A large part of my motivation for wanting to learn about Kung Fu is purely egotistical. Becoming proficient in self-defence would be a great way to show off if any one was to physically challenge me and in my mind’s eye I’d enjoy acting out various scenarios. One common one was telling a mouthy meathead to pipe down – he’d then swing for me and end up on the floor with a confused look on his face as if to say “what just happened?”. I’d stand there with a smug look on my face and shout, “Kung Fu muthafucka!”. At the same time, I realise that there’s so much more depth to Kung Fu than such wank. Shaolan Kung Fu is thought to be the oldest martial art in the and is strongly influenced by buddhist and taoist philosophy. It is thought to have developed from the Buddhist monk who came from India and founded Chan Buddhism in China (of which Zen developed from) and set up the first Shaolan monastery. He is reputed to be appalled at the poor conditions of the monks there and developed methods for regaining physical strength. Nam Yang training camp in the mountains near Pai in North Thailand, was founded on principles whose lineage can be traced back 1500 years to the founding of that first monastery. Another thing that drew me here is the moving mediation of Chi Kung (Qigong), a strong component of Nam Yang’s training and philosophy. Similar to Tai Chi, Chi Kung is a practice to cultivate and balance chi (universal life energy) in the body, to promote overall well-being and strength. Chi/Qi (Prahna in Indian culture, or Ki in Japanese) is something at the core of Chinese traditional medicine and martial arts. Western science is only catching up with what thousands of years of Eastern traditional knowledge has shown us about what it actually is. The ’emptiness’ of the atom has been proved…it is the energy behind it that is the driving force of all life. At the camp, we (there are around 15 other students) practice Chi Kung as the sun rises and yin (earth)/yang (sun)energy is at its most balanced (along with the time when the sun is setting). Master Ian from England (twice world champion in Kung Fu) and his mentor, Master Tan from Singapore are always there to patiently instruct, explain and offer advice. At the morning tea break, Master Tan goes deeper into the knowledge and philosophy and answers our questions.
The term Kung Fu refers to any study, learning, or practice that requires patience, energy, and time to complete and during my two weeks here I certainly get a sense of all the hard but rewarding work that is needed to grasp a significant set skills of this art. During mid-morning and afternoon sessions, we exercise, stretch, practice practical applications of movements and have some weapons training. There are an elaborate series of moves in this ‘Tiger/Crane’ (hard/soft) style that would take a life-time to perfect. Master Tan says that when he first began training as a boy, he spent the first year just getting the stance right. Some nights students would have to stand in the ‘horseriding stance’ and have to remain steady and balanced for hours; their master would occasionally kick them on the legs to ensure they maintained a strong stance. Nowadays, most students on this coarse don’t have much time and fast track through the knowledge to get an overview. We are continually instructed to improve our stance though and keep a straight back, which is great for improving posture and important when practicing Kung Fu. There are two basic meals a day in the morning and even and for lunch I drive my rented motorbike to the nearby chilled-out town of Pai. The two weeks go by in a flash but by the end I feel stronger and have a great appreciation of the wealth of knowledge and benefits that this art offers. It’s not about aggression or confrontation (in any confrontation, a physical reaction should obviously be a last resort) but building inner strength and remaining clear headed and calm with a relaxed body and mind. As a beginner, I enjoy the thought of keeping up the practice of both Chi Kung and Kung Fu if I can and look forward to going deeper into it.