Discovering the Essence of Chinese Kung Fu

Chief Instructor Brett Wagland

Chinese martial and health arts have developed over thousands of years.  They have absorbed and assimilated principles and practices from Taoism, Buddhism, Confucianism, traditional Chinese medicine, philosophy, art and military strategies.  Chinese martial arts went from crude forms of training to more sophisticated and refined methods which develop the mind, body and spirit.  The term “kung fu” means going beyond the surface and involves a high level of skill.  Although the term is commonly used in relation to Chinese martial arts, the Chinese apply it in all professions. For example, a good chef can be said to have good kung fu in cooking.

Initially, martial arts were based on speed and brute force.  As they evolved, they made use of whole body coordination and developed different types of forces, such as pulse force, spring power, spiralling and centrifugal force, neutralizing and absorbing skills, etc.

Although martial arts were developed for self preservation, practitioners gradually discovered that the skills honed for the battlefield could also be applied in daily life.  The act of self defence now became a metaphor for life in general. Instead of the narrow focus of beating an opponent, the martial arts principles and philosophy became a way of living.  The more skills the practitioner has developed in integrating the body, mind and spirit, the more prepared he is for danger, and the less likely he is to be involved in violent conflict.  The skilled martial artist seeks harmony within himself and the world. His skills enable him to statuesbe more confident when facing difficulties and less fearful when facing challenges.

The essence of any Chinese martial arts system is training the mind.  Calming the mind leads to greater awareness and ability to focus. The exercises used to develop this skill are called Standing Gong.  These include Holding the Tree, Hands Resting on the Dan Tian or Santi Posture.  The reasons for using these postures are as follows:
(1) Building an awareness of the movement of the mind.
(2) Allowing the mind to gradually calm down.
(3) Training the body to relax while standing.
(4) Helping the practitioner to see the relationship between mind and body, for example, tension in the body is usually a result of tension in the mind.
(5) Using certain postures in order to feel the qi (energy) flowing through different parts of the body.
(6) Strengthening the power of concentration. This is a vital skill in martial arts. A lapse in concentration would spell instant defeat against a well trained opponent.

Static Standing Gong falls under the umbrella of Qigong, that is, the work of energy cultivation using the mind or intention.  The other types of Qigong are semi-dynamic movements (such as Fa Soong Gong and Hun Yuan Qigong) and fully dynamic (such as the Tai Chi form).  The initial stages of the Standing Gong are about the adjustment of the physical body, that is, posture, relaxation of muscles and strengthening of the connective tissues.  The first stage is where many of the health benefits are gained – better posture, relaxed muscles, stronger joints and sinews, stronger legs, deep diaphragmatic breathing and an awareness of the mind. It is the impact of this type of training on the body and mind that prepares you for the next stage.  This is when you begin to relax internally.  Your qi becomes stronger.  You can feel it in various parts of the body. You know how the breath affects your body internally.  At this stage of the training, you become more aware of how the mind and body affect each other.  The practice of Qigong is a journey that reveals many of the hidden intricacies of the mind and body relationship.  It takes time and dedication to reach the higher levels of any Chinese martial art.

The great master, Wang Xiang Zhai, who developed a style of Chinese kung fu called Yi Chuan (Mind Boxing) stated, “Non action is the real action.  One hundred acts are not as good as one moment of silence.  One hundred movements are not as good as one moment of standing still.  Big movement is not as good as small movement. Small movement is not as good as no movement.” (Xing Yi Nei Gong, compiled and edited by Dan Miller and Tim Cartmell, p.58. California : Unique Publications, 1998.)

In the internal martial arts, zhan zhuang (standing like a post) embodies the essence from which all movements and forms come.  If you spend some time every day doing the Standing Gong, you will come to know its true value in training the mind, body and spirit.  Even though you may know the key to this practice, the essence will only be revealed through experience, which leads to understanding and insight.  The Taoists say it doesn’t matter how clever or slow you are at learning, if you don’t have the will, you will never get there.  Regular quality practice is the secret to reaching your goal.