Years ago when I was younger, I was at a point where I had no direction in my life, but I wanted one. I was young, wondering what to do with my life, and not focused as much as I wanted to be. I knew I was standing on the edge of the cliff and I didn’t have much to lose, but I still wanted something to hold on to.
I spent a lot of time as a child trying to take care of myself for a number of different circumstances. I grew up with coaches who taught me how to play sports. They taught me about discipline, how to win, how to compete and perform well so that it got you to a certain point. But when the competition is over, what are you left with? This was a point in my life when the competition was over. When I was 18 years old, I stopped competing in sports. But I didn’t want to stop competing in life.
I knew within me was the potential to keep pursuing a path. I had the drive. Throughout those formidable years of growing up, I developed a close, personal relationship with God. I would ask questions and have long conversations with Him. I’d really try to look to His idea for answers and inspiration. For three months, there was a point when I had been in a place where I told Him, “If I don’t do something now, I am really going to end up the bad way.”
It was chaos. I considered college as an option, I looked at military, I even considered just not doing anything at all. There were so many options, but nothing was for me. None of those options felt right for me. So I kept praying and praying, “Lord, show me the way and I will go there.” On November 20, 1995, I took my first Kung Fu class. After the class was over, I said, “This is it! This is what I’m doing.” It felt so natural and intuitive and right for me that I made up my mind right there and then. I felt like my prayers had been answered. It was a simple prayer that went like this: “Show me the way and I will go there.”
So that’s when I found Kung Fu. It became the path or the efficient roadmap for me, the way that got you from point A to point B. It helped me make decisions that I otherwise wouldn’t be able to make. Discipline is a part of my practice. So, too is trying to do it the right way, knowing I want to do it the right way, knowing that ultimately the destination is to have that feeling of complete connection with the universe and having a conscious experience. It started from there and I hope to feel it more and more through my practice.
Intensity or Insanity?
I promised myself: “I’m going to be a Kung Fu master and I’m going to pursue this with everything I have. I am going to put myself in the position to make this my vocation and make this a reality for me and, in doing so, make it a reality for other people.” Martial arts is ultimately about service; it’s about giving and providing an opportunity for somebody else to grow and become the best they can be.
You know how a pebble drops in water and ripples cascade out? From what I know about the universe, this cascading is like you sending out a vibration, a wave, an intention which goes out and brings back what is desired. I’ve had my intention ever since and although there have been times that I’ve wanted to quit, I haven’t. There have been times I’ve really questioned, “Is the right decision to continue forward with this level of intensity? Am I really doing this or is this a pipe dream?”
My intensity in martial arts won’t let me compromise. For instance, I won’t take another job because I know I can make it professionally as a martial artist. I know I can provide for myself and for my family. I know how to do that. At times, doubt gets in your way, of course. You think, “How can I construct a platform which helps me earn more money? How can I do it in a way that my teaching reaches more people?” Instead of teaching one person for a hundred dollars, I can teach twenty people for a thousand dollars every class and still hold onto the truth and the integrity of my methods, but how?
Technology makes it easier so you can transmit the art via computer or screen, a blog, a magazine, a website. We keep the same connection but expand the dimension or add another dimension. I realized I’ve to keep learning how to break outside of my comfort zone. I knew I was good at one-on-one teaching and I was also good at teaching six people at once. But when it came to a larger group, I felt stuck. How do you keep that connection and what can you use, the tools and the canvases around you to express yourself to a larger group?
With time, I’ve discovered the reason for this uneasiness was fear. Fear of giving something up in order to gain something else. In this case, I thought I had to give up the intimate relationship with my students in order to be the front man in this operation that will service two hundred. And to do that, maybe I’ll have to do things which I wouldn’t otherwise do, in my intimate setting. With a larger group, I feared, I may have to tell somebody they’re great even when they’re clearly not. Because if I didn’t, they’ll quit.
During these years, I’ve promised myself that I won’t sacrifice quality over quantity. I have come to conquer that fear by finding the balance between the numbers and quality and being honest with the students about their capabilities. And my methods may cause people to quit or dislike me, but I have to take that risk. The community and the integrity of the art will benefit more from it.
More than Just a Job. . .
For me, martial arts isn’t a job or a career. It’s something that has formed my way of thinking in work, but also in relationships, I find that I’m conscious of the energy that I’m giving off — Is it aggressive? Defensive? Welcoming? Is it yielding?
My relationship with martial arts started with my connection with God. So, whenever I’m pushing with somebody, teaching somebody, yelling at a class or arguing with my wife, finally it all comes back to, “OK, how does that make me feel in this ultimate connection with the universe?” and I can stop or change the way I’m behaving. Martial arts is the most wonderful awareness and consciousness tool I’ve ever learned in my life. It helps me deal with life across all levels.
There’s always a challenge. There never isn’t an opportunity to learn discipline. One of the statements I’ve used as my mantra is “conquering myself.” And to conquer myself is to exercise discipline. Let me give you an example. I used to love slurpies; I still do. To give the habit up, I had to work extra hard to conquer myself around this aspect and learn to give them up. It was always two steps forward, one step back. It may sound simple, but it was a challenge, very hard work to give up something even like a slurpie.
There’s a welcoming challenge in the way we respond to others in our lives. It’s easier to be more selfish than selfless. To begin to recognize times when I’m being selfish to others and then to conquer myself is the way of discipline.
An Embodiment of Kung Fu, Plus So Much More
I don’t want to be identified only as a martial artist. When I’m dead and in my casket, I want to be naked; I don’t want to have any clothes on and I want people to see that this is the end product of all my work. I am like the sculpture. Not in physique. I don’t care about the physique. But I want you to see the wrinkles in my face. I want you to see the scars on my body and the formation of body structure and the serenity in my face or the grey in my hair. I want people to know that this is what happens to the physical body when you do martial arts. Still, the physical body is only an outward manifestation of everything that happens within you. If you could see the soul, I would want the soul to be seen as the product of applying Kung Fu to one’s being.
Sifu Jason Schoenherr started his Kung Fu training at the age of 20 and spent over 17 years studying both the internal and external principles of classical Martial Arts, including Kung Fu, Tai Chi, and Qi-Gong. Today, he runs his own Kung Fu school, Detroit Kung Fu Studio, in Michigan.