Master’s Corner is a series of essays and book reviews, written by masters who wish to share their knowledge, insight, and experience.

In Neh

A number of years ago, at one of the early Riddle of Steel events on the Snake River in Idaho, eager participants anticipated the beginning of their high-intensity knife training with Master-at-Arms James Keating. A four-hour car ride followed by four hours on a jet boat got us to the training camp. The gear was stowed in the cabins and the participants gathered for the first training session under a brilliant blue sky. We stretched and loosened up a bit, then Keating says 500 push-ups, NOW!

The people looked at each other, wondering if this was a joke. Two guys who worked out all the time started banging them out, pacing themselves with frequent breaks. Others gave some half-hearted push-ups and then quit. Some just laid there and grumbled that they just paid $2,000.00 for this event and nobody was going to tell them what to do.

After a while, the two guys in good shape were done (they did 1,000 daily, it was no big deal for them), and all but one other person had quit. The rest were talking and lounging on the ground, waiting for the real training to begin. The one guy still struggling was nowhere near 500. He was still trying to complete another push-up, he was half way up and stuck. His face was purple and he was snarling and glaring at Keating while cursing and shaking like a dog trying to pass a peach pit (language cleaned up a bit), but he would not give up. The other guys were impatient, and snickered at him for not figuring out that he could have just quit like the rest. To everyone’s relief, Keating eventually said enough, and went on to the rest of the training.

Four days later, at the final training session, Master Keating addressed the group. He reviewed the training we had received, and pointed out each person’s accomplishments. Finally, he said that when we first started training, the only one worth teaching was Dan (name changed to protect the guilty), who would not give up doing his push-ups. Without that absolute unwillingness to give up, no matter how difficult, knowledge of fighting skills and techniques are ultimately worthless, he said.

In Neh signifies endurance and indomitable spirit, which is more powerful than mere physical strength.

Master Michael Kaye, Yuk Dan

Studio Head, Penn State Martial Arts Group