Direction Versus Distraction

The long weekend passed quickly having kept busy with various tasks and activities. On reflection, he hadn’t achieved anything of note. Why was this?

Communicating with his Mother through instant messaging, the two had been discussing happiness and it’s constituent parts. One of her remarks, the importance of busyness, resonated with Andrew. Being busy and focused on the task at hand helps to keep the mind in the present rather than the past or future.

This is true, Andrew thought, it helps one to feel useful and a sense of accomplishment after completing a task. Simply being busy though, will get you nowhere unless combined with direction. Direction towards the goals you hope to achieve.

Andrew began to scrawl his thoughts down. Instead of using his free time to do busy work that would distract his mind from negativity, his time was to be spent moving him ever closer to the benchmarks he hoped to achieve in the future.

Today was a landmark day.

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Is Learning Selfish?

At lunchtime, Andrew could sense something monumental. They would be having dumplings for dinner. An enormous bowl of sweet potato and squash filling in the kitchen confirmed this. At the request of his Mother, who was many miles away, he returned to the kitchen in the late afternoon to help.

Despite the stiff language barrier, there was a semblance of flow. Firstly, the dough was divided into portions, each enough for one dumpling. Next, the dough was rolled around in one’s hand before being pressed into disc. By rotating the dough while simultaneously using a rolling pin, a flattened dumpling was formed. Finally, filling was placed in the centre and the edges pinched together firmly.

Andrew clumsily navigated the dough often making mistakes and being forced to start again. Not enough flour and the dough would stick to the chopping board. Too much rolling and the dumpling became flimsy.

Despite this, he enjoyed the process though was unsure how much help he was. Chef was patient and kind offering tips as best she could. Andrew wondered though, as he contemplated the dumpling he had dropped on the floor, am I being selfish?

After all, his contribution was more of a hindrance than a help, despite his good intentions. Chef would likely have finished the process and moved on to other work had he not ‘made himself useful’. Was learning a selfish endeavour?

Similarly, when he trained acrobatics with Bishal, was he not taking away precious time that could be better spent working on his own techniques? Having to explain and demonstrate the basics, like the forward roll, would surely have been tedious for the Nepalese dynamo.

After all, he reflected, this is why one pays for coaching and formal education. In the scenario at the academy, what were Chef and Bishal getting in return?

They could laugh at his incompetency, Andrew thought sarcastically. Perhaps helping in this way made them feel good about themselves. Also, teaching is a way of improving on a skill. It forces the teacher to think more deeply on the subject, approach it from many different angles and better understand the foundations.

Andrew had come to a conclusion. If the teacher and student were willing, then learning is not a selfish pursuit but a symbiosis in which both parties benefit.

That night, as he admired the bowls of steamed dumplings, he noticed a few more than usual had burst open. I need more practice, he thought sheepishly.

It Is What It Is

A disturbing notion crossed Andrew’s mind, “Why am I geared to view humanity with scepticism and negativity?” At one point during the day, Andrew found himself alone in the training room attempting to eek out more hamstring flexibility, when Bishal, a young guy from Nepal walked in.

Bilingualism has always impressed Andrew and forced him to think that he too should master a second language. Bishal spoke English quietly but with fluency. With headphones in, Andrew didn’t understand what the Nepalese man said. “Are you Arabic?” was his first impression. Given the moustache-less beard Andrew had fostered over the past few months, he could understand this misunderstanding.

After Bishal repeated himself half a dozen times, he was in fact asking, “Would you like to learn acrobatics?” Having always wanted to master the flip and aerial manouevers, Andrew answered exuberantly in the positive. According to Bishal, along with Kung Fu, acrobatics forms part of the standard school curriculum in Nepal.

Beginning with basic rolls, Bishal was patient and demonstrated a few gravity-defying stunts in the progress, serving as incentive. Throughout their session, Andrew’s mind was plagued with the thought, ‘What is his ulterior motive?’.

Maybe he did have an underlying reason, Andrew pondered at the end of the day. Why must one assume it is sinister though? Bishal, having been at the academy for only a few days, came across as a good-natured individual; perhaps he was simply trying to make a friend to make his stay at the academy a more enjoyable experience.

Andrew had much to learn about allowing his perceptions of scenarios and people dictate real-life situations. Although a degree of scepticism is healthy and necessary, allowing past events and thoughts to direct the present and future is dangerously limiting to one’s growth potential. Perceptions, after all, are not reality, but the emotions and beliefs we attach to it. Recognising this and being more objective, taking a situation for what it is, was another lesson Andrew hoped learn over the course of his stay.

For now though, flipping was on his mind. “Two weeks and you should have a front flip, my friend” Bishal said with a smile and a nod. Andrew hoped this to be true and that night dreamed of executing masterful aerial manoeuvres at will.

Human Encylopaedia’s

Martian’s time at the academy was coming to a close; he would be leaving in a few days time. Four months at the academy and it was time to move on, though the future remained unclear.

Being somewhat of a recluse and outcast of the group, Martian kept to himself at meal times and rarely trained with the rest of the students. In spite of this, he would happily talk with Andrew when away from the group. Perhaps it was because Andrew showed genuine interest in what Martian had to say while sarcastic undertones filtered through the dialogue of the remaining students.

The man is a wealth of knowledge, Andrew reflected before bed one night. He could speak competently on a wide array of topics from medicine to spirituality, and had opened Andrew’s eyes to some fascinating ideas and offered suggestions for further reading.

Andrew loved to read though consistently underestimated the unique knowledge locked within each individual. One’s experiences coupled with their interest’s produces an inimitable cocktail of data, which can be accessed with nothing more than the right attitude.

In future, Andrew planned to read more deeply into the walking human encyclopaedia’s that surrounded him each and every day. It was not a matter of prying, he thought, simply getting people to speak about things they are passionate about. He had to discard the notion that he was wasting his time which sometimes plagued his thoughts when caught up in conversation. You can always read a book, but you have only a limited window to access another person’s knowledge.

Lead The Way

Training during the second week was subdued. Whether due to the poor weather or the impending national holiday, Andrew did not know. While still valuable, intensity and quality were not at the standard of the previous week. Noticing this, the Shifu, brought it to the attention of the student’s.

Upon receiving the dressing down, Andrew reflected. It is the imperative of a leader to dictate how he wants things to run. His behaviour, actions and control over a group play a fundamental role in how they respond. Over the course of the past week a couple of red flags jumped out. For one, during forms practice, where expert critique is required to fine-tune the subtleties of a sequence of movements, the older Shifu was often distant and aloof. On occasion he used the time to rehearse his own forms.

Another instance that stood out was the banter, which had developed between the young Shifu and Forde. The young Shifu repeatedly made immature jokes during class and then expected the impressionable American to act respectfully and responsibly as soon as the jokes were over.

Cycling through the week, there were a couple of lessons in all of this, Andrew pondered. For one, as a leader, lead by example and set the standard with which you would like your chargers to follow. If the group or individual is out of line, an appropriate reprimand needs to be dished out immediately, not days later. This is why punishing a dog well after an event has occurred is an ineffective means to change her behaviour.

Secondly, Andrew contemplated, have your own standards and don’t let them be dragged down by others. There is always a choice in how you act and behave. As an individual, you must ultimately decide whether you want to lower your standards to fit in with the group.

Spend Your Energy Wisely

Self-pity. We’re all guilty of it from time to time. What does it accomplish? Does it help to justify the way we feel, or perhaps it validates our actions and efforts?

Andrew detected this sensation on a couple of occasions today. At first during basic training, where the student’s practice the fundamentals of Kung Fu such as kicks, punches and blocks. In his opinion he demonstrated good intent throughout, but the group was regularly lambasted and dolled out the penicillin of physical punishment – push-ups.

Later in the day, during a time dedicated to forms practice – the linking of a sequence of movements with flow and speed, Andrew felt he received less guidance and feedback than the other students.

A cocktail of self-pity and resent began to brew before Andrew recognised the learning opportunity at hand and asked himself a series of questions. For one, was he capable of giving more as in the first session? The answer was a reluctant ‘yes’. Secondly, did the second situation provide him with a chance to demonstrate independence? Once again the answer was ‘yes’. Finally, had he asked for feedback and guidance or did he expect the Shifu to read his mind (knowing the experience of the Shifu, he probably possessed this ability)? Damn, Andrew smiled. There is always more that one can do, he thought reflectively.

Andrew realised he must do away with thoughts and emotions that don’t serve him and instead direct this energy in to more constructive avenues.

Understanding Breeds Application

The day began with meditation. Oddly enough, despite the academy being centred on physical training, accounting for around 7 hours of the day, much of Andrew’s thoughts seemed to circulate around other matters. Perhaps this was a consequence of him digesting the experience, with martial arts being an unknown entity to him.

The seasoned Shifu began to discuss the key points of meditation from correct posture to what you should and should not do during the practice. Some obscure principles were brought to the student’s attention, not being able to swallow for instance. This had Andrew thinking of the importance of understanding the ‘why’ behind anything.

With a concrete understanding of the rationale behind why you’re doing something, application becomes easy and fluid, Andrew ascertained. Without an appropriate explanation, however, the principles simply confuse and distract from the practice itself.

This is what Andrew found himself grappling with during meditation. Despite a student asking about the importance of keeping the tongue pressed to the roof of the mouth, the group was none the wiser regarding this nuance of meditation. Perhaps the ‘why’ was simply lost in translation? This would be the best-case scenario as a teacher should always know the ‘why’ of what they are teaching.

Whether training, nutrition or topics outside the realm of health, this concept has vast implications, Andrew thought. By establishing a ‘why’, adherence improves drastically, rather than relying on dogmatic reasoning.

Understand The Why

Training rolled on at the academy. A new student began, a 30’s-something Chinese woman. Finally he wasn’t the least adept Kung Fu practitioner! The more he pondered the full-time academy and it’s participants, the more he was sure that life at the academy wasn’t truly reality.

Much of his theory stemmed from student’s approach to training. If this were reality, training would be approached with an unparalleled intensity that one would attribute to an individual following their passion. His older brother, whose heart bled musical notes, was the perfect example.

He was not witnessing this. A classic example, he thought, was attendance. With the exception of a relative newcomer, no one had participated 100% of the time due to a multitude of flimsy excuses.

Andrew was not disappointed at the other students’ efforts and taking a swipe at their integrity. He was sure that past students had approached their time at the academy with the intent of squeezing every last drop out of the experience. The point was that each and every student has his or her unique reason for attending the academy, and it’s not always to optimise learning the art of Kung Fu.

Perhaps once you know why you’re here and have had your fill, you can leave…

Fork In The Road

While training, training occupied his thoughts. Though, during the brief interludes between sessions, his mind continually drifted to altering his plans. The possibilities were endless and appealing.

First though he had to determine why he was leaving. There was no right or wrong answer; both decisions could be justified. To stay would mean learning more about the art of Kung Fu, establishing himself as integral member of the academy community and learning more about himself.

To go? He would be able to begin another adventure, see another country, experience new things and be forced out of his comfort zone. He would need to fend for himself without leaning on the crutch which the academy provided.

With a yes or no decision to make, what was causing all this hesitation? he wondered to himself. While he would need to make certain adjustments, altering his travel insurance for one, these were not the major impediments for him reaching a verdict. The answer lay in the question that repeated in his mind, what would others think?

Was he giving up? Did loneliness get the better of him? Even if he was and even if it had, it did not matter. He needn’t worry about others thought. That was up to them. Why waste energy speculating when it could be better spent on making a judgement call. Besides, he didn’t know what others were thinking, it was his perceptions that were playing tricks on him.

He had made a decision and that was that.