Do or Do Not

Do or do not. There is no try….
~Fortune Cookie wisdom~
The other night I was sitting with my Instructors in an all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet, and one of them opened a cookie to this wisdom. I enjoyed it so much, I texted the saying to my phone. And here we are.
If you were to reflect on this gem, its genius would reveal itself to you in many ways. As a martial artist who lives most of the time in the real world, I appreciate the message because it embodies the will and tenacity a warrior must have. But as a man who lives in this world, such gross generalizations hold little truth. My take on “Do or do not…” is that we should strive for our result and not consider the possibility of failure. I am a 50 year old who has struggled with weight problems my whole life, and now I am determined to train like a madman until it comes off:  no exceptions. I am a 16 year old boy who is physically challenged, and I am determined to defeat the larger, stronger boys in sparring. You get the picture. Well, “Do or do not…” sounds good, but where do we draw the line of realistic expectations? Should the 50 year old man push himself until he passes out from heat stroke or a badly damaged muscle pull? Should the 16 year old boy challenge the bigger boys to a match, only to lose over and over and adversely affect his self-esteem, and ultimately his progress? Should the Karate teacher with all the good intentions in the world promise to make his students all champions, despite that neither he nor they have all the tools to do so?
All in the name of self-determination and perseverence.
We must balance expectations and potential with reality. This is what plagues many martial artists (not to mention all the underachieving “positive thinkers”); that we believe that will alone will yield results. Well, I have news for you… You need the correct tools for success–whether martial artist, athlete, victim of schoolyard bullying, churchgoer, etc.–and without them willing yourself to success is only going to lead to disappointment. Follow this simple formula, and then live by the message that fortune cookie brings (question: is that really a “fortune”?):
  1. decide on a goal
  2. identify the obvious obstacles to you reaching your goal
  3. determine your strengths, and therefore your possible chance of success (see step #1, for the definition of what “success” is)
  4. reassess the obstacles to your goal after reflecting on #3
  5. create a plan of attack… the steps you will take to achieve the goal
  6. assign a deadline and all the details in reaching each step of the goal (including what the goal of each step might be)
  7. plan your day/week/month according to the steps you must take
  8. enact your plan
If this doesn’t sound like it has anything to do with martial arts, let’s take a martial arts goal and plan out our mission to achieving it:
  1. i want to improve flexibility
  2. i tight leg muscles, i am older, i am overweight
  3. i am hard-working, i attend martial arts class twice a week, i am patient and diligent, and i practice at home
  4. i will need instruction and more time to stretch
  5. set up private lessons, look up stretching classes at the local YMCA, order books on stretching, work out with classmates who are more limber than i am
  6. 10% in 3 months, 25% in 6 months, 50% in 12 months
  7. two 30-minute sessions extra per week, plus one private training session with my teacher every two weeks and sign up for Yoga at the Y. get books on stretching from library and bookstore
  8. YMCA, here I come!
Okay, this does seem to be overkill. But for many of us, they are necessary steps because few people every actually achieve the goals they have, and end up daydreaming their whole lives about improving skill or studying arts, or defeating opponents and winning competitions. A very small number of martial artists will truly enjoy martial arts superiority over their peers, and they end up using falsities such as “naturally gifted/talented“, “too old to improve“, and “determined to succeed“. They will quote silly cliche’s such as “martial arts is not all about fighting” to make excuses for being a poor fighter, “I’m not built for Tae Kwon Do and kicking” to make excuses for having sloppy kicks, or “create your own path” to justify having no discipline to stick with an art long enough to really learn it properly. The bottom line is that you must have more than just will power, and you must admit that martial arts skill IS measureable.  If you really want to elevate your skills as a martial artist, or you have goals you want to really achieve and not make excuses for failing to achieve them, you will have to learn how to plan to accomplish goals and you will have to learn that will power alone will not get you to home plate.
And one last thing:  Not all martial artists are cut out for proficiency in the art, let alone mastery. However, even for those who do not excel easily, advanced skill is achievable. Get the right teacher, get the right tools, and adopt the right mindset, and you can achieve anything you want.
Next article, I will give my opinion of the saying:

There are no failures, only quitters.


Thanks for visiting my blog.

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