When I was a young man of around 16 years of age, my Uncle (who introduced me to Martial Arts) gave me something that I have cherished ever since. He gave me a series of slightly yellowed pages, all hand written, with assorted philosophical writings… At the time, I remember wondering what they meant and how they related to “Kung Fu”, and why my Uncle was giving them to me.
I had been in Karate for quite a few years by the time he had given these pages to me, so I’d already been exposed to a myriad of Japanese ideas about the Self, combat, and the way of the warrior, so when he gave e these pages I had already formulated my opinion on them… and, considering that I was a teenager, of course I was “right” and no other opinion would sway my own.
After reading these pages in their entirety, my thoughts did change, as did my opinions. My mind opened up, even just a little bit at a time, as I explored the sayings within my own worldview. Before the age of the computer, I’d transcribed the original papers that my Uncle gave me at least 8 times, always keeping the originals safe in a folder and reading the transcription whenever I felt the need, and in so doing I found great help at times through the difficult and trying times in my life.
The wisdom of the sages is truly timeless, as I – a young man in ‘modern times’ was still able to find wisdom and comfort, assistance and advice, and solace in the words of men who had predeceased me y centuries… if not millennia. I do provision this statement with a notion of cultural and historical relativism – The wisdom of the ages is typically predicated by the reader’s insights into the world around them. As most religious and ‘self-help’ texts, the understanding of the reader is the discerning factor as to whether or not these statements hold any water in modern times.
As I read and re-read, transcribed and re-transcribed these words over the years (now decades) and furthered both my Martial Arts and academic studies, I have come to certain insights in these words. The foremost is that the pages were a list of exercises in Kung Fu in its most literal form – that of being good at something… in this case, good Kung Fu in being a person, and potentially developing in to a good person who helps others as much as, if not more than, yourself.
I’m not going to say that my insights are gospel, but it is my hope that my insights can help others to formulate theirs, and hopefully take the wisdom of the ages and bring it into the modern age. All times have been modern, and every subsequent ‘modernity’ should strive to be the best of all of the past, and make the future a better place.
The technology and social styles have changed, but our drives and desires haven’t differed by much. Our views on how to treat others has a little though, but sometimes I wonder which generation or culture could be considered “better”, if not even just in piecemeal aspect over the whole concepts of interpersonal relationships.
That being said, these pages received from my Uncle and Martial Arts mentor spurred me on a quest of self-discovery that has spanned nearly 20 years. I am by no means an expert, nor am I a sage, but in the pages that follow will be my experiences and revelations, coupled with some academic comparisons and investigation that (I hope), will do both justice to the texts, and the nature of the teachings while helping the reader see the world in a brighter light.
What follows is a list of sayings in no obvious order, but instead are presented in the numerical order on the pages I received as a teen. These have no distinct attributes that I can determine as of this writing (which only serves to allude to a sort of Taoist thought in their composition in a way), all written by different figures in Chinese history and in no apparent order. I will endeavor to give the author of the quote, a little of their background as well as a context for the quote, followed by how it can be viewed in our western world and how I’ve come to understand it.
I will review each entry of the Kung Fu exercise book every week, and hope that they will inspire further discussion. For the most part, this will be an experiential work that I’ve hope to share with you, to help you in your own training… or even your every day lives. I hope to open your mind to another way of thinking, even if you’re already exposed to some of the content. I’m hoping for a dialogue or the opening of conversation between East and West just a little further, the broadening of our horizons, and keeping the soil of our minds freshly tilled and capable of supporting all sorts of thought crops rather than allowing our minds to stagnate and kill off different crops before they’ve had a chance.
We truly do reap what we sow.
The Kung Fu Exercise Book and Discussion