Motivation to take up Kung Fu
Kung Fu - Do You Have The Time, Motivation or Self
A little while ago I received a short email from a person
interested in learning Tai Chi. He wrote: "Where can
I have lessons in tai chi including both the typical and martial
side of tai chi."
This is a common question that likewise reveals a common
misunderstanding and therefore, if just for the record, in
all sincerely and in the interest of clarification as opposed
to patronisation, I would like to take this opportunity to
explain and elucidate on what I believe to be the 'correct
process' in learning Tai Chi - from beginner through to any
degree of practical martial art (or self defence) application.
When one begins Tai Chi one simply begins (typical) Tai Chi.
If this is kept up the chances are that some when between
8 and 12 years later one will have a deeper understanding
of the Form and begin to learn Martial ("Chuan")
Tai Chi. In short; Form always comes first.
Still in connection with this and as another prologue to
point towards the problem/misunderstanding that I shall tackle
soon; may I share another one of those 'awkward to answer'
emails that I received even earlier:
"I am trying to find a self defence method for my daughter.
Tai Chi, I have read, can be used as a martial art, I would
like her to learn how to protect herself. I am considering
Kung Fu also. Can you help me decide on the best martial art
style for her."
I start here now with a somewhat obtuse but crucial point:
The phrase "Kung Fu" may be quite correctly transliterated
into "deep study" or "expertise in any skill,
not necessarily martial".
According to Wikipedia:
Kung fu or gongfu or gung fu (Pinyin: gongfu) is a well-known
Chinese term often used by speakers of the English language
to refer to Chinese martial arts. Its original meaning is
somewhat different, referring to one's expertise in any skill,
not necessarily martial.
The term kung fu was not popular until the 20th century,
thus the word would be seldom found in any ancient texts.
The term was first known to have been reported by a Westerner,
French Jesuit missionary Jean Joseph Marie Amiot, in the 18th
century and was known little in the mainstream English language
until approximately the late 1960s, when it became popular
because of the Hong Kong films, especially those by Bruce
Lee, and later Kung Fu - the television series. Before that
it was referred to primarily as "Chinese boxing".
Kung Fu, as it is written here, refers to the general term
of Chinese martial arts. Shaolin Kung Fu refers to the style
that was developed in the Shaolin temples.
The original meaning of kung fu is quite different, and is
hard to translate as there is no English equivalent. In short,
(gongfu) means "achievement through great effort"
or simply virtue. It combines (gong) meaning achievement or
merit, and (fu) which translates into man. In Mandarin, when
two "first tone" words such as gong and fu are combined,
the second word often takes a neutral tone, in this case forming
Originally, to practice kung fu did not just mean to practice
Chinese martial arts. Instead, it referred to the process
of one's training - the strengthening of the body and the
mind, the learning and the perfection of one's skills - rather
than to what was being trained. It refers to excellence achieved
through long practice in any endeavour. You can say that a
person's kung fu is good in cooking, or that someone has kung
fu in calligraphy; saying that a person possesses kung fu
in an area implies skill in that area, which they have worked
hard to develop. Someone with "bad kung fu" simply
has not put enough time and effort into training, or seems
to lack the motivation to do so.
There is a curious contemporary twist on this meaning in
the [computer] hacker culture: there the fu has been generalized
to a suffix, implying that the thing suffixed involves great
skill or effort. For example, one may talk of "script-fu"
to refer to complicated scripting. It is unknown whether this
was consciously based on the original, broader meaning of
the term or whether it was a simple wordplay on the less general
Western notion of "kung fu".
For a process to truly be kung fu, the following three elements
must be present:
Motivation, Self-discipline and Time.
So, if a person decides to take up Kung Fu they are deciding
to henceforth first to become self motivated and then to remain
self disciplined ("honest with yourself") …
… … for as long as it takes. How long does it
take? I don't know! All indications are that it takes a long,
long time- and furthermore - the 'material' rewards are nil!
In Part Two of the Yang Long Form there is a posture called
"Needle At The Bottom Of The Ocean". A visualization/symbolic
explanation that goes along with this posture is:
Finding Enlightenment is like … being on the top of
the world’s tallest mountain and, with one uninterrupted
movement, reach down into the world’s deepest ocean
and pick up a single needle. In this instance the body posture
and movement 'dances' that image in mime. You "make yourself
big", raising your arms - palms up - diagonally, fingers
of the left hand pointing south west right north east - up
to shoulder level and beyond; representing the Mountain. Your
palms join with fingers uppermost a whole arms length above
your head. As this occurs, you raise your left leg and point
the toes of your left foot to the west.
Your hands, arranged in a certain way then descend vertically
and you bow deep, sinking into your right leg and with the
left leg diagonal ahead with the heel lightly resting on the
floor (with eyes as always straight ahead) and you then reach
down - as if into the world’s deepest ocean. Having
picked up the needle your hands and arm raise up on your right
hand side, like an opening fan.
So … … … all of that above is the Kung Fu
but let's face it, that is not the sort of stuff a simple
inquiry about self defence, martial Tai Chi or Kung Fu wants
to hear, is it?
Yet embedded with that rich and fantastic visualization there
is an absolutely authentic and devastatingly efficient martial
For instance, as in the apparent 'mime/dance above of "Needle
at the Bottom of the Ocean" the hands "arranged
in such a way" are that of gripping the fingers of a
person who has gripped your wrist. Your hands then descend.
Gradually the opponents grip loosens. Your left leg first
kicks an opponent’s shin or knee and then ("sinking
into the right leg") the left heel is brought down onto
the opponents toes! You still hold your opponents hand (and
you are looking forward; unlike your opponent who is probably
looking down by now) so then you "open like a fan",
turn your opponent and the push his/her back - projecting
him/her away from you. But ultimately, if you have good Kung
Fu … … … you would not put yourself into
that sort of position or situation in the first place and
if your Kung Fu were excellent you would simply not be there.
Giving the advice, saying all of the above, that's easy.
It is easy for me to tell someone what to do. The hard part
is doing it - and that's got nothing to do with me! All I
can do is tell you again that for Kung Fu or Martial (Chuan)
Tai Chi you will need Motivation and Self Discipline …
and it will take a long time to get it. And if or when you
do get it - you will know it is precious - and you will know
that you need to give it away.
My genuine practical advice to that mother seeking a form
of self defence for her daughter (wherever she is/her environment,
I don't have a clue!) is that she enquire at her local police
office. Many offer excellent, relevant and quickly learned
(sometimes free - depending upon location) classes. If not
they can give sound advice.
Similar goes for the guy who wanted "both the typical
and martial side of tai chi". With all due respect; if
you want both at the same time your only option really is
to take up both! That is, take up Tai Chi for "typical"
Tai Chi and say Judo (or maybe even "Boxercise"!)
for the harder stuff; the stuff that might come in handy next
time you are going the wrong way down mugger hugger alley!
I end with more quotes from the excellent Wikipedia, online
encyclopaedia: If ever you want a no-nonsense answer to a
question, go there!:
Motivation is the basic driving force, and without it, kung
fu can never be reached. It means both interest and the will
to do something; a person who is forced to do something is
not truly motivated. A motivated person, on the other hand,
has interest in learning: they have a goal.
It is important to note a difference between the various
types of motivation: A person can be motivated to do something,
because if they do not they will be punished. Money can also
lead to motivation, because you know that doing something
will give you more money. However, the motivation kung fu
comes from an interest and an inner desire to learn and develop,
in which the goal is not an external gain, like avoiding punishment
or earning money, but an internal one, with the only reward
being knowledge, skill, strength and wisdom. This motivation
can be inspired, but not controlled, by other people.
Self-discipline is closely related to motivation, but refers
to the effort and patience required to actually get something
done, and to get past obstacles that might appear on the way
towards one's goal. While motivation is the mental state of
wanting to do something, discipline is required to put motivation
into action: A person might want to do something very much,
but lacks the required amount of discipline to get started.
Without this, motivation will lead to nothing.
It is true that a competent instructor can assist a person
by providing discipline, helping that person to get past obstacles.
This is good, but will not last forever, and in the end, it
is always up to the person herself to put her thoughts into
Time is essential for finding one's motivation and self-discipline,
and to actually accomplish something by making use of them,
but motivation and self-discipline are also important to make
a person willing to put time into accomplishing their goal:
In later stages, once motivation and discipline have become
an integral part of a person's life, it is important not to
stop spending time on practice. This is said to be a very
important aspect of kung fu: Many ancient Chinese philosophers
and martial artists consider time the most valuable commodity
in a person's lives, as time cannot be replaced. By finding
interest in and putting effort and time into every action,
one will make the best use of time, and live a happy and productive