The Mind In Internal Kung Fu

In order to understand Internal Kung Fu, it is important also to understand at a basic level how the mind works. In knowing this, we are able to understand why we have to perform forms or katas and why they are so important. 


I was alerted to the following by taking a memory course by Kevin Trudeau which, for me had more relevance to the martial arts than merely learning how to remember things! I have also read extensively books such as “Super Memory” and have found that what they contain is relevant to the martial arts. This is one of Kevin Trudeau’s experiments. I would like you to try this right now. As you read this, imagine that you are holding a big yellow juicy lemon in your hand. You must SEE the lemon in your mind’s eye; you must feel the waxy texture and that little lump at the end. Take a big knife, cut the lemon holding one half up to your mouth, and squeeze the juice into your open mouth. 

What happened? Your mouth produced saliva didn’t it. You really did not have a lemon; you were only imagining it. Your mind however, still caused your body to do what it would have done had you a real lemon! 

The Mind in Internal Kung Fu

The Mind in Martial Arts

It is the same with Kung Fu and the Martial Arts. When we practice our forms or katas, we imagine the opponent in front of us. If you have a good imagination, your sub-conscious mind will be doing all of those self-defence applications as you go through your forms. The good thing is however, that you do not have to imagine the applications every time you practice. Only once or twice do you have to be told what the applications are and only once or twice do you have to go through the whole form imagining that you are performing those applications.

After that, those movements go into your ‘long term’ memory and you no longer have to think about them, they will just happen sub-consciously. It does not take long for a ‘short term’ memory to become long term. I have a way of remembering my pin numbers where I make up a story using those numbers. Every time I have to use my pin, I remember the story rather than the pin number.

However, the amazing thing is, that after a short time, I no longer even remember the story, as it has become sub-conscious or ‘long term memory’. Therefore, the pin number just comes without any conscious thought. Doing it this way, there is no chance that you will forget the number after some time of not using it as it has become long term, like your name. No one forgets their name unless they have some memory disease. And it is the same with the martial arts, before long, the self-defence applications go into your long term memory and you no longer have to think about them, they will just happen if you are ever attacked. 

Sports or Self-Defence?

This is the beauty of doing form or kata correctly, you do not actually have to go out and fight people in order to learn about self-defence. You have of course to know how to strike hard objects, and you have to have some form of interaction with other people in a self-defence area such as in push hands or in what we in our schools call ‘offence/defensive’ sparring. I use the word ‘sparring’ with caution however as most people nowadays know my thoughts on this silly pastime. What most people call sparring is the most damaging area of one’s Kung Fu or self-defence training. Of course, if you are only doing a martial art as opposed to using a martial art as a self-defence tool, then you should do sparring.

Sparring is a sport and if you are doing martial arts for sport, then you will have to do sparring in order to win trophies etc. However, do not expect to be able ever to defend yourself using those same movements that you use in the ring against some street-wise attacker. You will be beaten up should you think that you could defend yourself because you have won some trophy in some martial arts tournament! Street fights just do not happen as they do in ANY ring fight no matter how realistic they TRY to make them or call them. You have to do either sports or self-defence; the two can never be mixed. 

‘Offence/Defensive’ Sparring

Offensive/defensive sparring is the only way that my Kung Fu schools teach fighting. We do it this way; the instructor wears all of the protective equipment that he can find so that he is not hurt. We even go so far as to wear large neck equipment so that neck strikes are used without killing the instructor. I say that it is only the instructor with many years of training who I able to act at the attacker because he or she will have the necessary control to be able to pull the attacks should they see that the student is not going to defend against it! This is very important.

However, we do not let the student whose time has come for this type of training, know that we will actually pull the attacks when necessary. The student believes that they will be severely struck if they do not successfully defend themselves. This is part of the mind training. In any confrontation, the person with the strongest and most resolute mind will win depending upon relevant training of course.

Attack and Defend

I let the student believe that he or she will be severely attacked with great force and if they do not successfully defend against me, they will be hurt. I then attack as they would be attacked in the street, totally illogically, without technique like an animal. As soon as I register that the student has struck me in two or three deadly point like the neck, I will stop the attack, as I have been defeated. This kind of training I have found to be the greatest training aid for any self-defence method. The students really feel intimidated as they would in the street. Then they only have their mind to rely upon. They must summon up automatically more yang Qi (energy) than what I am landing upon them, only then will they be assured that their art will suffice in a real scrap. 

In one training session of Kung Fu and other martial art’s form or kata, we have defended ourselves against an attacker often hundreds of times and these methods become automatic eventually. 

Natural Movements

However, here is the rub; you must be training in natural movement, that which is in tune with your natural flow of internal energy. Only these movements will ever become sub-conscious reflex actions. Movements that are jerky, stiff, not circular, will ever become a reflex action, as they are moves that we have always to think about. Many karate people around the world now are beginning to realise this and are changing their katas slightly, so that they represent that which was originally kept from them! 

Your mind cannot tell the difference between what is imagined and what is real. As an example, my children only ever practice form thus far. But every now and again, I will simply attack them to test out their sub-conscious learning. Without fail, each one of them is able to defend against my attacks relative to their level of growth and strength of course. But the sub-conscious is there, never having any normal sparring. People who say that they only practice what is ‘real’ and never practice form or kata will never be good at self-defence. We only have to look at some of the great martial arts instructors such as Bruce Lee. No one has ever come up to his level. Why? Because people tried to learn what he knew and not HOW he knew.

Bruce Lee’s Mindset

Bruce Lee was well versed in a number of classical Kung Fu martial arts systems including Wing Chun and Tai Chi. It would be the same should I try to teach my own students and children what I know and not how I learnt it. Sure it is very hard not to teach what I now know, as it is exciting for me to teach the advanced stuff. However, I must keep teaching basics to beginners, as they will never reach an advanced level if I only teach them how to fight using my system. In learning from the beginning, the classical internal systems, we eventually learn to invent our own system where the art becomes ours; we own the art, it does not own us. However, in order to own the art of Kung Fu, it must own you for some time in the beginning. 

What Bruce Lee Said

Bruce Lee was correct in saying in as many words, that one must come across his own system, leaving all martial arts systems aside. But in order to do that, we must first learn a system! A baby cannot just get up and run, it must first learn a system of moving. When the baby grows up, it has its own system of moving like no other person. At this time, the baby has be-come the adult and has mastered the art of moving. It is the same with the martial arts; we must firstly learn a system, preferably a classical proven system. Then we are able to convert that knowledge to our own system. This is the reason that I always tell my students, (at an advanced level), “don’t do it like me, find your own way”.

However, in the beginning, they must do it exactly the same way that I do it as these are the basic building blocks of those forms that have been proven to lead you to greater things later. Many Kung Fu and other martial art systems will not do this for you however, as they are just not physically sound; they do not have natural movement. 

Imagine The Opponent

When you are first imagining the opponent in front of you and performing the self-defence applications against his attacks, you must have it in your mind as vividly as possible. See what clothing the attacker is wearing. Is he small or large, dark or light coloured hair and complexion? Is he hairy or smooth? Really see that attacker as he attacks you but do not use tension in your forms as this will block the Qi and those movements will never become reflexive! This is what is wrong with the so-called ‘dynamic tension katas’; they block the Qi. Be sure to put yourself into the picture as this really helps with long term memory. This sounds like I am also talking about push hands. And I am. Push hands has all of the above elements and in the idea exercise for gaining reflex self-defensive actions. 

In Conclusion

One last warning: Always be careful of what you think in your Kung Fu and life! Because what you think, your mind is actually doing! This applies to all facets of life and has a direct bearing upon your standard of life. Someone can be on the outside a saint and have a miserable life because what they are thinking on the inside is definitely not saintly! Your mind is the most powerful weapon you have in both self-defence and in your daily life. Use it wisely!

By Erle Montaige

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