Grandmaster Suh always chatted about life. He revealed quaint philosophies and stories that, if we paid attention, could change our lives forever. He talked about rust and how it weakened metal and related it to laziness weakening our lives. He talked about laziness and called it our “monster” … “laziness is your monster”, he yelled out. Then, he had each one of us spell it!
My first class with him threw me for a loop! First, we’re doing the basic warm-ups – yep, the same ones we do today. Then, he steps forward into the class slightly and begins to chat. “Good man is sincere. Humble man is strong man. Sincere man knows how to repay kindness. Kind heart is forgiving”, he continued. Then, I hear my name: “Don Baird … spell KINDNESS.” My first class … my first lesson … and I feel like I’m back in an English class at Clairemont High School. I couldn’t believe it.
As I looked around, no one was moving. It was real. He really asked me to spell KINDNESS. So, looking back at him I heard myself spell out K … I … N … D … N … E … S … S … One careful letter at a time, I spelled it to the class. He immediately responds “That’s right!” … and chuckles a bit. Then he looked at someone else and said: “Spell KINDNESS”. Next I heard another voice sounding much like mine. … somewhat muted. Mr. Suh immediately commands “LOUDER THIS GUY!” The voice suddenly picked up a few decibels and he spelled it perfectly.
Master Suh then would spell it himself. He would repeat it a few times. And then, “what’s our subject tonight?” I’m like, “Oh shoot” (to myself). He’s looking around the room. We’re all dodging the teacher just like years ago. Eyes looking down, to the side but none directly at Mr Suh. “Mr Telles”, he calls out.
Mr. Telles then recites the nights words “laziness is our monster”, “our rust will weaken our lives” … “and We Must Repay Kindess”. Master Suh would go “that’s right”. “We must pay attention to simple things. We have better life if we follow plan.”
“Ok”, he says …. “everybody make partners”.
He was consistent. If he spoke, it was about life. It was about behavior. It was about human nature and its imperfection and that we train harder to perfect ourselves. We beautify over the years and make less mistakes. If we follow plan we hurt others less, we hurt ourselves less and we make lots of money! haha! He always had to throw a curve, makes us laugh . . . he has a great laugh. He would laugh really guttural and always finish it with “that’s right”.
“Train harder” was his mantra. There was never a class where we didn’t hear that a dozen times or more. Everything was “just train harder”. If you showed up to class early he would ask “this guy … are you training hard?” Didn’t matter if he was talking to a woman, man or child it was always the same question. “Ah, this guy . . . are you training hard”? And no matter the answer, it was always “train harder”. “Laziness is your monster”, he finished with. You replied “Yes, Sir!”
Many professional athlete instructors believe the body talent is the most important thing. They believe if you don’t have “evident” physical talent, that you don’t have a prayer in making good. Grandmaster Suh was a bit different. He sincerely believed that the mind was the most important aspect of being great. He said many times to me that “if you have good mind, body will follow”. Of course he was comparing two situations. One is where someone is really talented physically and they don’t show up to class, don’t put in the personal hours working out, and don’t follow the way of diligence. The second style person has “ok” talent physically but mentally, they are sharp. They are diligent. They are committed … and they don’t talk about training … they’re training … and consistently.
That’s the person he watches for. He believes they’re the diamond in the rough and will be the star in the future.
That gives students hope. They realize (because everyone judges themselves a bit harshly) that even if they don’t quite have the world champion coordination or body, that they can still be a champion … that they can still be really great at martial arts and in particular, life. He gave everyone hope. And, rightfully so. Nothing in this life can be any better than the mind and attitude applied to it. Nothing.
“You keep good mind. You keep diligent mind. You stay steady. Don’t let your monster get you and you will have happy life.” His mantra remained though the words changed. We knew that he just wanted us all to be happy … to find peace … to acquire wealth … or manifest what we want, if we keep “good mind”.
I cherish those classes. I cherish those memories. And, I wouldn’t hesitate to do it all again.
I hope you all are cherishing his thoughts and teachings through me. I hope I bring Kung Fu to your lives as well as he brought it to mine. And when you leave class, I also hope you know that I’m whispering in the background “Train Harder”.
peace in kung fu,