Advanced martial arts practice is ethereal even though it involves the movement of the body. In fact, moving the body is basic gongfu training, a mastery of which should be gained in one’s youth if possible. When the body ‘ages’ - a practitioner does not want the problem of mastering martial technique whilst coming to terms with how ‘ageing’ changes the mind and body. Knowing how to stand, fall, get-up, moving, kick, punch, block and evade, etc, are foundational issues that must be thoroughly absorbed into the deepest levels of the mind and body well before middle-age is reached. Of course, this is not always the case, as some people take-up the practice of traditional Chinese martial arts late in life – but with regards the more robust and rugged ‘external’ techniques – youthful practice is preferred. This is why many older people (with no previous experience) start their martial arts training through one of the ‘internal’ arts – which are a product of an ‘advanced’ and ‘mature’ mind-set.
On the other hand, if an individual is able to build 20-30 years of training prior to hitting 40-50 years of age – then the bones, joints, muscles, ligaments, tendons and inner organs have all had time to experience a ‘hardening’ process over-time - and are far more ‘robust’ whilst the individual traverses into older age. Probably the greater reason for early martial arts practice is that the ability to produce massive (internal and external) impact power (with minimum) effort must be mastered before the body transitions into older age. This observation does not mean that older people cannot achieve this ability later in their life – but to already possess this devastating power is one less burden – particularly as we may also have far more responsibilities as mature people than the average young person. However, with the right type of instruction from a genuine Master, anyone of any age can ‘master’ gongfu regardless of circumstances. Motivation is the key to it all.
The mind must be ‘still’ and ‘expansive’. Its psychic fabric must be simultaneously ‘empty’ and yet ‘envelop’ all things without exception! Although there is much experimentation in the West with the physical techniques of the many (and varied) gongfu styles – very few practitioners are interested in the spiritual or higher psychological aspects of traditional Chinese martial arts. This is because gongfu has been taught the wrong way around in the West to suit the cultural bias of the fee-paying audience. Whereas in China kicking is learned before punching – in the West punching is taught before kicking (because of the influence of Western Boxing). Whereas in China a gongfu practitioner learns to stand still and to stand ‘solid’ whilst defending the ten directions – in the West students are taught to move around before being taught how to ‘stand still’ (this is because Western students do not understand the important of achieving inner and outer ‘stillness’). Whereas in China gongfu student learn to ‘relax’ before assuming postures – in the West students are taught to ‘stretch’ using yoga-like techniques (mostly unknown in China). Whereas students in China learn to ‘strike’ various wooden objects to condition the bones of the hands and feet – in the West, students are encouraged to hit ‘soft’ pads that give a false impression of what it is like to hit a ‘real’ body! In the West, the mind is ‘entertained’ as a means to secure continued fee-paying through class attendance – whilst in China the Master continuously looks for new ways of ‘testing’ the virtue of the student and for any reason to ‘expel’ them from the training hall!
All this ‘inversion’ must be remedied if the highest levels of spiritual and physical mastery are to be achieved. This has nothing to do with rolling around on a padded floor wearing padded-gloves – and everything to do with ‘looking within’ to refine the flow of internal energy. The awareness of the mind must permeate every cell of the physical body whilst the practitioner sits correctly in the meditation posture. What else is there? When advanced practitioners ascend to a certain age of maturity, reality has nothing to do with the ego pursuit of ‘winning’ or ‘losing’ in petty disputes that ultimately mean nothing. Most of the combat sports of the moment are fleeting and exist merely to make money – and they are ineffective on the modern battlefield and not practiced by the military! The final lesson is to ‘leave the body’ with the minimum of fuss when the time presents itself. In a very real sense, a genuine Master of martial arts has ‘already’ transcended the boundaries of material limitation whilst still living. This sense of ‘completion’ and ‘transcendence’ is what draws the already perceptive into his or her presence to receive instruction...
“At age fifteen years of age I set my heart and mind upon learning (whilst transcending inner confusion and outer chaos). At thirty, I planted my feet firmly upon the ground (and achieved ‘rootedness’). At forty, I no longer suffered from perplexities and doubts (as the mind and heart were ‘stilled’). At fifty, I fully understood the Will of the Divine Sky (as the mind and heart were all-embracing). At sixty, I clearly perceived reality through a docile ear (as none of the ‘senses’ discriminated). At seventy, I could follow the dictates of my own heart and mind; for what I desired no longer overstepped the boundaries of what was right in the Divine Dao.”
Confucius – Analects (Lun YU) 2:4
This is a famous blue-print that the Great Sage Confucius (Kong Fuzi) constructed during his lifetime (551-479 BCE) within ancient China. It is a remarkable set of observations that have stood the test of time. There is a natural ‘mastery’ of mind and body which unfolds providing the aspirant is a) ‘aware’ and b) is ‘seeking’ such an achievement of mind and body maturity. If an individual merely fumbles aimlessly through life with no grounding or higher yearning, then these stages often remain unrecognised and unfulfilled. As I get older, I find a deep sense of ‘certainty’ pervading my mind and body. This is a permanent state that does not fade or intensify but which is forever present – still and shining. It seems to be the underlying reality of sensual and psychological existence. It is comforting, empowering and healing.
When the mind is permanently ‘stilled’ and has become ‘all-embracing’ - a certain ‘wisdom’ (Prajna) is activated which allows the mind to naturally (and instantaneously) perceive reality and understand exactly what physical action is required in a particular situation. This is true for help others with education, healing, housing or feeding, etc, as it is during times of human conflict. Within the limitations of martial arts practice, such mastery manifests in the expert manifestation of ‘action’ and ‘non-action’ and vice versa. Moving forward (with tremendous generated force) or seeming to ‘disappear’ inti thin air by a radical ‘withdrawing’ from direct contact and-or confrontation. As every moment is both ‘identical’ and entirely ‘different’ without inner or outer contradiction – all momentary decisions emerge in a pristine and timely manner.
Such a state of being is not fleeting but always present. The nature of such an awareness is both peaceful and tranquil. It is like a permanent sense of inner ‘Spring’ whilst stood in a beautiful forest clearing. All animal and plant life understands this directly – with other humans perceiving that something is present that is out of the ordinary. Although ‘nothing special’ this sense of mastery is exactly the same for all of humanity regardless of life activity, culture or time-period, etc. It is like a might river that all martial arts systems quite naturally flow into. Masters do not argue despite their very different life-paths and distinctive martial schools. The state of true Mastery sits quietly in the centre of the universe and attracts all things to itself. All is ‘healed’ and ‘reconciled’ and there is no ‘conflict’ or ‘contradiction’.
As we get older, our perception of our training changes. This is not only crucial, but also essential. Getting old is important for Chinese martial arts mastery. Getting old is not an error or a failure. We must give-up all of our younger perceptions as they are now out of date. Younger perceptions are for younger people as that is where they belong. Ego ad its ‘giving-up’ is the key. Young people are taught that ‘winning’ is everything in this (Western) culture, but in China the prevailing attitude is that ‘cooperation’ and ‘assisting’ one another are the glue that holds a civilised society together. Even ‘sparring’ in the Chinese cultural sense is very different to its ‘hate filled’ Western counter-part. An opponent exists, within the training context, to assist you to develop, they do not exist as cannon-fodder for the ego! Training to boost the ego means that when the body ages and changes, the practitioner quite naturally ‘gives-up’ as he or she can no longer muster the required aggression to train or fight! What a pointless waste of time all this is! Grace under pressure is what Westerners should be aspiring to achieve. Psychological and physical relaxation in the face of potential violence and danger is the standard once the physical techniques of combat have been mastered! Getting older is important to deepen understanding and develop a more profound perception of reality. Fighting is awareness and understanding which manifests evenly through both ‘stillness’ and ‘movement’ performed at the right moment! Most people find it very difficult to be ‘still’, although generally people think they can ‘move’ around quite well. Both assumptions are false. Clearing and deepening perception will lead to correct ‘stillness 'of body and mind. Again, age leads to an enhanced awareness through which the body moves with an almost divine capability regardless of circumstance! This is why getting older is important and to be welcomed!
Shifu Adrian Chan-Wyles (b. 1967) - Lineage (Generational) Inheritor of the Ch'an Dao Hakka Gongfu System.