(Kathy, Jill, and Julie watch intently as the annual post-tournament Demonstration takes place)
Being a full-time Kung Fu and Tai chi instructor, one who owns his own small little school and is trying to build a following, there is something that frequently occurs to me. It's a question that I often get asked in parking lots or checkout lines or when I give a demonstration, and it goes something like this: "Why do I need martial arts in my life?"
And believe me, I understand. Look, we're all busy. We all have things to attend to in our life, personal goals of achievement, family obligations, work deadlines, etc. I've been there and I'm no different. Sometimes it seems like there's too much to do and not enough time in the day. The last thing we're thinking about is how to learn something new, something difficult and strange that we are not going to be very good at for a while, and build a commitment to a new organization.
So why should you start? Why should you do something that will be time-consuming, difficult, take you out of your comfort zone, push your limits, and stretch the borders of your brain? Why do you need martial arts at all?
What if I told you that it was for those very reasons? The reasons that you use to tell yourself it would be too much of a hassle to sign up or be too hard to follow through. The very things that are keeping you away are the reasons that you need to come inside.
The short answer, as you may have guessed from the title of this article, is to Live a Better Life.
Kung Fu and Tai Chi are very different in their aspects, but they share this basic philosophy. Time spent training in either system is time spent working toward a better life for yourself. This is the main thing that martial arts teaches, not just fighting. Life skills, personal development, creation of a strong hardy character. Determination through perseverance. Willpower through endurance. I can go on, but I think you get the picture.
Why do people join Kung Fu? Many reasons. Some people want to learn how to defend themselves. So they improve their life by learning how to protect their personal safety. Some people want to get in shape. They end up improving their life by creating a habit of physical activity and learning how to move their body to achieve the fitness goals they seek. They develop power and strength through Kung Fu by putting forth effort and dedicated repetition of skills. Some people want superior skill, either in weapons or in empty hand techniques. They end up improving their life through the process of practicing for public performance, rank advancement testing, or just meeting certain internalized goals that they have for themselves.
No matter what the reason they have in the beginning for studying martial arts, the process turns out to be generally the same. They come to class and work hard, they change and develop over time. And along the way they push through obstacles and learn a lot about themselves. They learn to not quit when things get hard. They learn to wait and be patient to see results. They learn that sometimes the greatest reward comes in the training, not in the end results.
Shall I put it to you another way? Okay.
If you want to Live a Better Life, guess what is the number one thing that is required of you? More than time, money, discipline, commitment, willpower, or any other buzz word?
Change. That's the thing that gets you moving. Off the couch and towards all the other things you want in life. You're not going to get it by remaining the same and doing the same things you've always done. Or you'd already have it. So the thing that's required of you is to change.
Historically, we don't like change. We fight it and rebel against it, and try to say things are better the way they are, that nothing needs to change. But are they better? If you stay the same can you say that you'll be happy with that? Will you end up getting the things you want from life, or will you end up watching them pass you by?
You know that person you know, the one you kind of hate, who gets everything that you want and makes it look easy? Well that person is no different from you, they just made the choice one day to get up and make a change. Not to accept the way things were going, but to work actively to change the results. It didn't happen overnight, and it wasn't easy. But they got there simply by trying. Simply by deciding to change.
So all that's required from you really is to make a choice. Once you make the choice to make a change, the rest is just work and details. Given enough time and dedication it will work itself out. Once you decide that you want to Live a Better Life, everything looks different and it's not as hard to put in the work and make it happen. Because now you have your motivation, you have your reason why.
So, why do you need martial arts in your life? I can't tell you that. Maybe you don't.
Maybe you're lucky and happy and fulfilled and all you need is a vacation. The Bahamas are nice.
But maybe you feel something is lacking. Maybe you have a desire deep down inside to change the direction of your life. Maybe you want to lose weight and get fit. Wouldn't it feel great to have more energy and feel revitalized after each session? Or to gain more mobility through movement practice? Balance and flexibility are core principles of all martial arts, especially Kung Fu and Tai Chi. Just a few weeks of practice and you'll feel the difference. Balance and flexibility aren't just things you are born with or not. They are learned skills, and can be honed and strengthened. You change and become more.
Maybe you want to study fighting techniques and weapons work. Wouldn't it be great to know how to defend yourself in an aggressive situation? Or to have the awareness to know how to avoid one?The study of close-up interpersonal exchanges such as fighting can teach us a lot about life and relationships. You learn spatial awareness, timing and distance, effective power, rotational vs. linear power generation, trapping techniques, posture and balance, leverage for throwing, overall strategy, and much more. You learn about physics and geometry. You learn about yourself, and you learn about other people. You grow, you change.
Maybe you want to get spiritual and dive into the deep internal work of Tai Chi. Wouldn't it be great to know how to slow time down and take a breath? How to calm the inner workings of the mind and let your stress just melt out the back side of your head? Or to learn how to cultivate calm energy to feel better, move stronger, and feed our soul by taking some time to pay attention and strengthen the connection between the body and mind? You feel more in touch with things. You wake up, you change.
Maybe it's something else entirely.
The truth is, it doesn't matter which of the nearly infinite reasons draws you close to an interest in the martial arts. Because the baseline motivation is always the same. You don't feel right with the way things are going. You want to make a change. Why?
So you can Live a Better Life. Get out there and do it.
Sifu Michael Sandham is the owner of Shaolin Martial Arts, LLC and the head instructor at his school in Lakeway, TX. He practices Kung Fu and Tai Chi every day, even on Sundays. He's practicing right now, don't you believe me? Let's look in and see...yep, that's him doing squats and punching a wooden board. Can't you see him? Well, he's there, believe me. He also wishes that he could be a dragon, because that would be so cool.
He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 512-743-7261
or check out the website at www.lakewaykungfu.com