( read it...Don't just laugh at picture)
Inevitably, throughout your career, be it training in the martial arts or whatever vocation that you choose, you will be critiqued and criticized by the best and the worst that can be found in this life. I’m sitting here chuckling about it because I can remember watching a news program where they interviewed Bruce Springsteen and they asked him, “After all these years, what keeps you going?” He summed it up very succinctly and said, “I believe every artist had someone who told them that they weren’t worth dirt and someone who told them that they were the second coming of the baby Jesus, and they believed ‘em both. And that’s the fuel that starts the fire.” We’re going to receive praise from those who feel that we’re just as good as sliced bread (and we’re not), as well as the most horrible denigrating statements meant to crash us out of spite, jealousy, envy and ignorance (and those aren’t true either). All of us have our good days and our bad days, and through our training we try to minimize that gap.
When receiving these critiques and criticisms, the most important thing that you have to remember is the source which they are coming from, hence the idea of heaven and hell. When you’re of a high level and very well-schooled in whatever art form (In this case, martial arts, and I do stress ART, and not just martial technique and fighting), the higher level the teacher, the more the teacher understands he is just a student and will be that for his entire life. He won’t indulge in passing firey judgment on others. Many times, the individuals that criticize with such vigor and energy are the ones that know the least. One of my lady students had one of her longtime girlfriends criticize her for spending so much time doing Kung Fu. She said she could get the same results from her Zumba class and asked my student, “Why are you wasting so much time?” Well, the last time I saw Zumba class doing 60 knuckle push-ups and playing with a spear was… never. You can see that my student’s friend was just trying to shoot her down because she was envious, because this student is older and still looks very young and is able to do all this activity while I’m sure her friend is not. I think it boils down to, beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. But, you have to ask yourself, who is the beholder and what is their mindset and where are they coming from and what is their experience and background? How can someone judge an art form based upon little or no experience in that art form? Once again, I stress this word ART form, because my great Kung Fu uncle, grandmaster Paul Eng said, Kung Fu is a martial art – “The word art means that it is part technique (what can be learned) and part personal expression (what is unique to the person doing it).” It’s always good to receive critique from a qualified source, that being your teacher or your grandmaster or someone that truly understands your art. If Mozart says to you that your music isn’t too good, I would take that to heart. But, if the beer belly mechanic in Arkansas criticizes your technique, I wouldn’t loose any sleep over it.
People have turned around and watched my videos and criticized me for having a “Mcdojo.” On the other hand, you have other people praising you and saying, wow, I’m so proud and happy that you’re trying your best to preserve traditional Kung Fu and the knowledge that’s been passed onto you. We all have to find the balance between the two. This is the real idea. It’s no different than a classical violinist or bass player tuning his instrument. If you tune the string too tight, it will snap, and if you tune it too loose it won’t play. I had seen a snippet of another interview with Peter Townsend and he was joking to the interviewer, “I practiced so hard, I could snap all the strings in my guitar in one stroke,” and then he laughed and said he was showing off. You have to be able to not take yourself too seriously – not be too loose, not be too stiff, not be too irreverent and flippant, but also not wound so tightly, so overly protective of your image that you can’t make light of yourself. Regardless of whatever critique and criticism -- be it good, bad or ugly -- that you will receive constantly from all walks of life, you must be flexible enough that you can accept all, but not fully digest every one of them, because neither extreme is healthy. You must know how to maintain your own mental and spiritual balance and know who you truly are. That is the practice of the martial arts and the reason why we still do it.
When people ask you what you do and you tell them you train in the martial arts, I’m sure many of you have experienced someone saying, “Well, I’ll just get a gun and shoot you.” These individuals are missing the point, and they not only show their short-sightedness, but they also show their ignorance. It’s easy to cop out and make statements like that. It’s much harder to sit there, analyze yourself and work on yourself, which is what an art is about. We train to be warrior scholars and hopefully better ourselves to better the society that we live in. The critique and the criticism that we receive from all sources, be they qualified and or unqualified, be they friend or foe, must be taken through and sifted to retain what is appropriate and take those appropriate comments, negative and/or positive and convert them into inspiration. You must draw inspiration in order to motivate yourself, because in the end it comes down to the individual.
This is what is so amazing about Kung Fu specifically, as stated by grandmaster Paul Eng above. This was also stated by Donnie Yen: “Martial art is a form of expression, an expression from your inner self to your hands and legs.” It is poetry in motion; it is art created by the physical, mental and spiritual essence of the individual, portrayed through the martial technique. It does grow beyond the confines of fighting the opponent or killing the enemy, which is one of its core premises, but nowhere near its total definition. Martial arts, first and foremost, is an art of life, an art of protecting life, promoting life, making life better by making yourself better first.
I had a chance meeting with an 80-year-old master that had trained in Kung Fu and Buddhism here in New York’s Chinatown the other week, and we had a lengthy conversation. He enlightened me about something that I already knew but maybe had forgotten. He said to me in the most kind and gentle way, “you don’t know how much impact we have on everyone around us.” Every action, every word, every deed is like dropping a stone into a pool of water, and it creates a ripple effect that reaches far, far, far beyond ourselves. The practice of martial arts must be taken in the right sense. It must be approached with a good, honest, sincere heart because every deed and every action that we do has an effect on the people around us, which has an effect on the people that surround them and so on, and so on. In this way, we have the power to influence those around us, our family, our neighbors, our friends and the greater society by the actions, words and deeds that we do. This is the responsibility of the martial art teacher and practitioner. I thought long and hard about this.
To bring it back to critique and criticism, those are two polar opposites that you may receive. Some may say you’re the best, and some may say you’re the worst, but this should not polarize you. We, as martial art practitioners and especially martial art teachers, have individuals that look up to us to lead them and give them guidance and inspiration and motivation. Because of this, we must take great care in what we say and do. Therefor, we cannot be polarized by things that people say about us. We must learn to find the balance within ourselves and know ourselves. Because in knowing yourself, you’ll be able to know others and be able to help those that require your assistance and teachings, and in doing so end up teaching yourself to be better. The thing is, it’s you. You’re never going to satisfy everyone. You’re never going to be able to make everyone believe in you. The most important thing is that you believe in yourself but are also able to draw inspiration and motivation regardless of if it’s a positive critique or negative criticism that you receive.
When I concluded my time with this master, he said to me, “When you’re confronted with individuals that have issues with you, you should say these four things to yourself: I’m sorry. Forgive me. Thank you. I love you.” Now you’re going to turn around to me and say, “Sifu, this sounds really squishy.” And as a macho man (or macho person, so I don’t offend anybody) I would first agree with you. But, more seriously, understanding that if we’re talking about growing from critique and criticism, it’s all based upon how we accept it. The only way we can accept it and be able to convert it into positive motivation and inspiration is by having an openness. That openness comes from the heart of the individual. You are what you are in your heart, not the color of your skin or your hair or what system you learned. Use these four statements when you encounter individuals that critique and criticize you. For the one that gives you the negative criticism, you dissipate and neutralize that caustic energy by just saying those four phrases in your own mind and in your own heart. Conversely with the good critique (not necessarily saying that you’re good, but the actual constructive critique), by using these four phrases, you honor the individual by honoring yourself and accepting the critique happily and joyfully. This is how you’re able to strike the balance. You’re neither one side nor the other. You don’t say, “Oh, I adore you because you pump me up,” or “I despise you because you knock me down.” Rather, you say, thank you, I appreciate it, I’m sorry, forgive me if you don’t like it, I love your comments. And the same thing to the other individual, you say, forgive me for not being good enough. The critique and criticism, heaven and hell, is part and parcel of the journey of becoming a martial artist – this true individual, this genuine individual, this real person – that is the purpose of the training.
-Sifu Paul Koh 高寶羅