Thursday, June 8, 2017

If you aren't obsessed, you don't have Gong Fu!

Are you obsessed with your art?  To paraphrase Arnold, do you 'Sleep faster' so you can get up earlier and get back to your art?  What do you give up in your everyday life to reach a higher level of skill?  What are you willing to suffer through to learn more?

I get it, those sound like overly dramatic questions but when you get down to it, those are some real ways that people have changed their lives in order to reach skill levels that most won't achieve.  For this article, I would love to share some stories of how martial artists that many of you know live their lives in order to focus on Gong Fu.

Let's start with my good friend and Xinyidao/Ma Tongbei teacher, Sifu Sudan Jeffers.  He is a truly great friend and I thought of him first because he shapes his life around his training.  It's truly amazing to watch him go about his day, every little thing is centered around Gong Fu.  When he comes into town, he always stays with my family and I and every time, it's a shock to my system and makes me realize that as much as I train now, I can always do more.  From the time we get up until I go to sleep, he is practicing and teaching.  His messages and emails are 90% from Gong Fu students and family and  when we are going to sleep, he is just starting his evening practice.  He calls it "Cracking the Scrolls" and I've learned a ton from seeing him do it.  He will sit up late at night, watching video he took of his teachers and uncles in China and writing letters to martial family all over the world, just looking for any nuance or detail he can glean.  They are all videos he took or was the practice partner for, don't ever get the idea he is just learning off video, he actually watches videos that he took before over and over again to remind himself of his teachers words and how he moves.  It's truly incredible.

Another friend, Byron Jacobs is very well known but many might not know what he has gone
through to gain Gong Fu.  He lived at a school when he was younger, bathed out of buckets so he wouldn't have to leave.  When he found his teacher, he uprooted from South Africa to China to study with him, now living there full time just to be closer to the source of his art.  He is so focused on traditional Gong Fu that he is helping to reshape the Wushu scene in China to bring it back to it's traditional roots instead of the fancy dance that it's become.  That is truly obsession and it begs the question, would you do that for your art or teacher?

I'd like to invite a couple other teachers to tell a short part of their story to help illustrate this point.

Here is Sifu Neil Ripski on his experience-
  I have always thought that you could be rich in money or rich in time. It seemed to me that every moment I needed to spend making money at some job only brought me the bare minimum to live, made me miserable and constantly annoyed me that I had too little time to train. I tried to train at work but when I was manufacturing brackets for automotive running boards I kept getting weird looks and “talked to” about my odd behavior. How I moved around the shop, why I would keep bending things to shape with my hands instead of with the tools and so on. When the shop closed it was a blessing in disguise for me.
Monomaniacal behavior seems to be the path on which many people in the martial arts make their most progress. I used to skip classes at school to go out and train forms and such. Over the past twenty years of my training I have been working very hard to make my livelihood integrate with my training and although I have had to make serious compromises in my life about money and what most would consider being “successful” I have never been happier than being able to spend more time on research and practice than on chasing cash.

It started with learning how to integrate training into everyday life, how I would open doors, stand when brushing my teeth and so on but it became all-encompassing over time as I realized that I could train subtle skills throughout my day. Making people on the street pass on my right or left helps with body positioning and controlling anothers unconscious movement. The ten years I spent in the mountains of British Columbia allowed me to help farm, chop wood and carry water to the animals. Living close to the land like the “masters of old” let me see more of what hardship is.  Stopping working for other people has let me spend even more time on my training. Backpacking through Asia for months, crossing hands with people, training and observing with everyone I could and spending time in temples in meditation is what I always dreamed of as a kid. It has been worth it and the trip is certainly not over.

Martial arts are a metaphor for life and looking directly at reality and who we really are and how we fit into it. Becoming obsessed with martial arts is like becoming obsessed with trying to understand reality. It requires constant unending effort in order to work unraveling the most difficult of questions. Testing is the magic of martial arts practice. You cannot simply say you “are fully in the present moment” without being tested on it! There is very little lying one can do when the answer is simply you get hit or you don’t. Fear is the future, looking forward and dreading what is to come it is not real. A punch is only real when it is actually coming at you; to be anticipatory is to not be in the present moment and usually ends badly. Without constant obsessive work on the arts themselves they will never reveal anything but kicking and punching, the smallest benefits training can give you.

I was very lucky to also have another teacher, Sifu Adam Mizner tell me about his life as well.  Here are his words.

In the early years, rather than work to make a living and thus have little time to train my art, I practiced homelessness, training all day and sleeping in parks surviving off just a few pieces of fruit a day or the meal a friend would give me, I did this as a choice so as to allow me to spend all morning in meditation and practicing qigong and all afternoon and evening practicing kung fu. Later I did a similar thing living just under a mosquito net in the mountain forests of Thailand, bathing in waterfall and practicing all day and late into the night. I knew a local girl who would drop off some food for me each morning on a certain rock and I would go about my practice in solitude. Though I live and practice at a more leisurely pace these days, those years molded me and built foundational skills that serve me today.

Both of the Sifu's who were gracious enough to share their stories with me have an extreme level of focus and dedication to learning their art and it's truly rare to find people who train like this anymore. It's also one of the big reasons each of them has built such a large and devoted following, in my honest opinion.

Does this sound like the path you want to follow but are you confused as to how to start building your life around training so you don't burn out and instead become truly obsessed with your art? Let me share some of the things that did a lot to help me reach this level of obsession.

These things may sound silly, but they are recommended by many different business and life coaches and has helped millions of people around the world. First, start by writing down exactly what your goals for the martial arts are. It doesn't matter how over the top or far flung they are, just start writing. Do this in the morning as well as evening before you go to bed. You will find your goals change over time and what you really hope to accomplish will come to the surface. This is an everyday thing but it's vital, trust me when I tell you that this will focus you like few other things will and you will find your attention goes more towards your practice and reaching your goals than you did before.

The second thing I would suggest is filling up your day through scheduling. Oftentimes people don't realize how much time throughout the day is wasted with trivial things or things that aren't vital to their goals. Say you ride the bus to work and back everyday. What are you doing when you are waiting for the bus or while it's in transit? Are you studying your style manuals or class notes? Are you re-writing your notes in different ways? This is powerful because it makes you become creative with your understanding which in turns leads to new ideas for training. What do you listen to while you are cooking or showering/bathing? Are you listening to motivational talks or lectures about anatomy or training? When you are obsessed, you will be. When you schedule out your entire day, from waking up to going to sleep, you will see a hundred different opportunities to add more time to your training or researching. Over the course of the first few months, these two ideas together will bring about MASSIVE changes in your daily routines.

There are many different ways to shift your focus and create obsession but I would like to turn this over to a business coach and friend who has given me a ton of advice when I was re-structuring my daily life to focus on Gong Fu more. If that sounds strange to you, that you might need advice on how to train more, you are in for a shock. You have to build your routine and become acclimated to it otherwise you won't ever stick with it. Here is a great video he did on becoming obsessed.

Here is a follow up video whee he actually brings up a question I asked him (I'm the guy in the Northeast/Northwest). I asked him how to focus even harder on one thing without losing the ability to function with my other business or family.

The world needs more people who are obsessed with their chosen path in life. I think you can be one of them if you set your mind to it.

Jesse Conley teaches Gao Bagua, Xingyi, Taiji and Ma Tongbei in Vancouver, WA

at Stone Tiger Martial Arts

for any questions, please feel free to email him at

or check out the Facebook page here


  1. Nice post. Keep up the good work.

  2. Hi, is it possible to update the video links? I can't watch them. Thank you very much!

  3. I just re-set them. Hope they work for you!


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This is a blog devoted to the Chinese Internal martial arts. Our school is located in Vancouver, WA and currently accepting students for group classes, and limited private sessions.