People who visit my Tai Chi website find we often talk about philosophy. Some don’t like it because they are just interesting in the martial arts part. They still don’t have enough life experience to realize the importance of martial art philosophy.
In China and Taiwan we call martial arts “Kung Fu”. We believe that every kung fu masters is also a philosopher. Bodhi Dharma taught the Shao–Lin monks Chi Kung and Kung Fu and was also a Zen master. The Tai Chi master Zang San-Fung was also a Taoist priest. Even in the book Jeet Kune Do, Bruce Lee often talks about philosophy.
Traditionally all the kung fu masters spend their whole lives chasing “Tien, Di, Ren Ho-Yi” (the heaven, earth, and man triad combine into one). This is the epitome of martial arts. This is because we believe physical training has a limit but the spiritual part can help you exploit your full potential. We see many professional athletes reach their physical limit and have to retired when they are still young, like basketball player, soccer player, football players etc. Nobody can keep their physical agility and remain like a 20-year old forever. When I was 20 years old and practicing martial arts I also believed that I could do anything but the truth is, we are not superheroes, and we are getting older every day.
I say it again: physical training has a limit. You need the spiritual part to help you exploit your potential. But how can we training our spiritual part? Philosophy, Religion and Meditation will help and they are related to each other. If you are doing martial arts but you don’t know the philosophy behind it then how can you persevere with your practicing?
In Chinese we call Karate “Koun Sou Tao”, Judo “Zou Tao”, Tai Kuan Do “Tai Chu’an Tao”, and Hap Ki Do “Ho Chi Tao”. Even Bruce Lee named Jeet Kune Do “Jee Chu’an Tao”. You can see the word “Tao” behind all these martial arts’ names. The Tao letter in Chinese has a lot of meanings: method, path, principle, road, Taoism, and The Way of Truth. We put Tao behind all of these martial art names because we believe that behind every martial art there should be their own philosophy. Then it is possible, through martial-arts training, to bring our spirit and body together.
Jet Li tries to explain what the true essence of martial arts is his movie “Fearless”. He portrays master Huo Yuen-Ja. In his youth, he learns his father’s martial arts style by secretly watching him. As a result he only learns how to fight and not the philosophy. Like an animal, his goal is to dominate all his opponents. This eventually costs him the life of his mother and daughter. He escapes and hides in the country for three years. There he comes to realize the true essence of martial arts.
I don’t want to say which philosophy or religion is better, just as I don’t say which martial arts is the best. I just believe all the philosophy, religion and martial arts is one way to help our life get better. So believe what you believe and enjoy your training. If you feel your life is better than before then that is enough.