Chang Gong

Whether you are the ancient hermit of the Dark Forest or a week-in week-out practitioner, martial training always rewards perseverance with increased skills you have gathered and accumulated like rain. Skills like these come mostly from just hanging in there and that’s the reason they stay in the shadows, unnoticed.

The results of CHANG GONG, or “Long Practice,” signify skills that comes as messages through time. Its ceaseless evolution allows practitioners to keep track of their progress, even if just stockpiling. But maybe there is a better way to say this: Chang Gong is NOT a method you seek, but an unexpected outcome of continuous attention. This unhurried yet rewarding quest for skill is unequalled in its effectiveness. Nowadays it is called a superpower, moving forward but not yet peaking.

A friend of mine asked his brother—a Juilliard graduate who played flute, professionally—how long it would take to lay a decent foundation with the instrument. The musician looked skyward—a moment of contemplation was all that was needed—the answer: 15 years.

Although Chang Gong is evident when watching great teachers or world-class competitors, in this article I concentrate NOT on the master or soon-to-be master, but on those people who receive, at most, a pat on the back for their own skills. In those, too, we discover the alchemical development of Chang Gong, what Daoist practitioners call “bringing the extraordinary out of the ordinary.” It is here, near you and all around you: ordinary abilities coupled with the phenomenal, coming out of the mere pedestrian.

To put it simply, the poet Carl Sandburg defined an expert as “…anyone who can spit over a box car.”

Thinking of Chang Gong, think of your mother, her secret recipes, and that meal she has cooked “ten thousand times.” She can tell you when it is “done” with nothing more than a sniff, a rattle, a change of temperature in the kitchen. Although, she may not have intentionally pursued this level of knowledge, its acquisition did bloom from curiosity, not to mention constant testing, continual exploration and change brought on by experiment.

Malcolm Gladwell’s fine book, BLINK, or Herrigel’s, “The Zen of Archery,” reveal that if something is practiced long enough, the close of each chapter is always punctuated by capital ‘S’ Skill, but NOT always by the specific small ‘s’ skill you were practicing.

The writer faces the blank page every day. The young girl in Hong Kong dips her paint brush into three different cans of paints and then, with a turn of her wrist, creates a multi-colored flower. At noon, the cook takes his long chopsticks and snips off bits of batter, flicking them into the roiling surface of his massive pot. They arrive, already stretched into the long strands of perfect noodles.

Chang means “long,” and Gong means “special practice.” It’s simple to acquire, difficult to dissect, impossible to pinpoint, and maybe, even, a bit more than that.

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