There is a kong fu hero living within every boy (and girl, sometimes!). I for one, for as long as I can remember, had always been fascinated by sticks, ropes and knives alike – basically anything I can swing about. Playing Street Fighters 2, watching Dragon Ball Z and reading Jin Yong’s novels contributed tremendously to this passion. To this day, I still have “getting a Karate black belt” on my bucket list!
However, few of us really pursued this childhood dream to become a real kong fu hero (大侠) beyond perhaps throwing a few punches at a sand bag in the gym. This is why I was totally astonished at the fact that Josh, after 5 years of banking, has quit his job to do exactly that!
Nothing says better than his own last-day email:
After living in HK for 5 years, I have finally had enough of the HK taxi drivers!
I’m kidding… I love HK, but I am actually taking a year off from the hussle and bussle of the city life. I will be training with some of the world’s most fearsome fighters from Thailand to Brazil to Korea and Japan for one year. I have resigned from MS last month and planning to leave HK in early July. I will travel first to Thailand to train at a Muay Thai (Thai boxing) camp for three month. Then I will go to South America for six month, where I will train in Jiu-Jitsu as well as Capoeira. Afterwards, I will spend the final three month in Korea or Japan to learn Tae Kwon Do or Judo.
While it is extremely difficult to leave the comfort and familiarity of the city, with amazing friends, great job, and incredible girl/guy ratios. In order to grow more as a person, I’m looking to put myself outside of this comfort zone for a year to seek out situations that are unfamiliar and scary. Given that I’m still (relatively) young, have no major obligations, and the Dow being below 12000, today’s opportunity cost is pretty low. And at the end of my travel, I’m still excited to come back and work in the field that brought me to HK in the first place.
I will setup a blog with frequent updates on my wherabouts, which you are all welcome to join me. And I will be in and out of HK until early July; I would love to catch up with many of you. So please let me know if you are in town.
I wanted to do this ever since my family bought our first television set way back in China when it was a big deal to own a TV. We turned it on and the first show we ever watched was called “The Legend of the Condor Heroes” (射雕英雄传) about… you guessed it… Chinese martial arts masters. =D
Everybody is kung-fu fighting…
Two quotes that inspired me to do this –
“Change is not something we should fear. It is something we should welcome. For without change, nothing in this world would ever grow or blossom. And nobody in this world would ever move forward to become the person we are meant to be.” – B.K.S lyengar
“Have you ever wondered if there was more to life than just being rediculouslly good looking?” – Derek Zoolander
Now you can understand why I was attracted to this story like a moth to a flame.
ME: So Josh, what made you decide to quit and do something so different and COOL?
J: Two main reasons. First of all, time pressure. I just turned 28 and realized that I’m not getting any younger and the big 3 is just around the corner! It’s basically now or never. I want to do something when I still can, while I have no family obligations and can make my own decisions. Secondly, I felt that I was no longer growing as a person. It has hit a wall, a stagnation point. I’ve been working for 5 years and really like my job, but it’s just getting a bit too comfortable and no longer challenging. I wanted to see growth in myself as a person and not just the number in the bank account.
ME: I can totally understand that being 29 myself… what made you decide on martial art?
J: I love travel and adventure, but at the same time I don’t want to just be a tourist. Backpacking to 50 different countries is not something I’m interested in. I want to be able to immense myself into the local culture, actually live in a place, make friends, learn the language, etc. That means spending months and not weeks in a given place. I thought about the different options, such as enrolling in language schools and other things, but nothing felt quite as challenging and out-of-my-comfort zone as what I’m about to do! Plus, I’ve been training Muay Thai for 6 months now and tried various different martial arts before this. I really enjoy it. If you get one chance to do something in life, why not do something bold? And of course, I’ve always wanted to be a Kong Fu hero J
ME: I’ve seen a Muay Thai match in Bangkok and it looked extremely dangerous. One guy was knocked out completely and had to be carried away in a stretcher. Are you not scared?
J: I am extremely scared! Muay Thai is arguably the most physically demanding and dangerous form of all martial arts. Can you imagine standing in the ring, facing a Thai guy who is in the best shape of his life ready to take your head off? Of course I’m scared. But that is the point. Learning to fight is not so that I can beat people up, it is to teach myself how to face fear. If I could handle the situation in the ring, overcome my fear, then I know I’ve come a long way to being able to handle any situation in life. (although a friend of mine who just became a dad said he would take on a Thai boxer any time over having to take care of his baby who wakes up every hour on the hour every single night…:P)
So fighting is really just a means to an end. It is a tool to help me grow. I’ve used other such “tools” before. For example, I was bad at public speaking before, having moved to the US from China at an early age and unable to speak the language. In order to overcome that, I joined Toast Masters (http://www.toastmasters.org/) and gave 10 speeches to hundreds of people. It helped me build confidence and works the same way as learning martial arts.
All these experiences you have cross reference each other and make you who you are as a person.
ME: Let’s talk a bit about your quitting process. How did your bosses and family react to it?
J: They were all very supportive. My direct boss told me if I ever wanted to come back, just give him a heads-up a couple of months in advance. When I talked to the head of my team, he first spent 10 minutes giving me a lecture on why I shouldn’t quit, then he asked me “what is it that you are actually going to do anyway?”, after hearing my reply, he leaned back to his chair, paused for a second and said “man, you should just go do it! I wish I did something like this!”
My parents were also very supportive. They even offered to give me money to help me do this. They know I’m not going to disappear for years, I’m just going to do this for one year and then I might come back to the industry. As I said, I actually really enjoy finance and might just come back to it.
ME: How much do you budget for the trips to Thailand, South America, Japan/Korea etc for this whole year?
J: around 50K USD. This excludes air tickets as I have enough miles fortunately to cover everything.
ME: What advice do you have for people considering similar things?
J: You just have to do it. Life is finite. Think about when you are on your death bed, what you would like to have happened in your life. More 0’s in the bank account or a more fulfilling life. Sometimes money and time are exchangeable, and the “exchange rate” changes at different stages in life. The quality of time also changes with your age, so you got to think about maybe sometimes it is better to give up some money and seize the moment.
People who can get into top-tier finance jobs are reasonably smart and are already better paid than 99% of the people. It should not be impossible to find a job after the break.
I would also recommend a book called “The 4-Hour Workweek” (http://www.fourhourworkweek.com/). In there it talks about a concept called “Mini-retirements”. We work hard through our youth to save up for a retirement in old age. That seems backwards to the author – we should have our fun now, while we still can. Mini-retirements also mean repeating what I’m doing now every few years. It’s possible and I’m going to try to do that!
ME: Thank you Josh and kick some asses in Thailand!
As Josh dashed off to his Muay Thai practice in Soho, I was left with a strong echoing of the word “self-growth”. It was the second time in three days that somebody had talked to me about it. It seems that people working in Central often attribute the lack of satisfaction at work (and in life in general) to a lack of opportunity to “grow”.
What exactly is self-growth? What are we trying to achieve in the end? How do we go about doing it? These are really hard questions to which perhaps there is no universal answer. And yet, it seems that many people around us almost had to answer these questions in order to be truly happy. Maybe it is worth our time to really think about it.
As Josh said, the point of learning martial art is not about being able to fight. It is not about how to become ‘able’ from ‘unable’. It is more about changing your mental status and your heart rather than your physical capabilities. It’s about transforming yourself as person, about changing how you think, about changes that take place from within that can’t be seen or easily measured. It’s more like a 内功. Everything else is just means to this end.
That’s all well and good, but what exactly are we trying to achieve by improving our inner capabilities? To Josh, perhaps it starts with overcoming his fear. Not just fear in the boxing ring, but fear in life. This is huge though if we think about it! Can you imagine living a life without any fear? Can you imagine always being able to face atrocities with a smile, may it be mistreatment at work, failing a relationship, loss of a friend, old age, or even death? Can you see that what we are trying to achieve is the ability to have total control of our mind? We can’t change the world, but we could possibly change how we perceive the world. Simply put, we are trying to achieve eternal happiness.
Well, “eternal happiness” sounds awesome! What do I do exactly to get there? One can’t possibly “think” his way to eternal happiness right? unless he is at least somewhat mental and performing hypnosis on himself? This last part of the question is perhaps the most difficult, because the answer is different for every single person. For Josh, he has chosen to take a year out to learn martial arts. For you and me, it may be something completely different, including continuing with our office jobs. What you do doesn’t really matter; it is how you do it or what you think about while you do it. There isn’t a series of tasks on a checklist that you need to tick in order to achieve the goal. It is entirely possible that even if you spend your entire life trying to be rid of fear, you would still be scared shitless when death is in sight. The outcome is not guaranteed, the only decision you can make is whether to at least give it a try.
When we were walking out of Pacific Place and passing by all the shiny branded shops that represent a certain HK culture (or shall I say cult), Josh pointed to them and said “this should not be what life is about!” I couldn’t agree more.
Written on 25 June, 2012, on behalf of www.life-after-banking.com. All rights reserved.