So I was going to write about the Russian Martial Art SAMBO this week, but I got a little too into the research phase ended up with a half finished sprawling article about Russians belting each other, and everyone else, across recent history. So next time, SAMBO article, this time I wanted to talk about something else, because it’s a lesson I know in my head but not in my bones…and I honest to all the many tentacled gods in the universe got it from a Chinese Kung Fu master.
I’ve had a lot of martial arts instructors who have come from all over the world, everywhere from Holland, to Japan, to Thailand, to Australia, to Israel, to Brazil and back to New Zealand. But only one of them was an honest to goodness Chinese Kung Fu master who dispensed wisdom as well as punches.
His name is Master Chan, and he’s awesome. He has a full name, but everyone called him Master Chan, so I’m going to stick with it. His particular piece of advice as given to a group of us who were struggling through a rough grading, and one student had already left the floor. He called a stop, looked us all up and down and said ‘it doesn’t matter how fast you’re swimming, as long as you’re going in the right direction.”
This is kind of amazing advice.
It holds true if you’re writing a book, or losing weight, recovering from illness or doing any of the million difficult things that humans have to do. Anytime the big steps are beyond you, for whatever reason, it’s OK to take little ones, even if all you can do is survive until the next day.
Like all metaphors it doesn’t stand up to an awful lot of scrutiny; if there are sharks both the direction and the speed of your swim are suddenly going to matter to you an awful lot. And yet despite this I think it’s advice we can all bear in mind since writers tend to be pretty hard of themselves. Things might not be happening as fast as you want to them to, but keep going. If you’re heading in the right direction, you’ll get there. If you can’t do three thousand words a day, try a thousand. Or five hundred. Or one hundred. Or write just on the weekends.
Or abandon a crazy long article about a staggeringly complex Russian martial art to write about taking small steps when the big ones are out of reach.
Just keep swimming in the right direction, even if it means you have to go slow, it’s OK.
Unless there are sharks.
Then swim like a motherfucker.