Friday, 12 December 2008

The Difficulties of Learning Martial Arts in China

Its many peoples dream to come to China and learn from the genuine masters of Kung Fu. It has been my dream for many years to do what Im doing. I had this fantasy that Id arrive in China and go to a park and be confronted by many wise old Mr Myagis or wandering monks, with millenia old secrets and deadly skills, but were bound a code of honour and justice never to use them except to help the weak. I guess this is what many of us kung fu nerds dream of.

However, reality is always waiting around the corner to come crashing down on us and crush our dreams. It is true that I have met people with very high levels of skill, and they have been very friendly and welcoming to me. But I would like to outline a few of the negative aspects I found here, not to badmouth or judge, but just to give the reader a balanced picture.

The first thing I found is that there are many people you will meet who can perform loads of beautiful taolu (forms/routines), they may even be able to show you some applications. In Chinese the word for this kind of kung fu is Hua Zha Zi (excuse my pinyin if its wrong), which means something like "flowery and phoney". However, these kind of people generally know so many different styles, they cannot possibly have an understanding of the principles. They wont teach any fighting, just show you form after form after form. Forms are meant as something like an encyclopedia to a style. They demonstrate all the key principles to a style, through a rehearsed set of movements. In ancient times, these were used as a means to preserve the teaching of a master to be carried down to the next generation. They are not an end in themselve, but a means to aid in understanding an art.

The second frustration is that because foreigners are a relatively new phenonenom in China, for many masters, having a foreign student is a status symbol. There was a couple of occasions with a teacher I had previously, where he would often ignore me and teach others more, but, as soon as someone came to watch, he would immediately come up to me and give me loads of attention.
Talking to other teachers or their students often brings about some jealousy too. That is more of a traditional teacher-student relationship thing, as part of the teachings of Confucius, so it is to be expected, although I personally prefer openness. Kwok Wan Ping, a Wing Chun master from Hong Kong jokingly told me, if you want to study with others fine, I dont mind, when you come back to me your welcome to try it out and if you can beat me, then I will learn from you! That is the kind of attitude I like, open-mindedness and a good sense of humour.

Everybody who has learnt anything about kung fu will want to be your teacher. There has been some times when Ive been practicing in the park alone and some worker has come up to me and started trying to teach me! The masters are very welcoming and friendly to westerners who have travelled across the world to learn their art. The problem with this is that the other students can get jealous, because the master will often give you more attention than other students.

I want to restate that this isnt a stab at China, or anything negative. I just want to put out a balanced view of martial arts in China, so people wont be disappointed when they dont immediately find a wise master.

1 comment:

Wooden Dummy Central said...

Oh yes, a very informed blogger here. I am impressed. I followed the link from your other blog to this one. You have a good sense of awareness and self.

I will keep looking at your blog - so dont stop please. I can see you have stamina too. You have been blogging regularly since 2006 (or so ?!). Like me !

If you want visit my blog:

I could do with some traffic and comments in there.