There is a story that is told about an abandoned lion cub that is raised by sheep. One day another lion approaches the flock. The sheep tremble with fear and bleat in terror as the lion comes closer. So does the Sheeplion. Struck by the odd behavior of the Sheeplion, the outsider approaches and says, "What the hell are you doing? Why are you bleating like a sheep, you are a lion!?" The Sheeplion replied "Nooooo I'm a sheep. Please don't eat me!!!!
Well, this discussion goes on for the better portion of the day with each of them trying to make their point. Ultimately the Lion gives up trying to convince the Sheeplion and leaves in total frustration and disbelief. Tired and parched from hours of arguing the Sheeplion bends down at the edge of a spring to get a drink of cool water. Startled by his reflection he lets out an enormous roar. He then says to himself "Oh my God, I am a lion".
One reason people like this story is the hope that one day they may become "a lion". Who would not want to be the lion? The powerful, majestic,King of the jungle. The truth is he never transformed from a lamb to a lion. He just came to an understanding and an acceptance of who he really was.
What does this have to do with martial arts? Everything. Some teachers and schools promote themselves and sell the idea that if you are a sheep they can turn you into a lion. That is disingenuous and dangerous. It does capture the imagination better than inviting a student to become the best sheep they can be. How sad would it be to convince a chicken that he needs to become a duck? Believing he is a duck will not change the fact he is a chicken if he finds himself plopped into the middle of a lake.
Now it would seem obvious that the lion would know he is a lion but it is not really as simple as it seems. Do you think that during the time the Sheeplion was growing up no one said "Damn boy, you is one big brown sheep! Whats up with those long ass teeth?".
Sheep and people believe both what they want to, and what they need to believe to survive. For a season, a lion may even have to believe he is a sheep to survive.
I have said many times that a martial art is like a a mirror. If it is a good mirror a teacher can use it to help the student see themselves as they really are. He or she can accurately reflect who the student is whether they be lion or lamb, chicken or duck. Today people bounce from style to style, method to method, teacher to teacher looking for someone to teach them how to be a lion. Very few are brave enough to accept being a chicken.
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