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How does an undisciplined person become a martial arts instructor?

I was asked a question recently related to disciple, and how I’d managed to become a martial arts instructor, when as a person I’ve often had a downright disdain for discipline (school!) and have often been one to (at least sometimes metaphorically) stick two fingers up to authority figures. 

Admittedly, it’s a contradiction and it made me think. Instead of coming up with a flippant answer, which would have felt entirely inadequate, I asked if I could ponder the question – which for me means putting pen to paper, or fingertips to keys, and unpacking my reply in the form of a blog post. 


The Linguistics

What does discipline even mean? 

I didn’t have an overly comprehensive knowledge of the word ‘discipline’ but found it interesting that the definitions are related to training (to become disciplined in something), and punishment (to discipline someone). Ask my Kung Fu students – training and punishment are often closely related 🙂

Upon further etymological research it would appear that the Latin disciplina (instruction, and knowledge), combined with English disciple, to create discipline.


A Disciple of Knowledge

Without ever knowing it up until now, I have for quite some time been a ‘Disciple of Knowledge’. I like that!

With a subject as vast and deep as Tai Chi, there are so many intriguing avenues that it can take you down, which go so much further and deeper than merely waving your arms around slowly once a week in your regular class. 

History, culture, mythology, linguistics, cosmology, philosophy, physics, literature, anatomy, medicine, are among a broader range of subjects that an inquisitive mind can enter – and all endlessly fascinating realms of enquiry. 

I can’t claim to be an expert in any of the above – but they are all subjects that a study of martial arts has lead me to. I know full well that they have enriched my practice of tai chi.

Total Immersion

Total Immersion is a theory of learning in which you completely absorb yourself in whatever it is you are studying. It worked very well for me when living in Russia and learning the language. Sink or swim! 

Studying Tai Chi, with its roots so deep in many branches of learning, can feel – and become – incredibly immersive. There is always something to learn around the actual art itself.

Many students feel that they don’t train enough, work/family…and a myriad of other commitments, as well as being tired after a day’s work, lethargy, Netflix, You Tube…and just living life itself, can all get in the way of the route between yourself and the training hall. 

Quite often a feeling of guilt will take over in the place inside of us which was previously held by good training practices, and eventually we quit – this is always a real shame, but I think that a shift in mindset can render this reason for quitting as a redundant one.

Now, if we’re talking about quitting – I’m the absolute Master. I’ve done it all…and given up on nearly everything…pretty much apart from one thing. My martial arts practice. 

And why have I never given up on my martial arts practice? 

Because I know that everything is martial arts practice! 

Don’t set yourself time aside to do martial arts practice – then miss that time and beat yourself up about not practicing…. Just have a total immersion mindset and make everything practice!

Become a martial artist, instead of someone who practices martial arts!

That’s when the real benefits weave themselves into the fabric of your life. 


Daily Routines 

From the moment I wake up in the morning until the time I put my head on the pillow – and even unconsciously in the realms of my dreams I’m sure – I’m immersed in the martial arts. 

If, like me, you’re a little bit ‘all or nothing’, having this immersive mentality will serve you well. 

Whatever it is you are doing, it’s practice. 

All you need is a bit of imagination. Here’s a typical list of daily activities and how you can turn them into a routine in which everything you do is dedicated to being a martial artist: 


Morning Shower: 

Often one of the first things I’ll do in the morning is to jump into a cold shower. I can tell you, it takes a lot of self discipline, not to turn that nozzle up to a steamy hot temperature to gently soothe your way into the day.  

There are many health benefits to cold water – do a Google search yourself – but for me the big one is starting the day by doing something which takes discipline and control. 

I can also tell you – afterwards it feels great! You’re awake and the mind and body are awash with a new and vital energy!


Making the Morning Coffee: 

Here you can spend 5 minutes warming your body up, doing a tai chi move or two, gently stretching your legs, hips, shoulders, neck – even a very short movement routine can make you feel much more prepared for the day. 


Squat for Breakfast: 

If you’re a breakfast eater, or whilst you’re having your morning cuppa, ditch the chair and sit in a squat position! It’s energy boosting, physically great for flexibility and mobility – and in a world where we sit way too much, it counters the static positions that many people find themselves in during the day. 


Listen and Learn: 

There’s nothing better than having a free few hours and spending it immersed in a good book – but what do you do if, like me, you rarely have that much time to spend doing such a thing? 

There are two answers: audiobooks and podcasts. 

Defying the ‘men can’t multitask’ myth, I spend a significant amount of time each day with my head in either an audiobook or podcast whilst I am doing something else. Like anything, listening to a book is a skill that needs a little bit of practice to develop but it really helps with concentration, as well as learning what it is you’re actually listening to! 

It’s never been easier to educate yourself whilst getting ready for whatever it is you are spending your day doing. 


Secretly Turn Your Workplace into a Training Hall:

‘Martial arts and an IT career, isn’t that a strange mix of careers?’ 

I was asked that a lot as I juggled both for the best part of a decade – and it’s strange if you separate the two – but my focus was always on martial arts (sorry, every company I ever worked for!) and I never failed to spend time each day integrating my practice as best as I could. 

First of all, there are so many exercises that you can do in a toilet cubicle. I’m a master of it. One day we’ll release the Toilet Cubicle Workout on White Crane Online.  If you can access a server room or store cupboard (without security cameras – I speak from experience) then all the better!

Even at your desk there’s so much you can do to integrate a martial arts practice into your day – close your eyes for a minute and meditate, close your eyes for a minute and do a form, close your eyes for a minute and imagine what techniques you’d use against all of your co-workers if they suddenly attacked you one by one (this was a personal favourite!) . 

If you haven’t got one already, get a trigger point massage ball and never be without it. It’s like having a sports massage at your desk – all day, every day! (We have an instructional video being edited on this, coming your way soon!)

If you can have a standing desk, standing on an acupressure mat is great. I’m standing on one as I type – and all of the pressure points on my feet are being stimulated at the same time. 

All you need is a little imagination and before long you’ll be weaving training and training related topics into your everyday life – and that’s what it’s all about – not separating yourself from the thing that you are doing, whatever it is. 


From Undisciplined to Disciplined

So how did it happen, and how can it happen for anyone else out there who’s not feeling disciplined? 

Total immersion. 

Become what it is that you are training for, become the Tai Chi practitioner. Don’t be someone who practices Tai Chi. 

Until I discovered martial arts, the zone of immersion had eluded me – but it was only when I entered this zone that I began to see the bigger picture, the vastness of what I had entered and the unlimited potential for learning. 

I realised that I didn’t have to discipline myself to do the thing anymore because I had become the thing.  Everything was training.

And this applies to everything. You can become disciplined and succeed in anything if you see everything that you do as training and practice for that thing – and allow the activity itself to pervade your life in a way that branches out into other areas of interest, all interrelated in a web of intrigue that you can immerse yourself in. 

When that happens, you don’t even need discipline.

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