A Few Words On Tradition

There are so many Wing Chun practitioners who discuss the difference between modified and traditional (or classical) Wing Chun. This isn’t a conversation that takes place just among practitioners of Wing Chun, it is a conversation that can take place among martial artists of almost any style. Similar conversations about tradition take place in families, and they talk about almost anything that has been passed down for generations. Some family members may want to stick with certain traditions that have been in the family for generations,  while others may want to “move with the times” and do something different. Of course, there may be some who don’t care either way (put an angel or a star on top of the tree, or skip the Christmas tree all together – it doesn’t matter to them).

Several years ago Sifu Bill, my Ba Gua and Tai Chi teacher, told me an interesting story:

A family is celebrating Thanksgiving, and the wife cuts off the head and hind end of the turkey (in most versions it is a ham, but I think I was actually told this story fairly close to Thanksgiving so this is how I remember it). The husband is confused about why his wife just wasted perfectly good meat and asks her about this. She explains that it is how her mom taught her to cook and that this is she had always prepared the meal. He decides her answer is acceptable, but still curious about how this tradition got started. He calls his mother-in-law and asks her about this tradition. She gives him the same answer– this was how her mom had taught her. The husband decides to let it go for a while. Then, at dinner with the whole family at the table, the husband comments on what an interesting tradition his wife’s family has in cutting off the ends of the turkey. The wife’s grandmother speaks up and says, “It has nothing to do with tradition. When I was young and teaching my daughter to cook we couldn’t afford a pot big enough for the whole turkey.”

The point of the story is not about whether or not tradition is good or bad. The point is that so many people follow tradition blindly without ever questioning or looking into its origins. I personally do not think looking into an art’s origins is disrespectful. I think if one truly loves their art they should have a natural curiosity about its history.

There may be a few people who disagree with me. They may view this type of questioning as being difficult. They may even see it as challenging the legitimacy or practicality of the art. They may think the person with these types of questions is trying to say that traditions are outdated and not as effective as the modified approach. One thing I’ve always wondered about was if the yi chi kim yeung ma was always exactly the way I learned it from my first class or if it got modified from some other version because of all the practitioners who traveled on the boats during a certain period in the arts history.

In truth it probably doesn’t matter much as I’m going to continue using the stance I’ve been taught either way. Personally, I use what works for me. Traditional or modified doesn’t make a difference. I do enjoy partaking in traditions (be it in martial arts or other areas of life), but I also don’t believe on following tradition blindly.

 

 

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Let’s Take A Deeper Look…

Over the past several weeks, I have noticed a disturbing pattern in thinking when talking to the people around me. Most people don’t scratch far enough below the surface of a subject in order to develop a truly informed and educated opinion on a subject. While I believe that people are entitled to their opinions, I also believe that people should not jump to conclusions before looking into a subject; instead, they need to develop a true understanding of their research. Before going on, I must admit that I have been guilty of committing the same type of uninformed bias from time to time. On occasion, it may be rooted in a simple lack of interest in the subject matter. Sometimes it’s a lack of time to do any real research. When this happens, I try to develop the ability to admit where my knowledge may be lacking and reserve judgment for a later point in time.

As stated earlier, there were several conversations that I’ve had recently that caused me to make this observation about the need to look deeper into a subject before dismissing the information I was getting or forming an opinion based on partial information. In my first example I was speaking with a young lady about the book Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. She claimed she couldn’t get into the book because it was a bit too “New Age” for her taste. Knowing she was a devout Christian, I could understand her not being into anything resembling something that was New Age. After all, the book did appear to be talking about numerology and birthdays as an indicator of success in certain fields. However, by the end of the first chapter you realize that this talk about birthdays has more to do with logic than anything mystical. An example he uses in the book refers to sports teams and the age requirements. A person born just after the cut-off date will have to wait another year to join a particular team or league. This will give that person a whole extra year to mature and practice their sport. The same holds true when enrolling a child in public school. Nothing mystical about that, nor does this have anything to do with numerology or New Age thinking. One has to keep reading the book (which I do highly recommend) to see this.

Something else I may recommend to people is an investment app called Acorns. I like this app because you don’t need thousands of dollars to begin investing. You only need a minimum of five dollars ($5) to get started. However, you also need to have a basic understanding about how the stock market and investing actually works. My friend told me that he put five dollars into the app, but that he cancelled the app and stopped using it because when he went back there was still only five dollars in the account. Of course he still had only five dollars,  because he hadn’t put any more in! I saw something even worse than this when I read a review for Acorns in the App Store. One person complained that they put ten dollars in and only had seven dollars when they checked their account a few days later. This review didn’t influence my decision one way or another about the app because it seemed to me that the person who wrote this review didn’t do their homework and has no idea how the stock market works. You’re going to gain some money, and you’re going to lose some money.  The stock market depends heavily on what day of the year it is as well as the current state of the economy. You also need to put money into it on a regular basis, just as you would do with a savings account, to get the most benefit. Just five dollars a week would serve this purpose.

One final example comes from a letter to the editor I read many years ago. Someone wrote a letter to the editor (I believe it was in an issue of Black Belt magazine) expressing their disappointment in Rickson Gracie doing an instructional video on choking someone out after he said he would not do any instructional videos. The problem with the person writing to the magazine was that they based their opinion of the video and Mr. Gracie by the title alone. The video (which I have seen and enjoyed) is a documentary and NOT an instructional video at all.

All of the above examples are of people who form opinions without having a complete picture of what they are speaking on. In the past people have told me that I am too quiet, though my wife would scoff at the notion and heartily disagree.  Other times I’ve been told I ask a lot of questions, which she would absolutely agree with. Both of these judgments of me are true, but they don’t define me. I stay quiet when I’m listening and processing information that I’ve just received, and I ask a lot of questions to learn more. This is because I prefer to have informed opinions. Sometime this means reserving judgment until I’ve had a chance to look a little deeper.

Who Am I Writing My Next Book For?

The next book I am about to put out will be called The Wisdom of Wing Chun. If all goes according to plan it should be released sometime before the end of August. I haven’t committed to an actual date as of yet because I only have about 85% of the rough drafts finished. Also, I still have photos that need to be taken and inserted. Earlier today my wife asked me, “who am I writing this book for?” This is actually I good question, and that has taken me a little time to ponder if I am to answer it with complete honesty (both to you and to myself). At the time I was asked this question I was a bit defensive. My wife loves me more than any woman ever has and only wants the best for me. All my life I have had a tendency to take on too much. In college I worked three jobs for a while as well as being involved in student government and the newspaper, plus kung fu classes two to three times a week on top of that. Fast forward to today: I am working a security job in the evenings, writing this blog, shooting YouTube videos for 9 loyal viewers, teaching martial arts whenever the opportunity arises in addition to my own training, and finally working on completing The Wisdom of Wing Chun. I’m beginning to think my wife, Jen, has a valid point about me taking on too much, but at least it is self-imposed. There was a time when I took on everyone else’s projects and problems and neglected my own. I’ve finally learned to say “NO” to others in order to say “YES” to myself. I’m discovering that now I can’t do everything. at least not all at once, and I need to stop being everything to everyone else, especially people who never return the favor. Nor do I need to! Several days ago I told my wife I was taking a “mental vacation” for one week. This meant no reading, watching documentaries, no working on any of my projects until Monday. This included blogging. The idea was to just relax for a week. This was four days ago. The fact that you’re reading this shows I couldn’t make it an entire week. As an artist and a writer, I need to express myself through the written word. I fear at times I am better with the written word than the spoken word.Writing is my art and my passion, be it poetry, fiction or non-fiction. I’m not writing this book to make money, though it would be nice. I’m not writing this book to show off any expertise, even though I’ve heard several business moguls say that writing a book is the best way to establish yourself as a professional in your field. That isn’t my aim here. There are other ways to establish myself as a martial artist. I’m writing this book because of a need to express myself, but that only covers why I’m writing this book. The question we started with is, who am I writing this book for? Besides writing for my own artistic need for self expression, who do I want to read my book? Of course, I am hoping friends and family will support me in getting a copy. I am also hoping my own teachers and mentors will want a copy to read so that they can see what an influence they have had on me (and inform me if I’ve done them justice in my writing and in my life). When you read the contents, I am mostly writing this book for students and potential students. I want to pass on lessons that go beyond Wing Chun.A while back I started writing a book called Life Lessons Learned Through Sparring (and I will complete this book at some point). I put a hold on that one because I’ve been focused on Wing Chun lately, and this topic was calling to me more. As an artist, that is the best way I can say it. No, I may not have enough readers to get this book on The New York Times best-seller list or have it make me enough money to quit my day job and move to Rehoboth to live on the beach. That doesn’t always have to be the aim of a writer. If one person reads my book and it touches them in a way that makes a difference in their lives, then I’ve accomplished what I set out do do. I’m writing for the person I’ve never met and may never meet who simply needs to hear what I have to say.

How Can I Be of Service?

How can I be of service?

This is a question I’ve been pondering often over the past several weeks. Mostly it is a way of keeping myself in check. I want to make sure that the motivations behind my goals and ambitions are not coming from a place of pure selfishness. Like many people, I believe it would be amazing to have over a million dollars in my bank account, a house on the beach, fancy cars, and a certain amount of recognition and notoriety (or what some might call fame). Yet these things are not, nor do I believe they should be, the primary motivators in my life.

A few weeks ago I was watching a movie called The Peaceful Warrior (based in the book The Way of the Peaceful Warrior by Dan Millman). Socrates, the mentor figure played by Nick Nolte, points out to his young protege that there is no higher purpose than service to others. After some self-reflection, I came to realize that there was a lot of truth to this statement.

Ever since I was a young man, I’ve felt my best when doing things for others. It even got to the point where I was told by my friends to stop letting people take advantage of me. When I was in high school I would take everyone else’s trays back with mine when I was finished my lunch. After all, I was going in that direction anyway. Often, there would be another stack of trays waiting for me when I got back to the table. If this was happening to someone else, they would probably get enraged or at least feel indignant. I, however, was happy to help even though a number of my friends told me I needed to stand up for myself and not let others take advantage of me. The fact is, I did stand up for myself on a number of occasions throughout childhood, shocking an entire room when I would do so. I just needed to feel justified when taking that course of action.

Taking someone’s tray back for them wasn’t a big deal to me. As an adult I have encountered the same mentality from coworkers that I had from my well-meaning friends in school. I want to cringe whenever I hear someone use the phrase “not my job.” Granted, there are times when you may not be able to do something for legal or safety reasons. Barring those circumstamces, I’ve never really minded doing a little extra to help someone out. Sure, there have been times in a working situation when someone has asked me to do something that is beyond my authority. When this has happened I do my best to point them in the direction of the person or department that can meet their request.

Over the past couple of years I have been doing what I can to change the direction of my career path so I can make a decent living doing the things I love to do, such as writing and teaching martial arts. These are things I would do for free. In some circumstances, I still do. But I’m beginning to do this less often as people often don’t truly value what they don’t pay for.

Even though I haven’t yet read Simon Sinek’s book Start With Why, I still find myself asking this question of myself. Why do I want to focus on writing and teaching? Do I want to show the world what a talented writer I am and what a skilled martial artist I am? Maybe, but not really. There are plenty of people in the world more talented or skilled than I am at this point in my life. Am I just feeding my ego with these blogs and my YouTube videos? After some serious soul searching, my answer is an emphatic no!

I enjoy teaching and writing, and these are just additional formats to the traditional outlets (ie: brick- and- mortar dojos or print newspaper columns) available in the past before technology became easily available.

Besides the fact that I enjoy these activities, I feel that I can (and do) provide a service. With my writing I can open someone’s mind and heart to new ideas and inspirations. I can share information that others may find valuable, just like I do with my YouTube videos.

Some may question if teaching people to fight is a valuable service. I believe it is. I believe everyone should learn to defend themselves in today’s world. I could say more about this, but I already posted a blog on this subject. If you want to know more, check out my blog titled “Who Exactly Should Learn Self Defense?”

Why I Stopped Reading About Bruce Lee

When I was in my late teens and early twenties, I really got into Bruce Lee movies. Not just the movies though:  I watched every documentary I could find and read every book I could get my hands on that was either written by him or written about him. My favorites are: The Tao of Jeet Kune Do, The Art of Expressing The Human Body (as well as any other book written or edited by John Little), and Bruce Lee: Fighting Spirit- A Biography by Bruce Thomas. I especially liked the last book on the list because it was raw and honest in way “official” biographies tend to shy away from.

After a while, though, I just could not read or watch any more biographies on Bruce Lee’s life. This started sometime in my mid thirties. Up until then I couldn’t get enough information, motivation or inspiration from the life of Bruce Lee. It wasn’t because I was getting bored either. The problem was that I was begining to get frustrated with my own life.

Bruce Lee died when he was 32 in 1973. I was born the following year. Sometime after my 32nd birthday I became more dejected than inspired because I hadn’t accomplished nearly as much as this icon had during his short life. This of course is a mistake that many people make, and it falls onto the category of “faulty thinking.”

While it is okay to be inspired by others, we simply cannot compare ourselves to others, especially celebrities or elite athletes. If you believe you have what it takes to achieve your dreams, by all means, go for it! However, know yourself. Take a good look at your habits, interests and skills and deep desires.

Right now I am reading Unstoppable by Maria Sharipova and gaining much inspiration from her life. In this case I am getting all of the inspiration without the frustration. This is probably because I have no interest in learning tennis, nor am I Russian or female, yet her story has been inspiring to me. I can have that degree of separation that allows me to have an outside perspective.

I didn’t have this degree of separation with Bruce Lee because I was a martial artist and wanted to be as successful (or even more famous) as he was. I’ve grown out of this desire for fame, though I do still desire a certain degree of  success, as I personally define it, and not in comparison with anyone else. This is not living your own life and it would not be a fulfilling life either.

I’m at a point in my life where I can draw inspiration from others in both direct and indirect ways. For years I drifted away from my writing desires. I didn’t have as much time as I used to because I was working full time and I had had one too many misunderstandings with someone I was suppose to be writing for, but the main reason was because I would walk into a book store and see all these books on the shelf and think to myself, “How can I compete with all these other authors”?

Once again I made a shift in my thinking that made all the difference. I simply had to reframe the situation and my thought processes. Instead of asking myself how I was going to compete or believe that my book would get lost on the shelves, I began to think, “If all of these people were able to write and publish a book, then I can too.”

It is amazing what a little shift in thinking can do for your attitude, motivation and your life.  I’ve started blogging. In addition I just published a poetry book available on Amazon called As Winter Fades: Reflections In The Pond. The poems included are and anthology of what I’ve written over the past twenty five years. I’m also working on another book right now called The Wisdom of Wing Chun that will be available this summer.

A few months ago my wife and I were at a 2nd & Charles book store when she pointed out a book she thought I might like. I decided to purchase it and I’m looking forward to reading it in the near future. The title?

…The Warrior Within: The Philosophies of Bruce Lee by John Little.

A Matter of Simple Discipline

A few days ago my wife and I were walking from Target to our car when we heard a disturbing conversation taking place behind us. We never turned around to engage the people behind us so I can’t say for sure if they were employees of that Target store or not. If the one guy was, my sympathy goes out towards the managers.

This young man was complaining about the poor work review his managers gave him. Not only that, but he was using inappropriate language so casually in his discussion that he probably uses such words in his speech even when he isn’t angry. His complaint was that he got a poor review “even after all I’ve done for the company.” Yet in his very next breath he admits to being late frequently and taking long breaks.

Are you kidding me!? Is this the world we live in today? This guy is really upset about his bad review “after all he has done for the company” even though he is late to work a lot and takes long breaks? I can almost guarantee that if he did the bare minimum required but arrived on time and took shorter breaks, his review probably would have been much better, and that’s assuming he actually did his job. I’m not even sure he is aware that showing up on time is considered a part of your job in most companies.

I remember when I first began working security for Johns Hopkins Baview Medical Center, one of the lieutenants came in to give a speech to our class of new officers. The speech could be condensed into three simple steps to succeed at your job:

1. Show up for work (and on time)

2. Look good in your uniform

3. Do your job

This seems pretty self-evident and simple if you ask me, especially the first part. Nothing else really matters if you don’t show up for work, especially on time. Even back when I took buses everywhere I was always early for work or other appointments because I knew the value of being on time. No one was going to wait for me to show up.

Yet there are people in the world who don’t seem to comprehend this concept. How can you consider yourself to be doing a good job when you aren’t actially there to do your job when you are supposed to be there?

When I was taking Tae Kwon Do classes at Kim’s Karate back sometime around 7th grade, we had to do ten or twenty push-ups when we showed up late for class. It didn’t even matter why you were late.

Let’s put this into perspective: I wasn’t even old enough to drive. My parents had to drive me to class. If I was late, I still had to do the required push ups before joining class. I couldn’t blame my parents for getting me there late and they couldn’t do the push ups for me. That’s kind of a silly notion if you think about it. Some people may think this is unfair, but I disagree. It taught me two very valuable lessons.

Lesson number one was the importance of being on time. Lesson number two was that excuses are unacceptable. I recall hearing Tom Bilyeu (co founder of Quest Nutrition and the host of the Impact Theory podcast) say recently that the most dangerous thing about excuses is the legitimacy behind many of them. Even a legitimate excuse is still an excuse.

We live on a world now where too many people believe that the world owes them something. They think the governmemt should take care of them just because they didn’t ask to be born in the first place. News flash: Life itself is a gift and no one else owes you a damn thing. What you do with your life is up to what you do with the life you’ve been given. This includes the decisions you make and how you handle the circumstances you find yourself in, because not all situations are unavoidable. What makes or breaks you is how you deal with things. Remember the Choose Your Own Adventure books that were popular with young people in the 1980’s? You make your choices based on the facts presented and how you process them. That, plus your gut instinct, can get you very far in life and ultimately make it more fulfilling

There is no better place to learn this lesson than training in the martial arts or really any physical activity, especially  competitive team sports. Part of this is because you are responsible to your coach as well as to your teammates and school (or state or country depending on the level of competition). If you have trouble with a technique or movement, your only option is to practice it until you get it right. No excuses.

Of course, this also means showing up for practice. Top athletes show up on time, but the best of the best show up early to work on their basic skill set or improve where they feel weak. For example, athletes such as Kobe Bryant would  would show up two hours early for practice. I don’t think I have to tell you who Kobe Bryant is. His work ethic may appear extreme to most people, yet here is my slam dunk point: most people will never reach his level of success because they don’t have his work ethic. I don’t think most people have much of a work ethic any more.

When someone complains about getting a bad review “after all they have done for the company” when they don’t even put in the effort to show up on time (or at all), I can’t help but be a little appalled at this mentality. After I got into the car with my wife we talked about the conversation we heard using language even worse than the guy behind us was using because I was so angry. I was able to use restraint and clean up my language when I wrote this because I have a set of standards I try to maintain in my blogs. It is a  matter of simple discipline. You know, like showing up on time for your job.

Reasons I Won’t Run

Most martial arts instructors will repeatedly say this to their students:  run away if you are confronted by a mugger on the street. The most logical reason for this mentality is that the instructor doesn’t want to see any of his/her students get hurt or killed if confronted by a violent criminal. Outsiders may think that the teacher who gives this type of advice doesn’t believe in the practicality of  what he/she is teaching to the students. Another reason could be that the school specializes in competing in tournaments and the instructor is aware of the difference between training for competition and training for real life combat.   I have had teachers who will tell me that if someone tries to take my wallet, the perpetrator deserves to be punished (meaning by my own hands and not necessarily the police), but this hasn’t happened too often.

I will not run. My reasons for this have nothing to do with ego, ability, the law or even morals. The reason that I will not run in almost every scenario is a simple matter of common a sense for me and my circumstances. I’ve had asthma since I was four years old. Running is one of the major triggers that can bring on an attack.

If I were to run away from a confrontation, this could potentially leave me more vulnerable than if I were to stand my ground. Assuming I didn’t die of a major asthma attack from the running alone, there is the chance that my assailant is able to keep up with me and catch me. Then I would be more vulnerable than before I attempted to run. Not only would I not be able to breathe, but I would have made this violent person even angrier because I made him chase me. This would probably not end well for me.

So how do I handle this situation when running is either not an option at all; or, at the very least, the poorest of options? Obviously, one should avoid putting themselves in precarious situations from the start. This can mean taking an Uber instead of the bus, avoiding dangerous areas, not talking to strangers, or any of the other things we’ve been taught by our parents growing up.  Unfortunately, we can’t always be successful in avoiding certain situations. Sometimes we get lost or our car breaks down in a less desirable location and bad people can show up at any time and in any place regardless of our attempts to avoid  the evils of this world.

When we can’t avoid these situations, I believe it’s best to be prepared. I recently wrote about my belief that everyone should learn at least the basics of self-defense. At this point we should keep in mind that confrontations usually don’t happen within a few seconds. Sometimes there may be a window of time in which we can de-escalate a situation before a violent attack takes place.

De-escalation skills could include a number of techniques. Some people may have a natural inclination or more easily apply some techniques  over others. In my security job we are taught a number of de-escalation techniques, one of which involves showing empathy and understanding. In the real world, however, such things could be considered wishful thinking. If some angry anti-social thug is out to rob you (or worse), there will be no talking this person down from their intent. I’ve know people who simply establish the fact that they are willing and able to defend themselves and this serves to discourage would-be attackers. This works best when one actually has confidence in their abilities to follow through if they do indeed need to fight.

Perhaps at this point I may have diverged too far from my original topic. I am not saying not to run of it is a viable option. What I am saying is simply that I am aware that there are times when running is not an option. I usually won’t run because of the fact that running can put me onto more danger than if I were to stay and fight. This is one of the reasons I train the way I do. I’m not arrogant or cocky enough to say that I won’t run because of my training in the martial arts. However, I do train because I won’t run. What I’m saying is that I wouldn’t run regardless of my skill, so it’s better to have the skill than not.

There are, of course, a number of reasons a person may not be able to run besides physical ailments such as my asthma or someone who may walk with a cane. Some of these reasons include being in a situation where your back is literally up against a wall, when you are surrounded by a group of people, leaving you no escape route: more specifically, when you’re in an enclosed space and you can’t get to the exit. I think you get the idea. Other situations where running away may be considered unacceptable or not an option is if you are protecting a loved one. I would like to believe that most people would not abandon their spouse or children when they need protecting from danger.

This is something I keep in mind when I train and practice. When I realize that I may have to rely on my training to save my life one day, it keeps me from giving in too soon on those days I know I need to push myself to get better. I’m not saying fear is the best motivation. I train because enjoy it. I’ve always been drawn to the martial arts since I was young. Who knows? Maybe I would have a different perspective on this subject if I had a natural talent and inclination to join my school’s cross country team…