Why I Practice Kungfu, part 1: Good Health

Sifu Markus in the first years of his kungfu trainingIn 2019 I had some cause for celebration, as I'd reached a milestone of twenty years since the beginning of my kungfu training. After that very first practice session, despite a few small exceptions, I've practiced daily - sometimes in different schools, sometimes different styles, but always with great joy. A long time ago, I knew that I would probably practice for the rest of my life. These kinds of revelations usually indicate that you're on the right path.

When doing something on a daily basis for a long time, it's beneficial to occasionally take a step back and really assess what you're doing, how you're doing it, and what results you are getting.

So, here are some of my thoughts on why putting thousands upon thousands of hours of practice into an ancient martial art is, for me, a no-brainer.


Good health

"If you want to be in great shape, go train ballet or something. Dancers are ripped." This is what a friend of mine said years ago, when I mentioned that I'd like to find a real martial art for getting in good shape. Perhaps in terms of physical performance my friend's suggestion was valid, but how about good health? And more importantly, the ability to fight?

Training a martial art shouldn't be slow, lazy or missing the crucial element of threat, but training skills should be systematic, so that students learn to use them safely and correctly even under high threat.

At first look, the idea of practicing a martial art for health might seem paradoxical. After all, how could training that involves punching, kicking, throwing and locking people make anybody healthier? Nevertheless, in kungfu, the idea that its practice should make the exponent healthy, has been emphasized throughout its history. The more advanced you are, the healthier you should be. To appreciate this statement, we should take a look what the training of traditional kungfu is actually like.

First of all, in traditional kungfu there's a great deal of time and effort put into finding and utilizing proper posture, good stances, and deep relaxation. Through this training, practitioners become increasingly better at using and listening to their bodies. "No pain, no gain" -approach doesn't really get you anywhere - unlike many western forms of exercise, practicing kungfu is daily. If you keep punishing yourself, it is just a matter of time before you have to stop your daily practice, or put it on hold. On the other hand, if you do demanding physical exercise every day, and you invariably feel better and more energized after than before the session, you can rightly say that it promotes health and well-being. I have a lot of personal experience on both of these approaches.

Secondly, another significant kungfu principle that promotes good health and high performance, is gradual progress. Especially regarding kungfu force training, there are no short cuts to success, or "hard and fast" -exceptions to advancement. Everyone who seriously practices kungfu knows that success is not a matter of weeks or months, but years. Every practitioner starts from where they're at, but correct and consistent practice inevitably changes their bodies in a profound way. The real test of training is to be able to safely and steadily add challenges at your own pace, and to keep expanding your possibilities both physically and mentally. This approach could be compared to a sculptor working on a work of art, rather than a hasty and sloppy renovation project. Figuratively speaking, if you start swinging at your work with a sledge hammer, you'll risk breaking your most valuable resource, ultimately crippling your progress. In kungfu, all progress is founded on good health.



Kungfu training in Malaysia in 2004Then how about practical combat training? In kungfu, the rule "safety first" doesn't only apply in training, but also in real fighting. If you stop to think about it, isn't the fundamental purpose of any fighting art to protect their exponent from harm in battle? Indeed it is ironic, that many seem to think withstanding hits is a necessity in any real martial art training. From kungfu perspective, it is crucial that we learn how to block and avoid blows properly, but we should also ensure that they won't harm us - not in training, or in application. During my years of training, I've met many dedicated martial art practitioners who've already at a young age received so much physical punishment that their health has been permanently compromised. I've myself received my fair share of this kind of training. In my experience, it is not necessary, but actually very harmful. However, it is important to emphasize that training a martial art shouldn't be slow, lazy or missing the crucial element of threat, but that training these skills should be systematic, so that students learn to use them safely and correctly even under high threat. This is a fundamental aim of combat training in kungfu.

Training high-level kungfu also involves internal aspects, which might be missing from many other martial arts. Nowadays many martial artists supplement their training by borrowing from other methods, such as deep stretching, Yoga or meditation. In Shaolin Kungfu and Taijiquan, there is no need for this - it's all built into the original system, where fighting, health, fitness, high performance, and personal as well as spiritual cultivation are equally emphasized. If you practice internal kungfu, you also train your mind and your spirit. Every aspect of your training is meditation. The immediate benefits of this kind of training, in addition to physical health, fitness and high performance, are well-being, emotional stability, and having a peaceful, focused mind.

All in all, good health is more than just a healthy body.


(continued in part 2)