ReturnBy Paul Zabwodski -1996


Is the Spirit of Martial Arts Dead and Forgotten?

or IS THE WAY to WISDOM a Beach Ball On a Mountain Stream???

"Three days away from study make for plain conversation"

"The wisdom that does not increase by the day diminishes the day"
Chinese Proverbs

In the world of martial communities each art is said to have its own position and significance and there is much debate. Most agree that TRUE Kung Fu (skills and enlightenment) are more than difficult to attain. Perhaps some people can be funneled into believing the path to mastery can easily be attained by some trick and some constancy of application but please lets go broader than that position.(However a short list of classic spiritual tricks to accomplish True Kung Fu easily is provided in the footnotes!!.)

Back to previous page

Technical knowledge or extensive drill training is unlikely to familiarise us with the “oriental spirit” of kung fu. Neither will a choosing of some historically relevant cultural perspective necessarily guarantee any depth of insight into the nitty gritty of spiritual enquiry but it can’t hurt either. You could try the big search through the extensive archives of martial magazine history or buy a instant guide to the martial arts book cartoon style, however such introductions are often shallow and repetitive in content for each art. No, I would suggest that for a clear exposition of martial spirit one has to struggle to refer to the cultural perspectives within martial biographies and the hotch potch of “historic” texts. Again one must be careful as although mythology is fascinating its relevance is questionable.

So what are you likely to find if you do this research? Within the current myths associated with the “internal martial arts” and the “external martial arts” you find a range of often very strange and esoteric motivations being extolled. If you are thinking of becoming a newbie member of a martial school bear this in mind. Particularly be wary of combat initiation ceremonies and militaristic training schedules. Its of no value to raise your bravery to machismo levels only to find that the full contact results in a loss of valuable sense functions such as hearing or vision. Unfortuately some schools have a modern fetish for power skills, street fighting confidence tricks and esoteric technical jargon. Martial magazines do indeed try to give the aspirant in depth explanations of the martial style and technical content but few are successful at even scratching the surface -such descriptions are generally designed to sell the reader carrot-like satisfactions... Know of the power, get the power feel, be successful. I am not saying the new jargon is not without benefit but it is limited, frequently misleading and rarely at the essence of martial practise. Equally one has to be conversant with the way of New Age “traditional” cosmological magazines that portray martial arts as a philosophic holiday picture book of naturalism and dualistic understanding. Do not buy into the magazine themes to quickly. Its easy to believe in the modern vision of natural soft Chinese exercise whereby with regular physical and mental exercise we developing some esoteric will and deeper purpose together with a bit of realistic street cred. (Yes, I know we all have oodles of that anyway, but pray let me continue.) Its nice to imagine oneself as a colourful warrior or warrior-ess character dedicating oneself to specialised training as a path to sage like capabilities and powers. I find that by sitting on specially divined Kellogg’s Cornflakes packet, small size, AND YET I I too have achieved freak powers.


Walking up walls is a cinch by developing the light two step power, and I would never miss out on the single finger power strike cos it makes me feel safe on the streets. But to be humourous (yes I am trying) for real pop crap I would go for the (are they popular ?) martial rag video techniques which quickly allow you mesmerise your opponent with the strength of a white snake, but only with the power of invisibility set on Chi power number five can you pass on an unnoticed strike to the vital points of your next door neighbour. And just in passing (cos I want to keep in harmony with popular name dropping ) wasn’t Bruce the best!!? Amusingly for the Zennist student to be "naturally" the “best” is to be certain in truth of ones own development as metaphysical and religious non entity!

Buddha be praised! All change is constantly lost??!

Or, quiet or did someone forget to be Zen?

No, its just that the mirrors dirty again!

Equally strange is how the quality martial art publications have a habit of re-depicting the "historic founders" of various schools with prodigious abilities and significant heroic conflicts under their belts. Quick revelation history makes for good reading, but why should we care whether the “early” symbolism of the "internal" school of boxing is correctly represented by the hero Zhang Sanfeng which in some context or other is relevant to the major "external” schools.It is an odd historic debate that has worn thin. I should not care whether the "internal" schools are correctly represented by Zhang Sanfeng or whether the martial practise of the internal schools developed from the early Taoism of China. Time has told such a confusing picture! Simliarly, that the Shaolin external arts are based on Bodhidharma’s transmission of animal health exercises for ailing Shaolin monks sat too long in Buddhist meditation seems highly unlikely. The convenience of simple myths is simply a bit of writers a-priorism. Yes, I enjoy these re-runs of the martial history just like I enjoy the Water Margin Stories tales of old spiritual heroes who are good at doing bad acts, perfect for entertainment.
So how much study is required of the written word to find the True Spirit of martial arts,. In truth many boxing masters were illiterate consequently most teaching information was reduced to rhyme or memorised, -later to be passed on by word of mouth with all the semantic confusion that can bring. I am afraid that even the most colourful characters of philosophy and art are somewhat jaded by the onslaught of modern street savvy which now appears to be so accessible. If your a newbie to the martial world be advised that most martial magazines treat everyday violence with a sensualistic and pragmatic glee. There are compulsory repetitious insights into fighting attitudes. Another interview with the master - so seriously powerful. But hey, what is all this glam gladiator stuff doing in "real" martial arts? You sure you got to check yourself out against your peers by fighting ? How much selfless art is there in that? I hesitate (I am kidding) to put my neck on the line, but surely the proof of any traditional genuine martial approach to the development of kung fu is within the struggle to develop a clear martial spirit. The ability to meet the martial spirit is the moral difficulty of being both personally generous and eclecticly open, especially with tolerance. But acceptance of the diverse values of each school is valuable only if appropriate. Otherwise don’t buy into it. OK, go for the costumes and the martial purism, but please reject this glam mystery veneration hype stuff most typically seen in the tabloid martial arts publications. Equally, the spirit of martial arts is still in the big search mode for popular heroes righteously battling in competition is a serious over investment in the development martial combat skills. Neither is it much to do with martial spirit but martial sport combat culture. At the heart sport combat is duplicitous and misleading. So much chat has passed of late about technical conundrums and declarative technical twaddle that the general impression to the lay person is that martial arts have rapidly developed into either high insurance bracket of contact sports or they're simply a harmonious way to holiday retreat into a new esoteric lifestyle. Yes I am arguing that in the main newbie-onecanobie is unlikely to trip over the “real” underlying spirit of martial arts easily in the current media forms.
That is a problem.So OK you might say is the Spirit of martial arts really relevant and where would I find it. Sorry but I am going to recommend a few “isms” and self reduction as an outcome. Because we are social beings I would like to kick off with The Confucian perspective which in its various guises encourages moral development through family agreement on civic rights. A child is a child and an adult has a responsibility to generate the correct values. Members of the martial or any community have the ability to influence choice. The significant Confucian “power” is to be in relationships that bring social harmony, by considered middle roading it. The Confucian vision of the human spirit relies on the self being at peace and living through tolerance.
The good aspirant the “superior man / woman” must watch for the nature of self deception and use guilt as a guide. The book of "Genuine Living" (Chung Yung) calls us to reject the attitude of mind that thinks it can get away with “anything” (apply this to trying
to force physical technique and kerplunk!) as foolishness.

circle walking


The aspiring individual guards against his own intentions, even when alone, Confucian maxims advises us to love what is good and discard what is evil - this is a good way to regain balance. Both Confucian and Buddhist methods view self development as conditional on maintaining the right overall disposition which can lead towards spiritual attitude. Buddhist thought suggests that the content of life is not filled with things simply to be talked about, but life is to be practised with free-hearted commitment. It is not important whether one commits and fails! There is no sin here. Traditional philosophical values are invaluable reminders to kick the habits generated by the spiritually wearing forces of a both a materialistic and trying world culture forms. Trekky like we can but try to boldly go where only our Human spirits can go! Which is a long way towards maintaining in Buddhist terms a well nurtured conviction in "the good in life". The spiritual will to do good for life can be just simple suchness. (sorry about the Zen)Like a Leaf in the Fall. Buddhist right thinking stresses that spirituality will grow significantly as one seeks to avoid the trap of self importance, the searching for happiness; suffering; or wisdom to nonsensical levels. Be certain that the simple enduring of one’s whims in anger, fear, sorrow, grief, or love is unlikely to "preserve" a balanced view. The spirit is nurtured by breathing slowly when the mind is at ease. The spirit of the martial arts is the encouragement given to the mind to see the essential Zen of conscious appreciation from within a tranquil mind. Almost as a reason for being here! Spiritually, Zen is crazy starting point. However, as we are all subject to emotional self attacks from within a Zennist sense of being falls neatly into development of a self art of True Kung Fu.


The Promised Footnotes

Compromise is anti -Taoist. Harmony is certainty. Be certain for your self that when the mind is inattentive we look without seeing, listen without hearing and eat without tasting, therefore we lose the Tao (Way - middle path), that which is best, Taoistically speaking.

The truth is too often merely a belief that supports a ragbag of assumed meanings, which are of value only in their immediate convience for some party or other. Monsters are where we find them. We turn suffering into many forms of persuasion and blackmail. We fear existence because we are going against a situation that we should accept and in this way fail to recognise the power of our self interest. It is immense in capability to distort what is and we grasp at a relative hell to tell us what to do and be. We pay the price of failing to confront ourselves. The monsters of acceptance, recognition and appreciation gain points day by day. The self comes to believe it not only "exists" but that it is an object of "possession". It is in this way that violence is done to the development of human nature and virtue. (JEN ,I)

The ordinary mind is the slayer of the real and we are its victims. Thinking is not a means to gain knowledge.

When followers of Zen fail to go beyond the world of their senses and thoughts, all their doings and movements are of no significance, but when the senses and thoughts are annihilated, all the passages becomes possible the original mind is to be recognized along with the working of the senses and thoughts - only it does not belong to them, nor yet is it independant of them.

Do not build up your views upon your senses and thoughts; but at the same time do not seek the Mind away from your senses and thoughts. When you are enjoy your perfect unobstructed freedom, then you have your found seat of enlightenment. HUANG - PO.