The Fruit of Three Years

As of September this year, I have been training intensively in Wudang for three years. Full time training is such a luxury in one sense and such a burden in another. The opportunity to devote myself entirely to getting stronger mentally, physically, and spiritually is very rare and precious. However, everyday training quickly becomes like anything else — commonplace. It is easy to forget how lucky I am to be here doing what I am doing, and think only about the things I have given up in my devotion to this lifestyle. There are times when it seems I have given three years of my life, lost time with my family, spent all my money, and put normal growing up on hold for so long, all in exchange for just one thing to which it is much harder to assign value.

This past week has been a blessing in that respect. My master and many of my classmates went to Huangshan to the Fifth International Traditional Wushu Competition. I could not afford to go, so I had a week of much lighter training here at the school. It was a wonderful break after the past month plus, which has been filled with other performances and competitions. These are stressful because if there is a value in studying traditional martial arts, gold medals and looking good on a stage are not it. But in addition to a rest, my quiet week has reminded me of the treasures training has brought me.

For one thing, though the progress has been excruciating, I am indeed physically stronger than I was. And I have learned the value and the nature of hard work. For many years of my martial training, I watched those better than me with envy and despair. They made things look so easy. But three years of grinding repetition has made some things easy for me now. And I understand what it will take to reach the goals still before me; more work, sweat, grinding repetition, and above all, time.

Also, for much of the three years, Master has been pushing us to take more responsibility for our health. For years this frustrated me. It seemed like common sense to me that if I was exposed to a strain of cold virus to which my body had not developed immunity, I would get sick. Nothing I could do — just science, cause, and effect. Basic microbiology. How could I take responsibility for something like that? But this week I got a cold, and I knew even before I  showed any symptom that I had slipped up and with my behavior undermined my own immune system. And I realized that for a long time now I have been using sensitivity I have learned here to monitor my body and do what I needed to do to stay strong and not get sick. And it had been a long, long time since the last time I was.

These are just what I’ve been thinking about this week, hard work and responsibility. I am sure there are other things I have also learned. S0, my three years in Wudang have not been entirely fruitless 🙂



Why Martial Arts?

I’ve had the chance to try a few different kinds of exercise and methods for improving the body and mind. Soccer, PE classes, lacrosse, yoga, running, swimming, and other pursuits. My experience here in Wudang has helped me understand how vitally important maintaining your body is (I’ve come to think of it as rather like brushing your teeth- you feel better if you do it, and if you don’t, you won’t have much to work with a few years down the road). But so much of my training here is only tangentially martial in nature. So sometimes I wonder, “Why martial arts?” Couldn’t I be just as happy studying yoga or some other art that would keep my mind and body connected without the occasional traumatic punch to the face? Why do I instinctively feel that there is something special about martial arts?

I have quite a few answers for myself, but recently I have been thinking about a new way in which the “martial” bit of martial arts is crucial. What it does is it teaches, in very clear, black and white terms, the lessons of personal responsibility and acceptance. Under the supervision of an attentive teacher or master, the dynamics of a fight or sparring match (and the preparation for such)  strip away excuses and provide clear consequences. Getting hit stinks. You quickly learn to want to avoid that at all cost. But if you got hit, it is because you let your opponent hit you. Hitting you is your opponent’s job. There is no, “I wasn’t ready,” no,” That’s not fair,” no, “Can we do that over?” At the same time, you can’t dwell on the pain of the last hit. You have to accept it instantly and move on, or experience it again, and worse.

Under a good teacher or master, this acceptance of pain and responsibility spreads from the fighting scenario into daily training, and from there into daily life. If you got hit, you need to prepare better, train harder. If you didn’t train hard enough, it’s because you felt ill because you ate too much or didn’t sleep enough the night before. If you didn’t sleep enough, it’s because you procrastinated at work or school and had to stay up late to finish a project. You are %100 responsible for all of these things. At the same time, when once you mess up, you have to accept it and use it to get ready for next time, because next time is coming. There are other ways to learn these lessons, but the martial arts are teaching them to me in clear, non-negotiable terms.

Free perfect gift to give to our children

In the book, The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, John Maxwell writes;

“We should work on changing ourselves before trying to improve others.”

Working to improve ourselves is a full time job.  In fact so much so that my mentor and instructor, Mr. Tom Callos has many times said to me and others, that whatever it is that you need to work on for yourself, you should bring your students along and have them work along with you.

Every time that I research or write about a subject, I find myself looking at myself and finding ways for me to improve in those areas.  Whether we are a parent, instructor or a 7 year old with a younger sibling, all of us have a responsibility to ourselves and to those looking up to us.  That responsibility is not just to tell them what to do, but to demonstrate in our daily lives how to do it.

Yes we are going to fail from time to time, but that is a lesson for them too.  When I fail what shall I do?  Fall down 7 get up 8.   The gift that all of us can give our children, students and others in our sphere of influence, is being a good example.