Recently, after a vigorous training session at my martial arts gym, a young student of mine (early 20s) asked to talk to me in private. “Well of course,” I replied, “what’s on your mind”?
“How do you do it”? He asked.
“How do you stay so positive, so upbeat and energetic? Here you are twice my age, and you’re fitter, stronger and seemingly happier than me. Oftentimes, I feel like I’m at the end of my rope and you’re always talking about how it’s just the beginning. I feel like I need direction, motivation, hope, something I can hold on to. What’s your secret?”
“Well” I replied, “The simple answer is ‘effective sustained effort’ and ‘when in doubt, train.’ Through life’s ups and downs, in these uncertain times, training my mind and body has been an enormous foundation that I can stand upon with certainty.”
“No offense Sifu, but aren’t you a little old to still be training so hard? I mean seriously, you’re older than my dad and he doesn’t even work out, not like you anyway.”
“No offense taken,” I answered.
I proceeded to explain to the young man that self-doubt has destroyed many people’s lives. Many unfulfilled dreams have been a result of self-doubt and a lack of motivation and discipline. Most martial artists in their 50’s and 60’s are either broke, broken, obese, or medicating themselves with pot, drugs, or alcohol. Or perhaps they are cynical and are teaching antiquated martial arts systems. I am now in my 60’s and I don’t aspire to be any of these. “Keep training,” I said, “no matter how challenging or difficult life seems sometimes.”
Later that evening, I thought about my student and what we had talked about. I was about 20 years old when some old guy (about my age now) explained to me how “it’s such a shame we have to waste our youth on the young.” How ironic. I am now the “old guy” and here I am, caught in a full circle chain of events.
Looking back at my life, I realize I have had to endure several heartaches and trials to get to this point. I fell in love, got married, then divorced, then remarried. I raised my children into fine adults and now have a six-year-old. I buried my grandparents, buried my father and buried my brother. I became addicted. I got sober. I made money. I lost money. I had moments of triumph and also got my teeth knocked out. I achieved black belt status only to get thrown out of systems by teachers I revered. I have been sued and slandered. I have read books and have authored books. I have traveled the world and back again, and so on.
I have lived over a half-century, only to realize I am just starting to figure things out. Yes, it is only the beginning, and through it all, I have never stopped training my martial arts. Whenever life’s challenges got me down, or dealt me a blow, when joy turned into sadness and doubt, my training kept me on task. I have survived several course corrections, but never have I abandoned ship.
I have been very fortunate to have had many great martial arts teachers and students in my life. Several times in my career I have studied multiple systems at the same time. For instance, in 1976 I was studying Goju and Hung Gar as I was teaching Kenpo karate. Sound confusing? I suppose it was, but I was 22 years old and had an insatiable desire to learn. It was the learning, needing to understand, training and discipline that fueled my motivation that kept my life on track. In 1992, I was training Pentjak Silat, Yang-style tai chi, boxing, and working out with a high school wrestling team all while furthering my development of the “Slam Set – The Art and Science of Mook Jong.” Once again, the common thread was effective sustained effort.
Cross-training with weightlifting has also been a powerful and essential ingredient not only to my martial prowess, but also to my positive state of mind. I started lifting seriously when I was 15 years old. By the age of 16, I could bench press 310 pounds. I was obsessed with lifting. In my mid-twenties I weighed 195 lbs. and I could bench press 390 lbs. doubling my body weight. I sustained a 300 lbs. plus bench press for 44 years in a row. Looking back at my obsession, I now realize that no matter what negativity was coming at me – alcoholic parents, peer pressure, social upheaval (i.e., Vietnam, civil unrest) – weightlifting gave me a sense of control and empowerment. As my poundage increased, so did my confidence and self-worth.
My advice to anyone reading this blog is to start training, stay training and encourage others to do the same. Oftentimes, in martial arts as well as life itself, we get bogged down by injury, politics, dissenting opinions and self-doubt. The reason I call this blog “Effective Sustained Effort” is because mere “sustained effort” is not enough to realize success. For example, how much effort is involved in sustaining alcoholism, acrimonious relationships, guilt about the past, anger and yo-yo dieting? Although these behaviors involve a great deal of energy and are often enduring in one’s life, they can hardly be called “effective”.
To live a great life and realize your unique values, you must train diligently; sharpen your skills, open your mind and embrace the struggle. As a Chinese master once told me, “There are a thousand doors to the same room.” I suggest that hard work, discipline, rigorous martial arts practice, supplemented with cross-training with a lifelong commitment to effective sustained effort is the key to unlocking your door.