No Knowledge Without Sacrifice

“There is no knowledge without sacrifice.

To gain everything, you must lose everything!”

Lord Buddha said these words. He was, of course, referring to enlightenment – gaining the awareness and experience of seeing things are they really are, free from illusion, free from attachment. How apt, though, it is, to apply these words to Wing Chun, and to gung fu! Our legendary founders would have known these words of the Buddha and been familiar with the sentiment contained in them. Wing Chun is the most popular and most well known of the Chinese gung fu arts. Therefore, I think there must be a lot of practitioners who have previously learnt other martial arts and, wisely, on discovering genuine Wing Chun, give up their previous art and follow the way of Wing Chun. Those who believe that they can mix true Wing Chun with other arts are unfortunately still mired in delusion.

When I hear these words of the Buddha, I think how much they apply to my own gung fu journey. I had to sacrifice a lot. I had to abase myself, suffer fools (I must admit not too “gladly”), expend my financial resources, cajole unwilling teachers to teach me, overcome racism against me, and, the “easy bit” – suffer physically. To gain the knowledge and skill that I have I had to de-attach – to detach – from previous teachers (some of whom I respected and even revered) and the knowledge and skill they had imparted to me. Yes, I had to not be arrogant and not assume that, on coming to learn the art I now practice and teach in mid-life, I knew about gung fu. It’s true, I did know a lot – but much of it was simply either in error or only a partial truth – a shadow of the real thing! I had to let go of my attachment – to my past, to my status, to my knowledge and skill – and to trust the true art to teach me.

Was it difficult? Yes! Very difficult! But I knew I had to do it! It took time but I persisted. I had to pay the price, you see? Economists call this the “response cost”, explaining that everything has a cost attached to it. This is not to say, as in the joke: that some people know the price of everything yet don’t know the worth of anything. It simply means that in making a choice you have to forgo other competing choices. In selecting an option, you discard the alternatives. If you are to live, you must choose. And, to choose is to sacrifice. The alternatives. What are you prepared to sacrifice? What are you too attached to? What are you prepared to lose, to give up? Are you prepared to lose your ego? It’s amazing how many people can’t do this!

When I was young and first learning martial arts I gave up a number of things – freedom, other opportunities, normal social life, future career options, relationships – actual and potential – and, my hard earnt cash. Yet, I didn’t see this as sacrifice in the sense of it meaning a loss. I thought things were good. It was only later that I realised some of the things I had sacrificed. The realisation came only on reflection very well into my life – perhaps in my late thirties or forties. I sacrificed but I also gained in return. It was not until I had trained decades, actually, before I fully realised all I’d gained. Much of what I’d gained I had to sacrifice to learn Yuen Kay San Wing Chun. But, now, in my sixties, I think it was not such a bad deal!

So, it is true:

There is no knowledge without sacrifice.

To gain everything, you must lose everything!