Exerpted from The Kung Fu Kitties: The Adventure Begins by Jeremy Roadruck, Chapter 3:

“The Chinese write using ideas instead of writing only how you say the word. That’s one of the things that helped to keep the Chinese People together as a country over their long history. There are a lot of dialects, different ways to pronounce the words of the language, but there is one written language based on communicating ideas.”

Cora drew something in the dust.

It looked like this:  

She explained:

“This character is pronounced as ‘Shi’ in Mandarin but your tongue rolls back in your mouth so it’s somewhere between saying ‘she’ and ‘sure’ in English. It’s pronounced as ‘Si’ in Cantonese and sounds like you’re saying the ‘se’ in ‘seat.’

Mandarin and Cantonese are the two most popular dialects of Chinese. Mandarin is the official language of China. In our Kung Fu Family, we most often use the Cantonese pronunciation so we say ‘Si.’

The dictionary will tell you that it means a division of the army, a master; a teacher; a tutor; or to teach… it can also refer to when you pattern or model after another, or even refer to a specialist such as a specialist of medicine, painting, music, and more. It can also refer to a local administrative chief, or even be a Chinese family name! That’s a lot of different meanings out of one little word!

All our Kung Fu relationships begin with this character:

There are even terms for uncles and aunts, too. But all the terms start with the character of ‘Si’. That’s because we’re all here to learn from each other. ‘Si’ means someone who looks out for you, someone who cares for you and in the martial arts it means someone who would give up her or his life in your defense.

As Kung Fu Kitties, we can have fun and we can be friendly but we must always remember that the most important reason we’re together is to develop each other’s Kung Fu. To live a Kung Fu Life requires that we always work on maintaining our Self-Control, Focus, Respect, Self-Discipline, and work on developing our Self-Confidence. It means we have to remember why we’re together and remember our proper time and place to act. This is the first step on the path to a Kung Fu Life.”

“Wow, that is kind of complicated,” said Hannah.

“Well, not as you learn to live it. Whenever to try to understand something without experiencing it, it’s always complicated; that’s why you have to put yourself into things and directly experience them, not hold yourself apart, outside of things, to analyze them. Once you have an insider’s experience, you see how easy it is to understand what’s going on and apply your understanding quickly, and easily!”

Cora quickly wrote three more characters next to the first character. Her drawings now looked like this:

She continued:

“The characters I added are two different ideas, both pronounced as ‘Fu.’

The first Fu refers to a father, a male elder, doing a father’s duty, and even an old man. It’s actually a picture of a hand enforcing rules with a stick. It represents part of a father’s responsibility to his children and to society – communicating and enforcing the rules.

The second Fu refers to a teacher or the act of teaching, to go together with, to add to, to be attached with or attached to, and it can be a Chinese family name. It represents a People who are concentrated on working the shuttle of a loom. The shuttle of a loom is the part that puts the horizontal threads, which are called the warp, through the vertical threads, which are called the woof or weft. If you’ve ever seen a traditional loom being used, you’ll see that it takes a lot of concentration, experience, and practice to work the shuttle through the vertical threads.

We use the first phrase ‘Sifu’ to refer to our teacher and kung fu father. This phrase shows that we have a special relationship with him. He has a special skill that he’s teaching to us. Anyone not a student would use the second phrase to refer to our teacher out of respect for his time, dedication, and effort in developing his kung fu and taking on the effort of sharing it with others. Our Sifu, that’s the character that looks like an ‘X’ with eyebrows, teaches and enforces the rules that guide developing our skill. When he does that, he helps us to save time.”

“Wow. Now that really is complicated,” said Hannah with a sigh.

“Again, not really,” replied Cora. “Once you understand the idea, it’s actually really easy to remember. In China, the head chef of a restaurant is called ‘Sifu’ and so is a taxi or bus driver. They have a special skill that takes years of effort to develop. If they’re teaching you their skill, they’re a special type of People in your life that you call Sifu, who explains the rules to you. If they’re someone you know with a high level of skill and knowledge on a specific topic, then you would call them Sifu, too. It’s only when you write it that the characters really matter. It’s more important you understand the difference in meaning behind the words. And understanding all of that is part of Kung Fu. Sometimes People think it’s just about fighting, but that not it at all,” Cora said as she shook her head side-to-side.

“What do you mean?” Hannah asked as she curled up and listened to Cora.

“Well, a lot of People seem to think that Chinese martial arts are called ‘Kung Fu.’ But Kung Fu is about developing skill and ability through hard work over time.”

“If I understand you, doesn’t that mean anything you can learn how to do is a type of Kung Fu?” asked Hannah with a puzzled look on her face.

Cora blinked at Hannah, saying, “That’s right – in a way. Everything you can learn IS a form of Kung Fu but you have to approach it with the right attitude…”

“… and that’s what you called a Kung Fu Life, from before, right?” offered Hannah.

“Exactly!” Cora chirped happily. “Anyone can learn any skill but without the right attitude, you’ll end up being what we call a Technician. That’s someone who has good technical skill but the understanding that goes along with that skill doesn’t transfer into other areas of life.”

“So if someone was a good mouser but short-tempered with her family, that would be a Technician?” asked Hannah.

“Yes Ma’am,” answered Cora. “When you work on living a Kung Fu Life, you move your life in a different direction because you have a sense of purpose. You become a Practitioner. That means you work on transferring your skill and understanding from one area of your life into all areas of your life.”

“This is all very exciting!” Hannah exclaimed. She happily tapped the tip of her tail and started purring. “It’s been a long, long time since I’ve been happy. Thank you for helping me understand some of what’s going on.”

Cora answered, “It’s been my pleasure. I didn’t know I knew so much until we started talking. I haven’t had anyone to play with here at the house. Sifu has students at the Mo Kwoon, the martial arts school, but I’ve been the only Kitty here at the house. But now you’re here.” Cora started purring, too.

No one’s completely sure of every reason why a cat purrs but generally it’s a way to show contentment, to communicate to momma cat (called a Queen) that everything’s ok, and to attract attention when a Kitty is getting very sick. Cora and Hannah purred at each other because each girl was happy to have someone new to share life together.

As she let out a huge yawn Hannah said, “I have one more question – why do you keep talking about martial arts? What does martial arts have to do with a Kung Fu Life? Isn’t the martial arts about fighting?”

Cora yawned too (yawns are contagious, even for Kitties, you know) and said, “Fighting is a part of the martial arts. In fact, we cats are natural martial artists. It’s in our nature to know how to hunt, hide, stalk, and pounce. As I’ve learned from Sifu, humans have some natural skills too. When we take the time and effort to learn the martial arts, we put ourselves in a situation where we have to directly face reality. And we see the consequences of our actions immediately. So the martial arts and a Kung Fu Life go hand-in-hand. Trying to develop a Kung Fu Life any other way takes more time. And time is the only resource we can never get back once it’s gone. As Sifu likes to say, ‘when your life is on the line, don’t waste time.’ And whether we realize it or not, our lives are always on the line.”

“That makes a lot of sense…” Hannah said as slowly blinked at Cora and then gently she drifted off to sleep.

Cora slowly blinked at Hannah again, then curled up next to her and also went to sleep.

If you want to see more Chinese characters and learn how to draw them take a look at the Bonus Chapters at the end of the story.

Did you notice …?

Is martial arts just about fighting or something more? (S_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ M_ _ _ )

 (you can fill in the blanks if you want to, or just answer out loud)