Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Mark Salzman liked the kung fu TV show and that lead to learning some Chinese martial arts, learning about China to the extent of studying Chinese literature in college, speaking Mandarin and semi-speaking Cantonese, going to China to teach English, learning that China has many forms of martial arts, none of which are called "kung fu."

In his book about working in China, "Iron and Silk," he wrote, "In the West, Chinese martial arts are called 'kung fu' or 'gung fu,' but the word gung fu actually means skill that transcends mere surface beauty. A martial artist who technique is decorative but without power 'has no gung fu,' whereas, say, a calligrapher whose work is not pretty to look at but reflects a strong austere taste certaintly 'has gung fu.'"

Gung fu seems like a cousin in meaning of the ancient Greek word that is often translated as "virtue." To the ancient Greeks it meant doing what one was doing with great skill and in a way that expressed the essence of the task. Baker, potter, soldier, all could have virture because of their skill and the depth of understanding it showed.