February 19, 2024

Why Kung Fu? In-depth Student Interview with Kung Fu Master Bao

Why Kungfu Master Bao

What makes Shaolin Kung Fu unique? What is the true purpose of this martial art? Is it ever too late to start Kung Fu? We sit down with Master Bao, a veteran practitioner of Chinese martial arts, to find out about his journey in Kung Fu, its philosophy, and more.

About Kung Fu

What is Kung Fu? What makes Shaolin Kung Fu unique?

Recap: Master Bao's response reminded me of our discussion on this topic in Wushu theory class. He introduced the word Kung Fu, and how we can find a deeper meaning in that than just regarding it as a martial art or sport, but as personal contemplation and more. It can be molded into your life and become part of your soul. It is “self-cultivation.”

Master Bao: In earlier times the popularity of Shaolin rose because of its presence in film, in particular, “Shaolin Temple.” However the system of martial arts was around long before the movie was released, but it did still raise awareness of Shaolin to a vast number of people. Aside from simply being of use in entertainment, Shaolin Kung Fu is something worthy for people to know and learn, and that is what people realize when they practice it. People can grow because of it, it can change their life. It has ups and downs, because there are so many things included in Shaolin, there is a historical and traditional aspect to it, but it is much more than just an old school of martial art or learning fighting skills.

There are three main aspects of Shaolin Kung Fu: Kung Fu (the martial art), Zen "Chan" (the ability to understand the universe; also self-cultivation, meditation. When we meditate it’s when we are closest to Zen.), and Buddhism.

What is the most important part of training for Kung Fu?

Master Bao: Willingness, and perseverance. When someone decides to train/learn Kung Fu they need to overcome all the difficulties they meet, no matter how tired they get or how much pain and danger they may face. You have to keep going. “If you are able to run 100 meters, then you should run 101 meters. That 1 meter is your Kung Fu.”

Why Kungfu Master Bao

How can the average person benefit from training in Kung Fu or martial arts?

Master Bao: The most direct benefit is to get physically stronger and healthier. If you expect greater benefits, then it depends on how much time and effort you put in. The first step in learning Kung Fu for an average person is to get healthy and fit, then the second step is to gain a stronger body, down to tougher tendons, muscles, and skin. The longer the study, the more even the insides, organs, and meridians will become stronger and healthier. So by then you can control your body, the way you want. Then it’s mentality.

Student: What if someone gets injured?

Master Bao: The simple answer is this: the process of learning is to learn, get injured, get better, learn, get injured, get better. It is inevitable.

Recap: Master Bao then told a story of when he got badly injured during training:

The doctor told Master Bao that he couldn’t train for 100 days when he injured a “large tendon in his leg” (gesturing to the back of his leg). Every step hurt a lot, but by continually moving one more step, he controlled the pain more; his mind became stronger with every step. So recovering from injury is also a way of training. He injured himself from stretching. This was a year into his training. His master stood by with a stick and if anyone couldn’t get down to a split they would be severely beaten. Master Bao was not as flexible yet, but because of fear, he forced himself down. He began training 3 days after his injury and recovered fully 20 days later.

Shaolin seems to be a particularly athletic system of Kung Fu. Is there any age when it’s “too late” to start?

Master Bao: There is no rule about what age to start. The above-mentioned steps do not have to be in that order, sometimes someone can start from the second step if they are already healthy.  If there is a 60-year-old man, there are still things he can learn such as health care Qi Gong.  Young martial artists train the body more with external martial arts, but older martial artists focus more on the inside, on the internal arts. It’s never too late, they don’t have to do jumps and rolls at 70, but the older you start the less overall benefit you can get.

What can or should be enjoyable about learning Kung Fu?

Master Bao: The most enjoyable thing should be that the students can realize clearly how their body changes. You can actually feel like you are breaking your own limits. It’s kind of like the feeling you get when you’ve never seen a flower or animal in your whole life, and seeing it for the first time. It also brings pride to people, or a superior, better-than-average feeling-- a higher level of confidence. Although Kung Fu is, in essence, fighting skills, learning and training in Kung Fu can also help someone become more gentle. So after learning Kung Fu you can not only control your body, but also your temper.  You have the power to smash something, but you choose to be gentle.

Why Kungfu Master Bao

Teaching Kung Fu

Why do you want to teach Kung Fu?

Recap: “I am going to be honest with you.” When he was little, Master Bao was also attracted by the movie "Shaolin Temple," and he was surrounded by friends who practiced martial arts. Kung Fu seemed cool and mysterious.  When he started to actually learn and train, his love for it grew.  Many people felt disappointed when they started to learn because it wasn’t the same as in the movie. He stated you cannot actually say you like it or not until you’ve trained for a while and have some knowledge of it. You will like Kung Fu more when you gain something from it. The efforts you put in are returned.

He decided to teach Kung Fu as a kind of mission he got from his master, a tradition to carry on the teaching. His master expected him to carry on the knowledge. While he does like to perform, compared to teaching others, becoming a Kung Fu star is less likely to happen.

What makes Kung Fu great is that there must be people who are willing to teach, spend time and energy, and show the beauty of Kung Fu for it to survive. And for thousands of years, it has! When deciding to teach, he thought about his own personality and whether he was suitable to be a teacher.  When he teaches, he feels satisfied. When his students achieve something it’s almost as if he feels the same sense of accomplishment they do.

What is your greatest challenge as a teacher at an international school like this?

Master Bao: If there is a student who, before they really get to know Kung Fu, already decided they don’t like it, and gave up before they tried. The students who don’t give the masters a chance to show what Kung Fu is. It is not something that can be understood in a week.

Why teach foreigners?

Recap: First of all there are many teachers who teach locals, Chinese people. There are enough. Master Bao previously thought about teaching abroad, but it is financially difficult. He thinks it is something special to teach foreigners who want to learn Kung Fu in China. You have all traveled far from home, and are away from distractions to be focused on learning. Foreign students can also get in touch with Chinese culture and life; with living in this environment. This knowledge will be helpful for training in Kung Fu.

The Well-Rounded Practitioner

Why practice meditation as well as martial arts?

Master Bao: Living in this time, every day is very fast, busy, and stressful. Time flies and flows day by day. What people need is to make time stop a little bit, to free their spirit. Why we practice meditation and why we practice Kung Fu is the same.  This long intense training makes our muscles and tendons very tense. We need to relax the body, but in order to do that we must relax the mind first. To relax the body is not the main purpose, what makes meditation matter is self-cultivation.  There are two types, thoughtful and thoughtless. Empty mind (thoughtless) meditation helps you relax body and mind, releasing everything from the outside world. However, sometimes in the real world it is difficult to see something clearly, so we need to create a condition in which we can think clearly. Thoughtful meditation can bring you to the simplest or deepest meaning or solution.

What is the difference between fighting and martial arts?

Master Bao: The most shallow martial art practitioner, who shouldn’t even be called a “martial artist,” has a goal or purpose to fight, to grow stronger, to bully people.

The next level individual wants to get accomplishment from practice. Their purpose is to improve THEMSELVES. They will find their value from competition, and better themselves by fighting in competitions (they are middle-level). 

For the highest level individual, martial arts is not just a way of learning fighting skills but a personal pursuit of Kung Fu as belief or faith.

Student: Are they doing it to pursue a deeper meaning of the universe, of life?

Master Bao: Dui- correct.

Why Kungfu Master Bao

Kung Fu Training

What is the benefit of learning single person forms?

Master Bao: Learning a form will demand that every part of your body gets involved. Your coordination will greatly improve. Learning a form is the best way to train your (whole) body. A form is made up of many single moves, and every move has it’s own application. So if you practice a form for a long time, there is a lot of self-defense and movement to understand and learn from it.

What is the benefit of training in weapons not commonly used today for self defense such as a whip or sword?

Master Bao: In real life we use tools. There are situations when someone is using a tool but they cannot use it very well. For example, if someone is using a hammer to pound a nail, they may always miss it. This is because they have bad coordination between themselves and the tool. The force of the hammer is not in tune with the person, the body. Training a weapon form is a way to merge your body with something, weather a weapon or tool, to harmonize something with your own body and coordination. Let alone the benefits of general coordination.

In real life when in danger, one can just grab an item. One may not have a sword but there may be a stick or something else that can be used in the same way. Training weapons helps with this.

With a variety of students at various skill levels, how do you decide which form to teach a student next to progress their training?

Master Bao: The masters will teach different forms to different students at different levels. This can only be possible if the master knows their students capabilities well. Sometimes the intention is to help them improve their body; for flexibility and coordination. It could also be to further explore their potential in a more advanced level if their flexibility and coordination has improved or is already good.

When training in Kung Fu, what is the proper mindset, or mental state one should be in?

Recap: On Master's Bao's mental state was when he was training:

His aim was to break his limit. He wanted to be able to accomplish more, to be the best. For example to perform a very difficult jumping move. He also had a sense of stress and demand from his master, who was always pushing him.

He stated one should be “focused.” Not distracted and willing to devote yourself to the training. Not thinking “what if I get hurt or injured,” neither thinking “what can I do after learning this, what can I learn?” Just being present in the moment, engaged.

Kung Fu as Art

To what extent are Kung Fu movements about aesthetic beauty? To what extent is the beauty in those movements simply the result of proper self-defense technique efficient movement, discipline, and spiritual centeredness?

Student: What does “Beauty” mean for Kung Fu?

Master Bao: What is your definition of beauty? Unique is beauty, rare is beauty, supernatural is beauty, and the common thing loved by the common people is also beauty. For Kung Fu, you must fill it with a beautiful spirit. What makes Kung Fu attractive to people is not all the flips and jumps and falls, it’s what it expresses, it’s the spirit. When we watch a performance such as at the temple or on stage, we can see how much effort they have put into it and how much it matters. Going back to the definition of Kung Fu, what you can do, but someone else cannot, is your Kung Fu, and your beauty.

Student: Would you say it is also the self cultivation we have talked about?

Master Bao: Of course.

How could a performer such as an actor or dancer benefit from practicing Kung Fu?

Recap: For a dancer, if she/he also trains Kung Fu, it will function as a compliment to dancing. Master Bao has watched dancing before and can tell if some moves were barrowed from Kung Fu. He can tell if they’ve had martial arts training, and see’s they are able to perform more types of movement. They already have flexibility and coordination, but they can benefit from learning Kung Fu moves for a wider range and knowledge of movement, and pursue the inner meaning of Kung Fu. He believes a dancer who is also a martial artist will be more appealing because they have more spirit or soul.

Student: Do you think an actor could benefit?

Master Bao: What makes an actor a really great actor? Experience. When they perform a role they will draw from their life and their own experience. The performer may have learned their skill from a (theatre) school, but their acting comes from their life and personal experiences.  Martial arts is a type of life, it’s about breaking your own limit. Kung Fu also breeds more confidence, so when an actor has that feeling and experience, it will make them more professional, and they will reach a higher degree of perfection.

In performing a fight scene, actors must learn to look like they’re attacking each other, but create an illusion instead. If any strikes do land it’s supposed to be with little or no force. For actors who also have an interest in martial arts, how can one separate these two worlds and still improve power of their martial skill, at the same time maintain their ability of control and keeping others safe onstage?

Master Bao: A true martial artist is supposed to be able to control EXACTLY how much power they release. For example, he throws a punch; he should be able to stop the punch at any point. Before the punch was thrown, the whole process is real. It’s all about controlling their own body. For a Kung Fu practitioner, this is important. There are different levels of power, of force. Different types of strikes can create different types of effect (injury). In other words, they should train their self-control, to know and control their power perfectly.

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