Zen in Three Sit-ups


Though the memory of it is now ephemeral and almost surreal, there was a time when I was fit enough to take extended mountain bike rides (sometimes on my own) deep into the Malaysian wilderness. These rides would be usually day-trips, but overnighters weren’t that uncommon. Occasionally they’d be impromptu, on-my-bike-and-go type of things. But most of the time, they were planned with almost military-like precision. Whichever kind they were, they used to fill a part of me like nothing else could – including sex.

Now that I am too old for mountain biking (and also sex), I look back to all those strenuous hours of sweaty huffing-and-puffing with a great deal of fondness – and perhaps a little sadness, too. But what strikes me the most is that, every time I get to where I want to be – after having achieved the intended goal – one question never fails to slap me in the face: “Is that it? There’s nothing here!” (Although some would argue that there is little difference, here I’m talking about extended mountain bike rides – not sex).

It was the same, too, when I earned my first black-belt in karate. Instead of doing cart-wheels all the way from the dojo back to my flat off Harrow Road, all that came to mind was, “Is that it?” Come to think of it, “Is that it?” has been a common thread in all of my so-called successes: everything from learning to zip-up my own pants, right up to getting my first – er… never mind. Once I had reached the destination, I invariably found that there was absolutely nothing there.

By saying all this, I run the risk of sounding like an arrogant ingrate; I assure you, I am nothing of the sort – at least, I hope I’m not. But why is it that when I achieve anything – which, by the way, isn’t very often – there is hardly ever any fireworks going on in my brain? I’ve struggled with this question for long enough that I’ve justified giving up on it.

Then, this morning – as I lay dying after giving it my all in completing sit-up number 3 – it finally came to me: sit-up number 3 is not anywhere as important as the fact that I was prepared to go through hell in order to achieve it.

Indeed, to some people, three lousy sit-ups may not account for much, and probably amounts to something that is quite laughable. And they are right. The achievement is not that I completed those three ruddy sit-ups. My achievement had been that I had given everything (and perhaps even more) in the process of getting those three sorry-assed sit-ups.

Twenty five years after my sensei said these words, I have finally found their meaning: “The journey, Bangkai-san, is far greater than the destination.”

21 thoughts on “Zen in Three Sit-ups

  1. Mat,
    Very philosophical topic this time around… “the journey… is far greater than the destination”… but then again, I’d walk miles… for a camel. Yes, sure the journey is important, but so is the destination (camel)… you don’t want to have walked for miles to Pekan Seremban (not to mention the risk from the warden) only to find out the camels were out of stock, do you? Hahaha! I guess in some (special) cases both are kind of important? Take care my friend & salam.

    Dhahran Sea

    Trying to do 3 sit-ups get me into a philosophical mood sometimes 🙂

    It would suck if we walked all the way to Seremban town only to find out Camels were out of stock. But we could make a detour to DC and get some nasi goreng sardin instead. The journey is important: if we don’t do it right, we’ll get caught by the wardens!

  2. Mat

    For along time in your blog there was no mention of sex. This time there is a lot of sex.

    Did you realise when you were in the UK that in Essex, Susex and Wessex , there was a lot of sex?

    As for your 3 sit-ups, the journey, my friend, was in the concentration.

    Gooten nacht.

    Dry Humour

    Yes,sir. There was a lot of -sex in the UK. What got to me most was Middlesex. Just what exactly is middlesex? Half-hearted copulation? 🙂

  3. can you please write this in english? please please please?

    this is waaaay too much for a Monday morning.


    I’ll try to translate this into English soon, ma’am. Don’t know if I’ll succeed: but I’ll try.

    Maybe you could try reading it again Tuesday morning? 🙂

  4. Mat-san,

    We all want things in life,and achieve our desires in most cases.Yet, after a while, those achievements don`t mean much, as they are replaced by new desires.And so it goes, non-stop.

    But, Mat-san, Zen advocates that actual enlightenment comes with the revelation that the source of all human suffering is desire, big or small.Therefore, as you correctly pointed out, what`s important is the journey, not the destination.Life is just about living, the journey along the path, and it is never about the destination.Zen says don`t ever try to get to your destination before you arrive there.Life is, at the end of the day, just as it is, and life is not about meaning, laughter, or tears.It just IS!

    So, Mat-san, 3-sit-up`s are AOK!And the perpetual hang-up with sex..that`s ok too!And feeling deflated after reaching the peak(no pun intended) is perfectly all right with our Zen Guru!



    Always good to get affirmation from you,my friend. Sometimes I tend to lose my way.

  5. Bro’,

    After going thru’ a similar phase of life – and shedding 6 kilos in the process – take it from me and trust me on this…. THIS IS NOT ALL THERE IS TO IT – IT WILL ONLY GET BETTER!

    Before I had to take a mixture of Cialis, Levitra and’ V’ in various proportions before accomplishing satisfactory, um, you know.

    But after getting on the bike and re-kindled my love for narrow Selle Italia saddles, I’ve now ditched ’em pills and the records stand at three rounds bro’!

    So dust your Mongoose, lube ’em chains (but not with Durex ‘Play’, please) and change those tires to Kenda Nevegals.

    Git ready to get your youth back, Bangkai-san!

    soon-to-be-be-published author of ‘Zen and the Art of Bicycle Maintenance’ 🙂


    I always suspected that mountain biking had therapeutic (ahem!) value. Those narrow saddles, despite looking very dangerous, somehow makes men out of boys (or young men out of old ones).

    OK, I’ll get the bike out again (one of these days). The next time you see a fat slob slumped, half-dead over his red Mongoose Pro SX somewhere along the trails, please be kind; chances are its going to be me.

  6. Hi Matt,

    Sorry Sir, my mind’s not too clear today. U said; “The journey, Bangkai-san, is far greater than the destination.” Yeah, very tedious though, all those “Wax On, Wax Off” movement along the way. My advice, don’t give up on Sex lah! Talking about Sex remind me of this story;

    Usually, anyone who has a dog calls him Rover or Spot or Bo or some such name. I called mine Sex, and it got me into constant trouble.

    One day when he was young I took Sex for a walk & he slipped his collar & ran away. I spent hours looking for him. A policeman came along & asked me what I was doing in an alley at midnight. I told him I was looking for Sex. That was my first court appearance.

    One day I went to the town hall to get my dog registered. I told the clerk I wanted a license for Sex. He said he would like one too. When I said he didn’t understand, that it was a dog. He said he didn’t care what she looked like. Again I said he didn’t understand & that I had had Sex since I was 5 years old. He said I must have been a strong boy.

    When I decided to get married I told the minister that I wanted to have Sex at the wedding. He told me to wait until after the ceremony. I said Sex played a big part in my life & my whole lifestyle revolved around Sex. He said he didn’t want to hear about it & he would not allow us to have Sex in the church. I told him all my friends & relatives coming to the church would enjoy having Sex there. He barred the lot of us & we had to get married in the Registry Office.

    Of course, my wife & I took the dog along with us on our honeymoon & when I checked into the motel, I told the clerk we wanted an extra room for Sex. The clerk said every room was for sex. I said you don’t understand, Sex keeps me awake at night, & the clerk said, “Me too.”

    When my wife & I divorced, we went to court to fight for custody of the dog. I said, “Your honour, I had Sex before I was married,” & he replied, “Me too.”

    Well, now I have been thrown in jail, been married, divorced, & had more darn troubles with that dog than I ever bargained on.

    Why, just the other day when I went for my first session with my psychiatrist, she asked me what seemed to be the trouble. I replied that Sex had died & left my life. It was like losing my best friend.

    She said; “You should buy yourself a dog.”



    Just when I thought the day was salvageable, you came up with this! It saved what would otherwise have been a basket-case case of a day. Thanks, my friend.

    Funnily enough, I once had a guitar I dubbed Sex: it was my (short-lived) attempt at celibacy.

  7. lmao @ tommy yew. nice 1.

    bangkai, its not the destination or the journey, its how many girls u satisfy. heh!

    actually, in all seriousness, i’d say its how many people you touched and make them happy.

    err that don’t sound right either.. oh u know what i mean.


    Yes, sir. I know what you men.

    But a friend of mine would vigorously dispute what you said. If it were up to him, he’d say that it’s not about the journey, the destination, or even how many women you satisfy. Ultimately, it’s about how many women are willing to satisfy you!

    To this day he remains a proudly unrepentant male-chauvinist-pig (his own words).

    Yeah, I have some very strange friends…

  8. Tommy

    A bloody good one there, old chap. Hilarious. Couldn’t resist commenting again. Hope you like it too, Mat.

    And they said we are one-tracked minded, didn’t they? The bloody dog, Sex. The bloody Middlesex, as Mat said. (I didn’t know this word bloody being used so often until I lived in London for a while).

    And yet the bloody Brits said, “No sex, please. We’re British.” (I missed that play despite its long showing).


    Dry Humour

    Yes, I liked it, too – very much!

    Hmm… I think I’ve turned British in my old age… 😉

  9. I must admit to u guys.. A hat trick of whatever is a feat nowadays.. i won’t count on it anymore, heheh!

    On Zen, thoughts CAN be passed on by just a mere smile, could it not?.. & intelligence/intents being transmitted thru the eyes – good one!

    At this age bro, picking up philosophy is a big plus/advantage yeah?:)

    dak ah bau

    The last time I scored a hat trick was when I walloped three mee rebus mamak in quick succession during my last visit to Sin Seng Nam. And yes, picking up philosophy at this age is certainly much easier than picking up the kodoks.

  10. It’s just like the 12-bar blues. What the heck is it anyway? When you realize it is just 3 chords, you say, thats it? Then you get a tight slap from Muddy Waters and you see BBKing and Jimi and a bunch of others waiting in line for their turn at your cheek. Good topic, bro.


    Brilliant analogy, my friend. Brilliant!

  11. ‘the journey is greater than the destination’ means one thing to me matb.

    claim is invalid if you don’t arrive. ;D


    Good to hear from you gain, ma’am.

    Aha! Having undertaken the journey, we may or may not arrive (i.e. may or may not get the claim honoured). But without the journey, we don’t even get to see the claim form!

  12. Dear Sir ,

    Now that I am too old and am never sure whether I am awake or still asleep…I find that I get more offers from young ladies than ever before.When in my younger days ( was it before independence?aww i forget or wish to )….i work so hard but for so little returns..nowadays the gals are just drooling over me..offering me the mysteries of heavenly nights and breakfast in bed…
    Everywhere Sir…caddies when i play golf,sales ladies at the nice shops I wander into at Pavilion,waitresses at the nice cafes where i stop by for a latte and cream buns even on the streets…
    All the gals are giving me the eyes Sir…lusting like hippos in heat…I feel so intimidated.

    Help me pls


    I am sorry I can offer no assistance as I am woefully inadequate and ill-equipped in this area.

    You lucky devil, you! 🙂

  13. Mr MB,

    Sex IS like riding a mountain bike…….


    I suppose it is! Here are a few facetious one-liners I recall from my mountain biking days on why a mountain bike is better than a woman 🙂

    1. When your mountain bike is loose, you can tighten it.
    2. You can ride your mountain bike till you’re sore and it won’t complain
    3. Mountain bikes don’t get pregnant

    There were a few more, but I’ve forgotten them…

  14. Mamak,

    This is a true account.Gladly to share with all.
    Yes,family affair and age come and goes by.
    It was a while back,some one in the family cause Ibok some emotional upset.
    I have to step in,and I rarely interfere with family matters.The commotion steps into a danger zone,where I have to call up my younger brother and gave have a firm advise and instruction
    Well,you know,some made it,some trying to make it and some fail miserablely despite trying the best to make it.
    This younger brother of mine somehow made it and success has gone into his head.
    Me being the eldest,I hold the Family key.My words remain firm to my younger sibs.
    This was what I instruct to my younger sibs with firmvoice.!!

    ‘kau telah berjaya.
    Kemewahan kau melebihi daripada apa-apa keperluan kau,tapi kau lupa.
    Itu ibu dan kau anak.

    Aku nasihatkan kau,menghilangkan diri kau buat seketika tanpa isteri dan anak-anak kau,pergi jauh dari kota ini bukan dimana-mana diMalaysia ini,mungkin ke Pulau Jawa di perkampongan kecilnya atau di Kampuchea di pelusok kampongnya.
    Kau pergi hanya dengan dompet yang kosong tanpa credit card kau atau bank book kau.
    Kau makan dikaki lima tempat rakyat tempatan bergeliseran,
    kau jangan pakai sepatu Bally kau,
    kau berkaki ayam,
    tanggalkan jam Rolex kau dan hanya perhatikan mentari dan azan sebagai petunjuk waktu.
    Kau jalan dengan perlahan dan mata kebumi.
    Kau lakukan dan hilangkan diri kau selama sebulan untuk mengenal siapa sebenarnya kau.
    Siapa sebenarnya engkau!

    Thus,mamak ,laut punya cerita dalam ada nampak!! Iftinaz?

  15. When I was in Form 4 my homeroom teacher call me into his room after hearing gossips I have a boyfriend. Dan soalan pertamanya pada saya dengan wajah penuh ‘concern’ ialah. ..

    “Awak suka naik basikal?”.

    What the…?!


    Huh?Apa kena mengena basikal dgn boyfriend? That was some strange homeroom teacher you had ma’am.

    When my homeroom teacher found out I had a girlfriend in MRSM, she went straight to to girl and tried to convince the girl to reconsider her decision. She succeed. The girl reconsidered – and I was history.

    The last I heard, the girl is now a successful entrepreneur somewhere in Cape Town. Lesson here: My homeroom teacher gives good advice 🙂

  16. Mat B, I am going to be extremely picky with this particular entry of yours. Getting your first ….. and finding absolutely nothing there? Mana boleyyy!

    Puteri kamaliah

    Betul, ma’am: tak ada ape-ape!

    It’s the same as finding ourselves at the top of a mountain after an arduous climb; or after having landed at Heathrow and the ‘Fasten seatbelt’ sign goes off; or immediately after getting that very first pay cheque following a big promotion; or after rolling over, and fumbling to light a cigarette in the dark: What do we find?

    There is absolutely nothing there! Or at least, what we do find there is nothing compared to the beautiful afterglow INSIDE us – that unmistakable feeling of achievement – for having made the journey. Sometimes the destination may suck; but the journey is almost always a beautiful one.

  17. wow…paktuo…so deep.
    But I continue to have faith cos of MB’s beautiful last words…and I respectfully quote..”Sometimes the destination may suck…”
    Dreams are made of this…if i can just keep awake until 8.40 pm..

  18. reminds me of chesire puss advice to alice in wonderland; “it doesn’t matter which way you take if you don’t know where you want to go”.

    destination and the journey … complements each other. i think it’s not just about arriving at the destinations, but ultimately why you want to be there in the first place.

    like nak pi tengok the greenwhich or stone henge for example. once u reached there, snap some photosof the line and the rock, then what? some left feeling what a waste of time traveling all d way – just a tick off the checklist, some feeling fully satisfied of yet another mission accomplished.

    I’m of the view that if you’ve done that sit ups and then feel – err, so what? hmmm… you need to raise the bar bangkai-san ( btw…I oh so love this bangkai san name! LOL!!!!). 3 is way too easy….. or the sit up it self is too easy, maybe.

    perhaps, it is conquering our own laziness and sorry ass to start doing the sit up in the first place that should be the ‘destination’? It sure will be for me. What sit ups? Sit down boleh laa…..hahahah…. mana lah tak buncit?

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