The Single Ingredient

Many (many) years ago a teacher asked me, “What do you think is the most important attribute of a Kung Fu student?” He continued, with suggestions, “Speed? Strength? Intelligence?” I voted for the last. I had seen so many students who, if they only understood what they were doing, everything would have been fine.

He shook his head. “Perseverance.” It was my first lesson in teaching and it took some while to understand why this was so.

So, decades later, I’m talking with one of our school’s top instructors. We are discussing a new student. He has come to us, supposedly, with a few years of Praying Mantis. The truth is that he can hardly stand up straight. Even his basic punches are weak, flimsy and tentative. When he turns from horse stance to bow stance he leans away from the actions, rotating his front foot on the wrong pivot point, shifts off-balance, sticks his butt out, and even has a fairly strange expression on his face. I am almost admiring that he can gather so much rotten fruit in one basket.

But we begin talking, as instructors do, and after thinking of teaching tricks that might help, I remind her, “It’s always hard when the student may not be talented but is determined. Then they are really ok with reps, being put off to the side, given few instructions. Trouble is,  if they are willing to stick, so are we. It’s our obligation.” I mention the old adage about perseverance but she’s never heard it. So I tell her the saying and how I learned it. “It’s an old teaching adage,” I say as I arbitrarily pick up a book from the shelves. It’s the “Cheng School Gao Style Baguazhang Manual.” As we chat, I randomly crack it open to page 116 and read…

“Teachers should have a soft spot for endurance; students should have modesty and perseverance. Teachers should regularly demonstrate, often explain, and diligently make corrections. Students should regularly practice, often ask questions, and diligently receive instruction. …”

oops!Perseverance can be shown by continued, dedicated practice. But it is more than that. I know someone who practices on his own, repeating his forms, literally, thousands of times a year. But, when everything is counted, his is really a type of therapy wanting neither human intercourse nor personal improvement. God bless him, he is there handling his problems. Nothing wrong with that. But perseverance goes a bit deeper. It is a heart-quest that will not be satisfied with the outward form alone. Even the motivation of those martial lessons such as combat that promises victory or injury, is besides the point in real perseverance. It is a shopping list of the spirit written in a personal code. It is rain on the roof filling our spirit even as we eat or read or sleep.

Sometimes it saddens me to see that the reward of perseverance shown in our entertainment is often some over-played public victory, this that or the other. But it is more than any of these because all the types of victories we see portrayed are really revealed to be only a single type, the victory perseverance bestows on your finding and embodying your own true self. Real perseverance is actually quite flexible, just about exactly what victory really can be. But it is uncompromising about not being for mom, your home town or the Gipper. It is simply a hankering after the authentic and, in my little corner of the House of Un-perfectable Achievements, it alone satisfies.

In the Year of the Wood Horse true-hearted attempts can, with a bit of choppy galloping and a few heart-freezing high jumps, win success. We should increase our efforts and take a few more chances.



One Response to “The Single Ingredient”

  1. Hal Asbury says:

    I definitely would’t have appreciated the perseverance quality when I myself was still young. In the intervening years, I watched as talented people who had it easy with much of the material to be learned would crack sometimes when they hit a tough stretch. Sometimes it was boredom, or a difficult to master concept, but either way they ended getting out-performed by a lesser talent with more endurance. So it definitely isn’t that those with much talent always lack perseverance, but that’s the one thing we can’t afford to lack if we want to get where we’re going!

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