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Tai Chi and Martial Art  
martial arts and the application of combat tai chi

Motivation to take up Kung Fu

Kung Fu - Do You Have The Time, Motivation or Self Discipline?

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 gongfu.

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 application:

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 action.

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: to prioritize.

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 life.

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.
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