First things first

People are always wondering what’s most important in the study of Chinese martial arts, also known as “Kung Fu”. Some will talk about a strong horse stance (馬步 - Mǎ Bù) or correct posture. Others will indicate that strength combined with flexibility is essential in practice, or that the value of the virtues of martial morality (武德 - Wǔ Dé) is fundamental in its training. All of these notions are valuable and are certainly true for furthering an in depth study of Chinese martial arts, however none of them can be accomplished with the most fundamental concept to not only learn but also practice on a daily basis, having good habits.

To quote Vince Lombardi:

“Winning is not a sometime thing; it's an all the time thing. You don't win once in a while; you don't do things right once in a while; you do them right all of the time. Winning is a habit. Unfortunately, so is losing.”

Good habits will make you succeed in anything you do, be it at school, work, family life or in the guǎn (館 – training hall), but they will only lead to success if they are practiced forcefully on a daily basis. As my good friend Shifu Gabriel (TSKF – Brazil) likes to quote “Habits, at first, are like spider webs, but with time become like steel wires”. The longer we practiced a bad habit the longer it will take to free ourselves from it, and the only way to free ourselves is by creating, and cultivating, a good habit to replace it.

This is by no means an easy task to accomplish. Bad habits that are learned and practiced daily, throughout our lives (sometimes we don’t even realize they’re bad habits!), become so ingrained in our life that we sometimes don’t understand why we are unable to overcome even the simplest of obstacles. Identifying these bad habits is the first step to make the changes necessary to eliminate and replace them with good habits.

The most important habits we need to work on are those that seem small and inconsequential but they are the ones that will truly keep us down, most times without even knowing it. Some examples are:

  • · Hitting the snooze button on the alarm clock (just five more minutes)
  • · Waiting up to the last minute to get ready and/or get going (no need to get there early)
  • · Delaying certain actions for no reason (don’t really need to do it right now)
  • · Not being attentive at the moment (this is boring, I’ll just tune out)
  • · Creating excuses (but…)

All of these previous examples seem inconsequential, and most of us, as we read them, will do the last item almost as a matter of reflex, however they, as simple as they are (I can quit anytime!), all became habits, and bad ones, that end up getting in our way on the long run (and studying Chinese martial arts, as you may know, is a very long run).

So after identifying our bad habits, and they are many for sure but we just need a starting point, the next step would be to work on replacing them with a good habit (e.g. wake up on time and do not hit the snooze button). Pick one or two items that you identify and work on it for two weeks.

Once this is in place we will see the benefits of the good habits we have created, it will take time but we will see it eventually.  Here are some examples of what to create and cultivate in practice, and by extension our daily lives.

  • · Create and cultivate the habit of Perseverance ( – Rěn) – Most people will think of this as a matter of not giving up, and for the most part it is. You must persevere even in the most mundane tasks (horse stance), hardest workouts and longest performances. But it’s also about tolerance, tolerance of the time it takes to get good at your practice, tolerance of the obstacles you must overcome daily and most important, tolerance with yourself when you’re feeling that you’re not good enough.
  • · Create and cultivate the habit of Loyalty ( – Zhōng) – Loyalty is usually seen as something you have for another person, institution or ideal but we forget another important type of loyalty, loyalty to yourself and your study. If you have as an objective to become skillful in martial arts, an Instructor, or even a master, you must have a loyalty to yourself and your training, on a daily basis.
  • · Create and cultivate the habit of Benevolence ( – Rén) - Benevolence is the disposition to do good, most will think about doing good for others, like charity, compassion and volunteerism all of which are great and noble things to do, but we need to be benevolent to ourselves also, take good care of our health and nutrition as well as our practice. Do good in our decisions as to what to eat, drink and how and when to practice our arts.

As we can see these three habits that should be cultivated, among many others of course, apply not just to our interactions with others but principally with ourselves. If we can be perseverant, loyal and benevolent to ourselves first then when it comes to others these habits will come out sincerely instead of being forced or contrived.

When your good habits are practiced forcefully, every day, they are sincere and the whole world takes notice. Good habits lead to good practice and good practice leads to good Kung Fu.

To quote Mencius (孟子 – Mèngzǐ)

“Benevolence overcomes cruelty just as water overcomes fire.  Those who practice benevolence today are comparable to someone trying to put out a cartload of burning firewood with a cupful of water.  When they fail to succeed, they say water cannot overcome fire.  For a man to do this is for him to place himself on the side of those who are cruel to the extreme, and in the end, he is sure only to perish.”

Have a 2014 filled with good habits!

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