All art forms, and all of life for that matter, are works in progress. Never an endpoint is reached, but milestones or the awareness that a change in the outcome of our efforts has developed. Kung fu taught this to me best. There is no true master, only progress towards becoming more fluid with the practice and forms. Music also teaches this well as over time new rewards start to emerge. Our hearing starts to discern relative pitches better, we recognize chords more easily, odd rhythms seem more familiar and structural components like melodic themes and the common strategy of verse/chorus/verse/chorus evolve to include bridges and unrepeated elements.
And yet life may be the ultimate practice. Wake up, shower, eat breakfast, go to work, have lunch and so on outlines the typical day for many of us and after doing this long enough, the practice may feel more automatic and altogether formulaic. At points, I’ve certainly felt this way and wasn’t all that aware that the formula had overtaken and the practice was but a diminished impulse in the recesses of my body. One method I have employed to maintain a practice in life is to make mundane tasks seem fun. For example, when I worked at a record store I was one of the openers and it was my responsibility to sweep the front sidewalk. Despite this being a fairly everyday task, I tried my hardest to make it look like it was the best thing anyone could be doing in that moment. I enlisted my old street hockey skills and sought clever ways to move my feet in stride with the broom as we danced together clearing the way for the present day’s music fans.
Related to kung fu, the Stephen Chow directed film “Shaolin Soccer” comes to mind. Also the lead role, Chow’s character sees kung fu as something that can be practiced in all aspects of life, from how we walk to how we make sweet buns. Around the same time I had begun studying kung fu and this felt like a marvelous way of looking at and practicing life. Kung fu embodies a presence of internal and external chi flow and life is always around us swiftly or subtly influencing how we move and make decisions. I have always been sensitive to this, and studying kung fu brought me closer to the subtleties of life’s myriad forces and that there is always a flow that can be connected to, moving freely through everything. In this way, life is never dull or spoiled, it’s constantly open and momentous, for there is something shimmering in each nook and during each passing moment. Cooking can become a ballet, biking may shift into a dance party, gardening might unleash the inner child and tiny magical creatures reveal themselves in the flowerbed. It is but a practice that anyone can practice everyday, anywhere, it simply takes being with the present to be in the practice.
And so, may we all find ourselves practicing, fumbling and laughing, getting back up and marveling at our clumsy natures, and then doing it all anew the next day.
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Photo credit: Yoon S. Byun, Boston Globe
Kung Fu and the art of making sweet buns