A young Shaolin boy goes and studies at the Shaolin Temple. His first training exercise is to slap the water in a basin.
The boy, perplexed, asks, "Why?"
The master said, just do it. Slap the water.
And the boy continues slapping the water all day and his hand begin to go red. It is the same the next day and the following weeks and months. After a year, the boy returns home. When he is at the dinner table with all his family and friends around, they wonder, "What did you learn at the Shaolin Temple?"
The boy, somewhat bitterly says, "I've only learned to slap water." And then slammed his hand on the table and it broke in half.
This is a parable that explains the nature and culture of Kungfu philosophy. In a very traditional sense, students would often go through an initiation to see if they had the discipline to handle the monotony of training.
Nowadays, it's not so much like that, but they still carry concepts of that credo.
Kungfu teaches that discipline is primary because if you are to achieve anything, you must have or create the discipline to follow through.
Understanding then becomes secondary, because true understanding comes through doing and experience.
I know from my own perspective, it's hard to accept this way of teaching, because I crave understanding first. I like learning and then deciding if I will try it or not. I value wisdom and knowing.
But too much knowledge can overwhelm and paralyze action.
Too often we get caught up in the enthusiasm of learning new things and trying to go all out for short bursts at a time. We jump around chasing one goal, then another and not getting much done.
The man who chases two rabbits catches neither.
But looking at from a more scientific perspective, I would have to admit I agree with this concept of teaching discipline or grit. Let the new pupils struggle and build their character with blocks of grit in the beginning. Learn the basics and build a structure before trying to reach flying heights. Then, start going deeper into the material.
Probably the person who has researched this concept the most is Angela Lee Duckworth. She found that the only difference that separated high performing students to lower performing students was grit, their ability to do something even though they don't want to. Their social IQ, talent, wealth or any other variable didn't attribute to their success.
It was grit that separated them.
"Grit is passion and perseverance for very long-term goals. Grit is having stamina..."
"What I do know is that talent doesn't make you gritty. Our data show very clearly that there are many talented individuals who simply do not follow through on their commitments. In fact, in our data, grit is usually unrelated or even inversely related to measures of talent."
When you are relentless, the world opens up to you. If something has meaning and value to you, you can attain it. Be relentless, deliberate and afraid of nothing.
When you consistently follow through on even hum-drum activities, you are learning grit, block by block. And when you have gone through that experience, reflect on the results either tangibly or intangibly. Create a feedback loop so that you can continue to grow.
About the blog
Luke Shao and Master Wang are on a mission to share the ancient Chinese approach to acquiring any skill.