‘Gong’ or ‘Kung’ as it is sometimes spelt is a Chinese word often interpreted as ‘skill’; it is also often interpreted as ‘work’ or ‘hard work’. The relationship between these two interpretations is interesting and insightful.
Skill in the context of qigong and kung fu is inseparable from work. We may learn movements, forms and principles in a relatively short space of time, but to truly gain ‘gong’ or skill takes dedicated and consistent work and practice.
Sometimes we may fall into the trap of thinking that once we have learned a movement, that is all that is required to have gong – we have ‘learned’ qigong or kung fu, but really this is far from the truth. We can compare this to someone learning to swim.
They begin by getting into the water, and it is all a bit strange and maybe even a bit scary as they learn to put their head under the water, how to stay afloat and when to breathe. They then begin to work on propelling themselves through the water. With the help of a teacher they will probably learn one of several common and simple ways of doing this. Maybe breaststroke or freestyle or even just ‘dog paddling’. To begin with the movements are uncoordinated and ineffectual, but with a bit of practice they will start to be able to move themselves about. They have successfully learned to swim, but have they become a good swimmer?
Probably not, most likely they have only just begun their journey. Whatever their aim in swimming, whether it be for health, for safety on the water or even simply enjoyment, they will most likely have years of regular practice ahead of them before they are truly skilled. Those who want to take it up as a sport will continue to be coached in the finer points on a regular basis, others whose goals are not so competitive will likely practice by themselves or with friends for company.
The process is similar for qigong and kung fu; to begin with some of it can seem strange and daunting, much like learning to put your face under the water and float for the first time. It is easy to be put off at this stage, but before long it will start to make sense, you may start to notice some health benefits and start to become a little aware of your energy. Fantastic progress, but have you really achieved gong or skill? More than likely this will take years of further practice with many interesting discoveries along the way.
Some will want to learn different styles, much as you would learn different swimming strokes. Others will be happy to find just one that they like and stick with it. Some will practice to such an extent that they develop extraordinary abilities, some may want to pursue teaching or clinical application. Others will just want to practice for health and enjoyment, and that’s fine, not all of us need to become the equivalent of Olympic athletes, swimming teachers or surf life savers. The important thing is that we get what we want out of our practice. But one thing is for sure to develop skill or gong will take work and practice over many years.
One of the beautiful things about qigong and kung fu is that you can continue to improve and develop throughout your entire life. This is why the most respected teachers are also generally the oldest. They may not be as physically strong or agile as they once were but over years of practice they have developed great internal strength and character and are beautiful to watch. Much like listening to a singer like Johnny Cash; in his later work his voice is not as smooth as it once was, but the power and character it conveys is remarkable. That kind of power is not obtained overnight, but by years and years of practice and experience. That is true ‘gong’.
The same thing will occur with your qigong and kung fu. As you practice over the course of years you will develop internally. Gradually you will gain an understanding of the essence of the movements and in doing so your practice will become powerful and beautiful. You will obtain ‘gong’.