Life lessons from our Wushu Grandmaster

Grandmaster Teng comes into his training centre and quietly brews a pot of tea. He has a plastic tupperware box which hosts many tiny Chinese teacups. He will set one out for himself when he is alone, when I come, there would be a second one for me. When three Chinese grannies show up for a taiji class, the tea is the first thing to take centrestage. They stand and chat, then – they sit and chat. Then at some point, maybe when all the talking subjects are exhausted, they decide it is time for a warm up. The ladies warm up themselves, while the master looks at them, sips his tea, and smiles.

Then, they practise. He sips his tea, looks at them, and smiles.

There is a sense that everything must take its time and happen in its time. A sense of calm and of things evolving at their own pace.

When we first arrived, we were greedy for training. We wanted to train all the time, feel worn out, feel that we are taking full advantage of this opportunity. The Master would see us get out of breath, me freezing up in my form because my brain cannot quite assimilate more, Huan Huan falling on the ground, he would smile and say: “have a break. Have some tea. You have time”.

This does not mean being lazy. “Whenever you have time, you must practise” - we often hear. Comparing that to our western impatience, I think it reflects a kind of humility towards the process. You allow the process to happen, being respectful of it, and letting it take its course. You do not attempt to force the process to bring you a result earlier than it can. I am thinking of how impatiently I stretch for that splits of mine, of how eager Huan Huan is to start winning gold medals. Maybe I try to empty myself of the craving for the goal. I contemplate trying to respect the process more, view it like a river, calmly and patiently preparing the path for the water to flow through.

After all, whether we achieve something or not, is not fully within our means. The world is too full of surprises. All we can do is support the process.

Like a wise sage from Chinese tales, the Master takes things as they come.

His whole being emanates a sense that things must take time. You cannot stretch in one day. You cannot perfect a form in one day. Your muscles will not get strong because you will them to. It is all a process, like water carving a riverbed.

Rather than focus on the “now” - what happens now, and what does not happen “now”, we are all becoming parts of a process. A long process that encompasses the past, the future, were threads of ancient tradition are interwoven with out aspirations and where the seeds for the future are planted now, but grown steadily, organically, cared for but not forced.

“If you are tired, take a break. If you are hungry, go eat.”

The “now” doesn’t really matter that much in itself.

Pointing at my son, the Master smiles and says, “this boy, he learns fast. In three years, he will be good”.

How much further we can go, I wonder, in our work and daily life, not just in training, if we manage to keep such calm focus only on the process itself.