Last week I went to see a movie, mostly because I was bored and didn't want to go home. And what did I go to see, but The Forbidden Kingdom! Probably not in line for movie of the year, it was a good way to (shame on me) waste some time. On the other hand, I guess it wasn't completely wasted since I can make a blog post on it, right?
Basically it's a "kung fu" flick with a white kid who gets transported back in time, and to China, with a mission to return some magical staff to the Monkey King (played by Jet Li... lol.) The big headline about the movie was that it was a collaboration between Jackie Chan and Jet Li.
But anyway, both characters sort of play martial arts masters, teaching the white kid some kung fu. And that's what is really interesting. (Interesting to me anyway, probably not to some kung fu enthusiasts.)
First of all, did you know that the meaning of "kung fu" doesn't mean fighting or martial arts? The character in the movie didn't--he just wanted to learn kicks and punches and that sort of thing. But like in the Karate Kid, kicks and punches aren't the first thing the master teaches the student. If you remember that film, you probably remember the master teaching the student "wax on, wax off" to begin with, and the reason is that the student first needs to develop the strenghth or the tools to be able to properly practice the martial art. Before he can start punching, kicking, or even blocking, he needs to develop strength, balance, flexibility, and endurance.
In The Forbidden Kingdom, the kung fu master tells the student the meaning of "kung fu." Do you know what kung fu is? It is effort exerted over time in order to acquire skill. Any skill. And he went on to describe how kung fu could apply to art, or music, or any other kind of skill.
And it struck me as a brilliant concept. I know what has happened to me as I began to study Islam, and it might have happened to other people as well. It's all too easy for me, or maybe anyone, to learn a little Qur'an, learn a couple ahadith, and pretend to be a faqih (jurist.) But it's kind of like a beginner trying to punch and kick when he doesn't even know how to stand properly, or even breathe properly.
At any rate, I've been thinking a lot about how important it is to have a good teacher. Tomorrow inshaaAllah I am hoping to pick up a book from the Islamic Bookstore about the four imams. It's called, The Four Imams. I remember hearing a story about Abu Hanifah, I think, and that he showed a lot of respect for his teacher by helping him around the house and being a kind of servant to him. I'm not sure of the details but I hope to find out soon inshaaAllah. At any rate, it's a nice story that is good to think about when we want to approach Islamic knowledge.
Because in actuality the knowledge is a gift from Allah--imagine that it is like pure water. But what happens if you put pure water in a dirty container? It becomes dirty water. So we need to work on ourselves constantly while we acquire knowledge--constantly purifying ourselves. And even if we don't get the knowledge we at least can be purified inshaaAllah.
Another analogy is from the movie I mentioned. While the boy is asking his teacher to teach him complex stances and moves and forms, showing off his knowledge of these things, the teacher is filling up his cup. And as the hot drink reaches the brim, the teacher keeps pouring, as the student begs him to stop pouring because the cup is full! And the teacher simply tells him, "I know," and asks him how he expects to fit any more drink in a cup that is already full. He then tells the student to empty his cup. Of course the analogy is that the student's cup was full of what he thought he already knew, when in fact without the basics, all his knowledge was useless, so he needed to start with an empty cup--humble, and ready to learn.
InshaaAllah we can all be humble before our teachers, and behave with such manners and etiquette, with such sincere love and longing for Allah, that our teachers are happy to fill us with their knowledge, instead of pouring into a full cup of dirty water.