What’s in a Word?

I started these ‘musings’ to offer up my take on how kung fu training and the ‘deep’ esoteric philosophies surrounding them are just as valuable and relevant to one’s everyday life experiences and situations. I’ve touched lightly already on places where one might see the parallels between what is done within the kwoon (training hall) and what is done in the rest of our everyday, mundane and routine lives. I’m being slightly facetious here, of course, saying such only to poke some fun at how people can sometimes create an unnecessary difference in how they view ‘parts’ of their lives, making them separate, not allowing for the harmony of all the facets of their lifestyes to make them ‘whole’ and unified.

It was interesting to find, while I was thinking of adding some of the other martial arts terms for a ‘training hall’ to the sentence above to make it more universal and not just aimed at students of Chinese martial arts, a term that really hits the nail on the head. The Japanese term for a martial arts training hall is called a dojo, a term I’m sure many of you have heard before. Even my own students will refer to the classroom sometimes with the Japanese term, “dojo”, and not the “kwoon”, its use in common language is now so familiar.

When I Googled  “dojo” , I was taken to Wikipedia’s site where I found this definition: A dojo (道場 dōjō?) is a Japanese term which literally means “place of the way“. I never knew that before, and I’m sure a lot of people both within the martial arts and without would probably say the same.

But doesn’t that definition help us to understand that all of this mysticism and holistic references we often put forth in philosophic discussions of our training ‘leading us to higher places or levels of consciousness’ might just be getting in the way of us getting to those ‘higher places’?

The term “kung fu” (功夫) actually means “hard work” or “skill/achievement”; the inference being that one cannot attain any levels of proficiency in martial arts (or in anything else) without putting in the time and sweat  – “the hard yards”. By consistently putting in time and effort to learn things that are often difficult and challenging, we make ourselves more ‘complete’ through the process. As Han, the evil character in Bruce Lee’s epic film, Enter the Dragon, said, “We forge our bodies in the fire of our will…”

Our pursuit of physical skill and excellence has a by-product of producing mental, spiritual and emotional excellence as well, because the body will only do what the mind tells it. That is the reason so many come to a martial arts school like ours, or sign up with personal trainers, etc; it’s because the trainer or the sifu or sensei will make you do what you want to achieve. So many of us want to do more than we currently seem able, but can’t; yet put us into the capable hands of a good instructor, trainer or coach and the results often always astound both those around us and ourselves. Look at shows like The Biggest Loser, where contestants tell us how they lack self-esteem or fell into habits that lead me to give up, etc, etc. Three months later, miracles occur for even the contestants that don’t win the big prize, and virtually all have lost at least three people’s bodyweight in the process, and yet, for the last x number of years…”I just couldn’t get the weight off… I just couldn’t do it.”

How do these ‘miracles’ happen? They happen because that trainer, that coach, that sensei, that sifu was able to push the contestant/student/client mentally and emotionally to do more than the person was previously willing to do for him/herself. The body was always shown to be capable of making the change, but it only ever comes when it engages with the mind and spirit. The ‘hidden talent’ or ‘latent ability’ is only revealed when all the rowers are steering the boat in the same direction, the one direction… the Tao…

Whether or not the stimulus for the mind, body and spirit to combine together happens through an external source like a trainer or coach, or from within oneself doesn’t matter; what does matter is that it must happen, if one is to move to a ‘higher’ place.

Again, our kung fu training helps teach us that it IS within our powers and abilities to reach those goals we set for ourselves, whether they be self-defense skills, job advancement skills or being a better husband or wife. Struggling to work out how to neutralise that combination attack from your training partner can also help you work out how to get around the difficulties of an unfair boss or the struggles of trying to learn material for an upcoming economics exam for your uni degree. It’s all the same, when you boil it down. Struggles and obstacles are necessary for achievement and success; pain is necessary for happiness; Yin must be part of Yang… it’s all the same.

What we do in the classroom IS the same as what we do outside. Like Wing Chun, the art itself teaches us; make your training (=life) less complicated, less cluttered – more economical. Take the excess off, like the sculptor. The work of art that is Y-O-U will come from stripping away all the non-essentials and of getting to the core – the hidden talent (qian li 潜力) – that lies within.

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Musings by Sifu Dana P Wong is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.


3 thoughts on “What’s in a Word?

    • Thanks for your comments here. Not really up to speed on the tao of christianity myself, but if you or any one you might know can throw some light on that part of the subject, perhaps we might get further enlightened. Any out there can further the cause?

  1. It is interesting to note that Laotze, Gotama (Buddha), and Jesus all made constant reference to the concept of the “way,” the “path,” or the road. The Daodejing, the Buddhist sutras and the Christian gospels use the metaphor constantly.

    And as you suggest Sifu, the need to simplify, to cast off excess, is a common theme amongst these traditions; one cannot get from here to there if one is burdened by unnecessary baggage, distracted by forks in the road, or unsure of the “map,” the big picture.

    Martial arts as a spiritual tradition follows in exactly the same philosophical footsteps.

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