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The benefits of kung fu training are numerous and varied. It is easy to assume kung fu teaches you how to attack and defend, and of course it does both, but learning how to defend yourself is by no means all kung fu teaches. We’re going to discuss some of the benefits here, but as there are so many, we haven’t put them in any particular order.

PHYSICAL FITNESS

This is the most obvious benefit and the one everyone thinks of when they think of kung fu, along with self-defence. When you first start, you will likely wonder if you will ever be as fit as the seniors in the class — they look amazing! Don’t worry. You can start at any level and your fitness will take care of itself over time. In fact, you will begin to notice improvements within weeks of starting your training. And those seniors? They don’t think they’re amazing! The longer we train, the more we realise how far we have yet to go. And we all have to start somewhere.

SELF-DEFENCE

This is the reason many people begin training. Kung fu doesn’t focus solely on teaching us how to defend ourselves, however. An attack is an effective defence, just as a defensive move can be effective as an attack. A block is never just a block. And sometimes, simply being unpredictable can confuse an attacker and make them back off, which is the best outcome. No one really wants to hurt someone if we don’t have to.

FLEXIBILITY

Most modern lifestyles are generally sedentary, and you may not have noticed how inflexible you have become. We sit all the time: at school, at work, at home in front of the TV. By training kung fu, you will quickly learn how much work there is to be done! Once you become more flexible, you will look back with wonder at how inflexible you were before!

POSTURE

Most people need to work on this, though some have to work much harder than others, depending on how they lived their life before they started training. Pronating feet — either under- or over-pronating — are a common problem, and once you’re aware of it, you’ll spot degrees of foot pronation in almost everyone. Rooting of the stance, which is necessary for making your kung fu effective, will help resolve this issue. With improved posture comes improved balance. It is never just one thing — each benefit of kung fu feeds into every other aspect of your training.

CAMARADERIE

When you train alongside people, you each know what the others are going through! No one is immune, we all have to work hard, and it never really gets any easier, so it’s great to have people in your life who understand. You get to know them on a whole different level — it’s a relationship which is difficult to explain to people who don’t train, because you all go through the same things in class. You’re connected via the sweat, the pain and even, sometimes, the tears.

DISCIPLINE

This is a difficult one for most of us, and we learn how undisciplined we are when we train! We need discipline to get the movements right and when we practise our patterns (forms). If we’re in the habit of, say, not completing movements, our instructor will conclude (accurately) that we’re in the habit of not completing things in other aspects of our daily lives, as well. This is one way kung fu can help you improve as a person. While we’re correcting things in our kung fu, we correct other things without even noticing. It just happens.

INCREASED STRENGTH OF WILL

While we’re working on correcting our movements (which is especially the case when we want our instructor to teach us another one!), we can find ourselves becoming increasingly frustrated if we can’t get it right after several tries. But persistence is what gives us the mental and emotional strength we need to continue. It’s not just physical training, after all. We need mental and emotional strength in all aspects of life, and kung fu can help us to improve those parts of our character that need work. There will often be one particular move that you find it hard to get right, either because your body won’t comply or because your mind insists you can’t do it. Remember: your mind will lie to you. Also remember that after you’ve been training for some time, your instructor may well know you better than you know yourself. If you just let this happen, you’ll get more out of the training than if you resist (and in any case, resistance is futile).

TRUST

It can be difficult to trust people, especially if you’ve been let down numerous times, which many of us have. Kung fu teaches you to trust the people you train with, and in particular, it teaches you to trust your instructor to know what’s best for you. Partnering with others in class also requires mutual trust, as you need to know they’re not going to actually hurt you. And with trust comes confidence.

IMPROVED CONFIDENCE

We’ve all been there. We’re told to do something and we don’t think we can. Every cell in our body is screaming at us that we can’t! But in a safe class environment, we soon learn that, actually, we can. Your instructor will encourage you to give it a go, and you’ll surprise yourself on a weekly basis, even when you’ve been training for years. With improved confidence comes stronger conviction and more certainty. People may discover, for example, that you are no longer a pushover. There will be some things that take longer to fix, and that’s OK. Kung fu is a long-term project. You have time.

MOTIVATION

Kung fu sets goals to achieve and always gives us something to work towards, whether that be a new pattern, the next grading or a pressure point strike designed to immobilise an attacker. We won’t know these things unless we turn up to class, alert and ready to learn. The more classes you skip, the more you’re going to miss — what better motivation to come and train?

SELF-KNOWLEDGE

The more we train, the more we get to know our own body. We learn to tell the difference between good pain (training hurts!) and bad pain. Bad pain can be dealt with; good pain is what we learn to endure. Sparring practice teaches us to take a punch; pad work teaches us how hard we need to punch or kick to make a significant impact — remember, you’re learning an art that will enable you to seriously hurt someone. If we don’t know ourselves, how can we know that we won’t go further than necessary and end up in trouble? And how else can we know that we’re strong enough to defend ourselves if we need to? Kung fu teaches us all of these things.

RESPECT (also self-respect)

The hierarchical structure of a kung fu club teaches us respect, for our instructor and our kung fu siblings, but also for ourselves. It’s easy to believe everyone is better than us; not so easy to believe we’re just as valuable as everyone else. Respect for your instructor is paramount. By coming to class, you form a contract — your instructor agrees to teach you, and in return, you turn up and learn. Filial piety is central to Chinese daily life, but is a difficult concept for Westerners to grasp. If you think of it in simple terms — respect — you’ll be on the way to understanding.

IMPROVED CONCENTRATION

In order to be able to “do” kung fu well, you need to be able to concentrate. Children who learn kung fu often start off with their attention all over the place, and kung fu classes teach them how to be more focused and still. This goes for the grown-ups, too! If we can focus and concentrate, we can get more done in less time, leaving more spare time for ourselves. And more spare time means more time for training!

Kung fu training gives us all of these benefits and much more. Learning about Chinese culture allows us access to more knowledge about our training and why we do certain things this or that way. Not training for a time makes us feel stiff and irritable, so we train regularly. Training when stressed helps us calm down, and we stay calm after the class is over and we’re on our way home (so we avoid lashing out at people). We become better, more rounded people so those closest to us also benefit from our training. We learn about ourselves, finding out about our weaknesses and, just as crucially, strengths that we may not have realised we had.

If you want to become a more rounded person, with a strong character, and also feel safe in the knowledge that you can take care of yourself if you need to, come to a kung fu class. Remember the Chinese proverb: “The best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago. The second best time is now.”