I first heard of the concept of “Eating Bitterness” when I started studying Yin Style Baguazhang. The group had been training for a couple of hours, so we didn’t need much of an explanation to get the point. In short, if you want to succeed in life, at anything, then you have to be willing & able to eat bitterness. Both figuratively & literally.

The concept can be off-putting, I admit. But it doesn’t take much life experience to see that it’s unavoidable in the end. You will face hardship, & there will be times when you don’t have any other choice: you’ll have to hunker down & dig in. You’ll have to eat every last morsel of suffering & torment, savor each agonizing mouthful, before finally swallowing it all. And keeping it down. Because that’s what the situation will demand of you.

There is another circumstance where one will be required to eat bitterness, one where refusal is an option. I’m speaking of instances of voluntary discomfort, or course. Don’t feel like getting up early to exercise? You could sleep in. Not exactly pumped to see your coworkers tomorrow? Why not call in sick? The excuses practically justify themselves!

But you know that’s not what I’m getting at here. It should be obvious that the voluntary bitterness I’m referring to is the goal-related kind. The kind of bitterness, the kind of self torment, a person submits to in order to achieve a larger & more meaningful goal. For those of us who live in the World of Martial Arts, regular, intensive training is that self imposed meal of bitterness.

And it is self imposed, when all is said & done. You have to want the achievement, the advancement of your Kung Fu, more than you want to sit “on ass,” or indulge a bad habit. Hell, if a strict teacher, who’s likely to give you a beating as soon as a compliment, was all it took for long term success I would have many more success stories & far fewer failures. But, in the end, even a thorough beating isn’t enough motivation for some people.

That’s why every student must take the time to seriously ask themself what exactly it is they’re looking to gain from practice. And it isn’t the case that only the pursuit of the Way of Martial Arts, as a lived & embodied ethical paradigm, is an acceptable reason to begin study. For people like me, that is the reason. But it doesn’t have to be everyone’s reason.

At the end of the day, no matter the reason, no matter the individual, the principle of “Eating Bitterness,” willingly devouring it at every opportunity & in every training session, is the surest path to success. In life, in martial arts, in anything an individual feels compelled to pursue, that individual will enjoy a level of success equal to their capacity to willfully & happily Eat Bitterness.


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