by Phillip Starr

At different times when I was studying under my gong-fu instructor, he’d drop what I call “morsels” for me to chew on. Some seemed rather small and seemed insignificant; I’d discover their real value later on. What was important was whether or not I noticed them, picked them up, and consumed them. He was always watching to see what I’d do. Some of my classmates would ignore these crumbs of information and those who did found fewer and fewer tidbits were dropped for them. They expected full-blown “meals” of a sort but they never got them…

Of course, I asked why such small crumbs were presented at different times; wouldn’t it be more efficient to give me the whole meal? My sifu shook his head and frowned a bit as he replied, “No. I give you small pieces only when you are ready for them.” He went on the explain as best he could in English that to give me a whole meal would be like setting a full Thanksgiving dinner before a toddler whose teeth had not all come in yet. The youngster simply isn’t physically capable of partaking of the sumptuous feast and even if he could, he’s too young to truly appreciate it. He’d stuff his mouth full of everything that would fit – kind of like a hungry squirrel – and he’d fail to savor the various flavors of the different dishes.

The size of the morsels had to be just right (so I could physically “chew” and digest them without too much trouble) and they had to be dropped at the right time (age, in martial arts terms). And in the right sequence.

And so it is with my own students. Occasionally, one will ask, “Why didn’t you mention this earlier?” I tell them that they weren’t yet ready to hear it or physically able to do it. Then there are a few who allege, “You CHANGED it!” I calmly tell them that nothing has been changed; they’re just seeing another aspect of what they’ve already learned. Further outbursts will put a quick end to any new morsels…

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