In the West when we hear the word Kung Fu it conjures mental images of martial artists flying through the air like super humans, breaking through innocent pieces of wood and delivering high pitched shrieks. This lovely non-reality based picture is largely based upon our experience of Kung Fu movies popularised by such stars as Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, Jet Li and Donnie Yen. The term Kung Fu which more accurately should be pronounced Gung Fu or Gong Fu has a very different meaning behind it however.
Kung Fu or Gong Fu when translated simply means to achieve merit through hard work and does not specify anything to do with combat whatsoever. It is an important term however as it gives insight into what we are trying to achieve as martial arts students and also how to achieve it. There are no short cuts, cheats or walk-throughs with Kung Fu. No magic diets, secret knowledge or elixirs. Everything attained is only made possible through hard work, dedication and perseverance and this is why it is not for everyone. In our consumerist world everything is solved without delay. If we want something we go on-line and buy it, if we cannot afford it we borrow the money, if we feel discomfort we take a pill. The concept of achieving merit through hard work largely only exists through working the life away chasing the golden carrot of retirement.
The only variables with martial arts are time and effort. It is the simplest method to understand, the more you train the better you get. Developing an encyclopedic knowledge of martial arts by sitting on the sofa and watching movies all day will not give you anything more than an idealistic dream. To achieve Kung Fu the road is relentless and enduring but is also one of the most exciting and rewarding paths to tread. Due to it being a merit from hard work, any skill can have Kung Fu; be it art, mountaineering, juggling or flower arranging. Remember the two key components - time and effort.
When speaking of martial arts specifically, the Chinese term is Wushu which literally translates as martial art or military skill. The problem with using the term Wushu is that it is often associated with Modern Wushu, a recently standardised version of Chinese martial arts developed as an acrobatic performance with little or no regard for actual combat. These flowery performances are how the general public perceive Chinese martial arts and feed on the stereotypical images generated by the movies. Although very impressive and requiring great physical achievement it is misleading to put them in the same box as traditional martial arts, which have self-defence skills at the core of the training. To use traditional fighting principles in the movies or for performance often appears unimpressive because they are direct and efficient with the movements. This is why in the West traditional martial arts teachers generally adopt the word Kung Fu over Wushu.
Partly fed by the movies and media and partly fed by general ignorance, the term Kung Fu has a different meaning in the West as it does in China. However, by taking the concept of Kung Fu and applying it to whatever our passion is, we can all achieve great things in our everyday lives. It simply takes hard work, time and what you are prepared to do to achieve your goals.