So often one hears that the martial arts are methods of philosophical and spiritual practice. But, just what does this mean? How can a method of fighting be philosophical or spiritual? It sounds at best contradictory, or at worst hypocritical. But Kung Fu is indeed very much involved with the philosophical and the spiritual. It is, in fact, one of the most profoundly philosophical and the spiritual disciplines known to humankind, for the road to the spiritual usually begins with the reality of the body.
Properly titled The Philosophical & Spiritual in Kung Fu
Once achievement is accomplished, rewards can last a lifetime.
Integrity is the guide that keeps one on track within oneself.
Caring is the guide that keeps one on track in the world.
The Tao is the guide that watches over all.
- 1 The Philosophical
- 2 The Spiritual
- 3 Respect
- 4 Respect For Relationships With Others
- 5 Determination
- 6 Concentration
- 7 Mindfulness
- 8 Openmindedness
- 9 Respect For Nature
- 10 Integration of Mind and Body
- 11 Honesty
- 12 Compassion
- 13 Humility
- 14 Courage
- 15 Positivity
- 16 Appropriateness
- 17 Simplicity
- 18 Self-Confidence
- 19 Control
- 20 Sincerity
- 21 Curiosity
- 22 Trust and Faith
- 23 Patience
- 24 Non-Craving
- 25 Sensitivity
- 26 Self-Containment, Poise, and Relaxation
The Philosophical ∞
The philosophical side of Kung Fu is rather straightforward, but somewhat difficult to explain in words. It involves the attitude taken by the individual personally. For instance, is one just learning to fight -- or learning something more than just fighting? Is one just learning physical prowess or is one utilizing higher mental faculties. Is one simply learning to fight or is one dealing with self-cultivation beyond just fighting?
Of course, one might argue that there is philosophy in learning to fight, and that the philosophy of fighting is as valid a philosophy as any other -- but in reality this method is not as much a philosophy as a perspective toward action. It is just the adopting of an approach. The truly philosophical involves more than just an attitude. It involves our "perspective" on the approach, in addition to the approach itself. For instance, what are the reasons why are we learning to fight? What is the purpose of the skills we are learning? Does our fighting -- our martial art -- serve some purpose that moves us toward higher understanding? If our perspective involves this additional aspect, this "application to life" approach -- this having a higher purpose -- then one can be said to be more philosophically involved than in just fighting. If we are dealing with developing wisdom and knowledge -- or expressing our wisdom and knowledge -- then we can probably be said to be more philosophically involved.
Of course it is difficult to separate the philosophical from the spiritual, since when one becomes involved with philosophical realms one usually becomes involved with universals, and this is mostly where the spiritual realm lies as well. But the key to the philosophical in kung-fu lies in the seeking or expression of higher wisdom and knowledge -- in dealing with something beyond the purely physical -- in attention toward higher awareness and broader consciousness
The philosophical in kung-fu can also be approached from the point of view of investigation and expression. With investigation one can use one's kung-fu as a vehicle to examine the domain of thoughts and concepts. For instance, if we ask how our martial art might incorporate ideas such as the two universal and dual forces of life, the yin and the yang as the Chinese call them, and we use our kung-fu as a way to investigate such ideas, we are using kung-fu as an inquiry into life. This is bringing life to our kung-fu.
Another example might be when we discover in our practice that being calm and centered helps the effectiveness of our martial techniques. If we then inquire as to how this inner calm and outer action relate, and further, how this relationship works in life in general outside the martial arts we are then using our kung-fu to investigate concepts about life. This is bringing our kung-fu to life.
With the expression side of the equation, we can use the martial arts to express ideas we find valuable. Such ideas might include the expression of beauty, harmony, control, assurance, and maybe even morality. And in expressing such things, we might even simultaneously lift ourselves to higher levels of these qualities in our life.
The Spiritual ∞
To approach the spiritual in the martial arts one must first approach the physical. The physical is the first step on the road to the spiritual. It is through the physical that we come to experience the spiritual. The physical is our tangible connection to the spiritual -- our first connection to our spirit.
In the martial arts one must learn to become aware and intimate with the space around the body. One must become familiar with how the body can move through space and how the body cannot move through space. One must learn to control the gross and awkward body. One needs to become 'total-body-aware'.
When one attains total-body awareness, one can begin to move in a graceful, whole, and integrated way. When one achieves total-body awareness, one begins to function fluidly and one's techniques can achieve clarity and strength. When one reaches this stage, one can not only achieve effectiveness in the martial sense, but one can have a perspective and a capability which allows one to be more appreciative of some of the more eternal and universal qualities of life.
One finds such eternal qualities as efficiency, integration, creativity, patience, spiritedness, and naturalness. These qualities come from our personal and spiritual side, yet also belong to the more universal domain. They are qualities which are eternal, and found at all times and in all places. When we involve ourselves with these qualities he are contacting a side of life which transcends the corporal, the mundane, and the purely personal. We are contacting something which can speak to us of larger worlds, of concepts beyond our own small existence.
In addition, spiritual involvement is also connected to the realm of anesthetics. This level might be called the more formal level by some, or perhaps even the emotional level by others, but it is the realm which is about the more tangible aspects which when mastered can be used to express eternal qualities. These aesthetic characteristics are such things as timing, bodily expression, fluidity, simplicity, gracefulness, and spatial composition.
Another area which is connected to the realm of the spiritual is the area we call the internal -- those things which one feels yet are difficult to see outwardly. Qualities such as better health, self-respect, self-trust, patience, determination, sincerity, integrity, interdependency, mindfulness, honesty, and poise fall into this category. They are the more personal aspects of the spiritual in the kung-fu, and if one is practicing on the path that fosters spiritual cultivation, one will most likely become intimate with these qualities -- and will be forced, perhaps even against one's own wishes, to understand the meanings of such things. They become not just intellectual ideas, but actual realities which must be dealt with directly and absolutely. When this happens and one faces these challenges, one is involved with spiritual training.
A wise student should understand that these aspects can come to the fore while one strives for body awareness and control -- especially if one consciously seeks in that direction. Mind, body, and spirit harmony start here. The spiritual deepens with practice and perseverance. The wise student will take time to savor and work on such "spiritual" qualities, and should recognize that one should not force anything or seek to find these qualities too soon. When the time is right the quality to work on will appear.
Through long term involvement with kung-fu, one can come to find that the philosophical and spiritual aspects of the martial arts are truly the most important aspects. One comes to see that fighting is not as rewarding as peace, that confrontation is not as satisfying as harmony, or that separateness is not as meaningful as unity.
When one learn methods of injuring the human being, one also becomes aware of the fragility of the human being -- of the human condition--and if one has sensitivity, one begins to care for that fragile life within. When one sees the tender and sensitive balance that is life, the preciousness of life becomes only too evident. One soon learns that to defeat another is not as important as compassion, that to overcome is not as valuable as respect, and that subduing is not as important as helping. One learns that physical prowess without spiritual rootedness is hollow and meaningless, and also, in the reverse, one learns the importance of the physical, for without the body as its vehicle there would be no method of actualizing the spiritual -- in fact, there would be no spiritual at all.
Through kung-fu one learns that strength of body must be tempered with intelligence -- with mind. Mind must be elevated and controlled with spirit. And, in the reverse, spirit is strengthened with mind and body. Forcefulness is not as important as guidance. Doing is not nearly as important as ethical doing.
In addition, in kung-fu, through the constant striving with oneself toward the perfection of technique, one comes to see the importance of overcoming one's small and inhibiting attitudes. Many times during training one must let go of what one believes must be the correct approach -- what one has been told -- and find the real best way, the method that comes from reality.
Also, through constant struggle for proper technique one learns how divided and unwhole the mind and body can be -- how important integration and balance of mind, body, and spirit truly are. When one is integrated there is smoothness and clear awareness; when one is not integrated, awareness is dulled. And, of course, when awareness is dulled the capacity for enjoying life is diminished and weak.
Through the application of energy in martial movements one further learns that appropriateness should take precedence over indiscriminate action. In order to become a good martial artist -- an "artist" of the martial disciplines -- one must endure difficulties, one must control one's temper, and one must be humble. One must also develop tolerance, for in the martial arts, there is much which would test one's capacity for generosity, and acceptance. These qualities of endurance, control, humility, and tolerance are all sound spiritual qualities.
From dealing with movement and efficiency in such great subtlety as one does in the martial arts one learns that naturalness is important and should be a guiding principle. One learns that naturalness should be highly prized and respected.
Also, in one's kung-fu one should learn the meaning of etiquette and what the true sources of etiquette are. If one is acting with awareness with a mind of the real, one can come to see that genuine and felt actions are the essential and true heart of our motivations. One begins to see that etiquette and ritual are at their core just symbolic expressions of real and authentic actions, and that being genuine must come from sincere feelings. In our kung-fu, we should learn the difference between doing things out of empty ritual and doing things out of sincerity. From this discovery of the true meaning behind ritual is born genuine etiquette -- etiquette with conviction. When this happens we begin to delve deeply into the spiritual roots of kung-fu; when this happens we are taking advantage of kung-fu as a method of self-exploration and self-development.
Through long term commitment to kung-fu one comes to see the reality of the philosophical and spiritual in the martial way, and they are not just empty words. The two ideas become not just lip service, but real and tangible qualities which we can approached with assurance. In addition, one may discover the importance of balancing and harmonizing the philosophical and the spiritual with other concerns such as health, self-defense, and society. When we have engaged our kung-fu in these ways, are persevering, and have sincerity we can be said to be a authentic kung-fu practitioner.
Following is a list of spiritual qualities and characteristics and how they are attended to in kung-fu practice:
In order to be training in the first place one must respect oneself and life. Such an attitude leads to a good perspective and promotes the idea of bettering oneself through self-cultivation. As practice continues our sense of respect and reverence can deepen, but in the beginning there must be at least a seed of respect.
Respect For Relationships With Others ∞
In order for our kung-fu training to make progress we learn that harmonious interactions with others is necessary. If we don't treat others with respect, our training cannot proceed. If we do not foster positive relationships with others we will have no one to practice with. From this we understand respect for others.
We must learn determination in order to forebear training and improve. Determination is the glue that eventually helps it all make sense, and that provides depth. Determination enhances our character. To have determination is to have a quality which is very positive and life supporting. From determination we go more deeply into our practice. It helps us get past the surface, and penetrate more fully into the meaning of our techniques, principles, and practice.
In order to learn we must grasp and implement the idea of mental focus. Without concentration our ability to seize the moment is lost. Without concentration little is accomplished and we tend to miss the worth of what we are involved with. Without concentration we will become bored and our energies will be scattered and weak.
In order to perfect our techniques or deal with outside energies we must be there and be alert. Mindfulness allows us to connect with the principles and ideas which make our practice effective in all of its different dimensions -- martially, healthwise, and meditatively. Without mindfulness we will not be able to see from the proper perspective. Mindfulness helps impart a reverence and specialness to what we do. When we have mindfulness we have the possibility to cherish our practice and our life.
In order to see where we need improvement we need to be objective. Objectiveness requires that we be unbiased and impartial. Objectivity is a very deep principle. It is what allows truth to be perceived and action to be appropriate. Objectivity is the essence of the natural order of things. it is the quality that permits us to understand the interdependence of all beings and activities in life. Objectivity makes use of clear seeing and pure understanding.
Respect For Nature ∞
Through the struggle to make our techniques efficient we learn to respect nature, for the most effective method is usually the most natural and the most efficient. In our practice, over the course of time, we also learn that naturalness avoids injuries. To be natural connects us to the way the essence behind the world works. To be natural is to follow the principles upon which everything is based. When we respect and attune ourselves to nature we move in harmony with the real and fundamental cycles and criteria of life.
Integration of Mind and Body ∞
When we struggle with our coordination in practice we find out about body/mind interrelatedness. We see that everything we do with our body is connected to our mind and that our mental activities are dependent on our physical condition. The two cannot be separated. The mind and the body -- indeed the mind, the body, and the spirit -- are all intimately linked. To divide them and treat each part as separate and independent of the rest is to create a schism which is inappropriate and dishonest. lnterconnectedness is the source which can make us whole.
In accepting our weaknesses and strengths in practice we must confront honesty. Through our constant battle with discipline and personal capability we become intimate with our strengths and weaknesses and we are forced to face ourself honestly in order to make inroads in our practice. Honesty sometimes requires courage and self-compassion. We must learn to accept who and what we are so that we can change and improve. Honesty is a path that can eventually lead to satisfaction, contentment, and serenity , if one is steadfast in its application.
Through our involvement with our own and other practitioner's weaknesses and inadequacies, we learn about compassion. Compassion requires that we give up our self-centeredness and that we allow ourselves to have empathy with others. Knowing others connects us to feelings and lets us be less gross and insensitive in all our dealings. Compassion allows us to begin to break the holds of mechanicalness and hierarchical thinking. With compassion our humanity and kindness can come to the fore. Compassion tends to beget compassion and the static roleplaying and distancing between people can begin to be broken down.
In order to learn we need to be humble. When we see our own limitations in practice, we see that we can never be the best, that there is always someone better, and this helps us to be truly humble. Humility allows us to see the worth of others. Humility fosters understanding and communication instead of hierarchical one-upmanship. Humility promotes sharing and human connection.
Through having to face threatening situations which are perhaps uncomfortable in practice and through having to overcome our own self imposed inhibitions, we find out about courage. Courage is carrying on in the face of difficulties. It is having perseverance and the strength of character to continue appropriately. It is not continuing no matter what -- but continuing intelligently with respect to the situation. Courage is not about being macho or insensitive to our obstacles -- it is having the fortitude to overcome our fears when those fears are needlessly inhibiting. With courage we must face ourself as well as the other, in fact the two go hand in hand.
In order to continue in all situations, even in the face of strong inhibiting factors, such as laziness, time constraints, spouses and children, injury, etc. we learn about being positive. With a positive spirit, training is much easier and even fun. Through seeing that negativity is non-productive one begins to see the importance of a positive attitude. Positivity promotes good feelings. With positivity we see the best in situations and call upon the best in ourselves.
Through the application of the proper and appropriate energies in our practice, and the right attitude at the right time, we learn about appropriateness. Appropriateness means to use ourselves in proportion to the world -- with respect to what is going on. It is about being connected closely to life instead of disengaging and missing. It is about awareness and using awareness well. Appropriateness makes use of efficiency so that we can eliminate any unwarranted and unnecessary energies.
In order to understand the complexity of the movements and concepts of our practice, we learn to observe the simplicity hidden within. From simplicity we can see complexity in a new light. Simplicity brings an elegant easiness to what we do. Simplicity allows us to see wider vistas through making what we know more manageable. Simplicity allows us to use what we know in more complete ways. Through knowing simplicity in our kung fu we come to see the deep simplicity of life and are able to appreciate the world more fully.
From our growing abilities to control movement and attitude in our practice, we gain self-confidence. From the ability to be self-reliant and more under control in threatening situations we achieve a higher level of self-confidence. From self-confidence we feel empowered and have a sense of authority. From self-confidence we can approach life with more command to what we do and how we interact. With self- confidence we feel better and are less shrunken and inhibited. Self-confidence allows us to express ourself better and interact with others in a positive and full manner. With self-confidence we stand a better chance of living up to our potentials.
Through form practice and applying techniques to others without causing injury one learns control mentally and physically. With this control we become more empowered and self-confident. Control helps us attain better coordination and movement skills. Through the mindfulness and concentration needed to implement control we reach more body awareness, more self- awareness, and more world awareness. From dealing with control in practice we can sometimes understand the ways which control and lack of control work in and affect our life.
In our practice, we see that those who are sincere in their practice rise to the top, while those who are not make little gain. From this we understand the significance of sincerity. Sincerity is the bedrock of empowered and compassionate action. When we have sincerity in all we do we leave hypocrisy and dishonesty behind. Sincerity leads to peace of mind because one has nothing to hide. With sincerity one is what one does -- there is no schism. With sincerity one does what one believes and one believes in what one does. With sincerity one follows one's convictions. With sincerity the inner and the outer are in correspondence.
By working on techniques and seeing them improve over time and through close observation and investigation, one learns the importance of curiosity. By seeing how curiosity makes our practice more interesting and vital we see the positive effects of curiosity. Curiosity brings vitality to what we do. With curiosity we are not distant and separated but connected to the vital insides of practice. With curiosity one learns and one can improve. Curiosity enlarges our inner store of knowledge and gives us a wider vista from which to approach our practice and our life.
Trust and Faith ∞
Through our training regiment we experience growth and advancement little bits at a time. What seems impossible at first, in time, becomes well within our reach. This process teaches us to understand the significance of trust and faith and how trust and faith provide the background which allows progress to take place. With trust and faith one has a positive attitude and accepts that even if we don't understand at the moment things will make sense and improve us in the long run. Trust and faith require intelligence and mindfulness. One must not follow blindly, but temper one's trust and faith with intelligence and discriminating discernment.
Because proficiency in the martial arts never comes all at one time, one learns patience. Things worthwhile often require tine to develop. Patience coupled with trust and faith can guide one to achievement. Without patience one will give up before seeing the real results. Patience means the capacity to wait in the face of what seems like difficulties or inordinate lengths of time. If one has patience one becomes more involved with the process than with being goal-oriented. This is the key to patience. To have patience one allows the ability to let go of the end and become the means.
Because practice is a process, if one wishes to make deep gains, one must eventually learn that joining with the process is important. To do this and to truly enjoy one must understand and implement the idea that the hording of answers or frantically rushing ahead before the proper time is inappropriate. From non-craving one comes to understand that any ideas of hurrying toward, yearning for, or possessing finality are counter-productive. Gains must go deeply inside, not remain just on the surface. This takes time. Quality is more important than quantity.
From the intense attention required in our practice and two person interaction, one learns deep levels of sensitivity. One cannot see or feel if one is not sensitive. Sensitivity requires that one be inwardly still and tranquil so that the noise of one's own being doesn't obscure that which is coming from outside. In order to achieve sensitivity one must let go of the gross and anesthetized sensibility we oftentimes use in daily life. We must drop out of the gross body into the subtle body. Sensitivity requires that we allow ourself to open up our awareness to new dimensions. We must extend into new territory, perhaps, but that territory only enhances what came before.
Self-Containment, Poise, and Relaxation ∞
Through the degree of composure necessary in practice, one learns the importance of being self contained and relaxed. When one is self-contained and relaxed one can implement any necessary actions with must more control and awareness. Without the poise of self-containment and relaxation one cannot makes one's practice clear and centered. Becoming familiar with self-containment and relaxation is to become familiar with a very subtle but very empowered and powerful state.