I had the off chance of flipping through the cable channels the other day and was watching the movie Interstellar. It was all about sacrifice, time, space and the relationships that you create. The only thing that could span time, space and even the immense power of a black hole was the love between a father and daughter. I didn’t think much of it until a few days later when I was practicing, and I was frustrated in trying to relearn something that I had learned (or presumed to have learned) decades earlier. The only thing that keeps you going back again during those times of frustration is the love that you’ve developed for your art form. This propels you forward and keeps you inspired and motivated enough to continue learning, because Kung Fu is a black hole. What is a black hole? From my understanding, a black hole is a region of space where the gravity is so strong that nothing can escape. It is invisible, and surrounded by an event horizon.
When you spin a spear or rotate your body, don’t you see that representation of that swirling mass that’s in the interstellar atmosphere, galaxies, stars and so on? But don’t forget black holes are invisible. They have an effect on everything that goes near them, but they are invisible. You don’t see them, but you feel their effect. You feel their gravity, their weight and their influence on objects and people around them. That’s what I feel my Kung Fu practice does because it influences me, my physical body, my mental attitude, the atmosphere and the energy in my room just as much as a black hole affects any object that approaches its event horizon.
What is the event horizon for a practitioner of Kung Fu? I’m talking about a real practitioner, not a tourist – someone who is putting in a lifetime’s worth of work, decades upon decades of study and research. We all understand the definition of Kung Fu boils down to time and effort. But when you really look at it how much time and effort is required? A lot of students will ask, “When will I see benefits?” You can see benefits within 3 to 9 months, but that’s superficial at best. Physically, you might be a little more fit or flexible. You might have a little more awareness or start learning some cool stuff, but you only start to really appreciate the amount of effort and time that it takes to learn something when you spend decades on it. In Kung Fu, ten years is one step. It’s pretty much like being in a space time warp where ten years only equals one step in Kung Fu. So imagine how many years you have to put in to truly comprehend what you’re learning.
I don’t want to make anybody feel like this is an insurmountable task, but it almost is. No matter how much effort, time and energy you put into this art form, when you cross over that event horizon, everything goes black. You get sucked in all the way down and you cannot escape its gravitational pull. Some may disagree with me and say, well, I’ve made huge strides and progress in my art and I’m at the top of my game and so on. I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about looking far beyond this quantifiable thing that we think is good or a high achievement of skill, but rather looking at Kung Fu as a lifetime art that we pursue.
Our practice actually resonates just as much if not more so even when we’re gone. You may say, well, what do you mean by that? Think about it. You’re propagating the lessons, the teaching, the philosophy and the efforts and energy of decades and centuries of masters gone by. There’s something to be said about this. Kung Fu is just like time and space. If you drop a pebble or make an imprint into the fabric of space, it creates a ripple. So, whenever a successive master teaches a student and passes along knowledge, it creates a ripple and a residual effect.
I think the art of Kung Fu is so powerful so all encompassing. That’s why we use the term Kung Fu and not martial arts. The ancient masters used this term Kung Fu, which is also all encompassing as a term for all art forms because they innately understood that no matter how much you put in there’s always more that needs to done. It (all your hard work) evaporates into the fabric of this art and requires more. You could say, wow, that sounds really defeatist or depressing. But I say, No, this is great. You have to take it the right way. There is no finite level of achievement. The level of achievement is infinite and is only stifled by the inability of the individual to be able to see the black hole of the art that we practice. No one’s ever gone into the heart of a black hole and come back, so you don’t really know what’s on the other side. You may appear on the other side and be renewed again and find yourself in a whole other dimension of understanding.
Your own physical improvement is a manifestation of you in another dimension. How about we look at it like that? The you of yesterday is the you of yesterday. I know this is very metaphysical and extremely theoretical, but how do you know that yesterday was yesterday and today is today? Everybody’s going to think I’m nuts, but at times while I’ve been practicing, I’ve felt different levels of chi, different levels of energy. I’ve almost felt as though time and space have been suspended in the moment. I know that other artists of other disciplines have also felt this.
I know I watch a lot of ancient aliens, but I’m not an astronaut from the past… ha ha… I’m just saying when I sit there and do a certain movement, I feel you’re almost creating a time warp. Kung Fu is an art of the self, but aren’t you also a microcosm of the universe that you live in? You’re basically one little molecule in this giant firmament of space and time, but you also encapsulate a miniature version of that space dust, so you have to have a relationship to it. When you practice your movement, you feel something. I’m doing more than just a move; I’m moving energy, because basically that’s what you are. You’re energy, but in order for you to grow, you need to consume and produce even more energy. So guess what? You’re a black hole. When you practice, to reach another level of understanding, I think you have to be able to view it in a totally different way, and not necessarily be bound by your old perceptions. In the same way, there are black holes and interstellar phenomena that cannot be explained by the physical laws that we live by on a day to day basis.
Maybe some of the readers that are reading my blog at this moment might not understand me, but I know that other artists of other disciplines will be able to corroborate and agree with the statement that I’m making. I think musicians and artists and anyone in an artistic pursuit that requires continual devotion of mental, physical and internal energies will understand what I’m talking about when I say Kung Fu is my personal black hole. Every time I think I’m getting somewhere, it sucks me back in, and I’m back at point zero but at the same time I’m not. I’m almost looking at myself from several different dimensions. There’s the inner self and there’s the outer physical self, and then there’s another outer self of me watching me. It’s the multiple levels of the mind. There’s an old Chinese saying that says 勁斷意不斷
“Physical force is finite but the mind and intention is infinite.” That’s really what I’m talking about. The mind which perceives (or strives to perceive) that everything is infinite allows us to go beyond the limitations of our physical being.
-Sifu Paul Koh 高寶羅