(reproduced from http://shaolin.org/answers/sp-issues/practicing-performance.html)
One can learn a lot about kungfu by reading good kungfu books
I have recently started to learn kung fu, but I feel sometimes that I am not learning as much as I could. But I have nothing to compare with.
— Edward, UK
Answer by Grandmaster Wong Kiew Kit
Some people may think it is a matter of semantics, but actually the difference in the choice of words here is crucial. I clearly remember that in my early days with Sifu Ho Fatt Nam, my sifu told me, “One does not learn kungfu, he practises kungfu.”
That was good advice from a great master. When you learn kungfu, you add techniques, or worse still you add theoretical information. When you practise kungfu, you go over and over again what you already know, without adding something new.
Most people want to learn kungfu; they would be bored practising kungfu. When you learn kungfu, even if you keep on learning for many years, you remain a learner, or at best a scholar. When you practise kungfu, if you keep on practising for many years, you may become a master.
Another crucial difference is that when you learn kungfu, your emphasis is on information, whereas when you practise kungfu, your emphasis is on performance. When your emphasis is on information, you may know a lot about kungfu, such as various techniques to develop internal force and to defend yourself, but still you have no internal force and cannot defend yourself.
Perhaps for this reason, some people cynically say that “those who cannot, teach; those who can, do.” But this cynical statement does not apply to genuine kungfu, because the emphasis is on performance. A good kungfu exponent is one who is healthy and can efficiently defend himself, not one who knows a lot about kungfu information.
This, of course, does not necessarily mean that information is useless in kungfu. Information is very useful, but it should be geared towards practical results.
There are two sets of criteria you can compare your training with. One, you can compare with what kungfu is reputed to produce, such as good health and combat efficiency. Has your training made you healthy and combat efficient?
Of course, you must be fair. You cannot expect to have good results after just a few months of training. But if you have been practising for a few years, and yet you are still sickly and defenceless, you would have wasted your time even though you might have accumulated a lot of kungfu knowledge.
Two, you can compare with the purposes for which you want to practise kungfu. For example, if your purposes are to learn some graceful kungfu movements to loosen your limbs and joints, as well as to demonstrate to friends, you would have achieved your purposes.