Monday, October 25, 2010


     A question which we seldom ask ourselves but which is all-important to our progress in martial arts (or anything else) is, why are you here?  Why are you doing this?  It is a question which we could readily answer back when we first began training, but after we've been involved for some time we forget about it...and that can lead to problems.  It's important to ask ourselves "why" periodically.
     In the past, I've mentioned various reasons why people first become involved in martial arts.  For instance, some want to get into better physical condition.  Frankly, a good aerobics class will do them more good in the short term.  Some aerobics and some weight training will work wonders for improving one's level of fitness.  Most people who start martial arts just to get fit give up shortly after they start.  Did YOU start training mainly to get fit?  WHY haven't you given up yet?
     Then there's the people who want to learn self-defense.  I used to tell these people that good basic defensive skills could be acquired in about six months.  Were you one of these?  If so, have you been training for more than six months?  If so, why?
     Some people just want to "learn martial arts."  It's a perfectly valid reason, but I can't say exactly what it is.  What do they mean?  WHY do they want to learn martial arts?  Is this your reason for starting training?
     Here's something new to add to your regimen.  Sit and write down just WHY you are currently practicing martial arts.  It may surprise you; you may not be able to express it in words.  But don't get up until you've written it down.  It's important that you know WHY you're doing it.
     Add a list of your strong points to your paper.  That is, strong points insofar as training and practice are concerned.  This should include not only things that you do well, but aspects of your character that benefit your training.  This helps you see how you really view yourself.
     Also make a list of obstacles which you have overcome (that you remember).   Do you recall just HOW you overcame them?  If so, write it down. 
     Now add a list of your weak points; weak areas of your training (things you need to improve), and aspects of your character that have a negative impact on your training.  Next to each one, write down what you intend to do to overcome each weak point or negative aspect.  You need to know where the chinks in your armor are, and you need to have an actual plan to overcome them.
     In a few months, review the paper and write up a new one with the same items.  See if they've changed.
     It's important to know how you view yourself; your strengths and weaknesses.  You need to know WHY you're doing this; what you intend to get out of it, where you are, and where you're going.  I think the majority of students have no idea where they're going.  They're like small boats out in the middle of an ocean being tossed about aimlessly by the the winds and waves of circumstance.  They have no oars or motor...they are helpless because they don't have a destination. 
     Too often we allow "life" to distract us from our goals.  We use it as an excuse; a  crutch upon which we lean our weaknesses.  "I failed because...."  Nobody ever wants to admit that it's their fault.  But it usually is. 
     A word of matter what goal(s) you ever set for yourself, things will get in the way.  What counts is whether or not you have the fortitude to grab the bull by the horns, face the obstacles, and overcome them.  If you don't, you never had a chance of success in the first place.  But if you try, you'll find lots of people out there who are anxious to help you.  Your instructor is one of them.  But you have to be willing to try and do whatever is necessary to overcome the obstacles.  Ultimately, the decision is yours.  Only YOU can make yourself better.  No one else can do it for you.
     I used to look at various martial arts figures for inspiration.  Masutatsu Oyama, founder of the Kyokushin style of karate, began his journey from Korea (his real name was Choi Yung Li).  He aspired to be a pilot in the Japanese military during WWII (!!!), so he went to Japan.  Sadly, he found that the Japanese weren't going to allow a Korean to become a fighter pilot.  He was an unwanted Korean, alone in a foreign country.  He managed to get a job driving a delivery truck.  It didn't pay squat.  But he saved his money until he could get into the university and it was there that he first saw a karate class being led by the legendary Funakoshi Gichin.  He fell in love with the art.
     Even the, his troubles weren't over.  He killed a man in a barfight (the squabble involved the affections of a young lass) and he also became involved with a group which supposedly wanted to unify Korea, but which turned out to be a den of thieves.  It was strongly suggested that he disappear for a while, so he went into the mountains and lived there, penniless, for three years.  When he came back down, his skill was extraordinary and he founded the Kyokushinkaikan, which became one of thw largest karate organizations in the world.
     But think about it.  He came to a foreign land that was prejudiced against him.  He could only get a crummy job which barely paid enough to live on, he got into trouble with the law...and he became one of the world's best-known karate teachers and was actually adopted by the nation which had formerly rejected him.  He even took a Japanese name.
     Sun Lutang was orphaned at a very young age.  A pre-teen, he lived on his own in Beijing and tried to make a few pennies by selling hog bristles which were used to make brushes.  That means that he had to climb into the hog pens and collect them by hand.  He was starving and decided to end it all by hanging himself.  But he even screwed that up, and a passerby cut him down.
     He was about 10 kliks below down and out until he saw a Xingyi teacher leading his students through some basic exercises.  He determined to learn that art and began training.  Later, he heard of a strange art known as Bagua, and walked to the other side of Beijing every day to attend class!  The rest is history.
     Morihei Uyeshiba (founder of Aikido) was sickly as a child and very weak.  After surviving his youth, his father set him up in a business to help him begin life.  He failed and the business closed down.  He was broke.  However, he determined that that type of business wasn't suited to him and he moved into the north to help build a small community.
     Even after he developed aikido, he was very poor.  He refused to collect tuition for classes, so his wife would do so in his stead.  In time, he became one of the greatest martial artists who ever lived.
     There are literally hundreds of examples.  Ed Parker was an unwanted Mormon kid who got beat up regularly.  Funakoshi Gichin was a schoolteacher who was sent to Japan (where Okinawans weren't held in the highest regard) to demonstrate karate.
     Kind of makes your problems look small, doesn't it?  It always did to me.  Still does.  When things get tough, I think of these people.  I think of the people I met in China and the unbelievable level of poverty I witnessed there.
     But each of these people made a conscious decision about what they wanted to do.  They knew where they intended to go and worked towards certain goals.  And although we remember them, there are literally millions of others who didn't make it... As I used to tell my students, "The world is full of failures.  Do not seek to add to their numbers."
     Success isn't based on luck.  Failure isn't due to a lack of it.  There's no such thing as luck one way or another.  Cause and effect.  Success comes to those who set a goal and then move towards it; to those who refuse to give up and who will struggle to overcome any and all obstacles that get in the way.  Failure and mediocrity comes to those who don't.
     Which way do you want to go?

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