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Check it At the Door

Attitude Toward Training, Part 2:  The Ego Issue

In the previous installment of Attitude Toward Training, we discussed the issues of rationalizing our mistakes.  This next part will talk about the root of Rationalization:  Ego. 

You have seen it rear its ugly head in class: the smirk of a partner as he gets a hit in, or tempers flaring in a structure-less push and shove match between people who feel they have something to prove.  You have probably been guilty of it yourself—I know I have been at times.  It can become a road block to development as your focus on self-pride overshadows the function of class.  Yet, as with most things, Ego has positive aspects to it as well:  it often fuels the desire to improve if we use it as a motivation instead of allowing it to rationalize our shortcomings.  To illustrate this enigma, I am going to recount a recent event.

Thierry Cuvillier (right) schooled me in Chi Sao.
Just a month ago, I visited my Sifu’s school in Taipei for the first time in 11 years.  I was thoroughly schooled by a junior brother, Thierry Cuvillier.  He had used his longer reach to keep me at a distance, and I had repeatedly and foolishly tried to keep pressing in, only to eat hit after hit. In fact, my own ego— that as a senior, I should be doing better than what I was showing-- pushed me to make the same mistake over and over again; and it was getting worse as time passed because I was expending too much energy trying to play tit-for-tat. As someone who tries not to rationalize my own shortcomings, I immediately began looking for lessons to be learned.  How should I approach this type of energy the next time I encountered it? Now, I look forward to another chance to work with Thierry again.  Not to prove anything, but to experiment, and to see if I can be better.

The goal of class is to improve the process to reach a result, not to get the result haphazardly.
My own experience provides an example of how Ego can be a double-edged sword.  It magnifies our mistakes in the heat of the moment, yet-- if we can keep it from rationalizing our mistakes-- motivates us to improve afterwards.  It is an indelible part of human nature, one that has the potential to bring out our best, but more often-than-not brings out our worst.  With this in mind, how should we use our Ego to our benefit in our Wing Chun training?

In my opinion, it should be left at the school door.  Let your ego motivate you outside of class, to allow for a healthy competition that helps everyone progress.  But once you step on the floor with your kung fu brothers and sisters, you should do your best to swallow your pride as you practice.  Remember that the goal of working with a partner is to develop physical skills; not to prove you are king of the mountain.  Feeling satisfaction with every hit you land while getting upset at every hit you take makes you focus on the final result (the hit) and not the process (how the hit landed).  And class is about improving the process in order to achieve a result correctly, not about obtaining the result haphazardly.

Zen, which is practiced at the Shaolin Temple, emphasizes the idea of "No Mind" to obtain perfection in physical action.
Eventually, we want our technique to become automatic, disconnected from our conscious thought.   It is the Zen idea of “No Mind,” where we do not allow our mind to interfere with our action; and ego is certainly the engagement of the mind that affects our execution.  Is it no surprise that one of the main proponents of Zen in China was the Shaolin Temple, from which Wing Chun supposedly arose?    


( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
Aug. 19th, 2009 05:13 pm (UTC)
Ego can be a huge impairment to training; it sets the wrong tone when working with a partner, encourages sloppy technique and sets people up for frustration. Instead of focusing on being the best, people should focus on doing their best. Setting the bar for achievement against themselves, rather than against the partner they are currently working with.

What strategy have you used to deal with people who are mostly interested in dominating and collecting hit points during chi sao? Some seem to never grow out of the winner/loser mentality.

Not to say that having someone in a class that is ego-driven is always a bad thing. As long as it doesn't rub off on everyone else, it can be very useful training to go up against someone who hates to lose.
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )


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