IS KUNGFU TOO FLOWERY FOR COMBAT?
I understand that Kungfu, a multifaceted system, is a system of combat, and hence dominant and superior combat power is its highest priority.Ardeshir, USA
It is a matter of perspective. I would view kungfu in this way. Kungfu as a mutifacted martial art, has three levels of attainment. The lowest level is combat efficiency. This is also the most fundamental level, without which (i.e. without combat efficiency) it ceases to be kungfu and degenerates into a demonstrative form.
The intermediate level is internal force training. With this level of attainment, the kungfu exponent has radiant health and vitality for his daily work and play. Although I consider this level higher than that of combat efficiency, it is not fundamental (i.e. essential). Hence, some styles of kungfu may be only physical and external, without any internal force training; they may not contribute to health and vitality but if they can be combat efficient, they are kungfu.
The highest level is spiritual cultivation. With this attainment, the exponent is joyful and peaceful with himself and with the whole cosmos. At the apex, which happens to only rare masters, the exponent attains the highest spiritual fulfilment, called variously as return to God, unity with the Great Void, or enlightenment.
These three levels of attainment in kungfu are not necessarily progressive. In other words, it is not necessary for an exponent to be proficient at one level before progressing to the next. All the three levels are integrated and trained simultaneously.
So, even though they clearly don't and aren't designed to take away from their own effectiveness, why are kungfu techniques artistic in form or appearance? Why is there a preference for artistry in kungfu techniques?
I reckon that by asking why kungfu techniques are artistic you are asking why they are beautiful to watch. There are three factors, amongst others, contributing to their beauty, namely power, balance and elegance. Many people consider the following patterns beautiful — “Precious Duck Swims through Lotus”, “Naughty Monkey Kicks at Tree” and “False Leg Hand Sweep”.
The first pattern, “Precious Duck Swims Through Lotus”, which is also known as “Eight-Tenth Horse-Riding Arrow Punch” is beautiful because of the power of the punch. The second pattern, “Naughty Monkey Kicks at Tree”, is beautiful because of good balance. The third pattern, “False Leg Hand Sweep” is beautiful because of its elegance.
The beauty of their form or appearance does not take away from their combat effectiveness. In fact it is the reverse. When performing these patterns the exponent is powerful, has good balance and is elegant, not because he wants to make them look beautiful but because these qualities make him a better combatant.
Hence, in kungfu there is no conscious preference for artistry, in the sense of being beautiful to watch. The fact that kungfu performance is beautiful to watch is not done on purpose; it is an incidental bonus.
Does it serve a function or did Kungfu creators just like it that way?
The beauty in kungfu serves its combat function. These beautiful patterns were not consciously created, but were evolved through centuries of actual fighting. In other words, the kungfu patterns are the ways they are now, not because someone thought out their forms, but because when kungfu exponents fought, they found that by reacting in certain ways in certain combat situations, they could secure certain combative advantages, and through time these ways of actual fighting crystallized into the present kungfu forms and movements.
By the way, I like kungfu and unlike the people who wish to appear as though they are objectively criticizing kungfu by questioning its “flowery”, “fancy”, or “artsy” aspects but in reality are attacking it in an effort to insult and defame, I am just curious to know what the preference for artistry in Kungfu is about?
If you like kungfu because it is beautiful to watch, then you have missed its essence. Real kungfu exponents never intend their art to please spectators. If you suggest that they do so, you are actually insulting and defaming them — you suggest that their art is not real kungfu, but “flowery fists and embroidery kicks”.
If you are looking for something beautiful to watch, you should see modern wushu. It is not only artistic, it is magnificent.
Contrary to what you thought, many among those who criticize kungfu for being flowery, fancy or artsy, do so not because they want to insult or defame it, but because being unable to apply kungfu for combat they have become frustrated, and they attempt to simplify it into something like karate or taekwondo for combat. Bruce Lee was an outstanding example. Others include many founders of various kungfu-dos.
The big irony is that in their attempt to make kungfu more combat efficient, they have succeeded in making it shamefully inferior, sometimes to an extent that it has lost its kungfu characteristics. Kungfu in its traditional form is exceedingly combat effective. Irrespective of whether we debate its combat effectiveness from the viewpoint of techniques, tactics, strategies, force, speed, energy management and mind control, kungfu is far, far superior to any other martial art known today.
This article was taken from Questions and Answers 7-10 of June 2000 Part 3 of the Selection of Questions and Answers.
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