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Guest Blog: “The First Discipline” by Sifu Phillip Starr

February 10, 2010

Sequence from Phillip Starr's book, Martial Maneuvers

In any endeavor, particularly that of striving to learn and acquire skill in the martial arts, there’s a lot of noise made about discipline. For all the talking about it and understanding that it’s the first ingredient in the making of a real martial arts practitioner, it’s worthless if action isn’t taken. It remains little more than an intellectual curiosity…

The other day as I walked out into my small home training hall to bond with my favorite piece of training equipment – the striking post (known in Chinese as “da zhuang” or “hit post” and in Japanese as “makiwara” which means, “rolled straw”) – I reflected on the meaning of discipline. Now, I work an overnight shift (which, as many of you know all too well, is something I loathe) and getting out of bed after only 4-5 hours of sleep, getting cleaned up and dressed, and heading out to the training hall is something I usually do every day. And there she is; my striking post, beckoning me to caress her. And caress her I do, several hundred times with each hand.

I thought about how one must concentrate and strike the post just right every time…otherwise, it can be a very painful experience. And I considered how one must discipline oneself when practicing form; the stance, the footwork, the body shifting, the techniques, the shengxin (in Japanese, zanshin)…everything has to be just so. Lots of discipline!

And then it struck me that there’s a discipline that comes before any of these, a discipline without which martial skill cannot possibly be developed. It’s the most important discipline; the one that leads all of the others. And here it is:

The First Discipline is…showing up for practice!

Okay, so it doesn’t sound very esoteric but think about it. It really IS the first discipline because if it isn’t observed, none of the other disciplines can be applied! Whether it involves attending class or simply “showing up for training” at home, it’s the same thing…the First Discipline. And if you don’t do what it tells you, you’ll never get anywhere in martial arts (or anything else).

And if you observe the First Discipline, there you are! You’ve shown up for training! You’ve gone to the trouble to get dressed and show up so you might as well do it right, right? I mean, if you’re not going to train correctly and give it your best why bother even showing up in the first place?

So there I was, facing my wooden wife and I was tired because I hadn’t had enough sleep. My legs ached (probably because I’m old) and I hadn’t even had a second cup of coffee. BUT I was THERE! I was on the patio with her, so…I might as well do it and do it RIGHT! And I chambered my fist and began my first series of punches-

That’s when I realized that the First Discipline is SHOWING UP. And if you adhere to it’s simple principle, the rest is easy!

—-

Phillip Starr has authored three books on martial arts with Blue Snake Books, sharing his wisdom from over 50 years as a practitioner and teacher of martial arts. For more information or to purchase Starr’s books, click on the thumbnails below.


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