kung fu

28 April 2007

Bruce Lee and Me: A Martial Arts Adventure
by Brian Preston (305pp, Atlantic, £8.99)
American Shaolin: One Man’s Quest to Become a Kung Fu Master
by Matthew Polly (366pp, Abacus, £10.99)

In The Matrix, Neo undergoes an accelerated virtual training program in the martial arts. When he wakes up, he is a different man. “I know kung fu,” he says in awe. It’s a glorious fantasy – who wouldn’t want to take a cyber-shortcut to being kickass with none of the years of painful training? Sweat and tears are rendered obsolete by whizzy technology. But in reality, you must, as the Chinese say, “eat bitter” – do lots of tedious and painful work – to acquire any skill. Indeed, the term “kung fu” itself, often used as an umbrella term for the hundreds of different Chinese martial arts, just means “skill acquired through hard work”. An excellent chef or pianist can be said to have good kung fu. Similarly, martial arts are not about learning a few “secret techniques” and instantly being Jackie Chan. Spending a few months learning to hop around like a crane or tiger will not make you invincible. There are no shortcuts, as both of these books demonstrate. Continued →