“The height of cultivation runs to simplicity. Halfway cultivation runs to ornamentation” — Bruce Lee.
As different as they have been, in all the things I have practiced I have noticed one constant. There is always the desire, early on — and perhaps for a long time to come — to be as showy and ornate as possible.
In writing, the temptation is always to use obscure words when common ones will do. Sometimes, this is because the writer wants to align himself to some intellectual movement. He adopts the language of Hegel, Marx, Existentialism, some art movement, or some occult society, etc.
He is happy to speak in a way that is secondhand and inauthentic since the mere words suggest he is original and profound — at least to him, though perhaps not to so many others. At other times, he wants to show his intelligence through his choice of words, rather than the argument made. It is essentially sleight of hand.
In painting and martial arts, too, he wants to show off with complicated-looking techniques when simple ones would work better.
Certainly, I myself have done this many, many times.
It is part of the process, of course. But not merely part of learning the techniques or the style, but of going through, it and perhaps beyond it, to unveil something authentic and unique — that thing which is always an expression of one’s real, inner self as it finds its way through the underlying laws of the art or skill being practiced.
Why all the showing off? In essence, it is because of inexperience and fear. By throwing in fancy techniques we hope we will cover up or excuse the defeat we fear will occur if people see — and criticize — our work. We feel that, this way, we can show that we have mastered something, even if it is ultimately useless.
Simplicity means risk.
It means that, rather than merely borrowing and embellishing, we ask what the work is for and then try to express that.
To speak plainly risks being denounced or ridiculed. To practice simply a martial art, or any other art, risks being seen as a beginner. To live simply is to risk being seen as uncool.
But simplicity remains, in a certain sense, the aim of all arts or all “Ways.” Without it, we may not be able to do or say anything original or important. How to make things simpler, and how to do things more simply has to be considered in any practice.