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Have you ever considered yourself a master? Think about all the skills you have learned throughout your life, from the first time you found your nose as an infant, to tying your shoes, adding numbers together, riding a bicycle, swimming, driving, etc. Now these skills seem simple and you probably have a hard time remembering when you were unable to do some of them (especially “finding your nose!”). When you were first shown some of these skills some may have been more difficult to learn than others, but you still had to learn all of them.

Our lives are filled with challenges, and we learn new things everyday. But some learn more new things than others, and reach higher levels of understanding of themselves and this world we live in. Why is this?

The term, “kung fu” means time and effort. Time goes by regardless of what you do. It’s the effort that also means, “you get out what you put in” to everything in your life. Are you putting everything you can into the different areas of your life?

“Mastery” is not a sudden level that one reaches. It is not a “Black Belt” that unfortunately most martial artists and non-martial artists think is the “ultimate level”. There is no such level of mastery that can be calculated by how much you know or how long you’ve known it. It is more of an on-going process of learning and improving. The master does it for the challenge. He does it for the experience. She does it for the understanding and for where it might lead next.

Without goals, you have no direction. Without attention, you have no experience. Your goal is like a compass for your efforts. The process, however, is your true reward. If all you do is think about where you are going, then you are losing yourself along the way.

How many times have you driven somewhere (i.e. work, school, friend or relatives’ house) and didn’t remember the trip itself? Or you go to work or school and just keep watching the clock waiting for the day to end? Students can’t wait to graduate. Both adults and children can’t wait for vacation. Older adults can’t wait to retire. Then what?

We are basically led to believe that what we achieve is all that is important. The “what’s next” rather than “what’s now”. Sports are a great example. We are frequently shown in the media the “champion”, the “glory”, or the “Gold Medal”, and we are influenced to believe that these “end results” are all that there is. It is rare that you learn of the process itself. Without this process being brought into its light, the person is not being cultivated. Just think of how many times you’ve heard of these “champions” ending up with nothing after their “greatest accomplishment”. It is often because they put so much into their achievement, that they don’t know who they are or where to go next.

In most schools of martial arts, the “Black Belt” fits the description discussed. It is something “to go for”. It is something to be congratulated on, and to feel pride (an enemy to mastery!). Something to “brag” to others about (especially since the first question anyone who hears you study martial arts asks is, “So what belt are you?” And the most impressive answer of course is, “I’m a Black Belt!”).

So what happens after you get your Black Belt? Well, unfortunately, many lose interest. They’ve reached their goal, and now they just want to “bask in the glory”. They gain weight, get out of shape, and eventually many just stop coming around their school at all. The goal became the end.

Reaching and accomplishing a goal is a great thing. And of course, reaching the Black Belt is a major step in your martial arts education and life experience. It helps inspire you to accomplish new goals in other areas of your life. It certainly builds confidence and character.

The goal of Black Belt is the natural result of focused effort, one step at a time. If you are enjoying the process of learning and practicing/studying, and concern yourself with the task at hand, the goal takes care of itself. It will be reached, and surpassed with hardly a flinch by the one on the master’s path.

Learn to pay attention to every moment. Learn to notice when your mind drifts from what you are currently doing. If you’re in school, pay attention in class, or you are wasting your time. Is it the piece of paper you want, or the education? If you are working to support yourself and/or your family, strive to do your best at work, learn other people’s jobs, get to know your boss’s boss, and train your replacement! Then you can move up or move on to better things for yourself! Simply put, get involved in whatever your life is all about!

This is why helping others in class is such a vital part of your training. It causes you to pay more attention and to think about what you’ve learned. Don’t be concerned that you’re not learning something new all the time to get to the next level. The next thing is always easier when you’ve spent enough time on the last thing.

Maybe self mastery is the ability to be aware, learn from, and actually be a part of every moment of every day of your life. Maybe it is an “awakening”. A major step towards self-mastery is self awareness.

Oh, by the way, why is pride the enemy of mastery? Because pride leads to satisfaction, and satisfaction leads to a lack of drive, which ultimately leads to the end of progress on the road to mastery!

Originally published November, 1998




Shifu Ahles
Shifu Raymond Ahles, the owner and Chief Instructor of the Blue Dragon School, is a certified instructor of Ba Gua Zhang Kung Fu & Chi Kung and a 7th Generation Lineage Disciple in the Ch’iang Shan Pa Kua Chang Association. In addition to his 30 years plus teaching experience in the martial arts, Shifu Ahles also holds a B.S. degree in Exercise Physiology, he’s a Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) and has an extensive background in the healing arts of Oriental Medicine including certifications in Advanced Amma Therapy, Chinese Herbs and Acupuncture. He is a licensed Acupuncturist and Chinese Herbalist in NJ.





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