Monday, February 27, 2006

Reflections On Gung Fu

By Bruce Lee

(An article written by Bruce Lee that was never published, written on December 21, 1964,to illustrate the different techniques used by the different schools of gung fu.)

Gung fu is so extraordinary because it is nothing at all special. It is simply the direct expression of one's feeling with the minimum of lines and energy. Every movement is being so of itself without the artificiality with which we tend to complicate them. The closer to the true Way of gung fu, the less wastage of expression there is. Gung fu is to be looked at without fancy suits and matching ties, and it remains a secret while we anxiously look for sophistication and deadly techniques. If there are really any secrets at all, they must have been missed by the "seeing" and "striving" of its practitioners (after all, how many ways are there to come in on an opponent without deviating too much from the natural course?). Gung fu values the wonder of the ordinary, and the idea is not daily increase but daily decrease.

Being wise in gung fu does not mean adding more but being able to remove sophistication and ornamentation and be simply simple, like a sculptor building a statue not by adding, but by hacking away the unessential so that the truth will be revealed unobstructed. Gung fu is satisfied with one's bare hands without the fancy decoration of colourful gloves, which tend to hinder the natural function of the hands. The height of cultivation always runs to simplicity while halfway cultivation runs to ornamentation.

There are three stages in the cultivation of gung fu: namely, the primitive stage, the stage of art, and the stage of artlessness.

The primitive stage is the stage of original ignorance in which a person knows nothing of the art of combat. In a fight he simply blocks and strikes instinctively without concern as for what is right and wrong. Of course, he might not be so-called scientific, but he is, nevertheless, being himself.

The second stage, the stage of art, begins when a person starts his training. He is taught the different ways of blocking and striking, the various ways of kicking, of standing, of moving, of breathing, of thinking. Unquestionably he is gaining a scientific knowledge of combat, but unfortunately his original self and sense of freedom are lost, and his action no longer flows by itself. His mind tends to freeze at different movements for calculation and analysis. Even worse, he might be "intellectually bound" and maintaining himself outside the actual reality.

The third stage, the stage of artlessness, occurs when, after years of serious and hard practice, he realises that, after all, gung fu is nothing special and instead of trying to impose his mind on the art, he adjusts himself to the opponent like water pressing on an earthen wall, it flows through the slightest crack. There is nothing to "try" to do but be purposeless and formless like water. Nothingness prevails; he no longer is confined.

These three stages also apply to the various methods being practiced in Chinese gung fu. Some methods are rather primitive with basic jerky blocking and striking. On the whole, they lack the flow and change of combinations. Some "sophisticated" methods, on the other hand, tend to run to ornamentation and get carried away by grace and showmanship. Whether from the so-called "firm" or "gentle" school, they often involve big, fancy movements with a lot of complicated steps toward one single goal (it is like an artist who, not satisfied with drawing a simple snake, proceeds to put four beautiful and shapely feet on the snake).

When grasped by the collar, for example, these practitioners would "first do this, then this, then finally that", but of course the direct way would be to let the opponent have the pleasure of grasping the collar and simply punch him straight on the nose! To some martial artists of distinguishing taste, this would be a little bit unsophisticated; too ordinary and unartful. However, it is the ordinary that we use and encounter in everyday life.

Art is the expression of the self; the more complicated and restrictive a method is, the less opportunity there is for expression of one’s original sense of freedom. The techniques, although they play an important role in the earlier stage, should not be too complex, restrictive, or mechanical. If we cling to them we will become bound by their limitations.

Remember that man created method, and method did not create man, and do not strain yourself in twisting into someone’s preconceived pattern, which unquestionably would be appropriate for him, but not necessarily for you. You yourself are "expressing" the technique and not "doing" the technique; in fact, there is no doer but the action itself. When someone attacks you, it is not which technique that you use, but the moment you’re aware of his attack you simply move in like sound, an echo without any deliberation. It is as though when I call, you answer me, or when I throw something, you catch it. That’s all.

After all these years of practice in the different schools I have found out this: that techniques are merely simple guide lines to tell the practitioner that he has done enough! Of course, different people have different preferences and therefore I will include different techniques of both the Northern and the Southern schools of gung fu. Observe closely the differences as well as the similarities of utilisation.


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