by Jon Funk
The expression "the more things change the more they remain the same" is especially evident in today's media rich society. With the advent of the television, martial arts, and the Internet we have now have the advantage of observing the inevitable cross-pollination of fighting skills.
We see through various media the merits of various fighting strategies and techniques. What is happening in the ever-evolving martial arts scene is nothing new, it's just that we are now able to observe it first hand.
For example, a practitioner of kung fu in China during the nineteenth century would have had more than one teacher during his martial arts career. This, quite naturally, created a diversification of kung fu approaches. Perhaps a teacher might die leaving the student looking for another teacher to follow. A teacher might also move away and thus his students would take up with another instructor. It is also possible that a student moved to another village and had an opportunity to learn from another kung fu stylist.
Whatever the reasons, an individual may have had more than one teacher and combines what he learned into a new style. This happened because the teacher wanted to have the most effective kung fu approach possible and because his life may have depended on it.
Today we find kung fu teachers who have learned a traditional style that may be several generations old and they feel a loyalty to the style's teaching. There is nothing wrong with these ideals except where the do not offer self-defense which is current with the times.
Many traditional kung fu styles began with tactics that suited the culture of the day. Prior to the advent of gunpowder, weapon training was essential. Use of skills that could overcome a weapon with a bare hand was taught as a part of many kung fu syllabuses.
In today's setting it not too likely that you might face an attacker with a broadsword or spear. Unlike the battlefields of yesteryear we now have muggers to deal with. I suggest that kung fu training today should incorporate skills that deal with the modern bandits and the weapons they may employ.
There are, for example, a number of wrist locks in traditional kung fu that revolve around holding the wrist so the defender could not draw his sword. Today it is unlikely that an attacker will grab your wrist and say "I've got your wrist now give me your wallet!"
Prior to joining my school, one of my students experienced a mugging that saw the attacker hold a knife to his throat and demanded money. This happened while he was waiting for a transit train at 8:15 a.m. My student decided to take up kung fu so as not to feel so helpless should he be mugged again. I don't suggest that he try to protect his wallet; however, if the should attack become lethal then he wants to have the confidence to defend himself.
Just how do we traditional kung fu practitioners stay current with the demands of today's dangerous times? The answer can be as close as our television set. We now have access to more information on the martial arts then at any time in history. Prior to the proliferation of the videotape we relied on books, magazines, and seminars to give us some outside influence. This is still a good source of information, however, we can now see much more detail on video.
Does a modern cross-pollination that will come from the influence of the media mean the end of traditional kung fu? I don't believe so. In fact, this will only serve to strengthen kung fu as practitioners can observe a more relevant aspect to their training. The principles, concepts, and skills that kung fu developed on China's battlefields will translate nicely to today's self defense requirements. A mugger with a knife or club can be defended against with kung fu's methods, however, they need to be translated to suit current situations.
Just as in the past Chinese martial artists cross-pollinated their arts to suit the conditions they faced, today's kung fu stylists can as well. A little research will help the traditional kung fu stylist understand what is needed. It is the same process the kung fu masters of China's past used to cross-pollination their kung fu arts; it?s just the technology that is different.
Written by Jon Funk for KUNGFUMAGAZINE.COM