Got Kung Fu?

“I seek not to know the answers, but to understand the questions.”
(Caine, “Kung Fu” Pilot episode)

The word "kung fu" in Chinese calligraphy. Image via Oriental Outpost.

We may have assumed that kung fu is just about Chinese martial arts, but it’s not. The term itself is compound of two words — kung (功) which means “achievement” or “work”, and fu (夫) which means “man”. So translated literally, the term we have taken to equate with Bruce Lee or Jet Li’s style of cinematic of ass kicking actually means “acheivement of man”, and is so much bigger than mere martial arts. Kung fu can refer to any skill, study, or craft that is achieved or perfected with copious amounts of passion, time, and (gasp!) hard work. To have kung fu entails commitment to strengthening body and mind, and learning and perfecting one’s chosen discipline.

Therefore, one can have kung fu in many things other than martial arts — such as in cooking, calligraphy, sports, and even in the preparation of tea, or just about anything that one spends energy and time on in order to master.

The accoutrements of gong fu cha -- the Chinese tea ceremony. Image via Ling Training.

Calligraphy master Bao Desheng performing his craft with a humongous brush and a bucket of water on a concrete pavement. Image via Metro.

These are images of an actual soccer team comprised of Shaolin monks. Images via Incredible World.

Contrary to the myth perpetuated by the Matrix films — you can’t just download kung fu. This, I think, is valuable insight, especially in this age of instant gratification, lightning fast internet connections, TV dinners, and crash courses in just about anything. My takeaway from all this, what I personally want to apply in my life is that perfection requires time, effort, and needless to say, commitment. Now I certainly ve got a lot of resolutions to make.

I used to find it absurd (in a good way) when Hong Kong filmmaker Stephen Chow combined kung fu with cooking or soccer in his films. They make more sense to me now, with this explanation, but no less funny and enjoyable. Here are a couple of scenes from Kung Fu Soccer (a.k.a Shaolin Soccer).

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