Have you ever watched Bruce Lee or Jackie Chan movies and just been in awe of their amazing moves? Do these films give you hope that good is more powerful than evil? Have you felt inspired by the moves and wished you could do them yourself? As it turns out, you can!
The moves depicted in these films are part of Chinese martial arts that fall under the umbrella term of “kung fu” or “wushu.” While kung fu was born out of a need for self-defense, hunting, and military training and while it is today typically associated with fighting or self-defense, it is actually so much more than that. Kung fu masters view it as a lifestyle—a discipline of the body, mind, and spirit.
Anyone with strong willpower can train in the art of kung fu. Kung fu practitioners are proof of how far we can push the human body and just how much it is capable of. This is the case even if you’re not taller than 6 feet, super muscular, or have a typical alpha body type. Bruce Lee was a perfect example of this. At only 5’7″, you could see him fighting people who were naturally much bigger and stronger than he was, yet he would always win. This is all possible through the power of kung fu. Even if you are not born with certain traits, you can train yourself to attain them.
You don’t need to be all the way in China to learn kung fu. Sifu (Master) David Chang is the head instructor at Wushu Central Martial Arts Academy in San Jose, CA. People of all ages ranging from 2 to 70+ take classes at Wushu Central. Sifu Chang has been practicing kung fu for 24 years and has been teaching it for 20. While Sifu Chang has practiced a variety of martial arts, including Taekwondo, Krav Maga, Hapkido, Judo, and Brazilian jiu-jitsu, kung fu is his favorite because of its diversity and because of how challenging it is, both physically and mentally. He says,
“I think it is a style that pushes me further than anything else I’ve ever done.”
He adds that, “I also love that it’s a beautiful style. It’s a very aesthetic style.”
Sifu Chang says that while the depiction of kung fu in the movies is obviously stylized and exaggerated, the actors are usually seasoned kung fu practitioners whose real-life moves are still extremely impressive.
For example, in the movies, you’ll see characters jumping on roofs, which is not humanly possible and beyond the law of physics. However, kung fu students can still “train to jump very, very high. And it’s really impressive. Anybody who watches a high-level martial arts tournament or even gymnastics, those people can jump extremely high. But it still follows the laws of physics.” All of this said, the moves that you see in the kung fu movies are still actual kung fu moves, which is a testament to the human body’s capabilities. As Sifu Chang puts it, “When you’re watching the movies, you understand that the physical movements they’re doing are real, but the results of those techniques might not be real.”
Throughout all of Sifu Chang’s years of practicing and teaching kung fu, he has witnessed a myriad of physical and mental benefits from the practice, both in himself and in his students. Fitness and weight loss are some of the biggest and most popular benefits, the results of which can be seen very quickly. Sifu Chang recounted the story of one of his students who lost 70 pounds after participating in his classes. Core and leg strength are also huge benefits. As kung fu emphasize flexibility, students also become more physically flexible. Every class starts off with intense stretches and there are instructors who go around and help the students get deeper into the stretches. Sifu Chang says of the higher-level students that “they come in and they drop right into splits, because they’ve been working and training to be able to do that.”
Kung fu is so much more than just a physical practice. In addition to the physical benefits, there are also mental benefits. Kung fu is a style that teaches focus, so focus and concentration are very common outcomes of regular practice. The practice also teaches discipline, not just within the art, but in all aspects of life. In fact, research shows that employers are more likely to hire candidates who have listed athletic activities on their resumes because it is indicative of discipline. Other psychological benefits include self-control, and self-confidence.
One of Sifu Chang’s students was incredibly shy when she first started taking classes and cried uncontrollably during the first few lessons. Two years later, Sifu Chang remembers her going up to the front desk and confidently having an adult-like conversation with one of the staff members. This was a heart-touching moment for Sifu Chang as he was witnessing how his classes transformed this young student and gave her more confidence. That said, all classes from the very beginning emphasize that martial arts is to be used for good. In other words, students understand that the moves you learn in kung fu class are only to be used in kung fu class unless you find yourself in a situation where using your martial arts techniques is the only way to prevent yourself or someone else from getting hurt.
In addition to the physical and mental benefits that kung fu offers, Sifu Chang appreciates the rich philosophy behind the practice. He explains that
“there is a very deep-rooted philosophy and what we call martial arts ethics training in this style. So you’re not just learning how to punch and kick, you’re learning how to become a better person.”
To students who are already engaged in kung fu or any sorts of martial arts practice, Sifu Chang’s words of wisdom are “to listen to your body. If your body starts to complain, you need to take a step back and ease back a little bit.”
It is important to push yourself, but it is also important not to overdo it. Overdoing your practice can turn a minor injury into something much more debilitating. To those who have not yet started practicing but are considering it, Sifu Chang advises to “find a school that has a good reputation and that matches what you’re looking for.” He recommends that you visit the school and try out a couple of classes, meet the teachers, and “make sure the environment and the staff and the philosophy is what you’re looking for.”
If you want to learn more about kung fu or other types of martial arts, not only can you check out Wushu Central Martial Arts Academy, you can also check out Konversai. Konversai is a knowledge-sharing marketplace where you can engage in one-on-one video sessions/conversations with anyone, anywhere, about anything. Built into the platform is a system for writing reviews and making recommendations. You are encouraged to have sessions/conversations with multiple providers until you find one who is the best fit for you. Users are encouraged to be both providers and seekers about as many topics as they wish, and providers are encouraged to charge money for their time. If you don’t need the money, you can donate it to a charity of your choice. Konversai believes that everybody has valuable knowledge, experiences, and skills that someone somewhere else in the world would be willing to pay to learn. Konversai is a win-win platform benefiting both parties to the session/conversation in multiple ways. Sign up and get started today!
Sugar, Rachel. (2015). Why athletes make good employees. Business Insider.