The path to becoming a Kung Fu master might not be easiest to understand for the western mind. Kung Fu is an ancient eastern tradition and so their ways are mysterious and misunderstood by people from the west. To understand what it takes to become a Kung Fu Master, it might be easier to explain it as ancient western levels of craftsmanship:
After much hardships and a long journey, the student of Kung Fu has finally achieves the ranks of a master. But what exactly is a Kung Fu master?
The Kung Fu Master
The false masters
The concept of a master is a difficult one to define as well as to achieve. Sometimes, through ignorance, some people can be incorrectly labeled as masters. One common misconception is to consider the teacher as a master. But this does not sufficiently distinguish adepts or journeymen from a true master, anyone who knows more than you can be a lǎoshī (老師, teacher). This is vastly different from a sifu (師父, master).
Another false master is one who is considered as “the best”. This is a relative concept. A master at one style may just be at the level of a journeyman compared to a master of another style, if tested. This becomes a dangerous ego trap for journeymen who end up going around trying to beat up as many people as they can to prove to themselves and others that they’ve become a Kung Fu master. These bully’s are a far cry from what a real master is.
A real master has not only perfected the art of body movement, but has also perfected the art of mind and heart movement. While you read through the various levels of Kung Fu, apprentice, adept, journeyman, you will find that there is a common enemy that the Kung Fu student constantly battles. The ego, their own self, is the student’s biggest enemy. Not until the student has battled and overcome themselves can they be considered as a Kung Fu master.
That is why teaching someone or beating someone up doesn’t indicate master level. When you teach someone, it’s the biggest ego trip to be around someone who knows less than you, who is less capable than you are at something, a student that looks up at you with respect and adoration.
It’s the same kind of ego trip when you beat someone up. Remember that scene from Star Wars where Luke does battle with Darth Vader in the cave of evil, only to find that it was himself under the mask. It’s easy to fall back on anger and brute force to beat an opponent, that doesn’t indicate master level. A master is someone who can embrace their dark side, embrace their enemy, and not be consumed by fear and hatred.
Being a master
In our contemporary age, there are lots of figures that we can conjure up when we want to visualize what a Kung Fu master might be. Yoda from Star Wars, Miyagi from Karate Kid, Splinter from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, to name just a few. What do all these people have in common? Not only are they able to kick ass, but they’re also calm, wise, and patient. These are qualities of a Kung Fu master, and these qualities come from training the inner-self, not just the outer.
It’s actually relatively easy to learn how to punch and kick. It’s easy to learn how to beat someone up. There are weekend classes you can take where you can learn to defend yourself. A few years of training can get you to the level where you can win most street fights. But does that make you a master? No.
What is most difficult to do is to overcome yourself. To look deep within yourself and battle your fears, your habits, your hatred, your self. Once you’ve confronted the demon within you and mastered your emotions, then you are wise enough to be considered as a Kung Fu master.