Work in Japan Advice Board
Is it possible that Kung Fu has something to teach the modern itinerant worker? I would say a resounding yes, if you know how to make sense of the metaphors.
An itinerant worker is one who works in one place for a short time, and moves on to work in another place. This work and wander pattern used to characterize farm hands, circus people, traveling salesmen, and others whose work was defined by its regional or seasonal quality. Yet with the average person now changing jobs every two years, by choice or by circumstance, increasingly we are all itinerant workers.
Kung Fu is the word that describes a variety of Chinese martial arts, which developed over centuries into a various schools which teach self-defense, health, and inner development, based on Chinese philosophy and oriental medicine. The word Kung Fu is written as 功夫、in Chinese, translated as skillful means. Similarly, the word kufū (工夫、功夫) in Japanese can mean to be resourceful, to figure out, or come up with an ingenious solution. It can also mean a worker or laborer, and together it suggests that of a craftsman coming up with creative solutions.
Kung Fu is also the name of the popular television series that ran from 1972~1975 in the United States, eventually became a movie which introduced a whole generation to the idea that martial arts could have health benefits, and could be a philosophical and spiritual practice. The series followed the adventures of Kwai Chang Caine, the orphaned son of an American father and Chinese mother, who was raised in a Shaolin Monastery, and trained to be a Shaolin Kung Fu master. Most of the adventures take place in the 19th century American West, where the monk leads an itinerant life both in search of his half-brother, and on the run from the Chinese Emperor's assassins who seek his blood in vengeance for his crime of killing the Emperor's nephew, after his retinue slew Caine's beloved blind Master Po.
Caine works and wanders dealing with racism and injustice, selflessly serving and saving others in trouble whom he encounters on his journey. Kung Fu is used to deliver justice without killing. Each episode featured flashbacks to his early training in the Shaolin Temple, and fascinating dialogs with blind Master Po and the wise Master Kan.
As a young monk Caine acquired the nickname Grasshopper, based on the following famous dialog from the pilot episode.
Master Po: Close your eyes. What do you hear?
Young Caine: I hear the water, I hear the birds.
Po: Do you hear your own heartbeat?
Po: Do you hear the grasshopper that is at your feet?
Caine: Old man, how is it that you hear these things?
Po: Young man, how is it that you do not?
Another famous dialog from the series featured Master Kan.
Master Kan: Quickly as you can, snatch the pebble from my hand.
[The young Caine tries to take the pebble, but Master Kan： fist closes too quickly]
Master Kan: When you can take the pebble from my hand, it will be time for you to leave.
What these classic dialogs illustrate are two qualities of Kung Fu, superb sensory awareness and the ability to move faster than the eye can see, both made possible by rigorous training and inner development. Because the Kung Fu master travels unarmed, he must improvise using skillful means. Being a spiritual path as well as a physical discipline, it comes with a moral obligation to do right and help those in need.
Steeped in myth and Chinese tradition, and delivered as a Hollywood drama, Kung Fu may seem far removed from the condition of the modern job hopper, who changes jobs every two years, and has to deal with stressful schedules and office politics. But there are many parallels and lessons to be learned.
We are all itinerant workers, and for your career to have meaning you must find your path.
Every job presents problems, and to be resourceful you must use skillful means.
You will face unfairness and moral challenges, and to grow you must develop character.
Work can be stressful and even dangerous, and to survive you must train mind and body.
In other words, with the right perspective on your job, your career, and yourself, you can become a Job Grasshopper, a person with a path, rather than a drifter or an opportunist.
With job hopping becoming the norm rather than the exception, employers care more about whether you completed your projects or commitments, than how long you worked at your previous job. Staying too long in one place may even be viewed as a sign of stagnation.
Rapid turnover does take a toll in terms of lack of long-term commitment, wasted time in training, and loss of tacit knowledge when workers leave. But the greater burden is that of the person who draws a salary and contributes nothing, or simply pretends to be working. As companies strive be leaner and cleaner, life expectancy will be short for the salary thief. Focus on increasing value and giving back wherever you can, and you will certainly find yourself on a creative career path.
William Reed is a renowned author-speaker who coaches physical finesse and flexible focus for a creative career path. A certified Master Trainer in Guerrilla Marketing and 7th-dan in Aikido, he combines practical wisdom of East and West to help you learn personal branding at the Entrepreneurs Creative Edge.