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Adam Hsu Kung Fu

Traditional Chinese Martial Arts

Adam Hsu
"How many arms?"

How Many Arms Do You Have?

By Adam Hsu

(Translated by Joan-Huey Dow)

Class starts as the teaching assistant calls all students to line up.
I walk to the front and lead the bow.
"To the Tao!" All bow once.
"To the masters!" All bow again.
"To the fellow practitioners!" All bow once more.

I turn around to face the students and say, "Good morning!"
"Good morning!" they reply loudly.

"Let me ask you a question," I start my preaching.
"Yes, sir."
"How many arms do you have?"
"Ah..." "This..." "I have?" "Don't we all have two arms?" "Ha ha..."
"Don't laugh!"
"Yes, sir."
"You have two arms, right? Then you shouldn't study kung fu any more!"
"Be quiet! One more question for you. Since you have two arms - this is your own answer - what is the length of both arms together?"
"Then..." All the students talk amongst themselves or try to measure their arms.

"Stop!" I say after a few minutes.
They stop, but look puzzled and anxious.
"You, how long are your two arms together?"
"Ah, about four feet?"
"And you? How long?"
"Me? Roughly four and half feet!"
"And you too! What's your answer?"
"I am taller and my legs are longer. Indeed my arms are..."
"Give me your answer!"
"Maybe five feet, more or less..."

I am not going to give them the answer so easily. So I say seriously, "How could one person have two arms? How could you practice kung fu with two arms?"
They are baffled.
I continue, "I have only one arm."
I rotate my arms around and say, "See, one arm!"
They are more confused and unwilling to accept this...
"But," I raise my two arms horizontally, "this is my ONE arm and it is longer than your two arms together."
They still looked puzzled. Some students whisper and some smile.

It's time to give them the answer: "Everyone! I have only ONE arm. See? From the tips of my left fingers to my left elbow, left shoulder, through my back, right shoulder, right elbow, then to the tips of my right fingers. Isn't this ONE long arm?"
I explain by raising my fists: "This arm has two tips."
"Furthermore," I add, "my arm is measured from one fist to the other fist including the width of my shoulders. That's why my arm is longer than yours!"
Loud laughter and chattering from the students erupt at this explanation.
I am not blaming them since they are just beginners and also naive kung fu fans. The people to be blamed are the kung fu teachers like us, our teachers, and our teachers' teachers.

* * * * * *

Why do so few people practice one arm kung fu? Why must we think of the arms as only limbs attached to both shoulders, one on each side of our torso?

"Everyone is born this way," you say? I don't care. I am talking about kung fu practitioners, not normal people. Kung fu practitioners use the principle of one long arm, i.e. all movements should include the torso.

Let's draw an analogy: the brain is the commander, the body is the barracks, the arms are the army divisions and both hands are the advanced attacking troop.

China is the birthplace of the famous military expert Sun Tzu and it has produced numerous great generals, military books and war history. Although individuals (e.g. each of our body parts) use kung fu to fight, kung fu nonetheless has important applications for the entire military system. Chinese kung fu's cultural background and martial philosophy dictate that it is not intended for "partial" combat, such as using the fists or the feet. The image of two gunfighters dueling in the Old West does not apply here. Kung fu combat is troop to troop, involving the entire body.

I don't know when, in history, basic kung fu training became so misleading to beginners. So far, only a few somewhat cryptic sayings can be found in the ancient texts, such as "Issue force from the spine," "One body has five bows," or "The whole body is a fist." The true meaning of such statements is not obvious but instead must be deciphered.

"One arm" is the unique characteristic of Chinese kung fu and it is the most crucial key to determine if the kung fu you see is true kung fu. We can even say, "Movements that use two arms are not real kung fu, no matter how prestigious or famous the school may be." The secret of kung fu is connecting both arms with the body to form the "ONE" arm. With this in mind, we can even call it "No-Body's kung fu!!"

Isn't it a lost secret? You're not going to believe it, right?

What you really won't believe is why I want to tell you this secret!