How many times have you opened your Inbox and found one of those group messages, usually accompanied by a nice PowerPoint slideshow presentation, mellow music and extraordinary images forming a “frame” around words from the Buddha, the Dalai Lama, or some other famous historical figure that tells you to “remember the small things in life” and then to forward said message and contents to 10 others who are special in your life?
Has it come to such, with today’s hectic lifestyles, that we content ourselves with such opportunities to “stop and smell the roses” and then remind ourselves, that yes, we must remember to visit Aunt So-n-So, or to get around to calling Such-n-Such, whom we haven’t talked to since high school, or to make sure we remember to spent time with Junior and not take our work home with us? Yes, we must remember to take some time to remember what Life’s about.
It is a sign of the times that we usually feel it inconvenient to actually take some time to go visit Aunt So-n-So, or to call Such-n-Such, or to go to the bike trail with Junior because we are just too busy or too much in a hurry to get somewhere or do something “important”. We go on a vacation, and because there is so much to see and do, we shoot thousands and thousands of photos of everything (thank goodness for digital cameras now, eh?) to remember our trip, only to come home and have to categorise all those shots onto disks, feeling empty and wondering, “just what did we do on this vacation” because we were too busy shooting photos rather than enjoying and experiencing what we went for in the first place.
How many of you end up feeling exhausted by week’s end, and just want to crash – veg out and have a few drinks, get a pizza and watch a movie to unwind and forget on the weekends? How many go to work in a routine, mundane job that saps your enthusiasm to think and to dream and allows no excitement for a challenge? How many try to keep up with the Joneses by working extra hard to send the kids to this school and by shuttling them to this and that activity? How many of you just want to make it to the end of the week?
What I’m getting at here is something that I often say to my students in class: “once you know the start and the finish of a movement or a technique, you must go back and create as many places of awareness as you can, in-between. For it’s those places in-between that the better opponent is going to catch you out.” And the better opponent is always the one who will make you better, who will make you grow. The better opponent is the one who makes any achievement and progress taste so sweet, because you know that you’ve earned that achievement because you experienced it. You took the time and effort to work through what was needed for the growth; in other words, you took the time to stop and smell the roses.
As we rush through our weeks, trying just to get to the end of it 52 times a year, how much of life do we miss out on? Before we know it, it’s gone – just think how fast this year is whizzing by for you right now. What meaningful things have you accomplished so far as opposed to the ones that you wanted to do by now? If they don’t match up, might be time for a bit of a re-think, in my opinion.
In Wing Chun, we try to deal with combat as it happens, not how we think it’s going to happen; we want to always be in the moment. That’s part of the reason we train chi sao skills; contact reflexes are based on true and tangible experience, from which we get to know when our opponent is going to attack and very often, how. But the opponent can push just a little less this time, or a little bit longer next time and it can completely change the scenarios we have to deal with.
Throwing the punch a bit faster, shortening it up to double up with a second punch, pushing up or across, pulling down or pressing in – all these energies can, will and do change in an infinite amount of variations, directions and intensities such that to be successful in reading them accurately, a Wing Chun practitioner must always look for those nuances of experience that he/she has not yet encountered and keeps looking for the next ones that will catch him/her out, so as not to be the one with the bloody nose, fat lip or black eye.
If we anticipate the opponent’s technique, too often we will rush into a response that may or may not be the correct one. Because we wanted to get from the start of the opponent’s technique right to the end trying to finish him/her off quickly, we may have missed that little push, that extra pump that changed the timing, that slight head fake that hid the movement of the second punch’s angle – whatever, that then made it a wrong decision on our part and so we paid the price. If our concentration and focus drifts or wanes, the result is immediate and readily apparent.
Just trying to get through the week here, without taking some time to smell those damned roses, again leaves us empty, unsatisfied and unfulfilled. We’re feeling low, exhausted and drained, but not for the right reasons.
How far is your local milk bar or corner store; is it five minutes away, ten minutes away… just down the end of the street? Do you unconsciously jump into the car and drive there all the time, when you run out of bread or want the newspaper; when’s the last time you walked to that store? If it’s been awhile, I urge you to try it today.
For me, there’s nothing like that first walk in the morning, to greet the day and the wonders and new experiences it will bring me. I get a good glimpse during that walk, often noticing sky and cloud formations that I will never, ever see again (they may be similar on another day, but you will NEVER see those same ones again), hearing and seeing birds on the grass and in the branches, singing, chirping and cawing away. I feel the stiffness and aches from lying in bed the night before start to leave as my body warms and my blood starts to flow. I smell the roses sometimes, along with the scents of fertilizers from the market garden fields and the exhaust fumes from ol’ Joe’s beat-up sedan as he rumbles off to work. In warmer times, I feel the warmth of the sun on my cheeks and in cooler times, that rush of crispness that bites the morning air. All things that we take so, so very much for granted.
It was on one such day, gazing at the colours in the sky and how the clouds had formed that I realised just how different it was to taking that very same route in the car, to head up to the milk bar to grab the Sunday paper. I thought of all the sensations and experiences I was having, compared to the lack thereof, when I hopped into the car for that same journey. It struck me then, when I said to myself, it’s the same journey – same start point, same destination, same end point, and yet, they certainly were not the same!
It was from that new perspective (young idea, hint, hint) that I carried that train of thought over to my Wing Chun training and realised that many of the problems and frustrations I felt with things in my kung fu training were caused by something that also affected my “everyday” life. I wasn’t stopping, or stopping enough, to smell those roses; I wasn’t taking enough time to experience all those places in-between. Since that realisation, I have found a greater satisfaction in my Wing Chun training and development and have found a deeper appreciation for my life “outside the training hall”.
How many “black eyes”, “fat lips” and “bloody noses” have you encountered through the years – missing Johnny’s fourth-grade graduation, forgetting Mary’s 13th birthday, not making that trip to see Aunt So-n-So because you just had to finish that report, and she passed away before you got to see her again? Of course, I’m over-dramatising here, but we all can find times and experiences where we missed out when we shouldn’t have, I’m sure.
So next time you get one of “those” emails, by all means forward it onto at least 20 of your friends to ensure that your karma will take you to the next life. But then, go out AND take some time to smell those roses. Just make sure it’s not the scent of roses coming from that Ambi-Pur car air freshener in the dashboard!
Musings by Sifu Dana P Wong is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.