Best known as the title of an Ang Lee film (2000) starring Chow Yun-Fat, Michelle Yeoh and Zhang Ziyi. Brimmed full of a multi layered story line, beautiful scenery, great actors and amazing martial arts choreography, the film is a great cinematic experience, so if you haven't watched it already, it's definitely worth taking the time to do so. There are many themes in the film; poison, love, society, gender roles, relationships, romance and more. You can watch the film from any one of these perspectives, or just watch it for the beautiful film it is and have an enjoyable experience. However, there is that curious title, what does it mean?
The title comes from a poem written by a poet called Yu Xin (513-581). Part of the poem reads "暗石疑藏虎，盤根似臥龍", which means "behind the rock in the dark probably hides a Tiger, and the coiling giant root resembles a crouching Dragon". The title of the film comes from the famous Chinese idiom (臥虎藏龙), or a Chengyu, which is a four character (or four words if in English) summation of the whole poem, a distillation of an important theme. Of course you can't put the entire meaning of a whole story into just four characters, but the Chinese characters themselves will hold much meaning and gravity for the educated and those who have studied the classical literature.
"Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon" (臥虎藏龙) refers to places full of hidden masters, people who are masters of their craft, who remain quiet, don't look for recognition, aren't shouting about how good they are and go by unnoticed by most people. You may know of one, or walk past one every day on your way to work. These people aren't trying to become famous, they don't seek recognition for themselves and definitely aren't broadcasting their latest achievements. They prefer to remain anonymous or known to only a few, but their skill, talent and ability are obvious to those who know how to look.
In English we have a few sayings which describe the opposite trait in people; "a Jack of all trades and Master of none", is the obvious one, describing people of superficial skill in a range of areas, or, "the emptiest drum, makes the loudest noise", which refers to people who are all singing and all dancing, full of fanfare, shout out about how wonderful they are, how great their place is, but have very little substance to them, especially in comparison to those who have true skill.
In the current world of Social Media, superficiality is celebrated and pays well financially. Herds of people are vying for your attention, trying to sell you the latest gadget, or promise you results from their new exercise regime, or promise you that something will change your life. So is there still good reason to be under the radar, humble, modest, or a Crouching Tiger, if that's how you need to earn your living? I guess it has to be the individual's choice and what their motivation is for what they do and how they get their message across.
If people are trying to earn a living, is it really a bad thing to promote themselves? How else can people be heard these days, or make a living? If people are working towards mastery, are they doing it for the love of their art, or recognition, to prove a point, to show others how good they are, to show how much better they are than others, or are they quietly doing it for themselves, or even for the good of others? I guess this may come down to individual viewpoint and opinion, but I'd also like to think that it's about integrity and honesty, not values people label themselves as having, but ones others readily use to describe them.
Mastering your trade, or yourself, or any skill requires decades of continuous dedication in my opinion. If this pursuit is done for the sake of the art, for the good of others, or to further a good cause, the reward is the mastery itself. Recognition by others is not required, or even desired. The knowledge that one has dedicated decades to mastery, completed obligations passed onto them from previous masters and to further their own skill is enough for the true masters I have met. They definitely don't call themselves masters and will always say that they still have much to learn and still don't have enough time to complete learning all they need. It's others who say how good they are and others who know their worth, over and beyond the noise of the "empty drum", or self proclaimed experts, or overly self promoting Jacks.
You may not recognise a Crouching Tiger and not notice your local Hidden Dragon, but they are out there and there are many. They're not telling people how good they are, or repeatedly bragging about their latest offer on their newest product. They are usually steadfast in their self betterment, working away, doing their utmost to improve their skill quietly, without the need for recognition from others. If you're lucky you may learn something from them at a distance, or if fortunate, you may spend time in their presence and they may teach you something to help you become a better version of yourself and further you along your own path.
In loving memory of Manu Korewa and appreciation to Atarangi Muru, The Maori Healers. Also my deepest respect and thanks to Andrew Nugent-Head, (who was the inspiration for this blog post), all of whom are selfless Masters who travel the world sacrificing time for their own self improvement, in service for the greater good of others.