What do you think of when you hear Kung Fu? Probably a lot of fighting, people getting hurt and Jackie Chan – just like I used to. But after eight years of practicing Kung Fu, my perspective on martial arts has drastically changed. It’s respect, compassion, humbleness and devotion that are the values at the heart of Kung Fu.
Through pure circumstance and a trial Kung Fu training session I stumbled upon martial arts. Coming from 11 years of ballet, I was just going to give Kung Fu a test run in that initial session. Afterwards, I was hooked and wanted to get to know the sport better. I signed up and wasn’t disappointed. Putting aside the positive effects on my fitness and physique, it had a powerful effect on my everyday life.
Most notably, what I had never expected before: doing martial arts has actually helped me to live a more peaceful life. Hard to believe? Let me explain.
Sports, especially martial arts, teach us how to excel in high pressure situations. You feel the pressure, your adrenaline goes up, but instead of feeling panic, you take a deep breath and get ready to cope with whatever life or work is throwing at you. Breathing techniques are a crucial component of martial arts – if you want to land a hard punch, calm down or do that one push-up more. (Fun fact: I just “breathe away” my hiccups now – no useless headstands or “Boo!” – shouts from my friends anymore.)
Not only do physical changes come with practicing martial arts. A strong body gives you a sense of achievement and has a wide-reaching effect on your life.One of the biggest results is an increase in confidence.
Just the fact that you know you can defend yourself makes you carry yourself in a different way, because you trust your reflexes. Walking through a dark alley as a young woman still isn’t fun, but filled with confidence you’ll positively strut through it. And that alone can already make you safer, because one of the first rules in self-defense is: “An offender is looking for a victim, not an opponent,” – and that way you certainly don’t look like a victim.
What resonates with me most is the mutual respect among practitioners of Kung Fu or other martial arts. Every lesson or test starts with a ceremonial bow, showing respect for each other. Although it’s a simple gesture, it effectively sets the tone for the training and creates an atmosphere of solidarity and communal spirit.
A core lesson from the ancient Chinese general and philosopher Sun Tzu, can be summed up as “fighting without fighting”, or the best fight is the one you avoid. So, even though you try to master all the punches, kicks and forms, the most valuable lesson is in determining how to avoid a fight.
‘Kung’ translates to skillful work or hard training, while ‘Fu’ means time spent. You could interpret the name as a skill achieved through continuous hard work. Kung Fu is an art of self-mastery. Appreciate how far you have come, but constantly refocus on where you want to go. Never assume the journey will be easy, that big milestones will just come to you.
Before practicing Kung Fu, I had never anticipated that martial arts would be filled with valuable life lessons. Regardless of if you feel like trying this sport now or not, my advice for you is simple: go through life with confidence – even if you are unsure, be confident in your demeanor and you will find strength. Be at peace with yourself. And most importantly, treat yourself and everyone else with respect.