THE VALUE OF LEARNING CHINESE MARTIAL ARTS
In the history of human evolution, a culture exists and develops because it serves a purpose, fulfilling certain material and spiritual needs of the society. Chinese martial arts have survived the tests of time, being passed down from generation to generation over several thousand years, enduring during different historical periods and social changes. This clearly demonstrates the steadfast influence the arts exert and the relevance they hold toward the socialization and development of mankind.
As a general principle, physical activity improves health. Chinese martial arts are now becoming popular because they embrace physical exercise as well as techniques to improve health, with often remarkable results.
The unique characteristics of Chinese martial arts lie in the close relationship with traditional internal breathing methods of cultivating vital energy. Breathing, martial arts movements and techniques are interrelated. The principles and philosophy of traditional Chinese martial arts and those of health improvement and longevity training through the practice of qi gong 1 are very similar.
Both disciplines study the theory of yin and yang, organ-meridian theory and how specific breathing methods can influence the body’s physiology. Principles such as: ‘exhaling toxins and inhaling for good’ are common to both, and breathing techniques of “raise (inhale), sink (moving down), retain, and support” are fundamental. According to qigong theory, “Qi sinks to the dantian 2… move chi to generate power… the mind unites with the will, the will unites with chi, and chi unites with power”. These sayings point to the integral relationship of the mind, breath and movement.
When we breathe, we move and exercise our internal organs. Throughout history, Chinese people have believed in the value of physical exercise and healthy living. The ancient aphorism that “good men strive to improve and strengthen themselves in a never-ending fashion” expresses this philosophy exactly. Because of the Chinese way of internal breathing practice, Chinese martial art practitioners strengthen their entire being.
Increased physical power, stamina, speed and agility, alertness, flexibility, balance and coordination are facets of Chinese martial arts training that allows the body to flourish in balance and harmony.
Mental Emotional Balance
In Chinese civilization, Chinese martial art training plays a vital role in cultivating temperament. According to Chinese philosophy, the expression of inner feelings and emotions is of primary importance.
Chinese martial arts are highly entertaining. During its long history, the techniques were refined and became more sophisticated. That is why ‘Kung Fu’ is referred to as an art form – ‘martial arts’. Worldwide, Chinese martial arts have attracted a massive audience, especially during celebrations and festive occasions, and its influence in the media, both East and West, is growing.
Through performance, the inner feelings of the martial artist are expressed as in other performing arts, but always in a subtle way. Martial philosophy such as ‘outward stillness of the body reflects the focused working of the mind, external motions of the body echo the internal tranquility of the mind,’ tells us how Chinese people have since ancient times understood the psychology of ‘physical appearance’ and its relation to the inner soul.
Chinese poets encourage the reader to ‘speak of the will’ and to ‘reflect on the feelings’, ‘whatever is within is seen as a reflection of that which is outside.’ Ancient proverbs include, ‘the painting resembles the painter; ‘the writing resembles the writer’ and ‘the boxing resembles the boxer’. Thus, the character, personality and spirit of the individual are manifest as a living entity through the art.
So in traditional Chinese martial arts, practitioners are inspired to cultivate the inner strength of their character, namely, the shen, yi, and xin, besides training diligently for an ideal physical xing. 3
Chinese martial arts are a form of personal fulfillment and satisfaction too. For many dedicated learners and masters, practice is a daily routine. It is greatly appreciated as a tool for building one’s own character.
Kung Fu Fighting
Traditional Chinese martial arts are a national athletic, physical strengthening discipline developed from a system of combat techniques.
Since ancient times, Chinese people trained themselves in short-range combat. Combat skills fulfilled the survival instinct of mankind. They were fundamental in warfare. This was the original function of Chinese martial arts. As Chinese martial arts evolved, techniques expanded from direct empty-hand combat to the development of solo patterns or forms. Rich and varied in cultural value, forms met the essential needs for memorization, teaching, and propagation.
Martial arts techniques never strayed far from the true purpose of combat. Chinese martial arts are built upon the realities of warfare, combat and confrontation. Over time, fighting skills were refined to accommodate cultural and intellectual advances, all the while retaining their connection to the battlefield.
Whenever a martial arts examination was devised, sparring was always used as the main criteria for passing. In ancient times when traditional weapons were still in use, combat and self-defence served the largest function. With the advent of firearms, traditional combat skills became secondary, and today martial arts skills no longer hold the mandate of ‘fighting to survive’. Not withstanding this change, Chinese martial arts techniques remain an excellent self-defence discipline.
Chinese martial art training can help to build a stronger economy. Athletic and economic activities are interdependent–the growth of a prosperous economy calls for a healthy labour force. Athletics help preserve and train a labour force to become strong and healthy, alert and sharp, thereby improving the quality of a country’s most important asset, its people. With a strong, unified society, the economy will prosper.
In our current society, where over one third of our children are clinically obese and thus at greater risk of long-term health problems, it is crucial that we seek ways to make our young people healthier and stronger. They are our future.
The development of athletics requires the support of all sectors of society. With people as the most valuable renewable resource, the status and importance of athletics is indisputable.
Traditional Chinese martial arts are suitable for all ages, genders, and health conditions. Besides acquiring self-defence skills, training in Chinese martial arts will bring about a transformation in body, mind, and spirit.
Whether prosperous or struggling, all communities can benefit from the practice of Chinese martial arts. Learning and practicing does not require expensive or elaborate equipment in a specialized facility. Even where sports and preventative health care are lacking, the emergence and expansion of a Chinese martial art program can benefit the people.
Total Self-Development and Personal Excellence: Kung Fu
In ancient times, sages viewed the cultivation of ethical values, virtues, temperament and knowledge as essential steps towards the attainment of personal perfection.
Hence, kung fu masters strive to achieve a high state of moral refinement, as well as exceptional skills. The Chinese refer to the practice of martial arts as ‘kung fu’ because the words ‘kung fu’ really mean the completion of an arduous task requiring endless effort, time and energy.4 Kung fu might also be interpreted as skillful excellence and expertise, and the degree of one’s accomplishment. If one truly understands the meaning of the words ‘kung fu’, one understands the prestige and honour that Chinese martial arts represent in the mind of people worldwide. One gains a deeper appreciation of why a lifetime can be spent in the pursuit of kung fu.
Refinement of the human character is a deep and complex task. It is rational, moral, and intrinsically aesthetic. All these are aspects nurtured by one committed to kung fu practice. This self-cultivation requires the balance and restraint of two critical elements of human psyche: emotion and rationality.
When a kung fu practitioner gains insight into his true nature, he becomes enlightened, in control of his emotions, focused and reinforced in his beliefs and aspirations. In time he learns to live in harmony with the universe.
OVERVIEW OF PERSONAL BENEFITS
The benefits of learning traditional Chinese martial arts are many.
“Studies have shown that students who participate in physical activity each day exhibit improved memory, concentration, and communication, problem-solving and leadership abilities. Such students also display more positive attitudes towards themselves, improved interpersonal behaviour, and a willingness to meet and deal with the challenges of daily life.” (p.5, Ontario Health and Physical Education curriculum Grades 1-8).
Chinese martial arts are a positive mind-body activity that promotes and develops:
1 pronounced ‘chi kung’. Qi, ‘vital energy’ and gong ‘work, effort or achievement’.