Martial arts have been part of my life since I was a schoolboy, and it’s made me a better MP. It taught me patience and discipline, and prepared me for the verbal sparring that’s an ancient part of the House of Commons.
My parents enrolled me in martial arts when I was 9. I was impetuous, impatient and physically uncoordinated. They worried I would talk myself into trouble, and concluded training would either protect me from inevitable consequences, or force me to be more thoughtful in my interactions with others. I asked the Black Belt instructor to teach me moves performed by Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan. I didn’t last long in that class.
At 15 I met a Kung Fu instructor who inspired me. Initially I could barely master three push-ups, but the training was empowering. It taught me a work ethic and the value of stick-to-itiveness, especially when the going gets tough.
I became obsessed with Kung Fu. I died my hair black so I would look like Bruce Lee. Every night I did an extra round of push-ups. I watched Japanese Samurai and Kung Fu movies; I even became a vegetarian. I studied everything from weightlifting to gymnastics that might give me an edge. The instructor gave me a to-do list of achievements I required to master the system, and I promised myself I`d be his first student who actually made it to the end. And I was. Isn’t that how you learn things in life? You immerse yourself until you’ve mastered a challenge.
I earned a Gold Sash, the highest level you can attain in Wing Chun Kung Fu, and opened my own martial arts studio in Penticton in 1997. I studied Greco-Roman wrestling and Jujitsu, and earned a Green Belt in Judo – but still had not mastered teaching. Once I volunteered to teach a class of thirty kids at the local Boys and Girls Club; within three weeks all but six students had left. A friend explained I was too much a taskmaster with the children. I realized instilling confidence and life skills in young people is more far-reaching than technical mastery of Kung Fu fighting.
I recall one unforgettable incident, a one-in-a-million tragedy. In a gymnastics studio located next to my studio, I heard a cry when a young man fell during unsupervised play. “Sifu Albas! There`s been an accident!” one of my students said. I comforted the injured boy while we waited for the ambulance; I will never forget the fear in his eyes as he whispered he couldn’t feel his legs. Today he is a quadriplegic and I have heard he is now a website developer. He also has the strength and character of a disciplined athlete that allow him to face any challenge.
I closed my studio on winning election to Parliament in 2011, but the discipline is with me every day: Focus, try to avoid inflammatory language, step back when angry, and always maintain a posture that is fair and open. While I may fail — and I often do — I remember that success in martial arts, like life, is more about being willing to try again, no matter how many times it takes.
(Editor’s note: the author holds a Black Belt in martial arts, and is Conservative MP for Central Okanagan-Similkameen-Nicola, B.C.)