Kung Fu in Wuxia Litrature

* Türkçesi için

You must be faimiler to “Kung Fu” word realted with martial art, if you watch far-east martial art (Chinese, Hong Kong, Taiwan …etc) movies, or at least you must have heard somewhere else. As if, Kung fu is showed a kind of martial art style, like karate or judo…etc. Such as when someone fights very well in these type of movies, they said his/her kung fu is very good, which means he/she really good at martial arts. But we never hear like; his/her karate or tekwando…etc is good, at least I’ve never heard… This is because, contrary to common belief, “Kung Fu” is not a martial art style as most people suppose. In fact, it is a term that expresses something else. Therefore, in this post, I want to clearify “Kung Fu” term and then shortly touch on the essence of martial arts. As it is written in related wiki article, the real meaning of Kung Fu is;

In Chinese, Gōngfu (功夫) is a compound of two words, combining  (gōng) meaning “work”, “achievement”, or “merit”, and  (fū) which is alternately treated as being a word for “man” or as a particle or nominal suffix with diverse meanings (the same character is used to write both). A literal rendering of the first interpretation would be “achievement of man”, while the second is often described as “work and time/effort”. Its connotation is that of an accomplishment arrived at by great effort of time and energy. In Mandarin, when two “first tone” words such as gōng and are combined, the second word often takes a neutral tone, in this case forming gōngfu. The word is also sometimes written as 工夫, this version often being used for more general, non-martial arts usages of the term.

Kung fu/Kungfu or Gung fu/Gongfu is a Chinese term referring to any study, learning, or practice that requires patience, energy, and time to complete, often used in the West to refer to Chinese martial arts, also known as Wushu. It is only in the late twentieth century, that this term was used in relation to Chinese Martial Arts by the Chinese community. The Oxford English Dictionary defines the term “Kung-fu” as “a primarily unarmed Chinese martial art resembling karate.”This illustrates how this term has been misused in English. The origin of this misuse can be attributed to the misunderstanding or mistranslation of the term through movie subtitles or dubbing.

In its original meaning, kung fu can refer to any skill achieved through hard work and practice, not necessarily martial. The Chinese literal equivalent of “Chinese martial art” would be 中國武術zhōngguó wǔshù.

Originally, to practice kung fu did not just mean to practice Chinese martial arts. Instead, it referred to the process of one’s training – the strengthening of the body and the mind, the learning and the perfection of one’s skills – rather than to what was being trained. It refers to excellence achieved through long practice in any endeavor….

In the colloquial, one can say that a person’s kung fu is good in cooking, or that someone has kung fu in calligraphy; saying that a person possesses kung fu in an area implies skill in that area, which they have worked hard to develop. Someone with “bad kung fu” simply has not put enough time and effort into training, or seems to lack the motivation to do so…..

After we learn the real definition of Kung Fu well, we may look more consciously of far-east martial arts films, I guess. As mentioned repeatedly above, talents and virtues derived as a result of hardwork that requires patience and time. No one is born full capabilities and talent in the birth (but of course he/she may be apt or keen to something in born), but he/she may increase his level on something, and can level up as in computer games. Such as, nobady born as physicist, but ones, who apt and/or love math and physics, can be physicist after years long hardworking… etc. So their kung fu in math and physics can be good, and so on …

Therefore, All the fighting skills (and realted superpowers) we see in martial art and wuxia movies are as a result of the fact that their ability to work requires patience. For example, a dart technique (flying daggers and so on), which is to able to hit any object from a certain distance, or Qinggong, which gives ability to float on air, like flying a birds, can be achieved as a result of the hardwork and effort, which takes years. But of course, due to the flow of the story, characters, especially skillful ones, show up as being already highly skilled that we may suppose they as if born their special tallent, but it takes them years. The best part of this concept, anybody, who are enthusiastic on anything, can master in any skill. But, on the other hand, there is always a risk of abuse their derived capabilities. And anyway, Stories in wuxia is mostly derived as based on this type of abuse; so good guys try to beat bad ones…etc. Though one must be supposed to be a saint after all these hardworking, patience and time, but there are many kinds of people, of course, some may abuse.

By the way, an aditional note (which I’ll also metioned it later) that in my point of view, this way of thinking is the most obvious places that Far-east and West mind bifurcate very much. Generally, in the western literature (even in the current western-american comics), heroes are either capable in born or accidently (mutation, radiation… etc) get some talents. Except too few exeption, most of them don’t endeavor to gain their skills. All talents or skills “magicly” pops them ! Such as, those who familiar with Western literature may know that if someone is extremly talented, he/she is tough making ​​a deal with the devil to gain this ability (see Faust), or oppositly God may blessed him/her anyhow ! In short, skills and talents mostly happens accidently or endowed by god-like somebody in the west. But in the far-east, they are gained with hardworking and mastering after years.

After adding this note, I want to talk about the essence of martial arts. Anyone, who is even ignorant to martial arts, can count  3-5 martial art style in his mind. For example, take a look at the following links to an exhaustive list;

As you can see, there are so many martial art styles. In fact this is so natural, because there are so many people. And because every person’s stye so different than each other, so many martial arts styles have been derived as this. But Although there is a wide variety of martial styles, they are essentially very similar. I mean, majority of choreographies resemble its analogue in other style; So a kick is always a kick, and a fist is always a fist (but of course their differences would be their applications). I would like to make the following analogy to explain it better; when you open any computer writing program (eg Microsoft Word), you can see the “Font” tab in the options bar. When you click on it, almost dozens, maybe hundreds of fonts options comes up (eg, Arial, Verdana, Helvetica … etc.). But we also see that, such as a letter “A” is always “A” in any font type; , but one is a flat, the other, for example, a curved, but nevertheless still express the same letter. Types of martial arts styles like these font types. There may be thousands of varieties, but essentially the same kick, punch, roll-over with different varieties. Though shouldn’t miss, there may be an unique letter that other fonts don’t have, but this is so rare.

In short, if you want to learn a martial art, don’t be confused about which one you should choose. Just choose according to your taste, the rest depends on how you applicate it. Also in any case, try to grasp the essence of the logic of the moves, and try to learn them  in a conscious way with equivalent on other styles (such as use Youtube … etc). In addition, the thing you mustn’t forget while learning martial arts, or watch them (in movies … etc); a move must fluently follow the others in harmonicly (even melodicly). This harmony is the real essence of martial arts shown in Wuxia movies (;and can be also very important and useful in application of real life). For example, I give another comparison from an aikido book;

Think about how you listen to music. You don’t listen the each note separately. You hear and understand all the beauty of the melody. Not just a single note of music, you will be fully integrated into the whole music.

Similarly, we don’t consider seperate letters or words while writing something (and essay, a story or noval …etc). Maybe we set the set of sentences as a smallest unit, but fundamentally we consider whole and the basis of the story. In short, in order to be able to comprehend the essence of the anything and so being a real master, whole of the doing and harmony of its inside must be grasped and its application must be practiced adroitly. So this is the Kung Fu in Wuxia Litrarure !

* You may also see spesific skills in wuxia litrature; Skills and Abilities, and other info and my posts about it.


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