Sunday, 23 November 2014

Mindfulness: practising kung fu to practise kung fu

I levelled up today, as they say in the modern vernacular: I got to the next grade in wing chun.  Of course, I'm pleased about it, and pleased that other students also got to level up, but for me it was harder than I would have wanted.

A few seconds into demonstrating chum kiu, I was struggling for air.  To explain, for the last few days, I have been affected by a cold or flu virus (I never can tell the difference).  Now I'm not looking for sympathy, nor am I one of those men for whom the world stops moving when I'm ill.  As usual, I'm using today's experience to prove a point, to paint the bigger picture.

Recently, I've been studying mindfulness, and talking to others about mindfulness.  I feel a little uneasy about the term, because it has become something of a marketing gimmick, and what we are talking about could just as easily be described as focus.  Still, mindfulness is how it is currently being described, and I see no good reason to deviate from the trend.

I initially struggled with Thich Nhat Hanh's advice to wash the dishes, just to wash the dishes.  Surely, I thought, we wash the dishes to have clean dishes, but that is not what I read in his book.  Clean dishes are what we have when we have washed the dishes, but not when we are washing them.  His point, as I realised after further reading, was that washing the dishes to have clean dishes is concentrating on some point in the future and missing the experience of the present.

If I had concentrated on making the grade today, I would have put an enormous amount of pressure on myself, and the fact that I did not feel one hundred percent healthy would have shaken my confidence.  On my drive there, however, the venue for the grading may have been my destination, but I was driving somewhere to drive somewhere.  Importantly, when I got there, I was not practising wing chun to pass a grade: I was practising wing chun to practise wing chun.

I often think back to when I started practising kung fu, or even further back to when I wanted to practise kung fu, but had yet to have a lesson.  Why did I want to learn wing chun?  Why do I still want to learn wing chun?  I could tell you that I want to be able to protect myself from harm, if the need ever arises.  I could tell you that I want the sense of accomplishment which comes from progress in a martial art.  I could tell you many things for which I am aiming when I practise wing chun, but those are things towards which I will probably always be striving.

What about now?  How does wing chun affect my life right now?  The answer, again, is that I am practising wing chun to practise wing chun.  If I am not enjoying the present moment, the process of learning, concentrating instead on what may come, I am not making the most of the present moment.  This applies not just to the practice of martial arts, but to everything that we do in the present.  Let concerns about the past or the future invade the present moment, and you are not present in the moment.

Today, I was fully present in the moment.  I wasn't trying to pass a test.  I was simply doing what I was doing, to the best of my ability on the day.  As it happens, that is also the way to pass the test.  Literally translated, kung fu means an achievement gained through hard work.  I passed a test of my kung fu by doing kung fu.

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