Epistemology is a word I first heard when I saw Coach Dan John speak at a fitness event a few years back. From the dictionary, "the theory of knowledge, especially with regard to its methods, validity, and scope." A little more simplified from Dan John, "How do you know what you know?"
At Control Your Health, our mission is to empower humans with the knowledge to move proficiently, achieve strength and take control of their health. How do I know what I know? There are too many people who deserve credit, but I will mention some. When it comes to strength and conditioning, I followed the typical routine of a teenage boy and focused on training muscles in isolation (think chest, biceps, etc.). Until I read an article in Muscle Media (no longer in publication) from Pavel Tsatsouline in 1999. To make a long story short, I just followed his no-nonsense strategies, quickly saw improvements, and eventually became a certified kettlebell instructor. First through the RKC, and now with Pavel's organization StrongFirst. StrongFirst is a school of strength and the kettlebell is just one of the tools used to achieve strength quickly and safely. This lead me to learn about and from other great coaches like Dan John, Brett Jones, Gray Cook, and Mike Boyle. Each one deserves time spent on their accomplishments and influence, but perhaps that is more interesting to strength and conditioning enthusiasts. The point is that I take their information and use it to help people be better and am constantly reminded about how much more I still have to learn.
But all of this would not have been possible if I wasn't given to opportunity to learn Chinese martial arts from my wife and in-laws through Wah Lum Kung Fu and Tai Chi. Chinese martial arts are influenced greatly by the institution of family. Teachers are like parents and your training partners are your brothers and sisters.
How do I know what I know? In order to avoid going down a very deep rabbit hole of gratitude, let's focus on the Wah Lum martial arts altar. For a quick introduction, take two minutes to watch the video below.
In the video, there are a few main points about the Wah Lum altar. One that is universal in traditional martial arts is bowing or bowing gesture. But this shouldn't be limited to the martial artist. I remember reading that legendary wrestling coach Dan Gable would have his students bow before entering the wrestling mat. It was a way to show respect and humility for the hard work about to begin.
The top side of the altar is the name of the system. The right side of the altar is about respect and the left side is about learning. The middle sign is unique to Wah Lum. That is the Chinese character for fire turned upside down which signifies control. I've been lucky enough to go to other traditional Chinese martial arts schools and also witness many martial arts teachers visiting the Wah Lum Temple. Outside of our system, none of them use or ever heard of the control character. The reason is because it is not only unique to the Wah Lum Kung Fu system but specifically to the Chinese village of Shajing where Grandmaster Chan comes from. (For more on the Wah Lum history watch our film)
This brings me back to the talk I heard Dan John give a few years back mentioning epistemology. How do you know what you know? It had quite an impact on me especially as he highlighted a few points.
- Who are you? You should know your story, remember it and then BE who you are.
- What do you know? There are a lot of experts online, but have you learned from an authority, practiced and then implemented? And how do you teach it?
- Trust and respect the tradition. The lessons I learned from Grandmaster Chan about the Chinese culture are deeply rooted in learning humility, practicing self-control and respecting your tradition and lineage. This was also the high point of Dan John's speech. He talked about always going back and thanking those that he learned from. Know your debt and repay it, because no man is an island. When in doubt, go back to the basics.
This post is a small thanks to all that I have learned from and my hope is to respect the tradition that I have from. I was inspired to write it after watching the Netflix show Marco Polo: One Hundred Eyes.
An entertaining martial arts show that centered around the theme of control using...wait for it...the upside down fire character! Certainly the writer of the show has been influenced by Wah Lum, even though no credit was given. If I had the opportunity, I would ask you and the writer of this show two questions:
- How do you know what you know?
- How do you practice respect, humility, and CONTROL?