Simple, boring, painful, time-consuming 耗

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Wang Maozhai’s Taiji class at Tai Miao – Henri Cartier-Bresson - Beijing Dec 1948

“Gongfu (kungfu) comes out of Hao* (功夫是耗出来的)”

* Hao (耗): expend, consumed, dawdle, waste, exhaust, wear out
In martial art practice, same as in life, results are determined by what we focus our attention to, what we spend our time on…
We naturally prefer certain types of things, and neglect, belittle the importance of things that seem easy to understand, boring, painful, and which take a very long time. But often these seemingly simple things are the ones of key importance, deserving our full attention.

This addresses a common problem in martial art training. Most people by nature find certain things more exciting, interesting to practice. Everyone loves practicing skill, technique, whereas holding a hamstring stretch for 30 minutes at a time is a lot less appealing. However, most basic training such as flexibility and post standing requires Hao type of training. Basics are important because they are the foundation. The strength of the foundation puts a limit on how high a building could be.
In everyday usage, when people say hao shijian (耗时间, it means wasting time doing meaningless activity…
But that’s not the case with training.
Beyond basics, there are many aspects of martial art training that look simple, boring, and repetitive, but that’s exactly the way and the place where we develop our gongfu!
Hence the expression :

“Practicing skill without practicing gongfu, in the end we have nothing (练武不练功,到头一空).”

kungfu/gongfu ?

Most people in the West think the word “kungfu” means martial art in Chinese.  Actually kungfu is the Cantonese pronunciation of the word gongfu (功夫). Perhaps the usage is different in the south, but for rest of China, gongfu doesn’t really mean martial art. In modern Chinese, the term for martial art is wushu. Wu means martial, and shu means skill, technique, method, tactic.

So what does kungfu/gongfu mean?  Amazingly, there does not seem to be a perfect one-to-one match in English.  Gongfu in Chinese means level of execution.  Since most of time level of execution is directly related to amount of effort spent practicing it, it also means effort.  As a generic term, you can talk about gongfu in anything, it’s not exclusive to martial art.

The important distinction here is that gongfu is a separate concept from skill. You can have high level execution of a low level skill, just as you can have high level execution of a high level skill…

Courtesy Wuyizidi’s Martial Art blog

Wrestlers of Shan Pu Ying
Wang Maozhai’s Taiji class at Tai Miao 3 –Henri Cartier-Bresson
Wang Maozhai’s Taiji class at Tai Miao 1 – Henri Cartier-Bresson - Beijing Dec 1948
Wang Maozhai’s Taiji class at Tai Miao 2 – Henri Cartier-Bresson