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Learning to calm the ego is one of the most rewarding (and hardest) parts of training the Shaolin Arts

I was tempted to title this post after the old Beach Boys song, "Hang on to Your Ego" until I came across a post of a similar title in an online Buddhist journal. I chuckled a bit, and wasn’t surprised in the slightest. Ah, our good old friend, the ego. The thing that helps us differentiate all that is self from non-self. Our best friend, and often times, our worst enemy. Those who have trained the Shaolin Arts for both short and long times have grappled with it either at some point on their journey, or multiple times. That’s not a bad thing.

We all have our own perceptions about ourselves. Things about which we’re proud and things we know still need more work. In the course of our training, we often progress in leaps and bounds quickly. Inevitably, an area needing improvement presents itself. Sometimes this is where the ego makes it difficult for us. This can be where people get flustered. This can be where people break through some mental blockage standing between them and a happier life, as well as a higher level of training. Sadly, this can also be where people abandon their training altogether. It’s hard to admit one needs to work on something that they thought was perfect. But like most of the truly valuable things in life, growth is not achieved without effort.

I recently had the great pleasure of training with one of Grandmaster Wong’s top students for a week. Our training was devoted to lots of kungfu and qigong, bookended each day with 30 minutes of sitting meditation. I learned a ton. Guess what I received the most correction on the very first day? Standing upright and relaxed. Yup, the very thing I learned the first day I ever trained with Grandmaster Wong, the very thing I train my students on, the very thing I even wrote a blog post on not too long ago. Ouch. Ouch? Well, not really. There was a time that being corrected on that would have shattered my fragile ego, but as I continue my training, I’ve learned that correction is an opportunity for growth and I’m grateful for the correction I receive.

This seemingly enlightened attitude is not my default. Actually, my default is one of arrogance and knowing it all. Add in some powerful mind and body training and that's a recipe that's deadly to goodness. In a previous post, I talked about how overcoming depression for me was more about learning to train my mind in a positive way rather than overcoming a chemical imbalance. I believe that default arrogant attitude was an ingredient in the crappy cake of depression I ate for so long. Nowadays, when I prepare to train with people who are at a higher level than myself, I get nervous because I know that there’s parts of Little Miss Know-It-All left and she’s going to get taken down a peg. Then I smile and repeatedly remind myself that I grow immensely by learning what I still have to work on. Yes, I have to do that a lot, and you know what? It’s worth it.

As you continue to learn and train these arts, don’t be afraid to look for areas to improve. Remember that the depth of the Shaolin Arts is found in its simplicity, the scope of which is only found through an open mind seeking constant re-examination. Do you need to improve how you stand upright and relaxed? Good. Did you notice where your form is off when you perform Lifting the Sky? Great. Did you catch yourself thinking in standing meditation? Fine. Let it go, fix your mechanics, and move on. With an open heart and awareness that there’s always going to be something to improve, I promise you, you’ll go so, so far.

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