Pete Rose was my hero. I began watching him play for the Reds when I was a kid. By the time I got to college in the early Seventies, he was at his peak. My buddies and I would gather at the TV, or we'd drive 90 minutes to Cincinnati from Lexington and watch a game in person. Anytime Pete came up to bat and the Reds desperately needed a hit, he got a hit. And he dove head first into second or third or home. He was the best player I've ever seen.
That doesn't mean Pete was the most gifted in the beginning. As a young man, no one would have guessed he would become the leading hitter in baseball history (I was there the night he broke Ty Cobb's record by the way).
What made him eventually the best was one quality: persistence.
He practiced when others didn't. He worked at hitting when others had gone home. He practiced fielding when others were done for the day. He kept at it with a passion that lifted him above most players.
I've seen a lot of kung-fu students begin classes with a passion and a drive, and within a few short lessons they see that it's difficult. It appears easy, but the movements are so nuanced and the body positions so exact, they quickly give up.
I've seen some students begin with a promising start, stay with it a while, and then get stuck at a plateau that they -- for some internal reason -- can't push beyond.
I've seen some who start studying with a friend, but when the friend progresses faster than they do, their egos can't take it and they drop out.
I've seen some who start with a promise, go to a tournament and don't walk away with a trophy, and instead of learning what went wrong and working on it, they just give up.
For some people, it's a LOT easier to give up than to work harder. It's a lot easier to win than it is to realize there are skills that require a lot of practice and pain to improve.
There have been very few that I've personally taught that have pushed and pushed and worked and studied and practiced at home and put in the real brain work and the persistence it takes to lift themselves above the pack. I can count them on one hand with a few fingers left over. Currently, there are some folks in the Quad Cities who have shown that they have this quality and I'm hoping they keep it up.
Throughout the 35 years I've studied, I haven't always had a teacher around (I launched the online school for people in the same situation). When I was a young parent struggling to pay the bills, I didn't always have the money for lessons. But kung-fu was always on my mind, and I practiced even when I wasn't involved in a school. When I discovered Chen tai chi, I didn't live in the same town as my teachers -- sometimes not even the same state or part of the country. I had to travel, sometimes spending a thousand or two just to study for a day.
The teachers I've had have not lived near their teachers. They had to go to China or wait for the one or two trips a year the masters would make to America to get a few days of study in. Between times, they were on their own. But their passion pushed them, and their skill grew. I don't know one martial arts teacher I've ever had who isn't still trying to get better.
When I started kung-fu training in 1973, I spent an hour each evening in the hall of my dormitory, practicing kicks and punches and stances. I recognized that some fellow students hadn't practiced nearly as hard, but were promoted anyway (an early lesson on how martial arts schools operate). But it took me 24 years to get a black sash due to my constant moving (TV news career), family pressures, experimenting with different styles (I even studied TKD for a while) and lack of a teacher. When I earned my black sash, I realized I was just starting. That's when I really began to study. Even now, there are so many skills to learn, I doubt I can do it in my lifetime. But we continue on the path.
In any endeavor, whether it's business, school, sports, or kung-fu, it isn't always the person with the most gifts who succeeds. It isn't always the person with the most education who gets rich. It isn't the student who appears totally gifted on the first day of class who develops skill. Some of the most famous and talented people failed several times on their way to the top. Inventors who we know as geniuses had their share of flops. Thomas Edison failed thousands of times to produce a light bulb and most wealthy people have been bankrupt at least once and sometimes more.
The people who persist and don't give up almost always come out on top. So if you feel that your training has hit a plateau that you can't get beyond, or if you feel that there's a skill you just can't seem to understand, keep at it. Seek input and feedback. Study and really think about it on your own. Keep working at it and eventually, if you just stick to it, you'll break through to that next level.