I don’t know if it’s because I’m getting older, but lately, I’ve been having lots of very vivid flashbacks. Teaching the Kwan Do, and black tiger steals the heart and various tiger claw techniques has been taking me back 25 years into the past. I’ve been having vivid flashback memories of my Sifu teaching me. At that time, it was horrific; he was screaming from across the room, “No, no, no!” I lived on a diet of “no.” Now, as I’m teaching the form I’m looking back at it with joyful glee and laughing, laughing so much I have to call my Sifu. I tell him, “I feel like a haggard warrior; I’m having flashbacks!” At that moment in time, it was the most bitter and difficult thing because I had to take my entire ego down to learn something new, but now I’m so happy.
At that time, I had 15 years of experience, but I had to put my ego away until I could cycle up again. This is the natural cycle of learning. You feel awesome and you absolutely love what you’re doing. You think you’re doing really well and moving forward. Then at a certain point, you realize you’re not doing that well. You start to think, “I hate this. I’m going to quit.” If you’ve never gone through that cycle, then you’ve never really done it. It’s the inner battle with the self that’s at the heart of it; it’s not your teacher, it’s not the time, it’s not the Kung Fu. It’s you. You hate you and love you at the same time. You have to be done with you. You have to get over you to move forward with you. Put a big WTF on yourself and think, “What’s the matter with me?” Then you either hit the giant reset button and start again, or you quit. If you choose the first option, you start the cycle of learning again and it’s so cool! Lately, I’ve been having many flashbacks to the first day I learned something that totally exploded my world, epiphanies I had along the way, times I had to put the pieces back together and start again. It’s the coolest thing! Now, you’re starting to actually live the Kung Fu. You’re no longer on the sidelines. You’re actually living the life and walking the path.
It’s been a rough road. One of my students said to me this morning, “Sifu, I don’t know if people really appreciate how much effort you’ve put in not just to start the school, but to keep it running.” Because you do come to that point where you quit and say, never again. There was a time, a long, long time ago, when I said, “I’m not doing this anymore,” and I walked away for at least a year and didn’t touch it. I tried to make another life for myself, but I was completely miserable. At that time, I was much less in tune with who I wanted to be, and I was much more concerned with making other people happy with my choices than being happy with my own choices. Ultimately, I had to confess that it wasn’t anybody but me. That takes courage, and it’s a process of finding out who you are. When I was able to do that, I was able to start again. I mean, literally start again from scratch. I don’t know how many times I’ve actually had to do that. But after you do it many times, it doesn’t hurt as much. It’s like you’re sitting there winding up the Jack-in-the-Box. You sit there winding it up, and Jack comes out and punches you in the face. The first time, it hurts, but you do it so many times that you’re ready for him, and you can hit him back. In life, even if you didn’t know what was coming, at a certain point you know that this is just the way life goes because you’ve lived more life. That’s how life is. That’s how training in Kung Fu is. It’s a giant wheel, but you know how to ride the wheel now because you’ve passed so many things.
You walk this path of, “I hate it, I love it, I hate it, I love it.” You think you know what you’re doing and then you come to a cross roads where either you can continue to say, “I know what I’m doing,” or you can stop and ask for directions. Even if you choose to go down the road of saying, “I know what I’m doing,” there’s always an exit ramp a few miles down the road that takes you around, so you can come back to realizing you don’t know. You can always find your way back if you truly want to. If you can’t find that path, then I think you just live in that state of denial, as they say. In your heart of hearts, when there’s no lights on and no one around, you know the truth, but in the daylight, you never confess because it’s just too hard to take. If you’re smart you take the higher road. It is the harder road, but if you pick it, the end is that much better. Living the martial art lifestyle challenges you to question yourself on many occasions. That’s the breaking point, when you question yourself, when you have the opportunity to either grow and go beyond or just resign. It’s an everyday challenge.
If you’re not continually feeling stupid, then you’re not learning. If you’re the smartest guy in the room, you need to get your head handed to you. I know less today than I knew 20 years ago. I know that I didn’t know anything even two weeks ago, because my Sifu just proved it to me and that’s the most awesome thing. There’s still a chance for me; I still have a chance. That’s great. I appreciate that, and I say thank you to my teacher for showing me the ignorance that I have. He’s showing me the possibility of being able to learn again. Then, teaching my students and having those feelings of déjà vu and being able to play back the memories, I appreciate what I have, appreciate those moments of epiphany and appreciate those moments of stupidity because those are the things that keep the circle spinning. I had to call my Sifu and say, “I just had a flashback when I tried to teach one of my students that form,” and I said to him, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry I didn’t understand before.” Because you have to change your mind, and you have to roll with that. Once you know how to roll with that, then nothing can touch you anymore. You broke everything open. You know and you don’t know simultaneously. The wheel keeps turning, but you are moving forward and you still have a chance. You live Kung Fu in your life and you live your life with Kung Fu. Your life becomes bound up inside it and it permeates everything and that’s the coolest thing ever.
Well, I’m off to create new flashbacks… Everyone have a great day!
--Sifu Paul Koh