Chinese Martial Arts

Why (and why not) learn Kung Fu

The vast world of Chinese martial arts has given rise to endless thoughts and philosophies, as well as different ways of understanding its practice. Associated with this, there are also countless attitudes, possibly as many as there are practitioners. However, there is an attitude that unfortunately, and despite having always existed, seems to be spreading dangerously today: the pretence of being one in possession of some kind of knowledge superior to that of the rest of his fellows. We're not talking about any esoteric knowledge. Simply about people who believe they are superior to others for their knowledge or skill in Kung Fu, and who try to prove it by entolling themselves and, even worse, discrediting others.

In China, this attitude is called "trying to be tall by cutting off others' head". Unfortunately, these people have only turned Kung Fu into an instrument of their ego and, under our point of view, all Kung Fu they have learnt, however developed it is, it is useless. Kung Fu should make us humble and better people; we dare to say that, if not, your knowledge is utterly useless.

We now expose some of the reasons why we believe it is beneficial to learn Kung Fu and, also, some others that we do not consider valid.

Kung Fu must teach us to avoid conflict and avoid causing harm.

Kung Fu, as we know, is a martial art, and therefore its original purpose was military training for war. But it has been a long time since Kung Fu has ceased to be useful in this sense, because wars are not waged in melee combat any more and, although it may still be useful as a self-defense system, we consider that this should not be its ultimate purpose or, in any case, its sole purpose. We have already said on other occasions that Kung Fu must teach us to avoid conflict and, even if we are able to defend ourselves, avoid causing harm.

Having discarded the warring purpose, surely the next reason to learn Kung Fu that comes to mind is the maintenance of health, and this is certainly a good reason. The regular practice of Kung Fu keeps us in good shape, increases our defenses by improving our immune system, helps us to correct our posture and, if the training is right, to avoid injuries.

But good physical health must also be accompanied by good mental health, and at this point we seem to find a "lack of hygiene" deeply rooted. We talk about attitudes, unfortunately widespread in the world of Kung Fu, which we consider unhealthy. There is a lot of competitiveness, too much desire to stand out and demonstrate one's worth. We believe that when a person accepts himself as he or she is, appreciates and loves himself, he does not need to be above anyone or prove anything; he doesn't need any recognition that doesn't come from himself. Quite the opposite, it is the insecure person, who does not have too much self-esteem, who needs to be reaffirmed again and again, often "cutting off the head" of his neighbor to appear to be taller. This, obviously, is not healthy for oneself or for others. The healthy practice of Kung Fu has to bring us to a greater acceptance of ourselves, with our virtues and our limitations, without the need to be above or to be better than anyone. Apart from that, no one is better than someone else for the fact of having achieved a higher skill in Kung Fu! In fact, I value more the fact that you are a good person than the fact that your technique is or is not developed to the extreme.

When a person accepts himself as he or she is, he does not need to be above anyone or prove anything.

About competitions, we believe that these should be a means and not an aim in itself; a means to work with our emotions until we are able to dominate them, control anxiety and temper the nerves. It's not about proving anything. We do not learn Kung Fu to compete or to fight; we do not train daily to defeat or humiliate others, but to overcome our fears and our limitations day after day, learn to get along with pain, face difficult situations and make decisions.

Lineage has to be there to remind us that all we know we owe it to others.

Another risk related to ego is belonging to a certain lineage of masters. All traditional Kung Fu schools maintain an altar in which the master ancestors of the lineage are represented. However, it seems that there is a widespread attitude of pride, linked to belonging to a certain lineage and to an alleged possession of purity of knowledge and, almost we would say, an absolute truth. But absolute truths do not exist. Those of us who have studied with different teachers know that each of them has his own and that there is no one better than another. As for the purity of a certain Kung Fu style, pretending to possess it is naive and unrealistic. From the moment the founder of a style transmits his knowledge to a second person, purity ceases to exist. Knowledge passes through a filter, subjective as it is, and is reinterpreted by that second person. Therefore, when we learn a certain style of Kung Fu from a certain teacher, we learn his interpretation of that style, and we reinterpret it again.

Therefore, the altar and the lineage must be there, not to make us proud, but to make us more humble and grateful. The lineage must remind us that all we know we owe it to others who have preceded us, whose effort and dedication have made it possible for that knowledge to come down to us. So when someone addresses us pretending to be in possession of the "only true Kung Fu", we can only laugh internally before such naivety!

If, throughout our practice, we are able to develop all the qualities that we have been naming (self-esteem, acceptance, humility, gratitude, acceptation of pain, ability to face difficult situations and to deal with our emotions), this will lead us to achieve some degree of mental calm and inner peace. That is why Kung Fu has often been related to spirituality, and it is said that it can take us to enlightenment. This is not an esoteric knowledge, but the development of this mental calm through all of the above. This ultimately translates into improving our lives and those of the people around us. This is the real benefit of Kung Fu.

Thank you for sharing!

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