What Motivates You?


“There is no illusion greater than fear.”
-Lao Tzu


What motivates you on a daily basis? A lot of people say they are motivated by their passion to do this or that. But you know what is a bigger motivation? Fear. Fear of what? Fear of everything – fear of rejection, fear of abandonment, fear of failure. If there was no threat of imminent danger, you would not move. What motivates you to get up in the morning? You have to get up and “make the donuts,” because you don’t know where your next meal is coming from or how you’re going to pay your bills. It’s the threat of that imminent danger that’s going to motivate you to work harder.

A lot of martial arts students don’t work as hard as they need to because the threat that existed in previous lawless societies for the most part no longer exists. Unless you live in a very rough neighborhood, you are probably not in a situation where you have to physically defend yourself on a daily basis. In that case, you will work your martial arts training differently. This has nothing to do with the system you practice. The question is, what is your motivation?

What drives you to make your martial art or anything else in your life work? A lot of times it’s something “negative” that makes you work or makes you move. The seemingly negative situation is the catalyst that propels you into motion, that in the end begets the positive result. Something has to motivate you to make yourself better. If you already have it so good, you’re not motivated to change. You need the negative to make the positive work. This is the whole concept and theory of yin and yang. Good does not exist without bad. Progress cannot be had without having failure or the threat of possible failure. The fear of failure can be a great motivator if you know how to turn it around and make it work for you. Otherwise, you remain stuck in your own muck and mire.

If you’re not motivated by some external pressure, you will not get out of bed. The alarm clock beeping is external pressure saying, “Wake up boy, you need to get up and start moving.” Very few people are so self-motivated that they just pop out of bed. The only one that does that is a four-year-old that has boundless energy and absolutely no responsibility. When you become an adult, you realize, “Oh crap, I have to get up and face another day.”

My feeling is, take that negativity, that threat, and turn it into positive motivation. This is the trick that we all have to learn, and after you learn it you better not forget it. You have to play that same idea every day. This morning it was raining cats and dogs. I did not want to go out and I hate to carry an umbrella, but I knew I had things to do. I had to motivate myself, because if I didn’t, I’d be backlogged and I’d have to pay even more later for not doing it. Now, the sun is shining and everything is working out. I motivated myself because of the fear of losing the day.

You cannot lose the day; you have to take the day. Every day is a battle, and you have to take the field, because if you don’t take the field, you die. You’re not going to die a physical death, not like in the old days. In that time, people trained with a different purpose and a different mind, because there was a different threat. It was a lawless society. There was no 911 to call; you had to take care of yourself, defend yourself on the battlefield. Even though today, you may not be literally going out onto the battlefield and physically defending yourself, in some way shape or form you have to adopt the same nature. I’m not saying you have to be a wild man, I’m saying you have to wake up. Are you fully engaged? Are you 100% committed to what you’re doing 100% of the time? Most people are not.

There are always threats and danger around every corner. All of us face them every day. You have to take those as a motivator to work harder towards all your goals, especially your martial art training. Your training is what puts the edge on your knife. Put the martial back in your martial art. This is a function of your mind and how you treat your training. It’s a mental attitude that you have to embody on a daily basis. It’s a place that you go in your mind and in your soul to make the movement, the technique, alive. Without this connection, it’s just empty movement. Just as any action in your life is empty if you are not 100% engaged in it.

I could have woken up this morning and said, it’s a horrible day, I’m going to call out, I’m just going to stay home and watch Jerry Springer. We’ve all done this, and then later you hate yourself for it because you know you could have done so much more. Everybody believes they are a winner, but you have to prove it. Otherwise you don’t win. How do you win? By getting up in the morning and doing your work and your training regardless of the obstacles or the fear. Use those obstacles and that fear as inspiration to make you work harder and be better than you were the previous day. That’s your mental cup of coffee in the morning, your motivation. You have to get up and earn your daily piece of bread. Get up and do the job. What is your job? To get up and face life and take it.

The negative situation of someone having to fight to survive has created this amazing art form that we call Kung Fu. It was the fear of the individual that he was going to be hurt or killed that prompted him to sit down and formulate a system of fighting – a system of living – because he was afraid of dying. It was the true fear that he had to protect himself or his family that prompted him to train in a certain way. It’s not the system itself; it’s the individual’s attitude and approach.

We are fighters; we are martial artists. Sometimes, the fight is not physical, but a spiritual or emotional battle. Every day is a fight. You need to be willing to fight for your life on a daily basis. This is what the martial art practice can give you. It is a daily practice on a physical, mental and spiritual level, of accepting the challenge of the day and overcoming yourself. This is how you transform, and it’s not a one-time transformation, it’s a daily process.

Fear is a great motivator, but you still have to provide yourself with a solution. Everyone has fears that determine who they are. The things you have lost or fear losing often are the things that make you wake up and say, “Let me get my act together.” When you’re feeling those feelings of fear, that’s a turning point. It’s an opportunity to find a new way of looking at or solving a problem. Take that negative connotation of fear and turn it into positive results, because it’s pushing you out of your comfort zone. That’s what you’re really fearful of – being pushed out of that comfortable space that you’ve occupied for a certain amount of time, that makes you feel happy. But in essence, that happiness is false. It’s something that’s created in your mind, just as fear is an illusion that’s created in your mind. It’s okay to be fearful as long as you recognize it, determine where it’s coming from and take hold of it instead of it taking hold of you. Turn that seemingly negative feeling and reaction into a positive motivator that will allow you to be creative and start on a new path of growth.

-Sifu Paul Koh