There’s no easy way around the issue of practicing. Learning an item is only that. You can learn an item without truly understanding or knowing it. You have to be able to chew on it and digest it and hold onto it. This can only be done through daily practice. Daily practice is something that a lot of students that are not “into” the art of Kung Fu can’t really fathom. I had a student last night give me the excuse that he had to leave early in order to pick up his laundry before 9pm. As he made this statement, the entire class laughed at him. Now, I’m not telling you not to have clean laundry; I’m all for that. But, the reward, the transformation, is within the practice. I’ve said this before, but you can’t cook with cold water, and you have to break some eggs to make omelets. Getting hot takes quite a bit of time, but only getting hot will allow you to reveal layers of understanding that can’t happen if you just dabble in it.
Treating your martial art practice as a hobby or a pastime is all fine and well, but in reality, is completely the wrong approach. I understand that life gets in the way, but Kung Fu is a way of life; therefor it should get in your way. It should get in the way of all the other things that distract you. It should get in the way of the things that keep you from investing the amount of time that’s needed to get you hot enough to be able to cook something up. Only then can you pass through those self-set stumbling blocks that every one of us encounters. Only then can you reach another level of understanding. You might say to me, I’ve heard this before, you’ve said this before, my teacher has said this before, I’ve read it in a book. You’re probably 100% correct, but it requires repeating on a regular basis. You can’t get something for nothing. If you give a little, you get a little, and if you give a lot, you’re going to get a lot. This is not an understatement. This is just the plain, cold truth. The time and energy being given by any one individual to their daily practice will be seen by those than can. And in this daily practice, the individual practitioner will start to understand their art and themselves.
This understanding is first rooted in basic training. You must continually train your basics, unceasingly, for decades. Train your stances, drill all your basic hand techniques and kicks until they become so well ingrained in you that they are almost a preoccupation. You’re consumed. When you’re standing there in the middle of the office at work and you start busting out movements, then you know you’ve been bitten by the Kung Fu bug. You’re practicing all the time; it’s become an obsession. You’re a chain smoker of Kung Fu. That’s the way you’re supposed to practice. You’re supposed to practice 24/7; you’re not supposed to practice between 7-9pm on Thursday night. You’re supposed to be so all consumed with the practice that it never leaves the forefront of your mind. You end up having Kung Fu dreams where you’re sitting there in bed making motions in the air with your hands, going through the form at night. That’s the way it’s supposed to be (at least for me). That’s the true practice; it colors every part of your existence. It has to be that obsessive-compulsive desire to constantly perfect your movement and in that way perfect your understanding. Using all your senses to practice – sight, smell, taste, feel, and then you develop the internal understanding. You start to develop a sixth sense, a knowing, an understanding of how things should be. You start to verbalize the language (Refer to my syntax blog) that is Kung Fu in a physical and mental way.
I was saying the other day in class, you practice for the click. You have to click with it, and you have to work hard for the click. Otherwise, it’s a mechanical gesture devoid of spirit, chi and understanding. When you get that click, you cannot explain it to anyone else unless they go through the same process that you went through. How many times have you gone through the process? How many times have you reset yourself back to zero and started again? Another even more intense question is, how many times have you quit, relented and come back? How many times have you thrown it on the ground, cursed it, picked it up, kissed it, said I’m sorry, and started again? This goes for all art forms, vocations and callings. If you haven’t done that at least half a dozen times, you’ve never done it.
You’re going to go through this multiple times. That’s the journey, and there are a lot of bumps and potholes in the road. You have to learn to navigate the training, take in the good, the bad the high and the low. A lot of people think there’s a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow or that the grass is greener on the other side, but as I’m fond of saying, it’s only Astroturf. Reality sucks and you have to deal with it. That’s why making excuses is the easy way out. The hard way, which many people today don’t really want to deal with, is to go through the process. The process is gut-wrenching and soul searching. It turns you inward and forces you to look at yourself and weigh everything. In a lot of the old Shaw brothers movies, you see a layman who goes to the temple and wants to learn Kung Fu for the sake of revenge. He learns a little but then doesn’t have the fortitude to complete the training and runs away. Sound familiar?
You may ask, Sifu, when does the training end? It doesn’t end. It continues forever. Your practice should last your entire lifetime and carry you through all the different changes, progression and evolution of your life. If it doesn’t, you either picked the wrong thing or you’re doing it the wrong way. From my personal experience, which is all I can speak of, my Kung Fu practice has followed me through different stages of my life and has helped me to progress through them and slowly, hopefully, fulfill the life that is a gift that you’ve been given. Your Kung Fu practice becomes an awesome maintenance tool for body, mind and spirit.
You may wonder why some people are better than others and some are getting it and some just can’t. It has to do with the time and effort the individual has put in and the way you’ve devoted yourself. If you only do a little bit, you may learn something, but you’re never going to permeate the true meaning of the practice, which is the development of the individual. The training becomes a magnification of the individual’s character. The training transforms you from a piece of coal into a glittering diamond. Now, we’re putting the magnification on you. We’re looking for character flaws, for the cracks; we have to cut that out and purify ourselves. Not many people can withstand that because the pressure increases. The heat increases, and it forces you to find those cracks and cut them out. It becomes extremely personal; it’s about perfecting the individual. That’s what you’re doing in your practice. As you practice and try to capture the idea of the movement, in actuality, you’re perfecting yourself. You learn to see your impurities, your character flaws, you take stock of them, you acknowledge them, and then you work to polish them away through the practice. You span the physical to the mental to the spiritual, and flow right back into the physical again. This is no different than any other art, a stroke of the brush, a flick of the wrist to strum the guitar, extending of the hand, extending the mind, the spirit and the body as one. That process is the process that transforms. It is only by spending time with the movement and spending time with your teacher that through the crucible of the practice you come to understand. You have to go within and spend time with yourself on yourself.
When you practice, you are using the vehicle of the form to tap into your energy, which is like lightning in a bottle, the bottle being your physical body. You want to capture that lightning in a bottle and make it work. You are just energy. You’re the lightning in a bottle. How you’re going to use that lightning is your choice. You can squander it, waste it and be foolish, or you can really hone in and make yourself into something. That’s what you’re doing with the practice. The only way to touch it is to practice incessantly. The inside makes the out; the outside never makes the in. You have to work from the inside out. This is what most people are missing. It goes beyond that punch and kick, that deadly technique. Rather, you’re working the energy. Don’t work the move; work the energy. The energy is also a byproduct of your attitude, so while you’re working the movement, you’re working your energy; you’re working the attitude; you’re shining yourself up. That’s what the practice is about.
We’re talking about your attitude, your approach. If you approach it from the right frame of mind, from a happy perspective, being happy to go through the process, happy to be worked over by the art itself, you’re going to glean more than someone who’s being dragged through the mud kicking and screaming. It’s up to you maintain that positive, happy outlook regardless of whether you’re learning a new form and weapon or working on something you’ve been working on for years. It’s that happy, content approach, that overall jovial attitude towards being in it that is going to allow you to harness that lightning in a bottle.
-Sifu Paul Koh 高寶羅