by Bryan Balandowich
“The martial arts are ultimately self-knowledge. A punch or a kick is not to knock the hell out of the guy in front, but to knock the hell out of your ego, your fear or your hang-ups” – Bruce Lee
Sit down. Close your eyes, and reflect on this past year. Are you the person you wanted to be a year ago? The only constant in life is change and in more practical terms and better to set a stage for our discourse, the great Director Steven Spielberg once intimated, “All of us every single year, we’re a different person. I don’t think we’re the same person all of our lives”. In the ever constant discourse between you and the ego enters the epitome – “could’ve, should’ve and, would’ve”, the three characters of regret. I could have done something, I should have done something and, I would have done something . . . are one of the many ongoing conversations between you and your ego. In order to take him, the ego, out in the backyard and shoot him between the eyes and then drown him in cement boots down the river, requires a shift in consciousness, meaning how we use our mental energy. Think about all the things you wanted to do but didn’t do? What was stopping you? Holding you back? With the New Year fast approaching it is a good time to reflect, digest and then set new goals and ambitions. What makes you happy? Take a good look in the mirror or even better take a look at your books, or music collection, hobbies etc. . . Who are you and what is it that will make you happy? Not happy for one day, like the cyclical problem inherent in material happiness. Happy everyday, not like the happiness you get from opening your birthday present. I’m talking about your first kiss, memories with family and friends, what do all these events that we so often recall and give us a sense of happiness have in common? We can all point and say, I was so happy then. You can often hear people echo, “The day I got married, or the day my son or daughter was born and so on, was the happiest day of my life. What do all of those events and memories have in common? Money? No. Family and friends? Yes! The natural world (animals and plants), the environment, such as is represented by a beautiful sunset or diving to the depths of the sea to find Nemo, a concurrent and definite yes. What I am saying is everyone wants to be happy but is like a chicken without a head trying to figure it out. I’m not preaching anything here, just giving my two cents on something everyone thinks about every second of every day, unless you’re not thinking about it, which means, congratulations, you’ve done it! You can study karate, taekwondo, or whatever art you like, the body can only move in X amount of ways. One way or another that fist is coming into the face. Depending on the discipline, it may arrive there via a different path. Therefore, pick the martial art best suited to you, your body type, temperament, and so forth. Listen to your heart and let it guide you down the right path as in the Dao. Often today, many people are watching YouTube videos of people doing this or that, living this or that life, and you have to realize that what makes them happy and what works for them may not necessarily work for you. For example, there are countless diet programs and fitness regimens all claiming to give the best results. The bottom line is, there is no best, no champ, if the training is legit, you’ll get there. You don’t have to be a gymnast or a swimmer and a biker to be in shape. Pick one discipline that suits you. If you like running, start the New Year off running. If you want to bulk up start lifting weights. If you have bad knees, try riding a bike. Some people are big boned some are not. Some are tall and others short. All the girls always say, “we don’t like that super ripped guy”, inherently because it is true that looks are not important in a ten-year marriage. But that is not to say that your girlfriend or wife doesn’t want a buff boo. She just doesn’t want someone walking around like they don’t have a neck and are unable to take their shirt off on their own accord because their biceps are so huge they can’t lift their arms anymore. Big muscles are a “no, no” if you want to be a true master. In fact, some experts say that Bruce Lee’s pipes were too big for Martial Arts. Again, don’t compare apples and oranges. Nothing is to say that a body builder or strong man can’t have big arms, but it’s of not much benefit for the Tour de France cyclist. No way is the way, which in plain English means, find your own way and that way will be the right way for you. Sentiments like that can be attributed to Bruce Lee who was adamant that being able to flow like water and adapt to your opponent is the way to secure a sure and quick knock out.
“When I look around, I always learn something: to be always yourself, and to express yourself, to have faith in yourself. Do not go out and look for a successful personality and duplicate it.” – Bruce Lee
Find out what works for you and then embrace it with all your passion. Is that clear enough? Sorry, where were we. Oh right, everyone wants to be happy. And what is the definition of happiness? Living in the moment, with a disregard for time and much of anything else other than the task at hand. Psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi denoted this experience as, “flow”. From a Taoist perspective, it connotes the sentiment of being in sync with the Dao, “life energy” “Qi” and can be represented and manifested in Taji Quan (a Taoist Martial Art). The beauty of martial arts and what attracted me to it in the first place was the blending of philosophy and it’s expression and manifestation in the real world. Anybody who first takes a Karate class quickly realizes that they don’t know how to do simple things. The teacher says hit the bag and it feels like a mouse gave the teacher a kiss on the pad. You feel embarrassed and your ego is racing, you tense up your muscles and give it a good rip, this time you either hyper extend something or your knuckles are getting bloody from the bag. You quickly realize that you don’t know what’s going on, humble yourself, and get back in line and back to class the following week and the week after, until one day, another you (beginner) comes into the class, and you are the one showing them the ropes and you can’t understand why it’s so difficult for them, while it’s now so seamlessly effortless for you. With that being said, it’s time to grab life by the balls and start living the life that you want by understanding this concise quotation. I have amended the original quotation to edit a sentence of my own. Everything is truly captured by the following quote by Mahatma Gandhi in its fullest essence.
“Your beliefs become your thoughts, Your thoughts become your words, Your words become your actions, Your actions become your habits, Your habits become your values,Your values become your character, Your character becomes your destiny.”
I have added the phrase “your values become your character” with the following connotations in mind. Character is who you are and who you are will define how you interact with the world. If you value socializing and are a “people person”, it is highly likely that you will have a big social circle or if you read a lot of books, chances are you will be smarter (book smart) than those who don’t. A lot of people don’t like to read because they can’t sit still and focus. This is in large part due to bad habits, watching too much TV and other digital media thus shortening one’s attention span habitually. Therefore, if you want to achieve something this year, set a goal and outline the steps (and their implied habits) needed in attaining the goal. What characteristics do you need to succeed? Once you’re done making your list, start doing it immediately. Don’t wait! That’s the secret, “just like a band aid, take it off in one brisk motion”. Or as smokers and alcoholics put it, “cold turkey” that’s the only way, or so they say. What I mean by that is obviously, if your goal is to take a test and you need to study some books, and you just ordered them, obviously you have to wait for them to be delivered before you can start studying. You can however make a shift in consciousness and become that which you want to become now, in an instant. Everyone knows about the glass half empty and full, the pessimist and the optimist. If you set yourself up for failure, that’s your first failure and it builds on itself from thereon in. Just as every guy knows, the toughest part is going up to the girl and saying, “hello”. After that it seems like the worst of it is over, nothing happened, “she didn’t slap me, or yell or run away”, and then suddenly you realize, “I’m in the game baby”!
So there are two elements to success, one psychological and one physical. Just like quitting a substance addiction, it is both a mental game of chess with the ego as well as a physical battle of withdrawal symptoms. If we take a minute and digest the quotation from Gandhi, for its literal denotation, we see that what we think becomes our characteristic behavior (character) and defines our values and who we are. Once you make a decision and start acting on it, following through on your thoughts, the endless conversation in your mind stops because there is no more analyzing, only doing, and living in the moment, “carpe diem”.
It takes time to form a new habit, some say seven days (as for jet lag) and twenty-one to sixty-six days, to half a year to a year and on, depending on the person, habit and other nature and nurture elements involved. Thanks to neural plasticity, the brain can form new neural synaptic connections. Imagine for a moment if you would, that your brain is full of roads and highways and even superhighways (each one representing a neural network). As you start new habits, new roads are constructed. The longer the habit persists, the stronger the connections become. That is why to become a “ninja” you need to throw one hundred or more kicks a day. This will create a strong neural bridge. When your body encounters stimuli, such as aggression from another person, your body goes into a “fight or flight response”. This network does not go by the prefrontal cortex, which is the root of rational thought; rather it goes via the amygdala, which is the center for emotion, which means you react without thinking. Therefore, if you practice a move over and over and it becomes automatic, a part of you.
You literally become your habits. Start by laying a good foundation now, just like we know is true of children; your habits will become whom you are. Therefore, just as it is important to set a good example and right habits for children, as adults we too, “can learn a new trick or two” and we are not just ready to crawl up and die. A lot of martial artists never really get deep enough into the Art to really gain all the benefits. That is because holding a Horse Stance for hours at a time, doing Qigong or Meditation for three hours a day is beyond most people. But ask any Master the secret of their art and they will all point to the basics, the foundation as being the most important. Why then do people not do it? First off, simple things can become boring and it’s a long process. You don’t become a Qigong master after a week of practice. It takes years and that puts people off. We are in the era of fast results, tanning beds, diet pills, steroids and the like. People will forgo their health just to get results fast, which ironically in most cases is counterproductive. So people are getting unhealthy while they think they are getting healthy. A six-pack can’t mask a liver or kidney problem. People go too hard too fast. Take for example a gym newbie. The newbie goes to the gym everyday, has sore muscles, keeps exercising even while fatigued going in for that extra rep, not giving the body the time it needs to build muscle and recuperate, walks around all day with sore muscles, back aches and gets injured and then can’t workout for six months. Wouldn’t it be a better idea to workout a little bit everyday for six months? And again, instead of overkill, training eight hours a day (if you’re young and got the energy and time, then go for it), but for most people who have jobs, families and other time constraints that’s not happening anytime soon. For a simple example, we can all agree, I hope and think, that push-ups are an all round good exercise for all ages and fitness abilities. Gym memberships love this time of year, so instead of giving them your hard earned cash, get out of bed and do ten push-ups everyday. Then do ten more push-ups before you go to take your evening shower and go to sleep. That’s 20 a day, 140 a week, 560 month and 6, 720 a year. After that, if you’re still into working out, get that gym membership and walk in with a tank top on day one looking good and ready for the next level. The point is that gradual consistent training is best. Don’t have time to meditate for 3 hours a day? No problem, start with something as easy as deep breathing. Sit still, close your eyes and take 10 deep breaths from your Dantian. After some time, you may want to set a timer and do it for 2-5 minutes and go from there. Even this small amount of practice will start building your neural connections and start making you calmer throughout the day and sleeping better at night. Do not not meditate or exercise because of time constraints! If you want to get something done, then just do it and stop thinking about doing it. Same goes for yoga, kungfu, skipping, swimming, running or what have you. In China we have an expression, “bu bu gao sheng”, which one offered translation reads as, climb one-step at a time. Soon enough, you will reach the top of the mountain (your goal). And of course one you reach the top of the mountain, you snap a few pictures and head back down. It’s all about the journey, as in life. Once we get to the top we intrinsically plateau, therefore as good business managers know, change and keeping things fresh is integral for a productive team and organization. Those that adapt thrive, and those that don’t perish, the examples are endless. The same goes for the gym analogy. After a certain time the body will get “used to” the daily routine, which means its time to change it up. In addition, the more and longer you work out for, the less you have to work out in the future. Muscle memory and muscle loss are all more persistent and all depending on your persistence. Which means if you stop working out or have a drink or two your six-pack won’t disappear overnight. So what this again translates and amounts to is that one way or another, if you exercise 1min or 1hr a day you’ll get there. Just as in the fable. “The Tortoise and the Hare”, the moral of the story here is don’t just do it as Nike said, stick to it!
“There are no limits. There are plateaus, but you must not stay there, you must go beyond them.” – Bruce Lee
According to Malcolm Gladwell’s “10, 000 hour rule” it takes about 10,000 hours on average to become a master at something. Don’t have that feeling again of regret, that you should’ve done something. Where would you have been now if you had started a new habit last year? Don’t make the same mistake twice. Make this year count, make it right, and value your time because every second, every minute your getting one step closer to the buzzer. Think about it, then relax and get shit done! You’re never too old too start; the only thing holding you back is you. “Knowing others is intelligence; knowing yourself is true wisdom. Mastering others is strength; Mastering yourself is true power” – Lao Tzu. It’s time to stop posting memes and quotations and as Nike said it best, “Just do it”! That’s the first step. Be the warrior you aught, should, would, can and will be today! It’s all up to you. You are the author, it’s your story, and you and only you hold the pen, so get your brush out, hold it up high, and make the first stroke today. The real moral here is to keep writing the story and one day, sooner than you think, you’ll wake up one day, say the timeless cliché, “Oh heavens, where has the time gone?” And you’ll have written a book, a book about your life.
“To spend time is to pass it in a specified manner. To waste time is to expend it thoughtlessly or carelessly. We all have time to spend or waste, and it is our decision what to do with it. But once passed, it is gone forever.”