Chief Instructor: Sifu John C. Loupos - Since 1968

Living With Integrity As Its Own Reward

by Sifu John Loupos

Recently, while teaching a Jrs class, one of my newer youngsters performed a particular task to an extraordinary level, far beyond the expectations I had for her and well beyond the performance (by a factor of 4) of all other youngsters embarked on the same exercise. I felt some special (token) recognition was in order and offered her a simple reward with one of the nutritional treats I carry at the school. One of the other Jrs piped up and asked if I didn't feel that ALL the other Jrs were equally deserving, having performed to the best of their ability. I responded that, yes, they had all done well, but that this particular girl's performance warranted some extra recognition. Thus, another philosophical discussion was on the table before us. Under what circumstances is good work or integrity sufficient in being its own reward?

Let me note that I'm not typically in the habit of handing out conduct or performance rewards, not of the material kind. Back when I was a young student the best I could expect from my Sifu was, "Not bad, try harder." I'm a little more encouraging than that, but I do feel that material rewards, except under rare or specific circumstances, detract from the emphasis on learning and personal process. In the case of this young girl I wanted to mark her indelibly with a feeling of accomplishment for having performed beyond herself. The token recognition offered was a way of imprinting the experience more deeply into her memory by attaching an added emotional impact. In this case the hoopla adjunct to the reward was most important, while the reward itself was merely incidental to the process.

Meanwhile, the comments of my other Junior left me feeling that there was more learning to be gleaned from this encounter for all involved. I wanted to find out what my Juniors really thought and felt about this.

So next class I sat all the Juniors down in a circle and we spent some time processing that very issue: Is knowing that you've done your best reward enough or should there be an award attached? At first, there was a non-committal consensus that doing one's best was enough, but that the prospect of an award might add an incentive to push a bit more. Even the Junior who had originally piped up about rewards said that when he went home and thought about it he realized that the feeling of doing his best was more important than any prize. One student shared that she had recently been to China where she had occasion to perform her Kung Fu before an audience. She alluded to an intangible, but nevertheless gratifying reward adjunct to her performance, noting how Kung Fu had helped her to overcome performance anxiety and shyness with public speaking, quite a mature self assessment I thought. Then, another Jr. observed that rewards seemed to be less important now (at this age) than they had been at a younger age, and this drew general agreement from the other students.

As we continued chatting, several students took the position that external rewards are objective in nature whereas one's performance can be subjective, in other words, one's individual best at any given time may or may not be the best in a group. Ergo a reward, or the absence thereof, doesn't necessarily reflect on one's performance or aptitude. One doesn't need to be rewarded for being the best in order to know that one has performed well.

Needless to say, I was impressed with the comments from this group of adolescents! These kids were really thinking and expressing themselves. I always find process oriented discussions such as these fascinating to the extent that they provide insight into the mind sets of those participating. And aside from their being empowering for the kids themselves these venues provide clear evidence of moral depth and development as these youngsters ponder and reflect on issues such as fairness, personal motivation, and right or wrong, in this case around a theme of integrity.

Now for my comments on this issue. As developing martial artists one of the most important qualities for students to aspire to is personal integrity. This often manifests in Kung Fu/ Tai Chi training as holding oneself to a high standard and performing to the best of one's abilities. Integrity' is acting to do the right thing to the best of your ability regardless of the incentive or consequences. And this includes making your best effort to be your best for its own sake.

As martial artists I feel we have a unique responsibility to develop ourselves into model citizens. By that I don't mean we should be conformists. On the contrary I feel that means living according to our own conscience and values to any extent that doesn't encroach on the rights of others. This is what developing personal power is all about.

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