Guest Column

by Sifu Rikin Patel

When I was eight, as an orange stripe I entered my first tournament, Karate Mania back in 1989. As a young energetic boy, I was enamored by the big trophies and was enthusiastic about winning one. Back then I was so excited about Kung Fu class, that I would wear my Kung Fu t-shirt underneath my school clothes the days I had Kung Fu after school. I practiced all the time and thought my chances were good. The result…. I left that tournament completely empty handed. Nothing. I was crushed. To this day my mom with a smile and a joking laugh will remind me “Rikin do you remember how much you cried after your first tournament?” She remembers a lot better than me!

Fast forward now to when I was sixteen as a blue sash. Sigung coined the term “BFs” when referring to Sifu Kevin and myself. At the time, Kevin had been training more than me but I was determined on us testing together for our brown sash. Sigung said “NO, you can’t grade this time around, I want you to spend more time as a blue sash.” It was the first time he had said no to me grading. The plan of testing with my one of my best friends and the hopeful planned date for my black sash grading, totally out the window.  I was really disappointed. I remember watching his brown sash grading from the audience side and at the time it was really tough to swallow. I was happy for him though.

What was the result of those situations. Well, with competing, I started taking “competition team classes” with Sigung on our large team of two. The tournament results transformed, and the crying now was just during the intense preparation in the classes, just kidding! As for the grading, I got back up, dug into my training and was better for it. It was only after that grading I could understand Sigung’s reason and what I had gained. As Steve Job’s said “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards”

While I don’t have the space here, the fourteen-year journey after high school to becoming a pediatrician was filled with more no’s, rejections and failures than I thought was possible. I tell Sifu now that I have a “resume of failures.” The mindset and work ethic I had built from the strong foundation training Kung Fu under Sigung was instrumental factor in persevering the long road filled with ups and downs.

The words ‘no’, ‘rejection’, ‘failure’ or ‘lose’ while used in different contexts, all have the same result; we didn’t get what we had hoped for and things didn’t quite work out the way we planned. No doubt, when things didn’t go as we planned it’s tough and I won’t pretend to sugar coat it. There is personal disappointment but hopefully many of us can agree that we can let it roll off our shoulders. What I can attest to and have observed impacts us even more to point of isolation and quitting is focusing on the people around us and our own negative self talk “what will others say,” or “what will others think of me.” The dictionary definition of failure is summed up into three words, lack of success. The problem with this is that as society it means we don’t value learning and growth that comes from struggle and experience. In the age of ‘millennials’ now more than ever there is such a strong negative perception around not succeeding or getting what we want.

Remember as a student of Kung Fu, your attitude and your character will always be more important than your skills as a martial artist. Character development is a big part the Kung Fu training however it can be often forgotten in a western culture driven by externals and results. Recall that one of the definitions of Kung Fu is “hard work.”

Here are some take home food for thought to help build our determination and resiliency:

  1. When life says ‘no’ with time let’s try to shift to a growth mindset where we see the experience as an opportunity to learn.
  2. The challenge of not succeeding, allows us the opportunity to achieve far greater than what we would have ever envisioned for ourselves
  3. Failure gives us a chance to develop humility which actually becomes critical to be able to handle responsibility with integrity when success comes up us.
  4. When we get thrown a lemon, take the opportunity to step back, look at the big picture and reconnect with our original goals. With regards to failure, Sigung’s famous words were “just go back to the drawing board.”

As a community of martial artists trying to help each other at WKFA, let’s be the change we want to see in the world. By continuing the conversation and talking about our collective experiences we break down the walls of stigma around “failure” to help create a safe environment to help normalize the experience. Let’s inspire and support more and judge less.