This one is rather simple to ferret out where it comes from – pretty much any time that the words “the Master said” are used, it’s associated with Confucius.
China would go through a major period in their history when people would do tests based on the different philosophies that made their way to prominence over a few hundred year window; These tests would be used to help determine a persons place in the government.
If people failed these tests, they didn’t get their ‘dream job’, but there would also be familial honour in the equation – a son to a high ranking official who couldn’t live up to the results of his father or ancestors was, well, a failure. This is not to say that the tests were completely fair, nor that there wasn’t any sort of judicial interference, but the concept was intended to put the best people into the best positions.
This KFEB entry is the logical foundation, I believe, to the “Celestial Bureaucracy” of China, not only at the time, but for the hundreds of years that followed. Essentially, it is saying that you can learn a lot, but if you don’t think about it or through it, then it’s a waste of time… This was the easy thing for me to figure out when I was young; the more difficult side of the entry was the latter portion, and I only figured that out as I got older.
If you are a critical thinker, that’s all well and good – but if you think critically, but don’t learn from it or otherwise further your learning, all you’re doing is, again, wasting time. That sounds like the most intuitive interpretation… but as I got older, I realized that one can have thoughts without the foundation of learning, and one can learn without being able to think critically.
A thought without learning is an opinion, and learning without thought is just recitation.
A thought without learning is an opinion – we’re all entitled to them, but if you don’t learn more about the situation, then you’re opinion may be wrong. We’re entitled to opinions, we have the RIGHT to an opinion, but this doesn’t mean that our opinion is right…
And it can be something as simple as an opinion, either without foundation or valid basis, that can cost lives. We can see this in so many of the current social debates, which will not be brought up here – but when the power of an opinion can challenge the power of evidence, this is dangerous and perilous.
Learning without thought is just recitation – if all you do is learn and repeat what you have learned without being able to think critically or otherwise use your learning in a positive way, it is simply by rote… and is wasted time. This applies to Kata – you can learn the movements and repeat the timing, express the kiais, but if it is just performance, then the training is (arguably) lost effort…
Food for thought.