The first thing people often think of is the area of knowledge, particularly in the area of kung fu. It is true that there is always more knowledge that can be obtained, but a vast amount of the knowledge you need is shared early on in your training careers. The instructors at Silent River are free and giving of this knowledge. They share concepts with white belts that they may have little hope of truly understanding but the seeds are planted for the future. If you listen in class and ask questions, you cannot help but grow in the area of knowledge.
The area where a black belt shines is in the application of this knowledge. They take the information that they have received and they translate it into how they move their bodies. We can all sit there and recite how to do some of the more basic techniques but can we consistently perform that technique over and over no matter the situation. The example used last night was the side heel kick. This kick is one of the most basic building blocks of our art. We all know how a bladed foot should look. We all know what we should look like in this kick and how our body is to be aligned. We all know that the chamber is critical. By the time you reach black belt, the expectation is that this kick will be thrown properly every single time.
Another area of this applied knowledge is in our applications. As we are learning each technique, we will have a few different intents as we move through the sequence. A black belt's intent is to always be in the present moment and is constantly shifting as the moments unfold. The difference is two or three intents versus a thousand intents in one technique. This can only come through repetition, repetition, repetition..... As this is developing, it is common to see that the intents are clearly broken up. Often the intent to finish the technique is so strong that the intent to block the very first attack is missed or not executed well. This first block is vital because if you don't survive the attack, the rest of the technique is unnecessary.
The final area where this is evident is in the harmonies. A black belt has the internal and external harmonies working together and not fighting each other. There is an unbroken relationship within the harmonies that allows chi to work for you. As we grow in this area, we use our growing eye for detail to analyze how movement feels and then look for the relationship (harmony) that is out of balance. A black belt has the eye for detail to be able to self correct. As we walk our journey towards black belt, this sensitivity is to grow but can only do so if we are consciously focusing on it.
There is a huge difference between a white belt and a black belt. This gap is able to be overcome through consistent and intentional practice. The closer you get to stepping over the line of having earned a black belt, improvements will feel incrementally smaller and smaller but this is where the consistent and intentional practice is even more important. Karen Bergstreiser
I received some advice from a supervisor that was familiar to me. He spoke of taking the attitude you have on duty, the image you want to show, the attitude you want to have in emergency services, and take it out into the rest of your life. He stated that you can't just stop when your shift ends, you need to live it, make it part of who you are everywhere you go. It won't work if you only do this some of the time, it has to be consistent, it has to be ALL the time. This mindset sounds akin to one we embrace in kung fu. I was delighted to see that this idea is present in other groups and occupations.
The first time I heard about the concept of "out of the kwoon and into the world" was at the 2015 Alabama Martial Arts Build-Vention. Master Tom Callos made clear the importance of taking what you learn on the mats, in terms of mindset and awareness, and taking it out into your community. You learn patience, humility and empathy when you train. Why not take these principles and make it part of who you are as a person? If you don't, you need to analyze why you are training in the first place. Whether it is to improve yourself for the benefit of those around you as well, or simply for narcissistic reasons. Try your best, stay humble, recognize when you can give a hand.
This whole idea made a significant impact on my approach to training and to life in general, early on in my martial arts journey. It is something I have gratitude for and reflect on every day.
Time is a commodity, probably the only pure commodity we have. There are no exchange rates, no returns or refunds, no interest. Once it is used you cannot get it back, all transactions are final.
I have reflected this week on how I utilize my time. It could be better, but I am not entirely wasteful. I have this habit of taking on so much at once that it could be perceived that I don't have enough time, but when I truly apply myself I find I have more than I realized. Again, to use the currency analogy, you would be surprised where you can find lost money. Under the couch, in drawers, in a motorcycle jacket you haven't touched in months. Same idea with time, let's be honest, how much idle time do we spend on our phones? My guess would be more than you think. How much time do you think is wasted when we doddle and are not mindful of what we are doing? Again, could be more than we think.
It is about deciding what is worth doing, what will I benefit from, what will make me a better person, what will help me help those around me. My reflection this week has concluded that I was not using my time to it's fullest. I am not as mindful as I could be in what I am doing, it takes longer than it should to complete some tasks.
On the flip side, I have made some incredible progress, especially these last few months, to squeeze in what I can. Yesterday is a great example, between kung fu training, taking care of my family, yard work and courses for my job, I accomplished a great amount in little time. It is possible! I maintained the right mindset. I just kept going, I did not let my momentum slow, but I also savored the moments as they passed. Weird, trying to get things done while stopping to smell the roses, sounds contradictory doesn't it? But somehow it worked, I will continue reflecting to find out how.
I would guess that most of us could benefit from having a look and recognizing habits that don't constitute to an efficient use of time. The more efficient you are, the more you accomplish, the more successful you are and the better you feel.
Over the multitude of decades, we have transitioned into an age of instant gratification. The old adages of “good things come to those who wait” or “fine wine isn’t made in a day” and countless others have seemed to have been forgotten. This I think, is a side effect of our enhanced connectivity to each other by way of our advancing technologies.
Children today will never experience the buildup of anticipation for Saturday morning cartoons like in the sixties and seventies as this has been replaced by the instant access of cartoons twenty four hours a day via a multitude of cartoon networks on TV or the internet. Gone are the days you wrote a letter to a friend or a distant family member and waited patiently for weeks (sometimes months) for a reply. No longer do we need to wait for the appropriate season to get our favourite fruit or vegetables nor do we have to trek to the store with our film and wait a week or so to have it processed into pictures. With Amazon Prime, I can have almost anything I desire at my door within a day or two. I can only reference the past forty years or so, but if you had this conversation with someone in their seventies or eighties, they could give even more examples. This exciting time of globalization has definitely enhanced our lives but we as a society have, to a degree, lost that ability to invest in the long term.
Recently, as part of one of my personal requirements, I have been learning to run. I have never been a runner, nor do I overly enjoy it, however I do understand its benefits and do appreciate the achievements associated with it. I am working towards a 10K run and my training hasn’t been going too bad, however I found myself rushing it. I am lacking patience. Although I started training only a few weeks ago, I found that I wasn’t sticking to my program, I kept pushing it to go further and faster. Now this isn’t necessarily a bad thing to a degree, but I have found this has actually slowed my progress down. Too much, too soon creates injuries and takes away from the “enjoyment”. Patience is a virtue, and although I can’t run 10K today or tomorrow, with slow and steady progress, I will, someday.
Like we have often heard, you can only climb a mountain one step at a time and I know I need to invest time and energy over the long term for long term goals. I will run 10k, I will savour the wait and the anticipation, however in other areas, I will enjoy instant gratification, and I will continue to get two ice cubes in my coffee because I want to drink it now.
I have a memory from elementary school that is as vivid now as the day it happened. I was a kid that befriended anyone, didn’t belong to any one “click” but wandered as I pleased and I feel like I was accepted by most in this role. I remember one day at recess I was with a few friends, one of which I considered my best friend. I don’t remember the circumstances but I do remember the girls I was with started picking on another girl, calling her names, pushing her to the ground. I was young, I didn’t know what to do but I knew instinctively that it was wrong. But I didn’t do anything about it. I stood back and watched it happen with wide eyes and later when this girl reported what happened I was named as one of the girls that was bullying her. I remember being called into the office, the incident went on my report, my parents were contacted and I felt so ashamed but I also felt it was unjustified, it was not me! I didn’t do it!
This was before Kung Fu but I still had the understanding that it was wrong. I just didn’t know what to do and even if I had I didn’t have the confidence to stand up to my best friend and risk the fallout.
When I see all the kids lined up in front of me I can remember what it was like at that age. Nothing was more important than acceptance from my peers. When I was older I remember being on the other side of the fence but it never bothered me. It just didn’t bother me if someone didn’t like me and I always knew that they’d come around or just quit. I had good friends and I felt secure in who I was. No one else could tell me who I was.
What do we teach? Too many just see the kicks and the stances and the pushups and the punches. They are only tools. The physical skills that we teach and develop are only tools to teach real Kung Fu, real self defence. In our lessons we encourage personal excellence, and make sure we acknowledge the big and little milestones alike. The words we use will never break a child or student down. We ensure we build up confidence, the real kind of confidence that comes from competence. Not the phony kind that stems from low self esteem. We teach the kids to love themselves, and if they can’t in the moment then we will for them. We temper this with a drive to always improve because no one is perfect. We’ll be excited for them at the things they achieve, especially if they’re too shy to be excited for themselves. We will accept them for who they are in each moment.
Do we teach kids how to handle conflicts and bullys? Every day. You may not hear the term or even see the dots in any given class. Given time these kids will not only have the skills to deal with conflict, but they will also have the conviction to do what is right but hard, the passion to excel at what they love, the confidence to admit and accept their faults, and the determination to never quit trying to improve.
I know now that I was rightly named and I acted no better than the girls directly involved. It felt horrible in my heart but I did not have the skills to handle the situation. As a result I feel shame when I think about it. If a child has a similar memory when they’re an adult, I want them to be able to think about it with pride instead of shame. This is what we do in Kung Fu.
We all have our sense of normal. This is what makes us unique. No two people are exactly alike. Some are proficient at one thing while other people are proficient at others. Some people seem fortunate enough to be naturally adept in anything they try. Why is there this perception? It seems true, does it not? The truth is, these people are just the same as anyone else. There are things they excel at and things they suck at.
The real difference is, they engage in everything they do. When it comes to what they are not as naturally good at, they engage just a little more. They accept the fact that they are lacking, but do not settle. They ask questions, they put in the effort to truly figure out what they need to do. When they come across adversity, they do not give up, wipe their hands of it and move on to the next thing. They try and fail, try and fail. They have the confidence to keep going until they have the competence to do it well. These people are masters of their own life. They are in control of everything that happens in their lives.
Even if they are not in control in the literal sense, they make changes and adapt to minimize the circumstances that are taking the control away from them. This does not mean to control everyone's life around them, just their own. If the affect of maintaining control over their own life affects those around them, that is simply an after effect. It is usually and preferably a positive effect that encourages us all to remain calm and in control. Masters of life are ordinary, just like you and me.
I too one day hope to be in control of everything possible in my life, it is my life after all. If I am not in control of it, how can I possibly help others when they are struggling to get control of theirs?
We set goals, we make plans and we allow for adjustments along the way. Then life happens! And suddenly we are in a state of chaos. Even with adjustments and the ability to compensate we can be easily thrown off track and derailed. Being proactive and having a solid yet flexible plan is a great start. However, even if you know that something is coming and are able to prepare, the reality while in the moment can be much different.
Chaos is a natural cycle of life. And if you were to think of chaos as being contained within a circle then there would also be creativity, rest and action. Order and even greatness can come from chaos if we follow the intended natural progression below:
1. Chaos - When we are in a state of chaos we need to declutter, clean, simplify and say no to anything that is not necessary. Doing this will help create space and allow you to move out of chaos into the next step.
2. Creative - Space has now been created for ideas. Capture those ideas by writing them down, contemplate, filter and prioritize. Pick 1 or 2 to action later and then transition to the next step.
3. Rest - Take time for yourself, let the ideas percolate and allow synchronicities to happen. Allow gratitude rather than guilt to be present. This is a very important step and is needed to help rejuvenate the mind and body.
4. Action - You are now ready to action your ideas. This is where the magic happens!
If I look at patterns of my own life I can see where I sometimes get derailed and lose some of my motivation. I often go from chaos straight to rest, skipping the creative aspect which then keeps me stuck in rest because I now have nothing new to action and I lack motivation. Many people go from chaos to creative and then straight to action without stopping to rest causing them to burnout and often ending back at chaos.
I'm excited to apply these these principles and recognize where I am at and what needs to happen next. And when chaos reigns and plans get derailed I have a new tool to add to my tool box and help guide me and get me back on track. Namaste, Michele Ward
It's easy to assume the infamous thought of "That won't happen to me". Anything can throw a person off no matter how solid or how committed we think we are. If you begin to take the situation for granted and fail to uphold the discipline, next thing you know your standing there like a jerk on the side of your path wondering what just happened and a key component has dissipated. A few weeks turns into a few months, a few months turn into a year etc.
This has happened to me and I never thought it would, but it did, and now I need to do something about it. I recognized that a big part of my life took a back seat to priorities that came about and for some reason I was okay with that...at the time anyway. Now I'm not okay with it because my Kung Fu is a big part of my mental and physical well being that gives me that escape, to turn all the other stuff off and take that time for me. I'm not as efficient as I usually am and my patience and tolerance is challenged, as is my physical abilities. This effect has become obvious to myself and others close to me, it's time for a restoration and a quest for balance.
That being said I need to remind myself that it can't be all or nothing. It can't be some intricate plan laid out that spikes and drops and fails to coincide with whatever comes at me. As it's always mentioned sustainability is critical. All or nothing or hammer the drive solely on the plan doesn't work and is not sustainable especially with how my work schedules tend to work out. One day at a time and keep it simple stupid will be my plan for the year of the pig and restore a very important piece of me that has been neglected, but not forgotten.
I can't even really describe how good it felt being back on the mats and working towards the restoration of Kung Fu awesomeness. I woke up really happy and really surprised I'm not as stiff today as I thought I might be but there is no denying the gears of excellence are a bit rusty and I need a performance upgrade and a good solid review of my forms. This is a good thing.
It can very intimidating walking into the kwoon after a long absence but fortunately for me I was met with warm greetings and a lot of smiling faces, and that was really cool as it humbled me quite a bit to know I was missed and the influence my presence has on people. For that I am very grateful and wish you all a successful year. See you at the kwoon.
Week 49. After 49 weeks of coming up with something to say, I'm not sure there is much left. There is only so much profound knowledge one can come up with... notice I didn't say there is only so much profanity one can come up with... because that is different, and I have not yet found a limit there. Believe me I've tested it.
Forest Gump's mamma says "life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you're gona get".
An interesting and somewhat fatalistic approach, but there is a ring of truth to it. You can work hard, eat right, exercise and get smooshed by a bus. But Man! Your heart and lungs will be the talk of the morgue!
We are always talking about mastery. Which basically translates as work hard, do your best and don't settle. A good approach, but it is still just hedging your bets. There are always X factors that are beyond our sphere of influence. By working hard, doing your best, and not settling you are laying the foundation for success. This definitely increases the chances for success. But it can't over ride the X factors.
It can, however, help us deal with those X factors when they do come up. Sometimes stuff happens. It's what we do about it that can be as defining as what we do to prevent it. I have witnessed a sense of entitlement, for lack of a better word. People who "do everything right" and still have a heart attack. Of course they are shocked from it happening, but in many cases they go to the "not fair" well. Hate to break the bubble but life isn't fair. Doing everything right doesn't guarantee us anything and life doesn't owe us anything.
That is the down side of reality, we have to be grown ups. Mastery helps us to cope I believe. Because there has to be a degree of self realization. To paraphrase - Correction is essential to power and mastery. You must be able to correct without invalidating one's self. -
Self realization, self correction, self accountability. These things are essential for success. These are the things that truly empower a person to practice mastery. If it ain't broke, don't fix it? Fine, but how do you find out if it's broke or not? Self realization. How do you maintain it? Self correction. How do you deal with it in the end? Self accountability. Not the most fun things, but they make a difference.
Lately I have had my patience challenged severely. I admit there are times that it would be easier to be complacent and stop being engaged. Every day, and sometimes every minute I have to ask myself if I am doing what is right and being patient OR have I just accepted mediocrity and ignored what is happening around me.
This can also occur in our training because every day it is a fight to make sure I am engaged and giving my best. It easy to just go through the motions instead of really looking at what you are doing and why. I thought it would get easier as I advanced in the ranks but that has proven just the opposite. It is easy to fall back on the things we know and have done.
To me, this is mastery. It’s not “picking your battles” but mindfully trying to do your best. Accepting when you have slipped and trying to understand what caused it. Its knowing that you will be challenged and you will not always succeed but you learn more from those times if you let yourself. It's being able to become more proactive than reactive, and "let the experience be like the planting of seed within you - with nourishment, it will grow into your own individual mastery". See you on the mats!