If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always gotten.
Our students practice Tao Te Kung Fu with us for many different reasons. For some it is a way to keep fit and healthy, develop confidence in having the ability to defend themselves in dangerous situations or just to have fun. For many others their training represents so much more than these; it becomes integral to their identity, a spiritual discipline, a path of self-development and self-realisation that profoundly improves their whole way of life.
In this article I hope to offer some idea of how your training with us can develop you as a whole person on every level.
What is the self? One way to contemplate this question is to start with the image of concentric rings. At the centre is the conscious observer of the world. The ‘I’ of ‘I’m aware.’ If I speak of my car or my clothes or my body, it is clear that in each case two objects are being referred to; the car/clothes/body and me, the owner of them. In our normal speech, and thus in our thinking, we habitually think of ourselves as the conscious awareness that lives inside this physical body. Now I’m not saying that there necessarily is a clear distinction, but for purposes of communication the distinction helps. Within this inner self resides our hopes, dreams, our beliefs, attitudes and reasoning.
A huge part of who we are is of course the physical body we exist within. It enables us to interact with the rest of the world. It may be more helpful to think of our emotions as being part of the function of this body. Most of their obvious effects are manifested in the physical body. It is in the guts that we feel fear, in the chest that we appear to feel joy and a blockage in an attempt to express our emotion is felt in the throat, etc. The connection between the inner self and the body is two way. A fearful thought, or a lustful thought, for examples, will have a fast effect on our body; heart rate, adrenaline etc. But equally, we can use physical exercises, whether slow deep breathing and more active movements to affect the state of mind. We are all familiar with how exercise produces hormones that change our mood. Whether fit, flexible, strong, week, stiff or in pain, our body changes the way we feel, and our sense of identity.
It is equally the case that how our body looks and moves will influence how we think about ourselves and how we are perceived by others. Our body language shouts louder than our voice, even though the message may be read mostly unconsciously. I hardly need point out that whether it is the image in the mirror or that seen by others, the physical self is a huge part of who we are. Are we attractive, lean, fat, muscular, tall, short, old, young, our racial background, our sex and that’s before we even start on how we dress it up. Which brings us to the other area I wish to consider; our relationships with others.
I am a different person to each and every person who knows me. I behave differently and appear differently relative to how I think of them and how they think of me, given who they are and mine and their prejudices. As a husband I behave differently than I do as a Kuing Fu instructor, as a father I behave differently than as a brother. For each person that I relate to, there is a particular aspect of my outer shell that they perceive, they respond accordingly and I, in turn, respond to that. The dynamic between me and every other to whom I relate is unique, though many may appear similar. In this way of thinking, my identity exists conceptually in the spaces between me and others; an outer concentric circle that has a different flavour, a different hue in each direction. Like a spectrum of changing colour surrounding me and reaching out to every other person I relate to. The particular dynamic of each relationship will have elements of how we perceive each other physically and psychologically, including relative positions of authority and social status.
As I can’t immediately affect the prejudices of others, the only way I can impact on this outer circle of my identity is by alterations to the inner two. So how will practicing/studying Tao Te Kung Fu affect you? Let’s start with the most obvious; the body. Any exercise will affect your physical body, mostly for the better, though each will have a different impact. Swimming will widen the shoulders and slim the waist. Long distance running will slim you down. Lifting heavy weights will bulk you up. Observe the bodies of athletes, it isn’t just that those with a natural physique gravitate to particular sports, though that is true, the activity itself will change the body. Notice the difference between a boxer’s and a sprinter’s physique and that of a shot putter or a marathon runner. Some sports can have a high risk of injury. American footballers, rugby players and practitioners of some styles of karate commonly end their careers with particular joint problems. Tennis players and golfers have more than their fare share of elbow problems. The style of Kung Fu and the way we teach it at Norwich Kung Fu Academy has been developed to offer significant physical benefits with the minimum of risk. You will not develop the shape of a body builder nor that of a marathon runner, but you will tone and shape every muscle. Leaner muscle, (not marbled with fat) burns more calories even at rest and without any major effort you will find fat reducing. The exercises you will be practicing will develop greater control and balance. You may notice your posture improving along with your flexibility and increased fluidity or grace in your movements. While the lessons are not exhausting, if you participate with full intensity, your cardiovascular fitness will improve quickly. You will be shown gentle exercises that will improve your strength and stamina. The breathing exercises will increase the energy available at any time and people commonly find they sleep better, which improves many areas of life.
An area often missing from many martial arts classes is the philosophy that would traditionally run alongside the physical skills. As most of our students do not come from a medieval Chinese cultural background this aspect of our training is delivered in a way that English speaking modern people will find relevant and enlightening. If you’re wondering what that has got to do with physical training, it’s because the two elements are combined. (Difficult words warning) Some of the hardest ideas can be learned kinaesthetically, that is, through physical movement. It is because our bodies, our emotions and our understanding form a continuous whole that this is possible. You only learn what humility really means when you kneel, you only learn what unity really means when you dance with someone and you only learn what support really means when you are hugged. It is this connection between the physical body and the mind that is most evident in the way we teach Kung Fu. Put simply, you learn an exercise; in doing so you learn an idea and that overflows into an attitude, changing the way you think about yourself or the world around you and then how you live your life. Sounds improbable? Come and try it. As your body changes through training you will notice several effects. You will look leaner, fitter, stronger and generally in better shape. This will make you more confident, knowing that what you see in the mirror will be reflected in the way others respond to you. You will feel fitter, stronger and more flexible, which will also affect your mood, the way you behave, the way you treat others and the way they respond to you. The philosophy that you learn will change the way you think of yourself, the universe and your place in it. This will change your attitude to life, the way you live your life, your behaviour and the way others perceive and respond to you. You will have the martial skills, knowledge and the confidence that goes with these. This will change the way you feel about your place in the world, the way you interact with others and the way they interact with you. Even at the very superficial level; you might now be ‘that blond in marketing’ when you are ‘that blond in marketing with a black belt in Kung Fu’ believe me, people will think of you very differently. They will treat you differently and your sense of self will not just be projected by how you think of yourself but respond to how others think of and treat you.
Jo-Sifu Mark Ringer - Norwich Kung Fu Academy