I occasionally help with instructing kids Kung Fu classes. It’s not my forte, I tend to prefer teaching adult classes. What I have noticed is that kids can’t resist a race. Regardless of what physical activity it is, kids tend to want to compete against their peers to finish first. This behavior pattern is generally not noticeable but becomes quite problematic when teaching traditional Chinese martial arts. Picture in your head how difficult it is to teach quality of movement to someone who is clearly only interested in beating his or her class-mates. It makes for some hilarity when a little kid is trying to learn zig-zag stepping for the first time but is also trying to beat little Johnny across the class. Tripping and falling over their own feet, looking somewhat like a capering pixie.
I don’t believe that this is all natural behavior. I believe that our modern culture strongly impresses us all with the need to prove that we are better than everyone else. It also doesn’t help that the idea of competition to prove superiority is the heart and soul of most sports.

I think long and hard about a lot of things. I have been born with an insatiable need to understand. I have to concede that I am as much a product of the system as anyone else and although I may find a kid racing through zig-zag stepping amusing, I am also guilty of harboring a competitive mentality although I have worked hard to undo much of this social programming in myself.

Life is not a race from the day of your birth to the day of your death.

Modern Western culture is all about the human race, it seems. We are born and from that point we race at break-neck speed to get to the finish line ahead of our peers. Of course, we realise too late that the finish line is literally the finish line.

Traditional Chinese Martial Arts offers an alternative to racing at top speed towards the inevitable day of your death with your eyes closed. Instead, it offers the opportunity to experience and savor each moment of your life (whether pleasant or unpleasant).

We spend literally hours striving for perfection in a single step.

Months rehearsing a single hand gesture.

Decades of perseverance to breathe a single breath.

It is so counter-cultural that most people will never even understand. The roaring crowd, the trumpet fanfares, the gaudily-coloured ribbons of the race drown out all hope of appreciating silent contemplation.

Stillness and movement. Yin and Yang.

But for some, it is essential. It is life.

We are those who crave the silence, the motes of dust dancing in the sunlight in the quiet of the training hall as we move through Lien Bu Chuan.
The sweat trickling down our backs.
The feeling of stone breaking under our fingers.
The surge of power as we tap into inner reserves to strike.
Ebbing and flowing like the tide.
Rising and falling like the sun.
Each exhale a portent of our death. Each inhale a memorial of our birth.
We are those who prefer not to race. We are those who live.

Written by SiXiong Lester, head of the Chinese Martial Arts and Health Centre Australia