The Idler: Martial Arts, Manly Arts

In America, “Kung Fu” means “martial art.” In China, it means the same in common usage, but the formally correct term for “martial art” in China is “Wu Su.” Roughly translated into English, “Kung Fu” (literally, “energy” and “time”) means “hard work towards a goal.”

Another term associated with Chinese martial arts is “eating bitter”—flippantly translated: “no pain, no gain.” In other words, mastery of Kung Fu requires an attitude accepting of pain, much of which is psychological as well as physical. The student must live with the discomfort of pulled or exhausted muscles, as well as with the humility that comes from failing to reach some goal.

The ultimate origins of Kung Fu are not known. Probably the Chinese already had some kind of martial arts tradition before encountering the Buddhist prince and monk, Da Mo, in A.D. 527. He came from India to preach at the famous Shao Lin temple in Hua Non province. He discovered that the monks there were in poor physical shape. As the story goes, he meditated on this problem for nine years in seclusion, then made a reappearance to write two treatises on improving physical health. These treatises formed the basis for the monks’ training in martial arts.

Such stories add a lot of color to martial arts history. Another example concerns the Patchi style. This is perhaps the toughest and most brutal style in China. Our Chinese master, Wei Chin Nee, who is a Ph.D. in math and works full time for one of the largest corporations in the U.S., introduced us to the style by teaching us a set of Patchi techniques. The style features many punches to the testicles and strikes with the elbows.

The most important element to learn in this set is power. Every technique must be delivered with power. This does not mean simply hitting as hard as possible. It means the entire body must perform its movements in exact detail, according to the instruction and tradition. Almost every technique constitutes either a death-blow or a severely crippling blow. I found that just getting through this set exhausted me.

It is said that students who practice this set experience a change in personality. They turn into bullies. Consequently, our master has added movements to soften the overall effect of this style. I must confess that Patchi has not done too much for me. I am still kind of a bookworm, sitting here over a word processor instead of looking around for someone to beat up. But, on the other hand, I have not worked that hard on Patchi, either.

Long Fist style emphasizes punches and kicks which are executed at moderate to long distances from the body. This is the predominant style at our school. Although we began studying this style some nine months ago, I have not yet learned any true Long Fist techniques. This fighting system demands such skill that the masters, over the years, have added lower level techniques and exercises to bridge the gap between the beginner and advanced levels.

Long Fist is an extremely popular style in China; yet, it is not Chinese in origin. This system came to China from Islam. A monastic order of Moslems known as the Dervishes apparently introduced this style into China. After having seen Kung Fu performed, with its many kinds of punches, kicks, and intricate turning movements of the body, I can easily understand where the term “whirling Dervishes” came from.

Considering the close association of religious monks with the martial arts, I cannot help but think that Catholic priests would do well to have such training as a part of their education. This would go a long way towards giving them a realistic exposure to the facts of life and moderate the effects of their feminized schooling.

In the jargon of martial arts, a “form” is a collection of fighting techniques which a student memorizes and practices. A form (also known as a “set”) amounts to shadowboxing but without any improvisation. The student practices a form with full force, as if he were fighting an opponent. He practices them over and over again until each technique achieves perfection. He may end up learning 30 or more such forms during his life.

Getting through a form, which may have 30 or more movements, is physically demanding. Learning a form successfully ensures that a student improves his physical condition and his level of competence.

Kung Fu forms manifest many aesthetic qualities, but to a naïve observer look much like a dance, with high kicks, jumps and all sorts of acrobatics. In some styles, the forms have become more important than their fighting applications. In Red China, this kind of Kung Fu has become a national sport and is now called Wu Su. Our Chinese master, a purist on this issue, dislikes Wu Su, because it undermines the integrity of the art.

I have had a few scrapes in my day. I even thought I was pretty good. I managed to get a “B” in a Phys. Ed. boxing class in college. It turns out that what I knew was meager and rudimentary. And the basic things that I did not know got me beaten up.

Perhaps the most important thing that I learned, after all these years—when the prospects of getting into a real fight are almost nil—is that the fighter has to step into an opponent to hit him. I found out during sparring that that was the last thing I wanted to do. A punch constitutes a commitment to action and a risk. A good chance exists that this punch will fail, and that the fighter will be hit instead. Consequently, during sparring by beginners, there is a lot of dancing around and a lot of fake punches and kicks that only succeed in wasting energy. The beginner must learn to take the risk of being hit and move in close enough to apply a technique. Often, a fighter must accept a hit before he can move in and deliver a better one.

The most popular martial art in America came from Japan. Karate originated on the island of Okinawa and was influenced heavily by Southern Shao Lin Kung Fu. Southern Shao Lin emphasizes hand techniques. Northern Shao Lin styles, which are associated with the temple in Hua Non, feature many kicks and include Long Fist.

Karate itself has diversified into numerous styles. But from what I have seen at tournaments and picked up from various sources, it is a simpler style than Kung Fu. It offers the student fewer techniques to learn. This does not necessarily make it an inferior art. The advantage of Karate is that the student can learn it more quickly, and the few things he does learn, he learns thoroughly.

In tournaments, where fighters wear gloves, foot pads and head gear, Kung Fu students do well. The paucity of techniques shows, and the Karate guys have to make up for it in spirit and athletic ability. In the few tournament fights I had, I was beaten by simple kicks, energetically delivered.

Martial arts tournaments also feature competitions in forms. Here Kung Fu stands out more clearly. Kung Fu forms are better looking than Karate forms. They are more interesting and aesthetically pleasing. I have done well in forms competitions, especially considering that my rivals were typically in their twenties. I have won third- and first-place trophies for my Kung Fu forms.

The study of Kung Fu began for me three years ago. At 46, I am the oldest person in the class, the instructors included. The lesson to be drawn from this is that age does not matter. Well, okay, it does matter some, because I do not have the energy that I enjoyed in my twenties, though I always hope that I can reach a level of physical condition that will bring that old spark back.

In the meantime, Kung Fu allows me to live in denial. After all, I do keep up with the young guys in the class, who range in age from 17 to 40. I have outlasted many of them, since the turnover rate for this club is high. For that matter, I believe that my physical condition surpasses that of my two sons (17 and 20 years), who smoke and keep lousy hours, and whom I can beat with little effort when we spar.

My big boys (I also have a little one, two years old, and a one-and-a-half-year-old granddaughter) are bigger than I. They do have more energy. But at this point, such things mean little. After all, I am their father, and they are inhibited from hitting me—which is as it should be. I try not to take too much advantage of my double threat, fatherhood and martial arts, but since I have taken up Kung Fu, I have noticed a little more deference and fewer arguments from them.

I enjoy demonstrating to my sons some of the Kung Fu techniques that I have learned. My life as a father has largely been spent teaching something or other to my seven kids. But fighting is unique. It brings the boys into the world of masculinity.

Males fight. Whether they are cocks or wolves or bucks or chimpanzees, they develop under the influence of testosterone, the famous male sex hormone. This hormone accelerates the growth of muscles, organizes the brain, and stamps the animal’s appearance with a male identity. Among simians, such an identity often features a more robust physique and longer canine teeth in males than in females. Among humans, men are bigger, stronger, and faster than women.

Perhaps the most radical expression of this sexual dimorphism resides in the hair pattern. Men grow beards, while women display smooth, childlike faces. Men go bald in a typically male fashion, while women retain a full head of hair.

This recitation of well-known biological facts adds up to the following conclusion: Human males are built to fight. Their neurophysiology has prepared them for aggression, competition, and for the explosive exertion of physical strength. This is evident in the behavior of the young as well as the mature animals. Wolf cubs play-fight, and so do monkeys, chimpanzees, and little boys. This activity is, apparently, so important that God has made it intrinsically rewarding. Fighting, in other words, is not simply an instance of instrumental aggression but an end in itself.

Such considerations are ignored or suppressed or denied in modern America, where men shave off their beards and cover their heads with phony hair. In the Japanese film “The Seven Samurai,” the male villagers as well as the Samurai shaved their heads in imitation of the typical male balding pattern—what a statement about modern culture.

Modern men have succumbed to a feminized and feminizing culture. In this social order, the State forces little boys into a school system run by strange women, not aunts or grandmothers. There, feminine values—which easily metamorphose into feminist values—prevail.

Boys who absorb these values succeed, the others fail. Although boys have higher activity levels than do girls, those who are able to sit for long periods of time, as girls can, do well; normal boys do poorly. The rebellious, the aggressive, the exuberant must suffer at the hands of women who have little or no appreciation for the little boys’ inner dynamic.

Sociologist Patricia Sexton’s research has shown that boys who resemble girls on various psychological measures receive the highest grades in school. Those boys who cannot conform to the female environment earn low grades. Many drop out of such a hostile environment or otherwise enter the adult world themselves hostile to true learning, to women, and God knows to what else.

In such a culture, the father must step in and protect his son’s unfolding masculinity. Kung Fu is attuned to the psychobiological demands of a developing man. It acts as an antidote to the smothering, paralyzing, anti-male ideology ruling modern institutions. And for those who have reached maturity, Kung Fu may serve as a defeminizing therapy.


  • George Kocan

    At the time this article was published, George Kocan was a writer living in Warrenville, Illinois.

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