A First Step to Becoming a Martial Artist

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“A journey of a thousand miles
begins with a single step.”

I was seventeen years old when I met the “new guy in school.” He was wearing a t-shirt designating a strange symbol. I asked him what it was and he told me it was a, “yin / yang.” When I asked him what it meant, he explained that it can represent, “good and bad,” and that, “there is always a little good in bad, and always a little bad in good.” (Note: actual yin/yang principles have nothing to do with “good and bad,” however, this was an interesting perspective at the time). When I asked him why he wore it he was a little evasive and said that he would, “tell me about it in private.”

Later, when others were not around, we had the chance to talk again. He told me that he was learning “kung fu” and that he kept it somewhat secret. Well, I became very interested. I wanted to learn “karate” since I was a little kid. I asked more questions, but he became evasive again. So, I decided to find out what I could on my own, and bought the book, “Shaolin Long Fist Kung Fu” by Dr. Yang, Jwing-Ming.

Dr. Yang’s book gave me the basic knowledge I was looking for. It also inspired me with the stories that get you thinking long term . I learned that the term “kung fu” actually means, “effort and time.” I learned what personal attributes are necessary to be successful with kung fu (as well as any endeavor in life): “patience, perseverance, and a strong will.” However, when it came to the training section, and trying to learn the “forms” from the book, I was lost.

So, I went back to my new friend for help. I began to ask more questions, and wanted him to show me something I could practice. He said that he was not allowed to teach, so I should come to his school, meet his teacher, and watch a class. So, I did.

It was nothing like I thought it would be. Nothing like the karate I had seen before. His movement was so fluid and graceful. He had such balance and body control. When I asked him how long he was learning he said, “about three years.”

I knew immediately that this was for me. The abilities that my friend had developed, along with the perspective I learned from Dr. Yang’s book was all the convincing I needed. On April 17, 1984, I enrolled in my first kung fu class. Knowing what I did from reading, I knew I could not ever quit . I was interested for so many years, but never followed through (of course, as a child, it was not only my decision). But most of all, I never wanted to look back in ten years and say to myself, “I should have…” I knew that once those ten years went by, I would have ten years of experience .

From day one my life began to change. My perspective was completely different. I began to respect my body more and lost interest in “partying”. I began to pay more attention. I set the goal of Black Sash, and I was clearly on a new path .

“A man without a goal
is like a ship without a rudder.”


Originally published in May, 1998 under the title “First Step”





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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