I don’t know… is it me? Or does everybody seem to get away with doing a half-ass job? Don’t get me wrong, I’m just making an observation. It seems that everywhere you turn, things aren’t being done the way they should be done. Today, everybody seems to be rewarded, applauded and paid for NOT fulfilling their commitments. This seems to go through every facet of our society.

Case in point, I feel like I drive the MTA subway train every day through sheer willpower. Just about every day, and especially on Monday mornings, there’s an issue. I feel I’m about as patient as any other New Yorker riding the trains – and those of you that do ride the subway can back me up on this – but on a daily basis you encounter some situation that makes your subway ride two or three times longer than it should be. I would think that if you’re the MTA, and you know that on Monday morning you’re going to hit that rush hour and have a flood of people coming into the train station wanting to get to work on time, you would have your crews ready to go the night before, have a meeting with the crew that’s going out to make sure the tracks are up to snuff, the trains are ready to go and so on. But I don’t think anybody does that. So I wonder, why do you get paid? You could make excuses about the infrastructure of the system, but aren’t you paid to maintain, support and run the system? (I’m sorry if I’m offending anybody that works for the MTA… don’t hunt me down on the train, please.)

I have a student, and she’s an art director and editor. She’s working on a really large project and had to access critical files on her Apple computer. She turned on the computer, and all her passwords were unrecognized. She said, “Okay no problem, let’s call the great wizard of Apple and have them help me out.” She called them and told them her problem, and they told her to contact customer support. She logged onto the special support site and saw that many other people had the same situation. However, when she finally reached a live person, that person not only couldn’t help her, but pretended that they themselves could not even see that other people had the same problem. I have to wonder, after hearing her story, whether these people deserve to have that job. After so many people had the same issue, I would think that you would have a plan of action. Isn’t that your job? I’m not asking you to do something that you can’t do; I’m asking you to do something you’re supposedly trained and well-versed in.

This can be applied to everything in our society. I’m just using my experience with the MTA, and my student’s experience with Apple support, as a microcosm to get my point across. I don’t understand why this mediocrity and lack of enthusiastic behavior in all aspects in our society is constantly rewarded. Regardless of if you’re working on the trains, being a teacher, serving coffee, or any other job, many seem to be working at half power but getting full benefit. I think that’s not fair to all involved. Many people are doing a partial job on something they’re not really prepared to do, but then expect to reap the accolades, benefits and rewards associated with doing it fully and completely. The more this idea perpetuates, the less there is any drive to do the best job that you can do. If people can do half the job and reap the full benefits, what incentive is there for someone to do their job fully, completely and with excellence? The more we get used to this, the lower our standards become.

Here’s another example. I remember when I was a kid, my teacher would not give a black belt to anyone under the age of twenty-one. This was not exclusively because of the individual’s skill level, but because there was a certain level of maturity and responsibility that was expected. I don’t see how you can give an eight, or ten, or fifteen-year-old a black belt. Now I know some of you may disagree with me and feel that junior students may deserve to have a junior black belt, and that’s all fine and well. But back in the day, when we were training and about to receive our black belts, you really had to work for it. You really had to earn it. It was a badge of honor because you had to fight tooth and nail physically, mentally and spiritually to earn that rank. A black belt or black sash meant that you not only trained with your teacher, but you taught classes for your teacher, opened and closed the school, took care of the training hall and your classmates, and looked after your teacher. You had to be a higher level member in your martial art family and were expected to carry out certain duties and responsibilities. I’m sure there are some establishments out there that still do this. I try my best to uphold this in my school. I know it’s a very old-fashioned way of thinking, but it works for me.

Not only do I expect a higher level from my students, I am continually critiquing and criticizing myself. I am the most unhappy with my own performance, and I feel this is the way it should be. In order for us to be able to improve, we can only sit on our laurels for an extremely short amount of time, and then we have to take a hard, critical look at ourselves to move forward. I believe if you don’t do this as an individual, a business, or any kind of organization, if you don’t review yourself regularly, you’re not going to improve. You can’t sit there and want to have the same benefits or more even though you’re doing less. It shouldn’t work like that, but somehow it does. I’m just wondering, when did this all start, and why did we get used to this, and why do we tolerate it? I remember Grandmaster Peter Urban, one of the pioneers of Karate in the US, had a sign hanging up in his dojo saying, “There is no free lunch.” I fully believe in that statement. However, today we’ve been taught or infected with the idea that everyone should receive a slice of the pie regardless of the efforts that they put in. I believe this is hurtful to the progress of our society and succeeding generations.

For some reason, we have been duped into thinking that you can get away with stuff and be rewarded for deeds and actions that don’t merit the full reward for a job well done. Even when you get that black belt, that black belt doesn’t belong to you. That black belt symbolizes what your teacher feels you could aspire to be. You have to earn it on a daily basis. So what’s wrong with that? What’s wrong with having to earn your keep? What’s wrong with somebody having more than you if they fought tooth and nail for it? If another guy has worked hard and fought for it, don’t put him down. He should be ranked what he is. If another person hasn’t worked that hard and doesn’t have what others do, it doesn’t mean that something should be taken away from the guy who has it and redistributed to the guy who did nothing. Everyone should reap the rewards of their own efforts. Why shouldn’t you earn that which you want, be it a brand new house, a brand new car, a higher salary, or a black belt? You should learn and earn your position on a daily basis. Then we can reward you. Then we can hold you up. Then mediocrity disappears because the guy next to you sees that you’re working hard and hopefully that inspires him to work hard. That inspires everyone else to work hard, and no one sits on their ass and asks for a handout. Positive begets positive and negative begets negative, so let’s just clear the air and do away with rewarding people for a mediocre job and a mediocre effort.

The term “Kung Fu” when literally defined goes completely contrary to the concept of mediocrity. If you embrace the philosophical concept of the word Kung Fu and embrace its practice, you cannot abide being mediocre at any aspect of what you do. You may not be the best at everything you do, but at least you strive to be the best. You do the best that you can on a daily basis and only wish to be rewarded for that. Don’t tell me I’m great when I’m not, or that I’m doing a good job when I’m not. Tell me the truth so I can fix it and make it better. Otherwise, don’t do Kung Fu. Kung Fu, at its nature, means you’re striving to be the best. When you have Kung Fu in anything, that’s what it means. You strive for the best, not mediocre, not halfway. If we don’t do that, if we are satisfied with mediocrity and continue to be rewarded for that, then we’re just fooling ourselves. If something is given unearned, you will always know, deep in your heart, that it’s not really yours. So why wouldn’t you want to work hard? The things you work for and the knowledge that you derive through your training belong to you inherently. They are yours, and no one can take them away.

Sorry for being late with this blog, everybody, but I didn’t want to do a mediocre job…

--Sifu Paul Koh