Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Battle for the Soul of Internal Gong Fu

The March 2011 issue of National Geographic magazine has an article titled: "Battle for the Soul of Kung Fu" by Peter Gwin; pages 95-113 of the hardcopy.

What I found interesting while reading this article was how the same could be said about the current state of the internal martial arts, namely, Tai-chi chuan:
"Shaolin kung fu is designed for combat, not to entertain audiences. It is hard to convince boys to spend many years learning something that won't make them wealthy or famous."
To read the full article, please see Battle for the Soul of Kung Fu at the National Geographic site.

It seems to me that the internal gong fu styles, Tai-chi chuan, Ba-gua chuan and Xing-yi chuan, have fallen into the same predicament. While it is true that Tai-chi has become a mainstream commercial success, that success has come with a price; Tai-chi chuan was stripped of its soul, of what made it the "Grand Ultimate" fist.

Since I began nearly thirty years ago, there has been a fairly steady increase in the amount of high level expertise made routinely available and accessible from the traveling masters' annual world tours to the various training opportunities in China. Given all this, you would think that the world would now be absolutely flush with internal gong fu practitioners demonstrating high level skills in internal strength/effortless power.

And yet, is it so? How many of those who have trained with real masters actually develop the internal strength that put the "Tai-chi" in Tai-chi chuan? 80%? 50%? 10%? 1%? (I would venture to guess the number is pretty low. But to be fair, I haven't been out much lately.)

I suspect that those who have trained with real masters are generally not seeking advice and direction regarding their individual practice of developing internal strength but rather are looking to be spoon fed morsels of their "brand".

What I am learning is that, gong fu is not something that can be given nor acquired through mimicry. You have to earn it. You have to know what you want and you have to be working on it. You have to take ownership of it. Once you are walking on this road, you begin figuring out your own body. You encounter and learn about your own internal adversaries. You begin figuring out the feeling. You begin figuring out the truly relevant questions.

Then when you get access to a real master, ask your questions as, "I want to feel how X feels. Show me in my body." Don't get stuck talking philosophy. Talk is cheap. Experiencing "the feeling" is pure gold. You may need to request (and pay for) an hour of private class to get what you want.

Ultimately, the battle for the soul of internal gong fu is a battle inside yourself. Are you going to continue being spoon fed your "kung fu" or are you really going to start walking your own gong fu path?

The expertise is available. They are giving the audience what the audience wants and is willing to pay for. What do you want?

Be really, really honest about your practice. How deeply can you feel and understand the fundamentals? What can you demonstrate?

Here's the paradox; the deeper you feel and understand the basic, boring, fundamentals, the higher the level the skill you develop. The more "higher level" skills you are taught, the lower the level skill you actually wind up with.

As we say in Wujifa, "You are where you are and that's where you start."

Get started... today!

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