Today we welcome Chinese New Year. This year, it is the Year of the Sheep. (Some say Ram, some say Goat – but it's all the same year.)
We've had some colourful characters over the past few years – going backwards, the horse, the snake, and the dragon. With the horse's propensity to bolt off without thinking, the snake's capacity to be unscrupulous as it seeks to get ahead, and the dragon's tumultuous storm-bringing, a gentle year is very welcome.
The sheep is considered fortunate in China. In the I Ching, the sheep is linked with the trigram for "The Joyous," which is an omen for good times. The sheep is thought to be gentle, kind and empathic. It is a steady, reliable animal. Productive and friendly. Not dangerous or unpredictable, like some of those we saw in recent years.
Chinese years go not only by the animals of the Chinese zodiac, but also by the five Chinese elements. So each year the animal is linked with an element which shapes the year's characteristics. In 2015 the element is wood, so what we have is the Year of the Wood Sheep.
Wood is the sign of spring, of growth, so combining animal and element what we have for 2015 is a year of gentle growth, of friendship and productivity, of steadily moving forward.
That's not a bad year for martial artists. I often tell my students of people who come to me, and after a single hour exclaim that they have found their salvation, that their lives will now change forever, that they will become disciples of the martial arts and dedicate their lives to following my teaching. This happens more often than you might imagine, and I always respond with caution. With caution, because more often than not I never see them again.
It can be a similar story with some of the people who do stay, flinging themselves into all and everything, flying through the martial arts sky like a star. Too often a falling star.... such exuberance over the first few months is sometimes the mark of a true talent, but more often the overcombustion that leads to burn out.
People ask me, "can you tell right at the beginning who will become a black belt?" I always respond that grit and family support have more to do with progress in the martial arts than speed or agility. Similarly, I look around the room for the unsung ones; the people who just train steadily, week after week; the people who seem to learn a little at a time, but retain what they learn; the people who are still there a year later, and another year, and another year, gradually improving, just plodding on. Commonly, the route to true greatness in the martial arts is just plodding on.
So, welcome to the year of the Wood Sheep, and as it plods on may it bring you good joyousness, friendship, and good fortune.
Kung Hei Fat Choi