People that know me well know that Kung Fu is very important to me. It has been a large part of my life for almost 20 years and I would not be who I am today without it. But, for those on the outside, who maybe think it is just a bunch of kicking and punching, what is it about this art that makes it so unique and valuable as a tool for self development? What does this traditional practice have to offer us to help us deal with our modern world? Kung Fu is not just a martial art, it is a holistic tool for self-development. It teaches us self-control, confidence, humility, self-reflection, and provides us with a healthier body and mind.
Kung Fu is a ‘peace-time’ martial art. The chinese character for martial art, ‘wu’ (武）, when broken down into its parts actually means ‘to prevent violence’. We train to have control over our responses and not allow aggression to dictate our actions. This is in stark contrast to the predominant physical culture in the west. It is very common during sports for coaches and players to say things like, “get angry”, “kick their ass”, “kill ’em”, to trigger a response in their players and teammates. I grew up playing western sports and progressed to a high level and I can remember the highs and lows this type of environment created. I learned a lot, but I never understood the need for such triggers. I performed better when I was calm and focused, but I was not given the tools to find that state. I had to figure it out on my own. In Kung Fu we learn a different way. We learn to react to aggression and stress with a calm and focused response. We train to challenge ourselves, not others.
One of the most common sayings in China when you talk to martial artists is “ xi wu, hui you”. This translates to “through martial arts, friendship”. Kung Fu brings people together. Some of my closest friends have come through training kung fu. People from incredibly diverse backgrounds, but the common ground of training and loving martial arts created bonds that last. In Kung Fu demographics don’t matter. Just your willingness to train and learn.
In kung fu we focus on cooperation over competition. It does not matter who is better, because we are all there for the same reason, working towards the same goal. Our first responsibility in class is to help your classmates improve. This creates an inclusive environment without fear of judgement. There might be students of different abilities, ages, but everyone is on the same path, and it is the responsibility of those ahead to help those behind.
When you start training kung fu it is a path that never ends. There is always more to learn, like a musician who spends a lifetime mastering an instrument. However, in this case the instrument is your body. As it evolves and changes we learn to adapt and new lessons are presented to us. We don’t graduate from kung fu, or fail to make the team. Whether you begin classes when you are 12, 25, 40, or 70 you have a lifetime of lessons ahead of you.
When I began kung fu I had no idea how much potential it had to create positive change in people’s lives. I feel very humbled to be able to share my experience with others and give them the same opportunities that have been so impactful in my life.