Back in 2008, I was motivated to contribute my thoughts to NPR’s program “This I Believe.” My submission can be found below as well as by clicking here.
MASTERY IS A PATH AND NOT A DESTINATION
“I believe that the constant practice of the Art of Wing Chun will enable me to transcend to a higher mental and physical level.”
So begins the pledge that has been handed down within Traditional Wing Chun Kung Fu. Gung Fu, literally means “work performed over time” signifying a lifetime commitment to self improvement, self-mastery and the full realization of one’s potential.
Practitioners of various martial arts traditions quickly learn that the physical aspects of such training are but one level of understanding, and that the real value of such practice is to embrace the moving meditation, discipline and life lessons that are intertwined with the physical expression of the art.
For one without the other is an empty vessel, regardless of whether one studies a traditional Eastern system or more modern Eastern or Western variant. Invariably, in the hours spent honing one’s physical skills, a transformation occurs, particularly when sparring, when failure to “live in the moment” and “flow like water,” to borrow a famous quotation from Bruce Lee, results in the unpleasant consequence of getting hit.
Life is like that. Since we cannot know the future, and we cannot defend without fail from every possible angle of attack, it is inevitable that we will take our hits, and from this reality must spring an attitude that no matter what, I’ll keep going and persevere. We all get knocked about and sometimes even knocked down in life, but what separates those who are most successful from those who have given up is their willingness to wade back into the fray and apply the lessons learned.
Some of these lessons are embodied in Wing Chun’s core principles.
Guard your centerline. Whether in a physical fight or simply going about one’s daily routine, you must always be aware of what is most vital to you, and avoid allowing your center to be compromised. If you don’t know what is important, and you don’t have a solid sense of your center, you will be vulnerable and ultimately directionless.
Don’t fight force with force. All too often, our first instinct is to meet strong energy with the same. If we’re stronger than the energy we are encountering, we may overwhelm it, but sometimes it is better for us to deflect or release that energy instead and counter on a different path. Within every crisis lies opportunity.
Remain interruptible. While it’s important that we commit to a course of action, if we over-commit we lose our balance, unnecessarily exposing our center. We must retain the ability to shift quickly to another path, so when one gate is closed to us, another one opens. The destination does not necessarily change; how we get there does. The ability to adapt to adversity, to turn failure into ultimate success, is what keeps us going in our darkest hours.
And, finally, when obstacles seem most daunting and we question our most basic assumptions, we would do well to remember that, “Mastery is a path and not a destination.”