophical aspects of the training. This way, the student can learn to let go of the ego, the part of him/her that views him/herself as separate from, less than, or greater than anyone else.
There is an internal dilemma that goes on in the mind with thoughts and emotions about victory and defeat, winning and losing, being worse than or better than. Thoughts such as, “you’re not good enough,” “you’re too fat,” “you’re too skinny,” “you’re too slow,” “you’re too smart,” “your memory isn’t good enough” are all what we call “stinking thinking” and are all based on the idea and understanding of the ego’s perspective. Through Kung Fu practice, you should learn to overcome this and realize a deeper perspective of your true nature, a unique individual with strengths to control and weaknesses to build upon.
Therefore, the term “partner” is meant to transform the ego to help other individuals realize their true potential while you develop yours. A great partner will be able to work with all students, from the lowest rank to the most advanced. Your job is not to show the beginner students how much you know or how strong you are, but instead to work at their level to help them rise to a higher level. When working with advanced students, your job is to learn and grow not by comparing and judging their skill level, but instead by working WITH them with a focus on growing and learning. So, your classmates, regardless of rank, age, or skill, are your training PARTNERS and never your OPPONENTS. Your job is to work, learn, and grow together, and to adapt at appropriate levels.
The first step to having a true “partner” mindset is courtesy, respect, and awareness for the other people in class.