From an early age, I was introduced to "kaizen" (改善), the philosophy of continuous self-improvement. At first, it was only to improve my martial arts, then I applied it to every other aspect of my life.
The attraction of martial arts is simple: a small person can beat a big person. It only took me a short time to realize a small person can defeat a bigger person if the smaller person is more efficient. I applied this to everything: to find the best hacks, leveraging the right resources, the most effective methods, to create a flawless system.
It took me the rest of my life to realize that wasn't enough. Efficiency has to be balanced with spirit; otherwise, we are just machines. Machines have no meaning, becoming obsolete, replaced by better machines. It's not just about more productivity and getting more things done in less time, or implementing the perfect habit; it's also about living a life of meaning and finding liberation in life. It's not about a small person beating a big person, it's about ordinary people overcoming extraordinary obstacles. Beyond success, it's about significance. Not just getting things done but leaving an impact. I spent too much time working on my "system," and not enough time grooming myself, cultivating integrity and character. I lost touch with the point of martial arts, which is to find the Way (道).
The underdogs need to be more than efficient; they need to have more fight in the fight. They need more belief, more resilience, more drive, and all-out effort — to risk leaving nothing in the tank. Life's not fair, and you need more than goals, you need purpose and drive.
People can defeat you with inferior technique. Others will have more advantages. You won't have all the necessary resources. The real art is doing everything right, then fighting like hell for it. Outwork them. Out learn them.
I was known for impeccable techniques — untouchable in the dojo. But in competition, I was very flawed. I asked a black belt once why I kept losing in tournaments when I did everything right? He said, "Because it's a fucking fight. What did you expect? The guy's not just going to let you win because you're better than him. You have to fight for it." There will be struggle and even when things are perfect, it still won't be easy. You need to persevere, stay the course — hopefully, you've been hardening your spirit.
We admire machines. They're extremely useful in metaphors for productivity and improvement. The part people don't mention is that machines break. But humans have an undefinable capacity, humans possess within them an indomitable spirit, humans can become unbreakable, and only humans can live life worth living. Machines don't live. They have no will. They don't care.
Why get things done if there's no reason to get things done? Why overcome an obstacle if it doesn't somehow improve my life or someone else's? Why beat a bigger opponent unless there's a point? Machines do things for the sake of doing them. We can do things because they make our lives better; we can choose a life that is purposeful. We're capable of simultaneously being happy while creating our own happiness. It's not enough to be efficient at making widgets, we must continuously build character (改善). Our strength is not in our perfection but in our persistence — that is essential humanity. Embracing our flaws (三法印), striving to master the self, and finding our Way (道).
I have a backstory. You have a backstory. We all have backstories. We have all the reason in the world to stay still, but for some, those same reasons are why we must triumph.