When I tell people I teach Kungfu they think I mean I teach a kind of martial art. After all, Kungfu is what Bruce Lee did, it’s the stuff in Kungfu Panda, the action in Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, right? It is a martial art, isn’t it? What if I told you the truth, that it’s all a big misunderstanding? What if I told you that Kungfu isn’t a martial art at all?
Well, to better understand what I’m talking about we need a quick lesson in Chinese 101. The word Kungfu, is actually written as ?? and more accurately pronounced Gongfu. In this case, G?ngfu (??) is a compound of two words, combining ? (g?ng) meaning "work", "achievement", or "merit", and ? (f?) which translates into "man", so that a literal rendering would be "achievement of man". Its connotation is that of an accomplishment arrived at by great effort of time and energy.
With an understanding that Kungfu means “great skill acquired through hard work over time” we might have a better idea why this word is used to refer to martial arts. In China, Gongfu is often used for many professionals, who through a lifetime of devotion to a certain pursuit have obtained great skill. A master chef who doesn’t measure the ingredients he uses, a mason who has turned building stone walls into an art or even a taxi driver who zips through traffic during rush hour with the greatest of ease are all examples of individuals who through a lifetime of dedication to their profession, have obtained Gongfu. Due to the fact that martial arts require a great deal of dedication and hard work, mastery of them too became widely referred to as Gongfu.
Now, to be sure, I do teach martial arts. I teach empty hand and weapon routines. However, if that was all I taught I don’t think I would love it the way I do. While kids might still be excited by the flashy sword forms, or the acrobatic jump kicks, the fighting techniques of martial arts alone would lack the greater substance required to benefit modern society. In that case, I could never pursue my passion professionally.
However, I have committed myself to teaching martial arts professionally. The truth is I am able to do this because I do not simply teach martial arts, but because I teach Gongfu. I teach people that excellence is possible only through persistence. Exercise, respect, discipline and focus are all the byproducts of this one idea. Because of Kungfu, martial arts have a much greater value in modern society than ever before. While I take great pride in teaching the highest quality martial arts and paying the closest attention to perfect technique, the reality is that this is all for the sole purpose of instilling the values inherent in obtaining Kungfu: hard work, persistent, unwavering diligence, humility and respect.
When my 5 year old student, cries during practice when I am strict with him but then runs over to give me a hug after class and says “I love you”, or when a young student with Asperger’s has a tough time in practice but tells me afterwards “I love Kungfu”, I know they have begun to learn the real meaning of Kungfu. When I can see the Arjune brothers are frustrated with the new staff routine but stay after class to help me straighten up, or when I work with Zack, telling him to do the same thing 100 times (10 times in the same practice!) and he comes back to the next class and has perfected the technique we had been practicing – I feel the greatest sense of pride any teacher could feel. I know I teach Kungfu because I can see it in them!
And it’s not just kids. I am fortunate enough to even have a dedicated adult class. I have made it a personal mission to spar with all my students (who are interested in sparring). I always try and push them to their limits. When I can spar with Stel, who is both bigger and stronger than me, and work him so hard that he is unable to walk for several days afterwards, it doesn’t mean anything, until I get a text message a few days later thanking me for everything. Such individuals want to better themselves. They push themselves to constantly develop their willpower, humility and courage. They too are developing Kungfu.
So, when people ask me “What do you do?” and I respond, “I teach Kungfu”, this is really what I mean. This is what it’s really about. Kungfu is not about punches or kicks, or even earning a black belt. It’s not about the destination. It’s about the journey. It’s about learning all the life lessons and having fun along the way.