Kung Fu, like every martial art is a combination of physical fitness and physical training. The sales pitch here is easy and most of us were excited by it. It’s KUNG FU! No really, it’s like getting a personal trainer and coach with your gym membership at a bargain price. Yes, it does cost more than the standard gym membership, but it is a fraction of the cost of that personal trainer you’d love to have with you at the gym. What are you learning? Muscular coordination, self-defense, self-confidence, etc. However, so much of what you take from it will depend on what you bring with you to Kung Fu each time.
So what do I mean by “What did you bring…”? Baggage is the short answer. In the ocean travel/shipping industry, there is unwanted baggage called a “blue alien”. These aliens are fish and microorganisms that attach themselves to the ship, the cargo or the catch along their journey and then invade the destination where there may be no natural predators or defenses to such an invasion. Some well known invasions of history are the snake fish that currently “walks” long distances of land between bodies of water and then wiping out the native fish species in each body, the boa constrictors that currently inhabit the Florida Everglades region and have grown many feet beyond their original size as pets, and the rats carrying the bubonic plague in the middle ages, responsible for reducing the population of Europe by almost 75% in the middle ages.
Clearly this baggage is disastrous, but is yours any less so at an individual level. Are you dragging drama along with you to training? Are you bringing along negative feelings or negative perceptions? Are you carrying something that keeps you from engaging completely, distracts you or just keeps you from learning? Finally, is your baggage contagious? Will having you in the class distract from the learning of others, even if it is just a few?
Lao Tzu stated “The usefulness of a pot comes from its emptiness”. While this passage’s meaning may be obvious, he spoke to anything that needs to be filled, even us as we are training. If our mind can be emptied, it can be filled with more knowledge and skills. If our attitudes can be emptied, it can be filled with more positive outcomes. If our time is emptied, it can be filled with more of our training goals. If our self is emptied, it can be filled more with the joy derived from others. The assumption is that you can empty each one, you must choose to empty each one.
I first met Sifu years ago when I came to his school like many of you did, to see what Kung Fu was. A few things stuck with me at that meeting. First, Sifu was excited about Kung Fu and that he was still learning despite the many years he had already been practicing. Second, he was a good teacher as he instructed the class on an exercise and then continued our conversation, a test of any teacher. I recall seeing Sehing Benji that day as a lower rank with the class practicing a sequence of a front-foot sweep followed by a side kick that day. Finally, he was fully invested in Kung Fu by betting his family’s livelihood on it. The reason I didn’t join Kung Fu that day is that I had baggage and I was too full. My time was too full with my family and my job, my budget was too full with my bills and my mind was full too soon after finishing a black belt in another martial art. I had to choose to be empty and it took both time and effort. However, it was well worth the investment
Today, I joke all the time about my baggage, but I do make deliberate efforts before each training opportunity to arrive empty. I breath in the car as a I drive, I focus on the drive, I mentally clear the importance of text messages, email and voicemails from my mind. What remnants I usually arrive with are typically exhausted with a combination of Tai Chi or Kung Fu exercises. With every breath and twist, I exhale my frustrations. With every punch, I push away my concerns. With every stretch, I reach beyond it all to find that empty space. I’m seldom completely empty, but I try to make plenty of room for something new which Sifu always rewards in some way.
So what are you bringing with you to Kung Fu today?