An Element of Threat


Shaolin Kungfu is a martial art full of compassion. Does having an element of threat contradict this feeling of compassion?

-- Diederick, Netherlands


The answer can be yes or no, depending on various factors, like one's philosophy and application of martial arts.

For us the answer is no. Having an element of threat does not contradict our feeling of compassion.

The main reason for applying the element of threat is to enable us to be efficient against opponents attacking us in a threatening manner.

And most opponents attack us or anybody in a threatening manner. Some are so infused with threatening attack that they even neglect their own safety.

When our students face the same attacks but minus the threat, like in our combat sequence training, they can handle the attacks competently. But when there is a lot of threat, like tremendous force and fast speed, our students lose their composure and are being hit badly. It is not because they lack the skills and techniques to handle the attacks, but because they are not used to the element of threat.

So we have to introduce the element of threat gradually and systematically so that eventually our students can spar or fight even when the situations are very threatening. When threatening situations to other people are no longer threatening to them, they can be more efficient as well as comfortable in being compassionate to their opponents.

It is worthy of note that threatening to hurt an opponent is not the same as actually hurting an opponent. You may threaten him, but you may not hurt him. When a situation requires it, you may actually hurt him or even kill him, yet still be compassionate.

Some people may wonder how can one kill and still be compassionate. He can. Killing and compassion are two different issues. One can kill and still be compassionate, like letting an opponent die quickly and painlessly. On the other hand, one can let an opponent live and be very cruel to the opponent.

I have mentioned a few times that we are training a martial art, not some dance-like demonstration to please spectators. If another martial artist mocks and challenges our school to a public fight, we shall not hesitate to hurt him decisively, or even kill him, if it is absolutely necessary. We must have the courage and righteousness to do so.

You would be pleased to know that having an element of threat is mentioned in some Shaolin classics as a requirement for effective combat. Like you, at first I was concerned how threat can be congruent with Shaolin Kungfu as a compassionate martial art. But over the years I have realized the wisdom of past masters who recommended this.

Reproduced from May 2013 Part 2 in Selection of Question-Answer Series


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