Book Review: Adam Hsu’s “Life Is Too Short For Bad Kung Fu”

Adam Hsu kung fu bookTraditional Chinese Kung Fu is dying. When it dies it won’t be a homicide but a suicide. Shifus are peddling tricks to kids. Shifus that are preserving Kung Fu can’t find students to undergo the hardship of practice. Students that are willing to undergo the traditional training can’t find a Shifu to train them. Kung Fu has become the accumulation of forms without meaning. Basics and usage have been discarded in favor of Chinese gymnastics or western floor routines. Sadly, we all know this to be true.

Shifu Adam Hsu has put together a book of a handful of essays that traverse hundreds of aphorisms. It is at once a validating, invigorating and despairing read. Shifu Hsu is clearly distraught about the state of Kung Fu. His main argument for the demise of this cultural gem is the lack of understanding of both the essence of Kung Fu and the path to achieving that essence. We’ve all seen it: practioners and Shifus that have vast knowledge that rings dry since they do not put the time into daily practice. The knowledge is hollow.

And that is the essence: Practice. Shifu Hsu asks us to tear apart the forms, find the basics, understand the usage. Everyday. Twice a day preferably.

“Martial practice is an attitude of life.”

In this book Shifu Hsu lays out a clear path in how to approach both the learning and teaching of Kung Fu, with an emphasis on learning. It is a call for true practioners to continue the refinement of themselves and their art. He gives thoughtful direction on both the purpose of Kung Fu and how to walk its path. He gives detailed instructions on how to approach forms, how to extract basics from the forms and encourages one to figure out the usage. At its best, he delves into how martial practice is meant to better one’s self, to make you a better person.

“Martial technique is to train for better fighting skills. Martial Dao is to become a better person.”

One of the strongest themes in the book is how Kung Fu can solve both physical and mental issues. He calls for more study into using Kung Fu to address mental health issues while at the same time despairing at the state of a technological society that just may well be incapable of daily physical and mental practice. He calls for the modernization of Kung Fu yet doesn’t really seem to get his arms around how that might be done, from ranking systems to tailoring it to this modern society. These sections seem more to push and encourage further research.

I walked away from this book with a smile. It validated my path while giving me new ideas for my daily practice. I’m going to keep it around. There are days that I, like anyone, don’t really feel like standing or doing post work or working the giant spear or running the basics or working forms. It will be days like this when I will pick this book up and refer to some of the many aphorisms I’ve marked. It will give me that needed encouragement to continue on this path of practicing Kung Fu, of growing my inner-depth.

“The training of inner-depth consists of learning to let go of delusion and cultivate persistence. Nothing more.”

Travis Rath has been studying traditional Kung Fu for 25 years and, when conducting classes, can often be heard strongly suggesting to the students: “Basics, people! BASICS!”

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