Why I practice Kungfu, part 2: Martial art

(Continued from part 1)

 

Martial art

I've always considered self-defence as one of the basic skills in life, similarly to reading, swimming or cooking. Thus I always expected that my hobbies and physical workout would eventually gravitate towards the martial arts. However, self-defence in principle is basically quite simple - you can get far with a few good techniques and skills. On the other hand, kungfu is often regarded as a very demanding martial art, where training can require a lot of time and effort. So, why kungfu?

Here are some of my thoughts on kungfu as a martial art, from my own years of training.

 

An old mural from the Northern Shaolin Temple, depicting monks practicing kungfuIt goes without saying that in any martial art, physical strenght, weight and height are crucial factors. If two fighters are roughly at the same level, usually the bigger and stronger one beats the smaller, weaker one. In martial sports, these differences can be compensated, among other things, with weight classes, but in the past martial artists didn't enjoy these kinds of compensations. One didn't always have the luxury of choosing their opponent, and especially in warfare, the victor was often the one who could leave the battlefield alive. This defined how traditional martial arts, such as kungfu, developed over time.

I myself have always been a small-sized, slim person - especially by Nordic standards. For this reason, training arts like kickboxing or wrestling for self-defence didn't seem like the best fit for me. I surely would've benefitted from them, but using their techniques I would have still had to fight primarily with strenght, weight and reach, none of which are my strong suits. What if I was an even smaller or lighter person? Or an elegant, slender woman?

Likewise, speed, agility and skill are big factors in combat. Like myself, the Chinese have generally always also been a small-sized people. However, despite external and internal threats, they have persevered to be the single longest running, unbroken civilization alive in human history. Kungfu has developed uninterrupted as a part of their culture at least for a millennium and a half, perhaps even longer.

So, what can kungfu offer for self-defence?

 

A great deal, in fact. First of all, in kungfu your physical characteristics do not necessarily need to adapt to the method, but the method can offer countless alternatives to benefit from them in combat. During its long history, kungfu has developed into innumerable styles, ways and techniques for fighting. Is your physique short yet stable? You will benefit from using the simple yet effective stances and techniques of Xingyi kungfu. Are you thin yet tall? Apply the piercing attacks and eluding force of the Crane or the Snake. Are you slow yet big-sized? Choy Li Fut and Lohan kungfu offer crushing techniques to make best use of your strenght and reach.

Essentially, in one way or another, all imaginable fighting techniques from throws to locks and punches to kicks can be found in kungfu.

 

There are formidable applications, strategies and force training found in kungfu for any body type. In practice, with kungfu anyone can fight. It is also excellently suited for women - many of the most famous masters in kungfu history have indeed been women. However, the versatility of kungfu isn't only limited to physical characteristics, but it can also incorporate the character, the personality, and the mental inclinations of the practitioner. Is it natural for you to calmly observe and assess before reacting? The smooth, meditative flow of Taijiquan will serve you well. Are you inclined towards playfulness and trickery? These features are the hallmarks of fighting with the monkey style. Do you prefer direct, no-nonsense solutions? For a tiger, the direction is often aggressively straight forward and through.

There are formidable applications, strategies and force training found in kungfu for any body typeSpecialization is not only restricted to different styles, but the best kungfu styles are comprehensive as martial arts - they include all necessary approaches and styles of fighting for different needs and different people. Shaolin Kungfu and Taijquan are good examples of this. However, there is an incredible richness of techniques and skills found in different styles of kungfu. Essentially, in one way or another, all imaginable fighting techniques from throws to locks and punches to kicks can be found in kungfu. Furthermore, kungfu also has techniques that you might be hard pressed to find elsewhere - for example, different kungfu strikes make use of every part of the hand, instead of just the knuckles of the fist.

For myself, kungfu constantly offers new challenges, new surprises, and new discoveries. During twenty years, I've practiced at least ten different styles, and trained in as many kungfu weapons. I've had the great fortune to practice with three different masters, and have been handed the opportunity to pass these arts forward to future generations. Despite all this, I still feel like I'm at the beginning of my journey. Is this a discouraging thought?

 

Not at all, because practicing kungfu is simply just damn good fun.

 

(Continued in part 3)