There is a difference between knowledge and understanding, and this is an important distinction to make with regard to training. Knowledge is made up of facts. It is face-value, literal, what-you-see-is-what-you-get information. Knowledge can be copied and repeated, and a person with tons of knowledge is often mistaken for someone with understanding of the subject matter. On the other hand, understanding is the ability to make deep connections between pieces of knowledge, and between knowledge and events. It is the awareness of the context and limitations of a piece of knowledge, and the ability to use this context to make new connections and deductions from the facts. Knowledge is required for understanding, but knowledge alone does not equate to understanding. Understanding cannot be communicated between people, only knowledge can be transmitted. Then it is up to the individual to transform that knowledge into their own understanding.
In karate, an instructor may have an amazing understanding of the material, but he/she is only able to provide knowledge to the students during a lesson. The responsibility to develop an understanding of the lesson falls on the student. Understanding must be cultivated from the instructor’s information in the same way a vegetable garden is cultivated from seeds. This requires self-study and a conscious effort by the student to focus on the given information. Through persistence inside and outside the dojo, knowledge slowly grows into understanding. Our instructors are very aware of the need for individual study, and new information is never given until the old information has borne fruit – to give more information would simply distract from earlier lessons.
So let us not be collectors of information, or consumers of knowledge. Without conscious effort to understand for ourselves, these activities are shallow and insignificant. Let us closely examine the lessons we learn and put in the extra effort required to gain something truly meaningful. A garden that produces well requires constant attention – weeding, watering, adding nutrients, etc. A person who collects seeds and never plants them cannot be called a gardener; likewise, a person who attends a karate lesson but doesn’t scrutinize their own training cannot be called a karate-ka.
Submitted by: Matt Baran, Sandan