“Kung fu training is boring and lonely,” my teacher told me as he poured me some oolong tea into a thimble-sized cup. He lit a cigarette as he continued. “You mustn’t be afraid to eat bitter, you have to have persistence. When I was growing up there was nothing to do, kids didn’t go to school because of the Cultural Revolution and there was only one cinema, which showed the same North Korean movies over and over. I used to go out into the hills and practice my Kung Fu alone; I practised so much I had to buy new shoes once a month!” The phrase “eating bitter” in Chinese means to endure hardship, and it is believed to be the cornerstone to proficiency in any field or skill.

My teacher’s name is Zhou Zhen Dong, and he is one of very few who have learnt our particular branch of Praying Mantis Kung Fu in full. I first met him through the introduction of a friend, and my first lesson was really a lesson in “eating bitter”, I was shown one technique and left to practice alone in the corner of the park all morning. Luckily I had already been in China for a while by this time and knew that this was a period of initiation so to speak. I would be left to my own devices for a week or so, while Zhou Shifu (Shifu being Chinese for teacher/master) would observe from a distance, to see if I have the resolution to really learn the style, or if I will just slack off.

I passed the test and after a few days, I began getting corrections in my basics. However, the “bitterness” was just beginning; the group sessions in the park were meant to learn new material from Zhou Shifu or to do partner work with other students. The real training was expected to be done alone “behind closed doors”, although it was nothing mystical or exotic, it was just more repetition. In fact, Bruce Lee said it best “I don’t fear the man who has learnt a thousand kicks, I fear the man who has practised one kick a thousand times.” If there is any secret to Kung Fu, then it is one-word “repetition”.

When people say that martial arts develop one’s character, I believe it is this persistence, this “eating bitter” which is the key. Overcoming the mental barrier of wanting to slack off, wanting to have a lazy day, is something that carries over into other aspects of life, and in China, martial artists are stereotyped as people with incredible resolution who don’t quit or show weakness. Besides the benefits of self-defence and strong and healthy body, the mental resolution is one of the greatest benefits Kung Fu training has given me. If you would like to learn more about my travels and martial arts training in Asia, please visit my site at http://www.monkeystealspeach.com

Guest Post submitted by Will Wain-Williams