Did you ever have a “Woohoo” moment? I’m sure all of us have had. But it’s “WOOHOO!” only for the moment and then the moment is gone. I’ve had several of them the past week. I’m sorry that most of my blogs talk about training and my training sessions with my teacher, but that’s pretty much all I do. This past week I spent a little extra time with him, working hot and heavy on one particular set. Everything was going great, the energy was high; he was cheering me on; I was getting pumped up. As I started to progress, he said, let me show you a few extra techniques. I thought I did my best to emulate what he showed me, but as he was showing me and I was trying to emulate what he was doing, there was another person in the room with us, and they literally went, “Uh, uh, you missed a spot.” Everything ground to a halt. My teacher laughed out loud in my face. I think I’m somewhat self-deprecating, but I think that’s okay, because this is how we learn to be better. If you can’t laugh at yourself, and you take yourself too seriously, you’re in for a lot of disappointments in life. But getting back to my story, as my teacher laughed, he said, “Ah ha! This reminds me of an old Chinese saying.” 旁觀者清. 當局者迷. It’s kind of difficult to explain what it means in English but it loosely translates to, “The bystander can see clearly, while the author’s vision is cloudy.” Needless to say, that was like a tiny needle inserted into my big balloon that slowly siphoned off all the air. My giant beautiful pink balloon became shriveled up and wrinkled. 

At that moment, when those things happen to us, we never take them the right way. But upon reflection, which I tried to do immediately, I saw that he and the other individual were correct. Didn’t you ever have that kind of a situation where you’re working on something so hot, so hard, so heavy, your focus was so laser sharp on a pinpoint area of one small facet that you lost the greater picture? Doesn’t everybody do this? They always focus on miniscule stuff and lose the greater vision and goal. People do this when they practice, in their lives, in their work place, with projects and so on and so on. They become so engrossed in what they think should happen that they lose the true essence of what is supposed to happen. This really inspired me to take a look at everything that I’ve been doing lately. Because we get so built up and so caught up with what we’re doing, we actually create a type of blindness to what we’re supposed to be doing. This is where the so called unbiased, innocent bystander, even though they may have less training or no training whatsoever, can see so clearly. 

A good example would be a child. The innocence and the lack of desire and ego that children have allows them to see things that adults don’t see. Always they say, “out of the mouths of babes” because little ones just say what it is, unfiltered, not thinking about being politically correct or possibly hurting someone’s feelings or insulting them, not from any malicious standpoint, but because they just blurt out the truth. I can remember years ago being in an elevator in a building with my young daughter who must’ve been three years old at the time, and there was an older man in the elevator, and she looked at him and looked at me and said, “Daddy, Daddy, he has such a big nose,” and there was nowhere to hide. You do your best to make sure the other individual doesn’t feel bad, but the truth was, he had a big nose and it was right there on his face. That was what was being said to me in that moment. Look, look, you’re missing the details. You’re jumping to conclusions. It looks like something that you think you know, but it’s not exactly the same. So it is necessary for you take a step back, if not several, and refocus your gaze upon the same item. Needless to say, I tried my best and I’m still working on that set of movements. 

This idea of taking the unbiased critique of an outsider sometimes is the best medicine that we need in order to sharpen up our focus again. Many times, the errors that we make are when we dismiss the teachers that we have in front of us. But your teachers aren’t always the ones that you call teacher. Good things teach us; bad things teach us. Good people teach us; bad people sometimes teach us even better. And in this instance, unbiased individuals that have absolutely no concern with what you’re doing can also teach you a great lesson. It’s those people on the sidelines that sometimes see better than those that are involved in the game. I know there are a lot of armchair warriors that watch their football games on a regular basis and scream at the television why the guy didn’t make the pass or the touchdown, but there is some truth to this. Even though they’re not physically involved, they can see a little bit clearer than the players who are in the game. Sometimes we are so engrossed in the action or the item that we almost miss what’s truly happening. A case in point is one of the young men that I train on a regular basis and is sometimes part of my sparring team. He made a comment to me that he was so engrossed in being the adversary in a drill that we were doing that he couldn’t see what was being done to him, so there is something to be said for just sitting there and watching and listening.

I was carrying these thoughts around with me all day and all night, and being inspired by this, I took it with me to my early morning Saturday kids class. I think this is really heavy stuff for little kids, but I tried to find a way to explain to them that just because you’re working hard doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re working properly. I tried to explain it in such a way that confused them a little bit, but it was fun. I said, “How many Sifus do you have here in the school?” First they all said, “One!” and then after that it became mass confusion. Finally, we sorted it all out, and we came to the conclusion that you have three teachers at your fingertips. First and foremost is your Sifu, and you have to follow what he shows you. But equally as important, you have your faculties – that is your eyes and your ears. Sometimes we all turn them off. Even though you look, sometimes you don’t see. You hear, but many times you don’t listen. Your teachers are there but you don’t utilize them. I’ve grown frustrated with many of my students because even though I am present and they are neither blind nor deaf, many of them dismiss those faculties that are available to them and just go on autopilot, just as I was guilty of in my own training session. 

We have to train our powers of observation. How do you observe? You observe with your eyes, and you observe with your ears. These powers of observation that we have are not something that are exclusive to any one individual. Everyone has them. They’re super powers that everybody has, but not everybody knows how to use or how to cultivate. That’s why I’m so inspired by what happened. The small things that you gloss over may be the things that really make what you’re doing what it truly is. It’s the details. Kung Fu is in the details. It’s the small screw that holds together the two pieces of wood. It’s the hinge pin that holds the thousand pound door. This is what we need to learn, is how to be of a dual focus. While we’re working, being intensely focused on what we’re doing but at the same time policing and supervising ourselves so we don’t miss or gloss or skip what we’re doing or what should be done. We need to be careful not to lose ourselves so much in the task that we lose the task at hand. Coming back to my football analogy, this is why many sport coaches tape their games and tape their practices, because things happen so fast that they need to go back and show their players where they could improve and where mistakes were made, or where things were done well and try to duplicate those actions. 

You have to excuse me now. I have to go and do a little bit more editing on a movie that we’re working on for Kung Fu In A Minute. As I’m watching it, I’m going to try to use my powers of observation to see what things I did well and what things I didn’t do so well, and try to raise it up to another level. So let’s have a “woohoo” moment, but it’s just a moment, and then we need to refocus and get back to work.

-Sifu Paul Koh 高寶羅