Mastering the Art of Kung-fu
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July 26, 2000
Little Jeffrey from Albuquerque was going on a BIG trip....to the opposite side of the world. You see, for as long as Jeffrey could remember, he had always wanted to become a kung-fu master. "One day, I'm going to be just like Jackie Chan or Bruce Lee!", he thought. The problem was that there were no good teachers in Albuquerque, so he was convinced that if he was going to learn, he needed to go to the source...where kung-fu originated. That place was China.
At long last, the plane started to descend and through the window Jeffrey could make out big fields of green and factories spitting out black smoke surrounding a huge city. "That must be Beijing!" I will meet my kung-fu master, Bing, there.
Jeffrey's teacher, Bing, came from a long line of kung-fu masters. He had been practicing Chinese martial arts for over 40 years and had learned directly from one of the most skilled masters in all of China. He welcomed Jeffrey and took him to his home in the countryside. Jeffrey was so excited to be in the midst of such a skilled teacher. "I'll be a kung-fu master in no time!" He was eager to start learning.
"These are herbs that will improve your vitality and increase your strength," explained Bing. "You must boil them into a tea and drink it three times a day." They made a batch of tea and Jeffrey took a big gulp of the brown liquid. "Yuck! This tastes terrible," Jeffrey thought, "but if it'll make me better at kung-fu I'd better drink it."
Later Bing sat down with a drawing of the layout of the house and surrounding grounds, a compass, and a calendar. He asked Jeffrey which year he was born in. After consulting the calendar, he positioned the compass and made some marks on the paper. He highlighted a room in the northeastern part of the house. "Tomorrow morning we will meet in this room to begin our practice."
The next day, Bing and Jeffrey met in the specified room. He positioned Jeffrey to stand with his legs apart, knees slightly bent, and his back straight. "This is called the horse pose, it is a very strong pose in Chinese martial arts," explained Bing. Jeffrey was very excited to finally start learning kung-fu, but instead of learning kicks and punches, Bing merely asked Jeffrey to breathe slowly and steadily. He led him through some exercises, advising him to visualize a bright red ball of fire in his lower belly the whole time.
"Ohhhhhhh, I am sorry little one. I forget you come from a very different country, you do not yet understand the ways of our ancient traditions," Bing replied with a calm smile on his face. "In your country you expect immediate results. If there is a sickness, you quickly kill it. If you want to learn a sport, you physically train in that sport. Here in China, our traditional ways are different. We see that everything is connected. Instead of curing a sickness with harsh medicines we will make your body strong so you never get the sickness to begin with. Instead of building your muscles to prepare you to fight, we will first prepare you to know yourself and the skills of battle. Learning a martial art of China is much more than just learning to fight."
"Tonight, I would like you to read this short book The Art of War by Sun Tzu, one of the greatest warriors in the history of China. It was written over 2000 years ago, and yet it is still read by all top politicians and military advisors today. Tomorrow we will meet again in the morning."
"I read the book, and I think I understand what you were saying yesterday a little better," he said to Bing. "I understand that knowledge is key, and that the best victory is one where you don't even have to fight at all." "Very good. You now understand a basic premise of Taoism which is the basis of the healing and martial arts of China. You see, all this preparation we've been doing over the past few days is to prepare you and your chi to make you a skilled master in the martial arts."
"Chi is the vital energy of the universe. Your chi is your vital energy, and both the healing and the martial arts of China focus on the flow of chi through your body. Chinese medicine works on your whole body and the flow of chi rather than focusing on a certain illness. Thus even though you may not think you are sick, I tested you to find which herbs can help you be even stronger and prevent any sicknesses."
"So that explains the awful tea I drink every day, but what about the compass business?"
"Cool! So, I'm ready to learn! Why do we spend so much time picturing fires in our belly and stuff? It's super cool and gives me a ton of energy, but what's the point?"
"What I have been teaching you is known as chi-gong. By practicing chi-gong you will learn how to harness your chi and direct it. Visualizing the ball of fire is like visualizing all your chi concentrating in your belly and hands. Here, feel this," said Bing. He walked over to Jeffrey and put his hands about four inches away from his body. He slowly moved his hands over his right arm and shoulder.
"Woah! That's amazing. It feels like a warm wave washed over me. My arms have been aching all week, cuz of all the push-ups I've been doing for training, and now the pain is all gone. How did you do that?"
"By harnessing chi. You will be able to do it soon too. One of the most practiced and useful forms of martial arts in China is called tai-chi. This is the kung-fuof the masters. In tai-chi, you use breathing, agility, and graceful movements to direct chi in such a way to defeat your enemy. Like in the Art of War, tai-chi masters don't have to use all their energy in tiring assaults to win."
"But isn't tai-chi that stuff I see the old people doing in the park in the morning?"
"Yes, tai-chi is practiced by many people all over China to keep their minds clear and their bodies fit. Unfortunately many young people are only interested in modern, American things, so they are not learning things like tai-chi or chi-gong. But the old people still keep up the tradition, and as you can see, it keeps them very healthy and vibrant."
"Yeah, this 70 or 80 year old grandma beat me biking up the hill yesterday!"
After a few months, it was time for Jeffrey to return home. He promised he would continue to practice all he had learned every single day and come back again next summer to learn more.
When Jeffrey returned home, all his friends wanted to know what he had been doing all summer in China.
"So what cool things did you learn?" "Can you kick a hole through that brick wall?" "Can you break that table in half?", Jeffrey's friends asked.
"Nope, but I learned so much more..." Jeffrey smiled and wondered if they could ever understand.
p.s. - Please e-mail me at ...firstname.lastname@example.org
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