Kung fu is a term that has become synonymous with Martial Arts in both the West and the East now. Originally the term kung fu was used to refer to any skill or ability that had been developed through persistent effort over time. This understanding is helpful to those who have chosen to embark on the life journey of learning a martial art. Not all systems of combat are as difficult to learn as others, but then not all are as effective as others are either. Wing Chun Kung Fu is one of the most notable, effective martial systems available. But it truly is a kung fu, a system of skills that require diligent effort over considerable time to master.
When one begins training in a kung fu style he or she often is unaware of the degree of discipline that will be required of them to progress to the point they desire. This is especially true among western students. It is common for a teacher to hear the question, "how long will it take for me to get to…?" It is not an unfair question, but it is impossible to answer. There is an old story told in the halls where kung fu was taught anciently that symbolizes the irony of the student's desire to progress in skill quickly.
The student asks the master how long it takes most students to master their system. The master replies, "15 years".The student is shocked, then asks "how long would it take me if I work twice as hard"? The master replies, "30 years"! The student protests, "but what if I practice 3 times longer and harder than all the other students, then how long will it take me"? The master smiles and answers, "then it will take you 45 years".
Here we see that to learn a valuable skill, one has to be willing to practice for however long it takes to gain that skill. By trying to shorten that time, either by practicing harder or more often doesn’t always mean you will learn it faster. The obsession with being first, or getting to a certain skill level quickly, most often negates the attainment of the very skill desired. This is most certainly the case when learning Wing Chun’s deep energy skills. A focus on learning these abilities by a certain deadline often gets in the way of understanding the true nature of the skill being practiced. With energy skills, one has to let go of time frames and fall in love with the path. One has to learn to enjoy the journey and focus his attention on what is going on where he is currently, rather than always looking ahead to what is down the road. In learning today’s lessons well, tomorrow’s lessons will come much quicker than anticipated.
Kung fu requires a specific quality of personality for one to pay the price of mastery. You must fall in love with learning the skills, and forsake the modern tendency to cram more stuff into less time. Kung Fu mastery requires a life time commitment to learning and developing quality skills. Wing Chun was said to take 15 years to master by the monks who first developed it. That is an ambitious time frame, but given that the monks lived their kung fu 24 hours a day, year round it is not entirely unrealistic. True mastery is nothing short of a lifetime endeavor. Sometimes some people may set their idea of what mastery is at a level less than true mastery. Such people may believe and even claim to have mastered a kung fu skill or system, but those who understand the path and know their abilities also know they are not true masters. Such people may puff up their egos with grand titles but the truth sooner or later shows up through their mediocre skills. Those desiring true mastery, not only learn to master the kung fu skills of their chosen system, but also develop considerable mastery over their human failings and personality. One's nature is refined and developed as a byproduct of the years of discipline invested in walking the kung fu path. Those who practice a martial system that has demanding and difficult skill sets (like Wing Chun) will notice many students come and go. Only the very few will ever acquire the discipline to travel the path of kung fu to its enlightened possibilities. Those who train, but do not discipline themselves in the kung fu way will surely benefit from their brief encounter with the arts, but lacking the commitment and discipline to unlock its secrets they will never know the mysteries they may have discovered about themselves, life, and our magical universe.
Dr. Scott Baker earned his Ph.D. in Psychology from Brigham Young University in 1995. Born and raised in New Zealand, he began his training in Wing Chun there in 1972 under the direction of Master Tam Hung Fun. He is now a member of the Yuen Kay San line under Zopa Gyatso.
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