Kung Fu has been associated with martial arts since the early seventies, when Asians and servicemen alike brought formulated fighting arts to our shores from the East.
But words often take on the meaning they’ve acquired or given legitimacy where it didn’t exist before. In English, think about words like ain’t or snuck. They weren’t originally words, but they’ve been added to the dictionary because of prolific usage in the lexicon.
Kung Fu is the same way. It was originally Gong Fu. Americans mispronounced it and it took hold. So, a simple mispronunciation and an acquired meaning has changed the way we use the term. Even in China, Kung Fu is used as synonymous with martial arts. Gong Fu now refers to the two Chinese arts of Guo Shu (fighting art) and Quan Fa (Fist Law). Recently, Wushu has replaced Guo Shu and has become more acrobatic and gymnastic.
And while Kung Fu doesn’t mean martial arts, it refers to a principal part of what the martial arts cultivates.
Gong translates to merit or achievement.
Fu, oddly enough, translates to man, husband, or “big man.”
Big Man in Chinese translates to an accomplished man, a man of learning (like an attorney or architect or doctor – one who had to persevere through arduous schooling or training), or more importantly – a mature person. We don’t perfect anything as children, but by perseverance, we attain the master’s touch as adults.
But in Chinese, when you add two symbols together, they take on a new meaning. Gong Fu means acquired skill, special skills, time spent. It also refers to any study, learning, or practice that requires patience, energy or time to complete. It alludes to a skill developed by hard work over time, and demands training, discipline, and commitment.
Bruce Lee once said he doesn’t fear the man who has practiced 1000 kicks. He fears the man who practiced one kick 1000 times.
I read somewhere that in China, if one is an master at his craft, he is told that his gongfu is very good. This applies to cooking, artistry, leatherworking, music. Any trade or talent that requires years of hard work, discipline, and dedication.
This is where martial arts training carries over to the rest of our lives. As we progress through the color belts, we practice the basics. We practice them even when we don’t feel like practicing them. I tell my martial arts students that reaching Black Belt means that you have practiced the basics. Now it’s time to learn. What a shame so many people train for a few short years only to get their Black Belts and quit.
So why all this etymology? What’s the point, Weeg?
The point is you.
You aren’t an accident. You aren’t another creature roaming the earth like a beetle, orangutan, or blue whale, feeding and breeding by instinct alone.
You are incredibly special. So special, in fact, that you didn’t come to earth to work a job, pay your taxes, get kids to soccer camp, watch sitcoms, and die. You are more than that.
When you agreed to visit this classroom called Earth, you brought something with you. A gift. You might just think it’s something you enjoy or might like to do. But it’s more than that.
I tell my clients, if your gift is music, write music that moves people to tears. If it is writing, write stories that catapult people to another place or time or inspires them to be more than they already are. If it is art, make paintings or sculptures that cause people to stare for hours, contemplating the meaning of their existence. It could be leading, teaching, protecting, or helping. You didn’t come here empty handed.
Whatever your gift might be, it certainly isn’t working a job for someone else. I’ve told my kids a number of times that if they aren’t working hard to make their own dreams come true, they’re going to some job where they’re making someone else’s dreams come true.
Whatever your gift is, hone it. Perfect it. Practice it over and over again until it becomes a skill. And that skill become a talent. And the talent becomes a way of life, which then becomes a career.
A master once said, “Don’t practice until you get it right. Practice until you can’t get it wrong.”
For some reason we in America believe we shouldn’t make a living with our gift. We should go to work and just do our thing as a hobby. I think that is myopic. There is nothing at all wrong with earning a living with what you brought with you.
Songwriters, actors, surgeons, artists, therapists, chemists, etc. make decent livings doing what they’ve trained to do. Training over time to develop a skill. Don’t cheat yourself. Don’t sell yourself short. This is what you came here to do. What’s the point of a life if you’re only going to work the checkout lane or factory line, and watch sitcoms, scroll Facebook, and go to bed? Isn’t your life more than that? I know that it is. You know it too. Deep down, you feel it.
Put this to use. Perfect your gift. Hone it, like a chef hones his expensive knife. Be your gift.
I’ve told my clients for years that the greatest achievement in a person’s life is to discover their gift, perfect that gift to a skillful talent, and share it with the world in a way that inspires others.
We are not human doings; we are human beings. Be what you came to be. Be the impact you know you can be. Touch others in a meaningful way, that encourages them. Inspire others to do the same. You are so much more than you have ever been taught. Grasp tightly. Step into your greatness.
Use what you brought with you to impact the whole world, even if it is one person at a time. You might not change the entire world, but for just one person, you might change their whole world. Do this.
Keep practicing, keep learning, keep applying.
Then someone will tell you that your gongfu is very good, too.
In the Tao