The true nature of Kung Fu training
There are two ways we can see the practise of Kung fu. One is to aim solely for the 'material benefits' such as health, fitness, strength, the ability to defend ones self and others. The other is to understand that the best use of any kind of activity (including martial arts) is in 'self-realization', that is, the understanding of ones true essence, as spirit not matter. This realization gives a person real peace and deep satisfaction.
If a person thinks of himself as being matter (the mind and the material body), he will try to find happiness in some material way - trying to satisfy senses of the body, by becoming rich, famous, respected by others or trying to possess things like a car, skill or something which he thinks will make him happy.
On the other hand, if that person understands his identity as spirit and not matter, that he is only temporarily present in his material body, he will understand that no amount of material pleasures will satisfy him because he is spirit in essence. So he will not make his goal in life that of achieving things that are temporary in nature, but instead will concentrate on realizing his true nature.
We will find this basic idea in every spiritual tradition of the world in more or less direct form. Our ancestors certainly appreciated this idea more than we do, which is the main reason why so many traditions and practices which we have inherited have become degraded or have lost their foundation, or essence.
When we practice Kung Fu we should remember that many of the people who were involved in the development of these martial arts were practising Buddhism, and practiced Kung Fu not only because of its great fighting application, but also because physical training makes the body strong and the mind more easily focused on the spiritual practices they were involved in.
According to the legend, Bodhidharma taught 8 original forms to the monks of Shaolin because he wanted to help them to improve their physical condition, make them able to protect themselves and to help with the meditation they were practicing.
This makes great sense because in many places Buddhist scriptures emphasise the idea that the mind influences the body and the body influences the mind. If a person wants to achieve success in concentration they should adopt simple and clean living habits, which will purify the body and mind.
When this preliminary stage is completed, a person can move on to more advanced practices of exercises or techniques combined and synchronised with breathing which, in turn will lead to deeper concentration, culminating in the trance of meditation, where the mind is completely still and one can observe and experience one's true spiritual nature and experience its bliss.
This idea is supported not only in Buddhism but in other spiritual traditions of the world. The original form of yoga - Ashtanga Yoga, from which all the other forms of yoga emanate, describes 8 stages of spiritual development (described here in brief):
preliminary stage of following moral principles and understanding the law of karma (every action causes an equal and opposite reaction)
purifying one's body through vegetarianism and clean habits
purifying one's mind through simple living and controlling desires of the mind
pranayama - the combination of physical exercises with breathing (at this stage a practitioner could choose Hatha yoga or some form of martial art to be practiced)
concentration of the mind on mantras (spiritual sound vibrations)
Samadhi - a trance, where a person's mind is silenced and they are fully absorbed in the awareness of their spiritual nature, therefore achieving liberation.
From these two examples we can see that both Buddhism and Ashtanga Yoga put emphasis on a person's spiritual realization, and use some form of physical exercise or martial art to bring the practitioner to higher level of conciseness. Therefore if we want to achieve the full benefit of practising Kung Fu (or any other form of martial art) we should follow this tradition and not just see the Art as the goal in itself.
Buddhist and other spiritual processes stress this point many times; that unless activity in which we engage brings us closer to spiritual realisation, we will not experience real satisfaction from it.
Certainly, some degree of pleasure experienced from improved physical condition will be there, but symptoms of true spiritual happiness (which are mostly unknown to modern man), such as liberation from material attachments,internal peace, fearlessness, harmony with reality and so on, will not be experienced. Therefore we need to follow the example of our previous teachers and view our practise and goals in the right perspective.
Om Tat Sat