“How you do one thing is how you do everything.”
The word ‘Kung Fu’ when translated in Chinese, does not mean fighting or to beat somebody down. ‘Kung Fu’ or ‘Gung Fu’ actually means achieving perfection through hard work. It is about the art of improvement, refinement and discipline. It’s about raising the human potential to new levels. It is the art of ‘martial arts’. And it is about applying the same principles as in training into every aspect of life.
In today’s world, it can be easy to get distracted from our true greatness. We often get too caught up in quick wins, instant gratifications and shortcuts to success, that we lose the patience, the deep pride and artistry that comes with refinement and quality.
Think back. When was the last time you actually created, wrote, built or produced something that was truly quality? I’m not talking about the quality that the market needs, or of that compared with other people in your industry. I’m talking about the kind of quality that you can warmly smile at, even weeks after you’ve completed it; the kind of quality that you are excited to look back at and feel that strong burst of satisfaction in the heart, the kind of quality that takes more than you; the kind that requires you to be inspired, to access some greater genius or infinite intelligence. When was the last time?
Whether it’s for your training, in building a business, or in working to become a better human being. Quality requires mastery. Mastery is artistry.
I spent over 10 years studying and analysing the habits and behaviours of top athletes, actors, musicians, entrepreneurs and executives who perform at a high level. I discovered that, even though they are considered very successful at what they do, not every one of them have mastered their art to that next level. There’s only a few who have really transcended everyone else and seem to play in their own level. These are the artists.
The 3 LEVELS OF MASTERY:
The Amateur is good at what they do, sufficiently enough to be above average. They may have accomplished success, however they are striving for nothing more than simply to just do what is. They achieve the lowest level of mastery. For example, in sports, these are the local club players. They are better than most people, however not good enough to be highly paid or be well known. And definitely not good enough to be living their full potential in the area.
The Athlete aims for more, works hard and puts in the work. They are tenacious and have a strong drive to succeed. They are the professionals who are recognised and are paid. However, there are still small exposable weaknesses and tweaks that can be made to improve their game. Their work has yet to come effortlessly or gracefully.
The Artist is the athlete who has achieved a certain level of mastery in their craft. Through determination, effort and time, they are able to execute their craft with poise, beauty, control and mastery. In sports, for example, these are the stars, the icons, like Michael Jordan. When Jordan shoots his jumpshot, there’s artistry and flow in his movements, the kind that can only be achieved through mastery of your craft. Artists also think differently. Their level of mastery enables them to view the world through different lens. For example, American singer, rapper, songwriter, Akon, after working with Michael Jackson recalled, “The way he thinks … some artists think regional, some think national, I was thinking international. He thinks planets. It’s on another level.”
If you want to achieve higher quality and better results in anything that you do, whether it be in physical training, work, building a business, or even in refining yourself as a human being, here’s a framework that helps to guide you to perform on an extraordinary level.
HOW TO MASTER YOUR ART:
STEP 1 – IMMERSE:
Artistry takes passion. This first step is where most people often fail. It’s what separates the amateurs from the athletes. You must immerse yourself in your craft. Spending hours upon hours on your craft. One way to immerse yourself in your craft is to study and accumulate the work of the top 5 artists that you admire in your craft. For example, when I found my passion for martial arts, I would completely immerse myself every single day in reading about it, watching documentaries about it, and practicing 2-3 hours a day 6 days a week for many years without fail. In addition to all this, the thing that really improved my techniques was that I had a compilation VCR tape that I had put together by copying between 2 VCR players. This video had almost 2 hours of different fight scenes from movie stars, like Bruce Lee, Jean Claude Van Damme, Jet Li and Jackie Chan. I would watch this tape while I trained every afternoon, refining my techniques and allowing the moves, the speed, the power and the grace to sink into my mind.
STEP 2 – ABSORB:
After countless hours of immersion, accumulation and practice, your knowledge and experience of your craft begins to show. You begin to see and appreciate the beauty of the art because it starts to come more easily to you. At this stage, you need to seek to continue to understand it on a deeper level, only then will ideas and concepts start to fall into place to fill the gaps. After years of practice, I was able to watch someone’s kicking technique and straight away see what can be improved, whether their balance was properly distributed, whether their weight transfer was precisely timed or toes pointed correctly.
Another thing to focus on is your ability to discern quality information from lower quality sources. Because you are exposed to the high amounts of quality information and experience in your craft, you begin to see similarities and patterns of what the top people do and you absorb it as your own. Your own standards elevate. You are able to take in new information, and as Bruce Lee says, “absorb what is useful and reject was is not.” You could not do this at the beginning, because you did not have enough experience to discern what is useful and what is not.
STEP 3 – DISSOLVE:
Once you have accumulated a lot of knowledge, and you have absorbed what is essentially useful, the third step to achieving mastery is to dissolve everything you know. It is letting go of all the structures, the rules, and the systems that you’ve learnt through acquiring your knowledge. It is in this stage that you begin to innovate and express. You express what is inside of you. It is at this level that you begin to seek to go deeper into your art. Some people even seek to access infinite intelligence to unravel more understanding and even purer expression. 2Pac notes that when he writes rhymes he feels “God’s hands on [his] brain.” Now don’t make the mistake that when you get to this stage, you can completely scrap everything you know and start doing whatever you want. This was a big mistake when a lot of martial artists in the 70s and 80s following Bruce Lee’s mantra of expressing yourself honestly and scrapping tradition. They ended up creating their own styles, and many had no substance at all. You still need to be true to the last 2 phases. It is like dissolving sugar in water. Once dissolved, the sugar is still there, just in another form.
True mastery and artistry of our craft is extremely difficult to reach. It should be a constant lifelong pursuit. A few people throughout history have touched the surface of this level. And anecdotes about them all told that they had a beautiful and honest view of their art that was simply on another level to most.
Imagine if everyone in the world were to strive towards their artistry, and aimed to becoming a higher quality person within himself or herself. The world would be a much better place.