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See form, strike form, shadow, strike shadow

The kuen kuit:

“See form, strike form, see shadow, strike shadow” is explained to my students as follows: If you clearly see a structure entering a gate, strike it to deflect it (and, of course, counter!). If you don’t clearly see a structure but perceive motion (shadow) in your peripheral visual field – which is specifically designed for motion perception – then strike.


Let’s take this to another level. Many kuen kuit can be interpreted on different levels – and this is one of them. The saying can also mean that your structures must be automatic. If you “see” them – meaning if you are analytically conscious of them (versus simply being mindful) then you should “strike” them so that they become reactive rather than contrived. “Strike” here means to relegate them to automatic status. Dogen, the Zen patriarch said: “To enter the Way is to study the self. To study the self is to forget the self”. This is reminiscent of Sifu saying to me: “Learn the forms, master the forms, forget the forms!”

And then we actually have the three stages on the path – obedience, divergence, and separation. Of course all this points to the sheer necessity of training the mind fully as well as, and integrated with, the body! Of course, if you can’t willingly give full obedience to the sifu, and thereby to the ancestors he represents, then you simply won’t go any further. You can gwoon hop and art hop all you like but you’ll always miss the point! Of course you will likely never realise this because you will be deluding yourself!

Now, for “shadow.” As poet T.S. Elliott wrote in his fantastic poem “The Hollow Men”:

“Between the idea
And the reality
Between the motion
And the act
Falls the Shadow”


How apt an idea for the concept I’m teaching here! The “shadow” I refer to can represent false assumptions, belief in rumour, ignorant and crooked reasoning, allowing you mind to be captured by a cult (in the martial art world or outside) with their distorted thinking patterns. I’m going over into Buddhist thought here. I make no apologies for this (I am, after all, first and foremost, a Buddhist!). I regularly note in class I never try to influence anyone in their religious beliefs. Attempting to convert my students to Buddhism is not my way nor is it the Buddhist way! What I do, unashamedly, is insist on my students being decent human beings, being rational and not being captured by ignorance or “magical mystery tour” cult–like ratbag thinking! The reason that I refer this concept to Buddhist explanatory concepts is that Buddhist thought, to date, offers a better explanation than the Western scientific, psychological rubric (to which I am no stranger as a psychologist!) for what I’m saying. Also, heck – we are a Buddhist martial art so you’d expect a bit of a connection!

So, we must catch sight of our own shadow! I don’t mean the physical shadow here. I mean the shadow we project to ourself, to the gwoon, as the “ideal self”. If that shadow isn’t the reality then, we have a problem! This is the nature of a shadow. It reflects reality but can be distorted. It obscures clear seeing. We must strike the shadow of ego, and of the arrogance of falsely assumed “knowledge”. We are in the shadow if we think we’re more talented in the art than we are (this judgment is a judgment for the sifu to make- not for us!). We are in the shadow as soon as we treat the disciples, seniors or sifu as equals – this is disrespectful to them and to the art. They are seniors, disciples or sifu because they earnt that status! None of my seniors or disciples woke up one morning and thought: “Oh good, it’s a nice sunny day, today I’ll be a senior (or disciple)!” They earnt their position over many years! I didn’t use the term “sifu” to refer to myself - ever. I don’t introduce myself by the term. I don’t sign myself by that term. Others (it was the Chinese community and my sifu) gave it to me – when I’d earnt it! We are in the shadow if we blame anyone, outside ourself, for our lack of progress or negative perceptions. We are in the shadow if we argue or disagree with gwoon brothers and sisters. We are in the shadow if we arrogantly tell our seniors how to behave, how to train – even how to live and think! In short, we’re in the shadow if we’re not observing Mo Duk. We’re in the shadow, in Western colloquial terms, if we’re kidding ourself. The Western colloquial advice: “Get over yourself” is remarkably apt in this context!

Only once we are aware of the shadow, only once we strike and dismiss it, can we train with the mind not the ego. If you can’t get to this stage, you’ll never master the art! You’ll never really master any art! And … you’ll never be all you can be. But, of course, you can allow the shadow to rule and always delude yourself! That is easier for some folk, it seems. Your choices make you what you are.

So, what’s your choice? Heed the kuen kuit. “See form, strike form, see shadow, strike shadow”!