Aug 25th 2016  

 Philosophy & Culture of Kung Fu, Training

It feels like your chest will burst as a jet of joy shoots up through your body – you did it! And then the gremlin sneers “Pride comes before a fall”.  But if we do not take pride in our achievements how are we to know where to go next on the stepping stones of our life? This is a dichotomy at the heart of progress. If we do not feel any pride how do we know if we have made any progress? If we do feel pride in something that was not really a step forward then are we fooling ourselves? It’s a psychological minefield – whilst it’s not the same as losing a limb to a real landmine, it’s a real blockage to our self-realisation.

And so we come to poppies. Chief Instructor, Dennis Ngo, takes up the discussion.

What does it all mean?

“Ever seen poppies growing? Do you know how long it takes for them to flower, and how easy it is to destroy them – a brief shower of rain will do it. They take forever to grow tall. Then suddenly they paint our space with their ephemeral beauty. Just as suddenly they collapse and are gone. What does it all mean? Does it mean anything at all? Surely it’s just nature doing it’s thing whilst humans overthink everything and try to find meaning where there is none?

Tall single red poppy as an image of pride in achievement

The poppy stands tall – shall we cut it down or admire its beauty?

A solitary pink poppy amongst a stand of red poppies

Not all poppies are the same.

Tall poppies

Does the phrase “wither on the vine” mean anything to you? Google it – ouch! Is that what you are doing? Then it’s really an ouch! And if you’re not – are people trying to cut you down as a “tall poppy“? That’s also an ouch! Which is more painful? Do you have to try both both to be sure?

Pride – the original sin

So what are we supposed to do? Is it really “Better to reign in Hell, than to serve in Heaven”¹? The correct answer is supposed to be a resounding “No!” – but our modern-day short-term thinking whispers “Yes!” in our ear.  Short-term gains are worth the having and what’s wrong with a puff to our “self-esteem”?. But what is “self-esteem”? Is it the same as self-worth? or self-respect? and who am I to be asking this question?


If we leave all these “self-” prefaced issues apart, where does that leave pride?

The Journey

Knowing who you are and where you have got so far is not a matter of pride, or self-esteem or self-respect. It is a recognition of our common humanity that we are all on a journey. Is the journey you are on affecting the journey that I am on? No? then what effect can I have on you? But if you have come to me to guide you on this particular journey then you are affecting my journey and I am affecting yours. And thus my progress affects you and yours affects me. Then “self-” comes into it. As an Instructor it is my obligation to show students the way. As a student it is up to you to decide whether to follow that way and if you “don’t want to” then I am the wrong Instructor for you. I take pride in my own progress, in my dedication, in the development of the Art. I take pride in seeing my students take hold of their training, doing it for themselves, doing it for the Art.


Your own toolkit for resilience.

Where does that leave pride?

– in our toolbox for building and maintaining our resilience to “life’s rich tapestry”

– to be called upon when things seem too difficult, or even impossible.

– allowing you to take a deep breath and continue.

Put it in your backpack and bring it on your journey.”

“Do, or do not. There is no try.”²

Image of tiny black bug on the cream petals of an open lotus blossom - photo taken by Sharon Ngo, Instructor, Fujian White Crane Kung Fu & Tai Chi Martial Arts

“Ain’t no mountain high enough…”


¹ Paradise Lost (1674), Book 1 line 263 – John Milton 

² The Empire Strikes Back (1980) – Yoda (click the quote – go on, click it)

All photos taken by Instructor Sharon Ngo.