The other day I received an e-mail from a friend back in the U.S. They were discussing their increasing lack of motivation to train in wushu. Some of it was related to feeling they had started too late, or a lack of involvement in the school by other students or some other things. I wrote out some of my thoughts on the subject for them, but thought it might be something that a lot of wushu athletes out there are/have been/will be dealing with.
I have changed the specifics to protect the innocent. 😉
Thanks for sharing your thoughts with me. I know that it can
be difficult to discuss these things with the people you train with or
see regularly. I think that is why therapists exists. It is often
easier to talk to someone who is not directly involved in your
situation because they don’t have anything emotionally invested in
what you are saying and can be a little more objective about it. In
any case, I appreciate you feeling comfortable enough with me to tell
me what you are thinking and feeling.
What you are feeling is totally normal and natural. I’ve felt
it many times. Almost all the wushu athletes I know have felt it at
one time or another. You should never feel bad about feeling a lack
of motivation or some disinterest in training from time to time.
Because what defines you isn’t what you feel, so much as what you do
about those feelings. We can get that lack of motivation from a
variety of things and all of the things you mentioned are pretty
Advanced students (or any students for that matter) leaving schools and
going off to do other things is pretty common. I can’t tell you how
many various iterations of students I have seen at Wushu West over the
years. The people who were there when I started left so long ago,
even the super old timers wouldn’t have a clue who they were.
By my count, the current “advanced” students are the 7th
generation of them since I started at Wushu West in 1995. I think
there is a turn-around every 2 – 4 years and this is pretty common
at most wushu schools, yours included. But what is important to
keep in mind is that your decision to train in wushu didn’t exist as a
result of those students being at the school. You decided to study
wushu because you found something in the sport itself worth pursuing.
As long as you keep that perspective in mind — that training wushu is
a personal decision not based on the actions of others — then that
can help you keep focused on your training.
Also, feeling disillusioned due to our age or circumstances in the
U.S. is quite common. None of us started as early as we would have
liked. Even some of the young athletes who started training as a
little kid occasionally lament at their situation of not having
access to wushu training at an early enough age. Sometimes I wish I
had started earlier too. i didnt’ start until I was 25 but I learned a long
time ago that it isn’t about not being given the chance to train at a
young ago or not being physically gifted in certain ways, so much as it
is about taking advantage of those opportunities that DO present
themselves to you.
I’ve had friends who went to China, saw the level that existed and
what it took the Chinese athletes to get there, and summarily gave up
wushu because they decided they would never be able to get to that
level. But is that the reason they took wushu in the first place? To
be as good as professional Chinese athletes? No, of course not. So
why compare ourselves to them? Why compare ourselves to anyone? It
doesn’t really accomplish anything except to bring up unecessary
comparisons that serve no purpose.
The only person we can compare ourselves to is ourselves. And the only
comparison we can make is between who we were and who we have become.
If who are you today is better at wushu than who you were yesterday,
or last year, or when you started wushu, then you are on the right
track. Wushu isn’t about fulfillling some abstract vision of the
perfect athlete. It is about self-improvement and personal
Why did you take wushu? The answer is because you liked it. Plain
and simple. We can get caught up with various issues like age or
physical ability or resources all we like. But if you are doing
something you enjoy, then you can consider yourself extremely lucky,
because not everyone in the world has the opportunity to be doing what
Ironically, many of the professional wushu athletes I know in China
are not as lucky as you. Because they don’t take wushu because they
love wushu, but because it is their job and they HAVE to train. And I
suppose, just like in any job for any one in the world, they make the
best of it and try to enjoy what they can. But if they had their
druthers, a lot of them would rather be doing something else.
Whenever I have a lack of motivation (which happens every so often) I
go back to the core of why I train in wushu. I watch the videos that
inspired me. I think of the first time I took wushu and how geeked
out about it I was. I remember the joy I had when I figured out a new
move or got down a new technique. And I think of the subtle pleasure
I experienced in the zen of training — from lacing up my feiyue
shoes, to going through the routine of saluting and warming up, to
stretching out and watching the sweat drip off my nose and on to the
wooden floor in the Finnish Hall — those times when it was just me
and a few other dedicated students training in wushu.
I don’t remember the crazy competitions or the wushu parties or the
super full classes or hanging out with the Beijing Wushu Team or Jet
Li. What I remember most fondly are the cool fall evenings,or rainy
spring sundays, walking up the stairs to the training hall, stretching
my stiffness, breaking a sweat, working like a dog, struggling with
each motion, and still loving every minute of it.
You can feel frustrated about your training. Its perfectly normal.
You can feel disillusioned or distraught or dismayed at your situation
with wushu. It is a natural reaction.
You can feel a lack of motivation for training or wonder if wushu is
really where your energy should be spent. It is totally valid.
But as long as you can remember why you started wushu. As long as you
can work through the hump and think back to those times when it wasn’t
about someone else or an abstract idea or whether or not you were
suited perfectly for the sport — but it was about doing something for
yourself, and the reality of being able to train in this cool sport
called wushu, stretching your personal and physical boundaries in new
and exciting ways — then you will understand that all you really
need to be successful at wushu is to enjoy it.
It isn’t the results you get from wushu — medals, techniques,
accolades or otherwise — that are your true source of motivation to
train. In fact, as soon as you start focusing on the external
stimulation of wushu is when wushu stops being something you are
Wushu isn’t a destination. there isn’t a day when you can say “Okay,
I’ve finished learning wushu. Now what?” anymore than there is a day
when you can say “Okay, I’ve learned everything there is to know about
life. Now what?” Becuase there is ALWAYS more to learn — but more
importantly there is always more within yourself to develop; paths to
explore; virtues to cultivate; abilities to uncover.
And for myself, THAT is what keeps me motivated to keep training, even
after 15 years, 3 knee injuries, wushu politics, bad relationships and
a stock-pile of physical issues that most people would gladly steer
clear of. Those things don’t really matter in the long run as long as
training in wushu has ultimately taught me valuable lessons about who
I am as a person.
I’ve always thought that training in wushu (and I suppose any art form
or sport is similar) is a great magnifying class on one’s own life.
So many of the issues we go through in our day to day life come out
when we train in wushu. And the trials and tribulations that we
experience during our wushu training are often mirrors of the same
issues we deal with outside the wushu guan. When we push ourselves
beyond our comfort zone (whatever the medium we use to do that) it
provides us not only with an education about who we are, but also with
a valuable opportunity to learn, grow and develop our inner being.
Anyway … I probably wrote more than you were interested in reading.
But, I suppose that after all this time in wushu I can still get fired
up about these things. And I suppose if nothing else, that is
something of a testament to how much wushu (and life) has to offer you
in the years to come.
Let me know your thoughts! Do you agree with this e-mail? Do you think I’m off my rocker? I’m curious what other people’s thoughts are. I’m looking forward to reading your comments!