There is a story told about Gichin Funikoshi, the founder of Shotokan Karate, in the later years of his life.
He was at a senior karate students practice and was practising an outside forearm block over and over.
This is a movement that is often taught within the first couple of months to anyone joining a karate club. The movement is as basic as you can get.
Now, keep in mind that this is the man who introduced Shotokan Karate to Japan and the rest of the world. He was the person who changed the name from “Chinese Hands” to “Empty Hands” thereby coining the name, “Karate”.
He already had been practising martial arts for over 70 years.
High-ranking students watching him wondered why, at his advanced level, he was practising such a basic movement that many thought they had already mastered.
After doing this a few times, he announced that he thinks he finally understood this technique.
The point he was trying to make is that after years of travel in his training, he was back where he started.
How many times have you gone to a clinic with some renown teacher thinking you will be exposed to the latest and greatest techniques or thoughts? Yet you leave realizing what they taught was something you may have been practising for many years.
I have heard of students complaining of this yet, from the masters’ viewpoint, they may see the student still does not understand the most basic movements and need to revisit them in order to help them improve.
As a person moves up the ranks, they are more and more brought back to the basic training and movements which all other movements are based on. If the student is weak in any of these areas it will show up in the more flashy techniques.
I am still working on the first punch I was taught and feel I am far from understanding the mechanics and effectiveness of this movement. That movement alone shall occupy my training for many more years.
So when you hear of advanced training or clubs offering secret techniques, remember the masters. They continue to practise the basics for very good reason.
When you hear of new-age practitioners tell about their new style they have discovered or created, be cautious. Often it is just a marketing tool to attract more students or egos running rampant.
When you have the chance to train with any of the masters in your chosen art, be like a sponge and soak everything up. Often this is how you do achieve a breakthrough that allows further advancement.
D.J. Suzuki, one of the first Zen masters to come to North America, named it very well. He called it “Beginners Mind” and wrote a wonderful book on this subject. That approach will always serve you well. Both in the martial arts as well as in life.