Ten years is a great equalizer.
I find that students who are new to training in kung fu (read: people who are approaching something new and are unfamiliar with its process) are often caught between a rock and a hard place. On one hand, they are excited to learn and grow in this new activity. On another hand, they quickly discover that it is harder than it looks in one way or another and are unsure if they’ll be able to “get it.” What they don’t realize is that everyone who has gotten anywhere in a challenging pursuit has faced this concern. Discovering difficulty on the way to distinction is as common as discovering sand on the earth. Whether one looks in a desert or at the bottom of the sea, this is one sandy planet. On the other hand, it’s a fairly lush planet overall, too.
Advancement in kung fu (translation: developing any skill that comes from consistent hard work) comes not overnight, but rather over the course of months, weeks, and years. In fact a short term view in martial arts is a rather inadequate means of measuring time. Now and then, a new student or someone visiting the school will ask the question, “How long does it take to make it to Black Belt?” The answer is always the same. “That depends on how much you’re willing to work.” The first small changes seem to appear after a hundred days; the first significant changes after a thousand.
Some students start with more aptitude than others; some with less. Some have more patience; some less. Some have more flexibility; some less. Some are stronger. Some are larger. Some have a longer reach. Some have a lower center of gravity. Some have a compelling desire or a great need to learn to defend themselves while some have no idea why their parents have placed them in the class or why they are training in the first place. But this only seems to matter most at the beginning. Over time, these apparent differences become less problematic and more opportunistic.
Impatience can pay off as a beginner’s tool that drives a student to learn and look for more – and the rough edges will be worn off over time. The stiff body type will gain some flexibility and has the potential to become practically immoveable once it has developed true strength and not just inflexible muscle. The so-called weaker or smaller individual will, by necessity, develop greater speed, attention to detail, and more accurate technique than his or her stronger and larger training partners. And, the ones who seemed to struggle the most when learning something new also seem to be the ones who tend to keep what they learn because they value it so highly. After a decade of training, they will all find that their own unique strengths and talents have been honed to much higher degrees than they originally thought possible and their weaker areas have been strengthened significantly. They only need to wait and see.
Decades will show greater changes than years and far more than mere months of training. It may be best to consider that time is most accurately measured in kung fu over the course of lifetimes. Just train.