Real-Life Kung Fu
So everyone knows kung fu comes from China, right? Actually, more people than you’d think possible confuse it with karate, which is from Japan, but for the moment, we’ll assume you already knew it was a Chinese martial art, if only by virtue of the fact the Long Yu Imperial Fleet is based on Chinese customs and traditions.
Our knowledge of kung fu comes mainly from my years of training and countless films. I’m not claiming to be any good at it (my instructor will readily confirm this, though I’m getting better!), but a decade of training with one of the world’s most elite clubs has taught me a few things.
We decided to include kung fu in this series because, well, aside from the obvious “Why not?”, the setting kind of demanded it. It was a natural thing to have kung fu in it and it would actually have felt odd to not include it. For those who know a thing or two about martial arts, you’ll recognise a few things we’ve taken liberties with. Please don’t get uppity – this is the nature of fiction. But we’ve done our best to keep to the spirit of kung fu. My instructor and our Chief Instructor have both read bits from it, mainly as we wanted to be sure we wouldn’t embarrass the club; our Chief Instructor Dennis is well-respected in China and with good reason. (Did I want to impress him? Kind of, though I didn’t have such high expectations! He was OK with it, which was enough.)
There’s good kung fu in the stories, and there’s bad kung fu. Just go and look on YouTube; there are plenty of people out there who think they know martial arts and who go out of their way to make fools of themselves in front of everyone. Some have even filmed themselves performing entire patterns (forms) and put the results out there for all to see (and often cringe at). There are also some good ones, but these are less common. Kudos to you if you find them. You won’t find any entire patterns done by members of our club, however, and again, this is for a very good reason. Actually, one of the many reasons for this is you simply cannot learn any martial art by watching videos (or by reading books). If you’re to truly begin to understand, you need to train under a good instructor, and I’m all too aware of the fact that mine is one of the very best in the world. (No pressure.)
So what of the kung fu styles we’ve put in the books? The only one that’s real is White Crane, which is the system I practise, and it was the last of the styles to come from the Shaolin temple. The fifth ancestor, if you will. The five are Da Mo (Bodhidharma) – Da Mo qigong exercises are wonderful for warming you up and filling your body with qi; Luo Han; Tai Zu; Xing Zhe (Monkey); and Bai He (White Crane). The last of these styles to come from the temple was White Crane, which means this is the most advanced and developed of the five ancestor styles. Fujian White Crane kung fu is influential on other martial arts, as well. Often, karate stylists will go to China from Japan to learn from White Crane stylists, and then incorporate what they’ve learnt into their own training.
White Crane is famous for its evasion tactics, as well as its beauty – it looks wonderful (when done well) and to be fooled by its elegance and grace is to misunderstand how deadly the moves are. Unlike Wushu, which has recently (in martial arts terms) come to focus on performance, every move in White Crane has a purpose – not a single move is wasted or used only for show. It also doesn’t rely on brute strength like a lot of others – the style was founded by a woman, Fang Qiniang, in the 17th century (though the history of the style as it’s developed appears to be much older than this), and is based instead on technique.
Kung fu is beneficial in numerous ways, some of which Westerners may not expect or even consider. Qigong (breath work) opens up the meridians and allows the free flow of qi (life force) throughout the body; posture is improved immeasurably, especially if it’s not great (or terrible) to begin with; self-confidence soars (you learn to take criticism as your instructor is doing his/her best to get the best out of you); you feel healthier; you feel, in fact, amazing.
Does training hurt? Yes. Do you get a buzz from it? Absolutely. And do you really learn not to panic when sparring with someone, especially if they’re bigger and stronger than you? Take it from me – yes. It takes a while and the struggle to not panic can be a long one, but if you know you can take a punch, you grow much less afraid of being hurt. But training is tough. You need discipline to go to classes (because there’s always an excuse), but after the initial rush of a new thing, you either start looking for excuses to go or finding excuses not to; the training does hurt – if it didn’t, there’d be something wrong (and you’d need to find yourself a different instructor); you need to dig deep to find parts of yourself you never knew existed – and that can be both difficult and frightening.
A good instructor will test you. They may say things they know will get your back up, just to see how you react; it’s a test of character if you can take being told you’re crap at something and instead of walking away dejected, you go and correct what’s wrong (because it’s not a personal attack). A good instructor won’t pander to your excuses as to why you can’t do something (in our club, “can’t” is practically a swear word); but they will help you train around any injuries (don’t believe medical professionals who tell you to stop training while you heal – that’s the worst thing you can do). And a good instructor can also be a mentor and confidante – if you feel you can’t talk to anyone else, you can talk to your instructor.
There is lots of information about kung fu on the internet – here is our club website for starters – so do look around. But there’s also lots of false information and it’s easy to be taken in by people who think they know about martial arts (there are plenty). As long as you’re sensible, you’ll learn a lot. But the best thing – the very best thing – is to train yourself.
See Also: Kung Fu Masters of the White Crane