We live in a very technology-dependent society. Nowadays, you can see people sitting together at coffee shops with their eyes down at their smart phones or laptops instead of conversing with each other. Don’t get me wrong, considering that I’m writing in my blog at this moment, I’m also a firm advocate of the technological age. But one of the outlying results of this modern trend is that we as a people have developed a shorter attention span. This has a significant and real impact on the study of traditional martial arts.
Martial arts in general involves a lot of repetition. In fact, my style of karate is descendent of a Chinese Kung Fu lineage that generally required its students to study and practice the same form for three years before anything else was taught. Can you imagine? How many of you would willingly join a recreational sport that required you to repeat the same series of movements over and over for three years before you could move on? It does happen in some sports, but it’s usually intermixed with other aspects that make it so you don’t really feel like you’re repeating a redundancy. I have had students, even recently, who have complained about the fact that they feel as though they are not progressing and are always doing the same thing. This sometimes brings us to question what we’re doing here or why, while training in a martial arts school.
In my youth, my Sensei told me a story that applies to this concept: A young man in a small Province in China dreamt of training with Shaolin monks in the art of Kung Fu. His family sacrificed and did everything so that he could travel to, and be accepted into one of the best monasteries in the country. The young man travelled for days and camped outside the monastery for nearly two weeks before the monks finally admitted him as a student. The student was excited to begin his life as a “kung fu monk” and of the mystery of the teachings that would follow. For his first few days, the student became acclimated to his new surroundings until finally asking one of the masters when he would begin learning kung fu.
The master arched an eyebrow at the young student and asked “So, you wish to learn kung fu? Follow me!” The master brought the student into an empty room with a hard wood floor. The room had a small hole about two feet wide, in the centre. The hole contained a pool of water, which was fed by the local well.
“Until you are told otherwise, you will kneel before this well, and pull out the water with your right palm, like so…” The master demonstrated the movement until the pool of water was half empty. The master then picked up a mop and cleaned up the water into a nearby bucket. Once the process was demonstrated, the monk left the student on his own to begin his chore. The student was despondent and felt that he had come to the monastery for nothing.
Every morning, the student would wake, eat a light breakfast, then spend his day pushing water out of the pool with his right palm and cleaning it up with the mop. Over and over, he repeated this chore diligently. All the while wondering when he would learn something of Kung Fu. Always wondering when he would learn something useful.
After one year at the monastery, the young student was permitted to visit his family. The student’s family gathered all the relatives together for a big celebration. They were so proud to have a true Kung Fu monk in the family. When everyone got together for the meal, everyone teased and prodded, asking the student for a demonstration of everything he had learned in his year at the monastery. The student’s frustration grew until his anger finally got the best of him. He stood up and loudly yelled, so that the entire family could hear: “I HAVEN’T LEARNED ANY KUNG FU!!!” and slammed his right fist down on the solid oak table at which he was sitting. The wooden table split cleanly in the middle, right where the student had struck it. The family as well as the student stared at the broken table in awe.
Turns out that the year the student had spent pulling out the water and cleaning it had developed an immensely powerful right arm for punching, striking and attacks.
Sometimes the wisdom of our instructors eludes us. We don’t always understand the lesson until we see the result. Have you ever seen the hit 80’s movie the Karate Kid? Mr. Miyagi had Daniel-san doing all sorts of crazy chores that he could have sworn was getting him nowhere. It wasn’t until Mr. Miyagi demonstrated the movements in a karate context that Daniel-san finally began to understand the purpose behind the lesson. And that, my friends, is the ultimate message: wait for the purpose behind the lesson. I’m not necessarily advocating that the Karate kid was an accurate portrayal of important martial arts, but it did impart some important lessons.
While practicing any fighting art, the constant repetition and routines may seem tedious and pointless. But anything worth having comes only after effort and hard work. So, stick with it. Whether it’s martial arts, hockey, gymnastics or any other sport you may choose to participate in, that repetition will end in positive results; AS LONG AS YOU STICK WITH IT!