The primary purpose of Kung fu
‘The best fighters never have to fight!’
What Westerners often fail to grasp about Chinese martial arts is that their primary purpose is to serve as defense against disease and degeneration, not against bullies and bandits, and that they are based upon precisely the same forces that lie at the heart of medicine, meditation and Taoist arts.
Learning martial arts means self-assurance, not arrogance. It is not the boxer who is dangerous, rather, it is the weakling. Insecure, the latter must constantly ‘prove’ himself.
~Quote from Taoist text
To Taoists, the martial arts are simply the Yang complement to the Yin arts of medicine and nutrition and the active physical complement to the passive spiritual arts of meditation. From the point of view of the “Three Treasures”, the medical/nutritional arts nourish essence, the martial arts ‘martial’ energy, and the meditative arts cultivate spirit.
The fusion of body and breath in exercise is traditionally attributed to the Buddhist monk Bodhidharma (Ta Mo), who arrived in China from India during the fifth century ad. In addition toBuddhist scriptures, Bodhidharma introduced yoga and pranayama breathing to China. The resulting blend of indigenous Chinese dao-yin animal forms with the yoga and rhythmic breathing brought from India by Bodhidharma gave birth to the Chinese martial arts as we know them today. The indivisibility of the Three Treasures is the key that links the medical, martial and meditative arts in Taoist tradition. All three aspects support and complement one another and approach the same goal of harmony and balance from different angles.
In China, most masters of the martial arts study and practice traditional Chinese medicine and devote time to the cultivation of spirit through meditation. Most Chinese physicians also practice soft-style exercises and deep breathing, and Taoist mystics keep their bodies in shape by practicing martial arts and taking medicinal herbs. As with everything else in Taoism, exercise is a package deal in which the total is greater than the sum of its parts. It cannot be fragmented into parts without losing its therapeutic benefits. Bodhidharma ended up at the famous Shao Lin Temple in central China. Part of his program was to get the Chinese monks there back into physical shape, for they were all cramped and half-crippled from pro- longed meditation in lotus without any exercise. Though Buddhist, Bodhidharma was deeply influenced by Chinese Taosim, and to this day he remains the patron saint of the martial arts in China, Korea and Japan.
His glum, scowling face with his big, penetrating eyes and perpetual five-o’clock shadow remains a favorite theme in traditional scroll paintings. In order to learn the traditional martial arts forms of China, especially the subtle internal schools, such as Tai-Chi (Form of the Supreme Ultimate), Ba-Gua (Form of the Eight Trigrams) and Hsing-Yi (Form of Mind), personal guidance from a qualified master is an absolute necessity!
As a spiritual martial artist, exercises involve careful coordination of body, breath and mind in order to cultivate and harmonize the Three Treasures of essence, energy and spirit. These three aspects are inseparable. If you falter at one level during the exercises, the other two are immediately thrown off balance. For example, if your mind ponders tonight’s dinner menu or recalls last night’s sexual encounter during your exercises, body and breath lose their ‘commander’ and cannot synchronize. If you go through the physical motions without breath control, the body must burn stored energy rather than utilize fresh supplies of chi provided by proper breathing and if you fail to property loosen, stretch and relax the body, breath will not be able to circulate blood and energy to the limbs, organs and other tissues.