Maintaining the Will to Train
One of the most productive periods of martial arts training in my life was when I first got to Taiwan. It was an incredible class, with an incredible teacher and I was learning shit I couldn't dream up in my previous 11 years, I was meeting with lots of school brothers or other martial artists to train outside of class, I was devoting another 3-4 additional hours a day to my own personal training (calisthenics, forms, tiangan) and I was having the best time of my life at it. Then I ended up with a very serious injury to my ankle. I could barely walk for about 3 months and it was about 6 before I was really training again. In about the first month or so after I had stopped training I think I was actually going through some kind of Bagua-withdrawl. I was getting depressed about the whole thing, my body just couldn't and wouldn't do anything, and I was still thinking about martial arts the whole time. A senior brother of mine showed me how to practice houtian while sitting down, another showed me a way to direct your mind to the process of healing, and I tried to devote more time to meditation in an effort to make good use of the time I had. None of it felt like a replacement to my heart at the time. I was still feeling "damn I suck," "how will I ever get as good as I want to with this," "I feel like I'm wasting my time," and "now what am I going to do." It didn't happen overnight, but eventually I came to realize what was happening to me. I changed my viewpoint around and came to peace again. I just turned my philosophy around from a "this is the goal I want" to one of continual improvement and one of happiness during the process (as opposed to some abstract goal giving me confirmation). Although I'm sure you don't see it that way, I can be just as lazy, just as weak, just as injury-prone, and just as uncoordinated. I got over it though, and just went about getting my job done. And that way I was able to get back into it and keep progressing. No reason to look so hard for the light at the end of the tunnel when so much of the beauty of it all is right before your own nose.
But alas, paragraphs are something I need to work on when narrating...
I'm sure I've told you before that the most important thing is just to look for getting better at one thing at every class or every training session. It doesn't have to be anything spectacular, it doesn't even have to be something physical. It just has to be some spark, or connection, or furthering of your abilities each day, each workout. Things don't come easy in martial arts, and like I said before - Gao Baguazhang is a complicated art. What I really mean to say is that our Bagua is comprehensive. There is a lot there and while it can all return in the end to very simple concepts and movements, the path isn't always so simple. It takes hard work, perseverance and dedication. But then again, so does anything worthwile.
There is so much you can do when training on your own (without a teacher, without school brothers, without anyone to hit) that if some opportunity to train like that is given - just take it.
And, for what it's worth, I was never gifted in terms of size, power, speed, coordination, memory, or anything else. I did work hard, I don't give up, and I keep trying. It seems everyone wants to make some type of excuse. I've heard them all: I don't have any time, I don't have anyone to work out with, my back/knee/ankle/fill in the blank hurts, I'm never going to be as good as such and such, I don't have enough money, It's too much work, It's too hard to get there or too far away, my teacher isn't giving me corrections, my teacher isn't teaching me this or that, I haven't been handed the secret to the Universe on a silver platter, etc., etc.
Excuses aren't going to get you anywhere. Excuses are for the weak-willed. Excuses are for those who have no desire to succeed. Excuses will never help you when that mugger attacks you in a dark parking lot. Excuses aren't for martial artists!
Well, enough now for this fortune-cookie shit!
Train what you know.
Learn more when you can.
Think about it.
Think and train some more.
Find people to practice applications, drills and fighting with.
Get your ass kicked.
Kick some ass.
Learn what you can.
An old grandteacher of mind before I even started bagua used to tell of stories of good martial artists he'd known. He said the primary difference was in their total dedication to improvement, all the time. If they went into a building with an elevator, they would take the stairs. They would practice thoughout the day, pull ups while riding the bus, push ups throughout the day, stepping while waiting for the bus/metro/whatever, training your mind and visualizing techniques/forms while at rest, etc.
I've even heard stories of my seniors that have that dedication - Lin Guozheng spending 10 hours a day practicing Bagua for 2 years in a row, every day. I heard people say that they would see Bill Tucker practicing tiangans throughout the day constantly, if there was five extra minutes in between anything, he would be doing tiangans. Someone told me that he had been told by Tim Cartmell that if you want to get the skills of a "professional" in MA, then you have to put in the time and dedication like one. If 40 hours a week for a job constitutes full-time, then that should also be our goal if we are to be serious about it. There's probably more, I'm not trying to leave anyone out, just what came to the top of my head.
And Laoshi has spent more time, money, sweat, blood and dedication than any of us in his pursuit of the martial arts. Part of holding up our end of the tradition, the family, is honoring their dedication with equal amounts of our own.
Train hard, train well, circle on.