With the release of the new Karate Kid, I suspect there is going to be a resurgence of interest in all things related to kung fu. I was nine years old when the original Karate Kid came out, and I got a life-size poster of Ralph Macchio for my bedroom wall. While I was a die-hard fan of the original version and soundtrack, and generally do not like remakes of films, I believe that this new version is going to strike a deeper chord with viewers than the original did.
In this version of Karate Kid, there is a depiction of ancient Taoist power in the monastery scene in the mountains. I go to my authority on Taoist chi practices, Kostos Danaos, author of Magus of Java and Nei Kung: The Secret Teachings of Warrior Sages (both of which I highly recommend for those of you who are interested), for the definition of kung fu. Danaos writes:
…the first term, kung, is written as a combination of the characters kung and li. Kung means “to build, to construct.” Li means “power or strength.” The second term, fu, is made up of the single character fu, which is a complex ideogram to interpret. Fu is derived from the character for man, with added widespread arms and an adult man’s hatpin through the character (in medieval China each adult male wore a hatpin through his hat and hair). The implication is of a mature, large, responsible adult man or father figure; the character is also used in other contexts to denote someone’s husband. In other worlds, the term kung fu actually means: “the construction and development of one’s energy over time, through daily effort, such that in the end one obtains mature power and the spiritual development of a Master.” Kung fu, in other words, is a path of continual discipline and training, of nonstop growth over your entire life.
I feel this movie is going to strike right to the hearts of filmgoers because it arouses an ancient knowledge that has lay buried deep in the unconscious mind—knowledge about essential human power—chi, or life force energy. We are a culture that has taken active, living things and rendered them dead in exchange for materials that we think we want, that we think drive our world forward. But the attraction to kung fu betrays a far more magnetic attraction: our innate desire for life force energy.
We have grown lazy and calcified in our patterns, but in kung fu we are reminded of the beauty of physical, mental, and spiritual discipline—the ingredients for progressing cooperatively with life and the living power within us. This is what is deeply fulfilling for us, not the Ferris wheel of plasticity that we culturally subscribe to through the regular purchase and consumption of industrial foods, products, and blueprints for socially accepted living.
The power we are instinctually attracted to is living power, in all its fullness and abundance, in all its beauty and health-generating inspiration. But we cannot attain that kind of power through laziness and the herd mentality. Where does the herd’s uncultivated energy go? To the cattle driver, of course!
We can cultivate our power through the disciplines that shape it, or we can relinquish our power by stepping into line with the social norms that routinely destroy our greatest resources. The choice is ours.
Traditional Taoists are among the few remaining keepers of an ancient wisdom—a knowledge of energy so powerful that it can be lethal in immature hands. It tells us something about the power we carry within, and what happens when we relinquish rather than cultivate that power. With this power we can shape what indigenous peoples call “the dream,” “maya,” or “illusionary reality.” With this power we can also change the dream, as the remaining keepers of this ancient wisdom have long been urging us to do.
You, as a living being, are brimming with tremendous potential power. It is yours to cultivate and craft, to create and direct toward the life you want. By the same token, it is also yours to relinquish, whittle away, squander, or ignore.
Our culture has raised the last few generations to give their life force away—in exchange for a prepackaged life—in the form of packaged foods, relationships, careers, indulgences, entertainment systems, and so on. We now live in a world of devitalized adults and children who know nothing of their inner power, only of where to go for their next purchase.
Yet, even in our devitalized world, a young person will sometimes catch a glimpse of kung fu or feel a surge of chi. When that happens, what do we tell them? That it is the stuff of fantasies? Try telling that to the Shaolin monks, for whom telekinesis, the absorption of enormous amounts of momentum, displacement of matter, and electrogeneration are not supernatural events, but entirely natural and normal for a mature human being.
When our chi falls away from us like sand through our fingers, simply because we cannot see it with our modern-day eyes, so too do our forces of intuition, instinct, and connection—all those things that keep us alive and progressing.
As Danaos explains in his books, in order for there to be life, there must be a balance of yin and yang, the dance of the energies of life – the yin personified by the female (the inner negative pole, representing night, etc.) and yang personified by the male (the phallic positive pole, representing day, etc.). Within us we find the yin and yang energies running concurrently, parallel, side by side, propelling life in all its electromagnetic power. These energies can combine powerfully when we learn how to cultivate and harness their flow.
Eastern energy practices are a great place to begin appreciating the value of life force. Whenever you are vigilant of your inner power, where it resides and where it is going, and whenever you make the life choices that honor it, you are practicing kung fu, you are cultivating and maturing your physical and spiritual power. This is true wealth. Don’t let anyone take it from you!