Kung Fu’s Four Faces

Which Kung Fu Do You Practice?

All around the world million practice Kung Fu. And every one of them has his or her idea what that is. I prefer the classic outlook refined by dozens of centuries. For me this tells the WHOLE story and everything else is a scene.

In this view Kung Fu is said to have Four Directions given below…

Self Defense Health
Art Transcendence

Even the arrangement in the chart is important.  The top row is the externals; punching people’s bodies and exercising your own. The bottom row deals with feelings and goals.

Of course a lot of people would reduce the art to just a single square: fighting, for instance. And that is actually fine because, if you look at their behavior, you are going to see some health, some martial artistry and some mental training all mixed in. They just may have one square so much bigger than the others that they never noticed the other squares are still there.

Some may scratch their heads and say that I can’t see the others or even understand what they mean. Let’s take a look and see if it’s such a trial…

The top two squares aren’t that difficult to understand but there are a few wrinkles. Self Defense means fighting and fighting really means winning but sometimes not fighting is winning.  So while some people may define all fighting as what occurs when you wear trunks and move about inside a cage, the meaning here is a little wider than that. At the very least strategy is involved, even if it’s just a strategy to avoid the dangers in the first place. It only makes sense that in a complete art that every aspect of defense would count.

Health means the Chinese approach. That is to say optimization of choices: a long life lived without horrendous reversals. Health, for instance, means community and, despite the problems, martial arts among the Chinese is very communal and tribe oriented. Health also relies on some form of self awareness.

What about art? Of course if you have absolutely no knack for esthetics or appreciation its’ all a waste. But wait a second. If you don’t think that the artistic side of Kung Fu with its beautiful postures and dramatic sense has helped to gain it world wide recognition you are very wrong. Look at the way it has invaded everything from modern cinema to comic books, theater to street dance. For many people Kung Fu recalls special effects but also breath taking scenes from films like Crouching Tiger, cool costumes and weird poses all thrown in. For many it is their first taste of Chinese culture.

I use transcendence advisedly. Maybe you will find a better word. It is not by accident that Kung Fu is associated with Buddhist monks and Taoist adepts. From the temples of India to the mountain retreats of Japan the attainment of deeper states of being has straddled the two worlds of life and death. Why? Because such attainments DO straddle these worlds. In Japan the Zen of the Warrior has often been considered a useful addition to the goal of contemplation. Like the Christian “desert monks” or the Jesuit “soldiers of God” the realization of the connection between losing one’s life and gaining one’s soul did not escape notice.

The main thing to remember is that no choice is necessary. Hurt yourself in sparring? Go practice forms. Had a hard day at work, try a little Qigong. Just for fun, pick a percentage in each of the squares for how much you emphasize that aspect. Ask yourself what would the spread have been ten years ago? How about ten years from now?

It’s nice. Boredom becomes impossible when the variations are so many and so profound.

One Response to “Kung Fu’s Four Faces”

  1. patrick hodges says:

    Excellent article. Technology makes it a lot more accessible now too. Gosh, where where all these “Four Faces” when I was a “young ‘un” ? Remember in the “old” days when you had to put up with teacher’s temper tantrums, moods, and odd behavior? I, for one, am sure glad I’m able to study things without all the extra baggage although I had some fine teachers who were good people but these were a rarity. Even now, I hear some “horror” stories of what teachers put their students through.
    Thank heavens for the dvds and vcds from Plum!

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