chinese martial arts

Deep Wisdom in Martial Arts
Photos Courtesy of Antonio Graceffo

The meaning of the word “kung fu” runs deep. Most of us would say it refers to the traditional Chinese martial arts or specifically the art associated with Shaolin Temple. While this is an oversimplification, it’s not wrong. However, when we examine the Chinese characters for kung fu, we learn that together they literally mean “effort.” And this makes sense for martial arts because mastery requires great effort.

Separately, the characters have their own meanings, though. Kung means “achievement,” and fu means “husband.” Maybe this derived from the fact that the husband in ancient times had to work hard to support his family. Another interpretation for kung fu can be “workmanship” or “skill gained through committed effort.” A martial art is definitely a skill gained through committed effort.

If you work hard to improve your skill, eventually you might become a sifu, a term most Westerners associate with being a kung fu master. But actually, a sifu can be any skilled worker, including a driver or a handyman. The irony for those who speak Chinese and who watched the Karate Kid remake with Jaden Smith is that Jackie Chan was both a handyman and a martial arts master, both of which can be a sifu.

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