The path of Kung Fu can be broken into the four stages of the western concept of craft-smith:
1) As an apprentice you are introduced to a fundamentally new way of thinking and viewing the world. Your body becomes a wider land to explore once you begin to grasp just how little you knew of the mysteries that lies in something so familiar and intimate to you. As the apprentice you go through stages of wonder and excitement to frustration and hopelessness. These phases are natural and it is essential to keep in mind that when you are in one phase, the next phase will eventually come. If you forget that while excited, the frustrated phase will come, it will hit you harder. And while frustrated, if you forget that there will be a tomorrow when you will feel excited, then you will fall into despair and fall off the path of Kung Fu.
As an apprentice, it is your duty to face the unknown and continuously push the boundaries of what you know to be true. This requires an open mind or else progress will be difficult. As the apprentice you must have trust in your teacher and have respect for his knowledge. As an apprentice you must have focus. Focus in this instance means placing your attention on one thing and not on two or three. An apprentice will be bombarded with information and it is essential to place focus on one thing at a time and have faith that all the questions will soon be answered. As an apprentice you have to be ok with not knowing all the answers. If you are not ok, continue practicing to be ok, that is Kung Fu as well. The phase of apprenticeship is the fastest phase in one sense. There will be no other time in your journey where the rate of the quantity of satisfaction you receive in gaining understanding will be higher. But the answers will come fast because the questions will be shallow. “should my elbow be in or out? My hand facing up or down? Do I punch straight or in a circle” and etc etc. It is important to keep in mind that while you are learning a lot of things, the quality of what you are learning is not very high. If you do not keep this in mind, ego will grow and you will begin to have an unwelcome companion in your journey. Ego in Kung Fu may not seem like such an unwelcome companion at first. Believing your style or your teacher is the best feels good and makes you more excited to learn. But over time the ego will eventually become the barrier to moving on to the next phase of your journey. And if ego is present, there is no way of becoming a true master.
2) The adept is one who begins to see the whole picture. Their particular system or style of Kung Fu begins to make sense and the adept is able to see the strengths and weaknesses of the style. The questions begins to be deeper and fewer in between, since the answers takes longer in coming. Impatience is the adept’s biggest hurdle. The wonder that was a large driving force while as an apprentice is not there anymore. New reasons must be found or created to continue the rigorous training it requires to move to the next phase of the journey. This is the phase where the adept has to face the real reason for walking the path of Kung Fu. If it’s to attain physical power, the adept has more than the average human being. If it’s to look good and be impressive, the adept is able to do so to most others. So why continue except to upkeep what was already learned. At this phase the ego that was once a friend that helped goad the apprentice on, will begin to pull the adept back. The false veil of awesomeness that the apprentice had for his teacher will drop and reality will begin to kick in. It will be the easiest for the adept to begin questioning his teacher and lose faith and trust in him. The high pedestal that the teacher was placed in will crumble and the character flaws and traits that he teacher has will seem like betrayal to the adept. The ego will begin to whisper in the adept’s ears with complaints and misgivings. The adept will be tested and it will now be his kung Fu to overcome himself. There are sadly many teachers of Kung Fu who are just adepts who have fallen off the path of Kung Fu and have been taken over by their ego. These teachers unfortunately cause more harm than good. They help multiply and transfer the ego to others. A lot of ego and very little actual Kung Fu. It is better for the egotistical adept to look good than it is to be good. It will soon sadly start to seem for the fallen adept that looking good IS being good. Praise from others will replace Jing. Looking good will replace Gong. Especially in an age and culture like America where it is rude to test someone’s Kung Fu, it is easy for the fallen adept to pass off as a master to those who don’t know. And these “teachers” will have unlucky apprentices who acquire habits and behaviors and beliefs which will handicap them on their journey of Kung Fu.
3) A journeyman is one who is now on the path to perfecting the art of kung Fu. For the journeyman, Kung Fu has transformed from merely a method of exercise or attaining power, to a more philosophical and spiritual practice. The material realm is limited by the limitations of the mind and spirit. To go further than the level of an adept, One has to delve into the Kung Fu of the mind and spirit.
This may be the point where the journeyman will have to leave his teacher and set off to experience life outside of his specific style. Whether The journeyman decides to take the more yang approach and test his style against many others through boxing, or take the yin approach of joining another teacher of a different style will be up to him. There are advantages and disadvantages to either paths.
Sparring others would be the fastest and most direct method at attaining deeper understanding of Kung Fu. But it may also hinder internal growth if one becomes too passionate about winning. It also can make you lots of enemies.
In the yin path, only at the level of a journeyman will you be able to properly learn another style on top of your original. Only at this level are you aware enough of what your style is to make sure to keep the styles distinct. To use a visual example, think of learning Kung Fu as attainment of the four elements: earth, fire, wind, water. As a journeyman of a specific style, you attain all four of the specific style’s elements. Only after attainment are you aware off the elements. When learning another style you begin to learn the elements of that style as well. But if you begin mixing styles too early, the sum will be less than the parts. Wind and water makes spray, water and earth makes mud, earth and fire makes ash. Only as journeyman who knows the different and specific distinctions of their style will be able to keep from mixing his style with that of others while learning. Also another difficulty with learning a new style is that you will basically begin learning anew from day one. This will require a continuous check of the ego, your adept phase will be doubly harder as this is the peak of the ego in your path to Kung Fu.
There is a third option available to the journeyman. He may also remain by his teacher’s side and support him in instructing junior students. The basic goal of the journeyman is to step outside of his style and the usual training he has been receiving up to this point. Teaching others at this point may satisfy this goal by having to deal with other minds and how to transfer concepts that are very difficult to understand. This external influence may be a good replacement to the first two mentioned.
4) The concept if a master is a difficult one to define as well as to achieve. A master can be something relative, the teacher of the student is a master. But this does not sufficiently distinguish adepts or journeymen from a true master. A master can also be considered as the best of his style, again this is another relative concept. A master at one style may just be at the level of a journeyman as compared to a master of another style, if tested. Psychologically, the idea of a master may become the ultimate ego trap of the adept or the journeyman. And it can become a confusing question in the mind of the Kung Fu practitioner, “am I a master? I shouldn’t think I am because then I’d sound like I’m bragging.” Some may even say that a true master shouldn’t think of themselves as masters or wonder if they are. That may be as close to the truth as possible. The journey of Kung Fu never ends. Just because you may be farther ahead on the road does not mean that you own the road. There is no such thing as a true master. There is no such thing as the top. A wise kung fu artist will recognize this. Every peak is the base of the next peak or shows you in the distance another higher peak. The journey never ends.