What Meryl Streep can teach martial artists

I’m not a huge Meryl Streep fan (though I do like some of her movies) but there is something she can teach martial artists, especially those who have just started out. Take a look at this interview she did for “Iron Lady” (for which she just won an Academy award) on Belgian television. The relevant part starts at 4min,35 and you might want to skip forward to that unless you speak Dutch…

These are some solid words of wisdom. I believe they also apply to martial artists.


When you discover the martial arts and find you have a passion for it, chances are you’ll want to be the best martial artist on the planet. You’re going to be as good as Bruce Lee, Dan Inosanto and Rob Kaman all rolled into one. You want it so bad, you train real hard in class, train some more at home, attend all the seminars you can find and so on.

Sounds familiar?

We’ve all either been this person or have known tons like them in class or in your own school. But where are they now? What happened to their enthusiasm, their drive to be the greatest?


I started training 25 years ago and have seen a ton of people fall in love with martial arts either in my own class or in those of my teachers. Of all those, I’m the only one who’s been training consistently.  I’m also the only one who never gave up and came back after a hiatus.

Compared to some people, I’m good at some of the arts I train in. Compared to others, I suck blocky nuts. That stuff doesn’t matter to me anymore. I train for myself, not for the approval of some anonymous Youtube commenter.

Because I have some products out there and a bunch of people seem to like my blog here, I’ve been told to my face that “I have it made.” I actually laughed out loud at that one and replied I’m a self-employed, single dad who’s still paying off his debts. If that’s what it means to “have it made”, then I guess I have indeed. :-)

I’ve also received some recognition from fellow martial artists who also publish their work, people I consider “Good!” ™. It’s flattering to the ego when you get those accolades, no denying that. The same thing is true when I get praise from my teachers. Because it’s rewarding to hear they’re happy with my interpretation of what they taught me and therefor I’m not on the wrong track. In that regard, I do indeed have achieved something that actually matters to me:

People who I think are better than me and my teachers who I look up to, tell me I’m on the right path.

For me, this is a part of what I consider my most important achievement.

More on that in a bit, back to Meryl Streep.


What Mrs. Streep says is spot on for me. I wanted to be hot stuff when I started training, true enough. But what I’m most proud of, what I think is my most important achievement as a martial artist is that I’m still training after all those years.

There were times when I didn’t feel like it.

There were times I considered quitting.

There were long periods during which I only trained a little bit instead of as hard as I could.

But I never gave up. And I’m proud of that. That people who I hold in high esteem tell my I haven’t wasted my time is the icing on the cake.


Mind you, This isn’t a big deal. It’s not like I found a cure for cancer or managed to better the world by getting all those stupid reality shows banned from TV. But for me personally, when I look back at the first half of my life, I get a sense of accomplishment out of it when I see I’m the only one left of all the people I started training with. Regardless of how good or bad I am at the arts I practice, nobody can take that away from me. :-)

Which reminds me of something Yang Jwing-Ming said in an interview, and I’m paraphrasing here:

Mr. Yang asked his teacher if he was better than this or that student and here’s what his teacher replied:

“Little Yang, don’t worry about what the others are doing. When you plow the field, only look down and in front of you. And just keep plowing. Eventually, when you come up for air, you’ll look around and find there’s nobody behind you anymore.”

Don’t sue me if I got the details wrong, but this is the gist of the story.

I absolutely love the analogy. Plowing is very, very hard physical work. You have to give it your all and always keep going, regardless if you’re tired or want to quit. But if you can keep it up, you’ll eventually finish one of the crucial tasks of working the land.  All you need to do is keep your head down and don’t give up.

It’s in this same spirit that I started the Lenten Challenge. After several months of focusing on other things, I’m returning to the fields to consistently man the plow again. Not for others, not for fame and fortune, but for me. As rewarding as it may feel to see none of my classmates from long ago are with me on the field, that doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters is the work that needs to be done.





  1. This reminded me of the words of Jou Tsung Hwa.

    Know yourself.
    Do your best.
    Don’t overdo it.
    Make a little progress every day.

  2. This post inspired my latest blog post. Thanks!


  3. as a 40 year old (young) man i can relate strongly to what you are saying. After years of sporadic injuries, bouts of mediocre results, burnout, mistakes (too many to even count) there is something deeply satisfying in the fact that i still relish hard training and yes, there is very few at my age that train, and even fewer that train with intensity. Recently I renewed my passion for boxing, damn it – it aint easy going to a gym and getting a sore face by some young whip of lad but damn it, i’m still there learning, evolving, making the best of a compromised situation (my aging body), and nobody, nobody, can take that deep seated pride away…nobody. I’m not putting forward some BS formula for successful living, and maybe I have more pride than sense, but in the words of Jack Nickleson in the film ‘One flew over the cuckoo’s nest’ – “At least I tried, God damn it, at least I did that much!”. Excuse the long blog, incapable of keeping things short sometimes.

    • Same thing here Sean. At almost 40, I’m also no longer of the age where competition is a smart option. I’m now paying with chronic injuries for my youthful sins of training to excess, but I still mix it up with my students and they’re allowed to hit me full power then. Like my teacher said: “You shouldn’t be too soft.” and then he went out to train in a thick winter jacket in the Summer heat… :-)
      I’ll see how much longer I can keep going at this intensity. Eventually, I’ll have to give it up as hard sparring is not for “old” men (don’t really feel the need to get crippling injuries for the rest of my life because I was to proud to stop). But there are other ways to train hard and keep your knives sharp.

  4. Wim,

    I always enjoy your honesty.

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