Kungfu Attitude

I IMG_3555missed my usual blogging goal this last couple weeks because I was very excited to have my first ever visitor from home. I was trying to be a good host and put myself in the frame of mind of a newcomer, thinking back to when I first came to China and when I first came to my master’s school. I realized how much my own attitude has changed in the years since my arrival, how it has become a kungfu attitude.

When I first arrived in China, there were a number of things I had accepted as facts about myself. I knew my stomach had problems: I knew I would get seasick before my friends or a stomach ache if I got nervous. I knew that I got colds a few times a year. I knew that I got angry about the things I encountered in China pretty often. These and other observations were a minor appendage to my self-identity. I ascribed them to genetics, or just “that’s how I am.”

Somewhere along the line in the years since my thinking has changed. Part of it is the belief that it’s not just a matter of, “that’s how I am,” but that these are weaknesses that I can improve if I set out to do so. It’s a combination of accepting responsibility and raising awareness. I know that if I am wise about my dress, diet, and exercise, I need not get sick and my stomach is happy. I know that through meditation and attention, I can avoid the anger I used to feel. These things are in my control if I take control of them.

I am reminded of this time when I was a young teenager. I was walking out of a science museum in North Carolina with my Aunt, and I obliviously let the door slam in her face behind me. She yelled at me — gave me a really hard time for being rude and inconsiderate. I thought at the time, “How can you possibly expect me to keep track of who is behind me when I go through a door? That’s like trying to see the back of my own head!” But her admonishment helped me to realize that a higher level of responsibility and care were both possible and expected. That is a kind of kungfu attitude.

The kungfu attitude is summed up, to me, in a quote I heard from another student here at the school. “Chinese medicine does not ask why you are sick, it asks why you aren’t well.” A person has the potential to be perfectly happy and healthy, and any obstacle keeping us from that well-being is able to be improved upon by long-term effort. When I grasp this completely, I believe I will really understand kungfu.


Sausages are like Laws

SL373197Last weekend I had intended to post a new blog, but it didn’t happen. Why? Sausages, that’s why.

How many of you really LOVE a good hotdog? Before I came to China, hotdogs were very low on my list of favorite foods. At a cookout, I would pick a hamburger over a hotdog 7 times out of 10, perhaps. But everything changes when we are separated from the loving embrace of our mother culture. When I was home a few months ago, and had opportunity to eat whatever western food I wanted, there was no single mouthful of food that so filled me with joy as a hotdog, on a bun, with ketchup, mustard, and relish.

So I decided China needed hotdogs. Maybe part of what makes hotdogs so enticing to me is the fact that there are hotdog imposters everywhere here. These things, called huotui (fire legs) look exactly like hotdogs should look but lack any of the flavor of their ballpark cousins. They are lengths of flavorless processed ham — even spam is better. But one sees them and is duped, thinking, “I could really go for a hotdog right now.”

So I set out to make some hotdogs. First, I looked at recipes online. They all looked simple enough. I needed sausage casings, meat, certain spices — “I can do this,” I thought to myself. So I poked around town, asked the cook at the school questions, and after a few weeks of dead ends, false starts, and re-thinkings, I eventually believed I had a workable plan. Continue reading “Sausages are like Laws”

Another Turn Around the Circle

SL373145I have returned to Wudang, China, once more. I am in the agony of what I have previously dubbed “Week One Syndrome,” though it has been a light week and really not as excruciating as I was afraid it would be.

I had a wonderful time at home, though it was by far my most stressful trip home for work and family reasons I won’t get into right now. While I was home this time, I let myself relax a bit on my kungfu training and focused more on my internal training, trying to keep deep breathing and keep my emotions steady in the face of the above mentioned stress. And — and I hope you can understand what I mean — I tried to consciously unclench the fist of self-discipline I had going on and hold my emotions and will in a gentler grip.

I felt this was immensely constructive, and it got me thinking about another aspect of self cultivation. I think that, inherent in the ability to push yourself to be better is at least a grain of self-criticism. You have to be able to look at yourself and find your own weaknesses, find the things about yourself that are not satisfying to you. I spend a fair amount of time in this mode during my training, always looking for ways to improve. On the other hand, the best way to exercise the powers developed in training, and to find the satisfaction that is the goal of the training, is to accept yourself and, indeed, enjoy the fruits of your hard work.

The trouble is that we often get stuck in one or the other. Too much self-criticism makes us unhappy and stressed, too much self-acceptance makes us complacent and stagnant. This puts me in mind of something my kungfu uncle Zhou Xuan Yun said during his talk in DC in January. I paraphrase, but he said that life is what happens when Yin and Yang interact. So if self-criticism and self-acceptance are pure concepts defining the extremes of yourself, growth and life are only possible when moving naturally between the two, holding one but easily and regularly reaching for the other.

The challenge is to find real balance between the two in our subjective worlds. Our only guide is past experience, and if you have never pushed yourself hard enough or accepted yourself completely enough, moving toward balance feels so unnatural that you think you are actually losing balance. Disciplined effort seems too hard, and you think you just can’t do it. Loving yourself feels too alien, and you think it’s not real. Real hard work is required to understand the two extremes enough to accurately sense where the healthy balance really is.

I think this is a good thing to meditate on in times of transition like I am facing now. The only constant is change, after all.