This is a collection of teachings, musings, and thought provoking passages from the television show, “Kung Fu,” which starred the late David Carradine and aired from 1972 through 1975.
Dear Reader, fellow martial artists, and others who are seeking “The Way,”
I have compiled this collection of dialog from all 63 episodes from the original Kung Fu television series. This was accomplished in an effort to enlighten some spiritually. But it was also begun to aid the student in his/her lifelong journey in the martial arts. In my 50 plus years as a student, the more I learn of the various styles and disciplines, the more I observe the similarities among them. Like the world’s great religions, the goals are similar, but the paths vary. After much thought and research, I have concluded that it is unreasonable to say that one style or art is better than any other. In the final analysis, it is always the student that makes one art better than another depending upon the path that student has chosen. And we are, after all, all students.
I have prepared this paper as a requirement for my nomination to be honored as a Kyoshi, as well as receiving my NanaDan (7th degree) in Uechi-Ryu karate. I thank Master George Mattson for nominating me for this Honorarium. His multiple books on the “The Way,” gave me a strong foundation and inspired me to move individually towards my own path.
Fifty years ago in America, there was an explosion of interest in the Asian Martial Arts. As competitors, Norris, Lewis, and Wallace entertained the tournament circuits, while others joined in on a new wave of emerging action films. Eventually Norris, Lewis and Wallace headed to the silver screen themselves, but the biggest box office success was, of course, Bruce Lee. Unfortunately, Bruce passed away before seeing his block buster, “Enter The Dragon,” make its mark on the Arts. Though others continued on, it was always Lee who was the yard stick by which everyone else was measured.
It has been speculated (perhaps correctly) that it was Bruce Lee who originated the idea of a “wild-west” Kung Fu television series. Instead of him being selected for the role when it was announced, it was David Carradine who was chosen as the show’s star. Of course, Lee had been chosen for the film role in “Enter The Dragon,” so it is doubtful that his spirits were dampened.
The concept, or “theme,” of Kung Fu, traces the travels of Kwai Chang Caine throughout the American Old West. While searching for his half-brother, Caine chances upon all sorts of individuals who need help and training in anger management. Almost every episode contains a short “Kumite,” interlaced with words of wisdom from Masters Po and Kan at the Shaolin Monastery. The viewer may also travel back to the Monastery with Kwai Chang to see him in training. Of course, we become aware that Kwai Chang has escaped the authorities after he killed the Emperor’s nephew – after the Emperor’s nephew killed Master Po.
The episodes are interlaced with words of wisdom that I would like to explore in this writing. Many of the aphorisms, to quote Wikipedia, “are adapted from or derived directly from the Tao Te Ching, a book of ancient Taoist philosophy attributed to the sage Lao-Tzu (6th Century).” Some entries speak for themselves and need no interpretation. We shall consider them as, “it is written.” It is not necessary for one to study and ponder the Buddhist philosophies to enjoy this paper. It is only important to keep the mind open to appreciate the interesting and thought provoking information that was presented to the Kung Fu viewer many years ago.
Not every episode contained the crossing of hands or even words of wisdom. In the third and final season of the show, Carradine announced that he was leaving production, as he was having personal and family issues that were distracting him. About midway through that season, there were less and less action scenes with Shaolin wisdom. Carradine, apparently, just wanted to get it done and get out! Of course, years later in, “The Legend Continues,” he returned. Appearing below are the quotes from the series (written in italics).
Pilot Episode 2/22/1972
When you can take the pebble from my hand, it will be time for you to leave.
How many times has someone tried this or a similar act that required speed? We are told and must always remember that speed comes later – much later. The continual practice that develops muscle memory, allows speed to increase. However, too many students think that when you tense up to force a movement, the muscles move faster. Actually, that process serves to slow them down. Grabbing that pebble with such determination, will never allow you to capture it. You will be in the monastery a long time.
At this year’s Winter Fest (2016), Sensei Mattson used his computer and the Herman Trainer device, which measured reaction time and power, to test those in attendance. It was not surprising to many participants that it was our 70’s plus, Sensei Mattson, who was the fastest and strongest, as measured by the equipment. It is a Senior’s practice, that we develop a quarter second punch – a half second punch is too long (Roy Bedard). By relaxing and not tensing, your speed and power will increase, Grasshopper.
Indeed, there are two kinds of strength. The outer strength is obvious, but it fades with age and succumbs to sickness. Then there is the Chi, the inner strength. Everyone possesses it, too. But it is, indeed, much more difficult to develop. The inner strength lasts through every heat and cold, and through old age and beyond.
Along with the above comments about speed, remember where your power comes from: the ground. From the ground up through your legs, body, and out through your hands and feet. It is the Chi, which is that energy we all possess: it is un-thought, Mushin, no mind.
Development of the mind can be achieved only when the body has been disciplined. To accomplish this, the ancients have taught us to imitate God’s creatures.
From the crane we learn grace and self control.
The snake teaches us suppleness and rhythmic endurance.
The praying mantis teaches us speed and patience.
And from the tiger, we learn tenacity and power.
And from the dragon, we learn to ride the wind.
I am not sure whether it was Sensei Mattson or Yoda, who coined the phrase: “Do, do not Try.” You won’t know until you go for it. Every journey begins with a first step, regardless of its destination. Whether its traveling the world or just learning something new.
All creatures, the low and the high, are one with nature. If we have the wisdom to learn, all may teach us their virtues. Between the fragile beauty of the praying mantis and the fire and passion of the winged dragon.
There is no discord. Between the supple silence of the snake and the eagle’s claws, there is only harmony. As no two elements of nature are in conflict. So, when we perceive the ways of nature, we remove conflict within ourselves and discover a harmony of body and mind in accord with a flow of the universe. It may take half a lifetime to master one system.
While Uechi-Ryu originally had three Kata so, too, did we have three disciplines of animals: tiger, crane, and dragon. These three are demonstrated in the contrast between Sanchin’s simple, but powerful movements and the varied sweeping Dragon movements of Sanseiryu. Seisan is a bridge between the two.
Of course, too, the harmony is spoken with the universe, as our body, mind, and spirit must come into play. Training, discipline, and conditioning cannot be learned rapidly. It is a long process that cannot be accomplished overnight. Importantly, it is through that process that we develop the “half hard, half soft” attitude. The “hard” refers to the outer body strength which is not rigid, but serves as the protective armor. The “soft” is the inner. This refers to taking natural breaths so that breathing is not restricted to the point of passing out. Too many times we receive visitors from other areas of the country, who still have the rigid and robotic movements that actually limit their power. They think they are strong when, actually, they are not. If your movements do not flow, smoothly, your strikes will have little impact. As Master Mattson extols, draw your arm back steadily and smoothly, but accelerate the strike outward.
“Master, do we seek victory in contention?”
Seek, rather, not to contend.
“Shall we not then be defeated?”
We know that where there is no contention there is neither defeat nor victory. The supple willow does not contend against the storm, yet it survives. Weakness prevails over strength. Gentleness conquers. Become the calm and restful breeze that tames the violent seed. To know nature is to put oneself in perfect harmony with the universe. Heaven and earth are one. So we must seek a discipline of mind and body within ourselves.
I think the basis of this thinking is, of course, to choose not to fight, first. Seek another way to resolve any confrontation. It has been my experience that the more I was involved in the Arts, the more control I had over my emotions to not return hostility with extreme prejudice. This does not mean you turn the other cheek and, of course, we profess there is no first strike in the Martial Arts. It is an art in itself to be able to temper one’s anger in such a way that your aggressor reads your demeanor and backs off. This has been my personal experience as a youth, where it was fight first. Other than sparring, I can’t remember the last fight I had. Someone told me long ago; “I will walk a mile to avoid a fight, but never back down from one. “
The training that is given to us (or Kwai Chang, for that matter) is for defensive purposes. It does not mean we let someone beat us around our face and neck and just smile. It means we defend, deflect, or evade the strike. It is then, and only then, that we return a counter to our aggressor. Of course, you could also do nothing and just deflect. The aggressor will get the idea.
I have learned somewhere that there are no “blocks” in Uechi-Ryu. Students are confused, but they really intercept or redirect the attack and counter at the same time. A “circle block” for me is after I have check blocked. Then the circle finishes with a hard strike or chopping motion.
I have one more thought on the subject, with a little variation from the original quote by Gautama Buddha: “Victory breeds hatred, for the conquered is unhappy. He who gives up both victory and defeat, he is the contented and is happy.”
In the episode, “An Eye For An Eye,” young Caine gets into a fight with another and sports a black eye. He asks Master Po:
“Is injury wrought by oneself?”
“Then by oneself and another?”
Master Po: Did your eye meet your own fist?
“Then shall I seek ways to repay?”
Vengeance is a water vessel with a hole. It carries nothing but the promise of emptiness. “Shall I then repay injury, always with kindness?”
Repay injury with justice and forgiveness. But kindness always with kindness.
Fear is the enemy. Trust is the armor. Deal with evil through strength. But affirm the good in man through trust. In this way we are prepared for evil, but we encourage good. Striving for an ideal, we do not seek rewards. Yet, trust does sometimes bring with it a great reward, even greater than good: Love.
The mind, the body and the spirit are one. When the body expresses the desires of the mind and spirit, then the body is in tune with nature. The act is pure and there is no shame. And what is love? Love is harmony, even in discord.
There are several things here that may seem contradictory, but with a little reasoning we can see that one must trust first, as there is no reason to distrust. Dealing with evil through strength does not necessarily mean violence. It is more like, “Trust but verify.” Or “Earn peace through strength.” And even as General Sun Tzu said: “In peace prepare for war, in war prepare for peace. (The Art of War).”
The ideals we form and practice are not to be done for a reward at the end, but for our own personal satisfaction of contentment or achieving a goal that is not obtained at the expense of another. As in Sanchin, we have the three conflicts: body, mind, and spirit. Without this understanding we cannot expect to take our bodies in to a combat situation without the discipline of knowing we have no limits when we become one with ourselves.
What the eye sees disappears with a blink. Or a wandering puff of breath. Where there was light, the eye denied, sees nothing. What the soul sees, cannot be denied.
Discipline your body that you may find greater power. When the heart knows no danger, no danger exists. When the soul becomes the warrior, all fear melts. Know that men so often mask themselves that what is simple is rarely understood. The dust of truth swirls and seeks its own cracks of entry. And a tree falling in the forest without ears to hear, makes no sound, yet, it falls.
Well, after 50 years, I finally know the answer to that riddle.
The best charioteers do not push ahead. The best fighters do not make displays of anger. The wisest antagonist is he who wins without engaging in battle.
We have heard these comparisons over the years, like the best swordsman who has never drawn his sword, or the policeman who has never used his gun. Every situation doesn’t mean that the result will require the use of force or a crippling blow.
A good soldier is not violent. A fighter is not angry. A victor is not vengeful.
See the way of life as a stream. A man floats and his way is smooth. The same man turning to fight upstream, exhausts himself. To be one with the universe, each must find his true path and follow it.
Strike each flame within the width of the hand from the wind. In this way the flame is snuffed out. Yet the candle is not touched. The purpose of this exercise is discipline. That you may strike with such strength and in one place and no more.
I remember doing this exercise many years ago, where you pulled your punch just short of hitting the candle and blowing out the flame. I am afraid to teach this to any of our young students, in case they would burn their house down.
We learn to make powerful the force of our bodies, yet we are taught to reverence all against whom we may use such force. When your life is threatened or the innocent life of another, you will be prepared to defend them. Duck the provoking blow; run from the assault of the strong. This is not cowardice. It is the love of life.
The use of force to defend or save a life is without question and allowed within the Shaolin teachings. However, the extent or severity of your force is to be controlled and be just enough force to stop the attacker: not kill them. In Hojo-undo we do a flick eye strike and a straight eye strike. One more severe than the other.
Between father and son, there is a bridge which neither time nor death can shatter. Each stands at one end needing to cross and meet. The bridge is your love.
Superstition is like a magnet. It pulls you in the direction of your belief. This simply means you will believe what your mind tells you what is real or unattainable. If you think you can’t do something or win something, you already lost. So your mind is that powerful weapon that should see all and make you aware you can do all.
Those who speak convincingly of peace, cannot go armed. Those who speak convincingly of peace, must not be weak. So we make every finger a dagger, every arm a spear, and every open hand an axe or sword.
Training in the martial arts is for spiritual reinforcement. But it is based on self-defense. When you are attacked by more than one person, the enemy should be allowed to make the first move and thus create the beginning of his downfall.
There is no first strike in the Martial Arts. In an attack by more than one person, use your peripheral vision to see all around you, but take out one individual at a time.
End season one
A single blow to the base of the neck can be a fatal stroke.
“Master, these things we are taught, I cannot do them.”
You find the exercises too difficult?
“No, Master, too cruel.”
And to be killed? What is that?
“I must learn these exercises to defend myself.”
Learn first, how to live; then second, how not to kill. Learn third, how to live with death. Learn fourth, how to die.
We must remember in the beginning it was discussed that the monks learned Kung Fu as self defense, as many times they were robbed or attacked by bandits. One of the Martial Arts sayings is, “There is no first strike in the art.” That is, we must exercise our better judgment in how severe our defense should be. Other than a life-threatening situation, the defense should be minimal, to either repel your attacker or allow enough time to escape. Delivering a life ending strike to someone when your life was not in danger, would be a severe choice of tactics. Enough of a counter attack should be performed to end the situation. I do ask my students, “Do you want to be the one to go home or the hospital? Or worse.” That should be your motivation to end the attack as quickly as possible.
That we are possessed by what we would possess; held in bondage to earth and vested things by the attachments we form for them. Even so Holy a thing as a chalice, so slight a thing as a pebble.
This is as the old saying goes, “Possessed by your possessions.” This is about how we cling to things for sentimental reasons; as a reminder of someone or something that was either dear to us or perhaps a milestone in our life. It’s just human nature and provides comfort, in most cases.
“And what is it to be a man?”
To be a man is to be one with the universe.
“But what is the universe?”
Rather, ask what is not the universe.
“Then it is everywhere.”
It is in your eye and in your heart, as a seed of the peach contains the fragrance of the flower and the substance of the fruit.
“And the bitter pit at it core?”
What is a son without a father or mother?
Is not a son the love of a father and a mother and the life they gave him? A design of the universe he must fulfill, if he is to be a man.
Your final test, the urn of the two symbols: the dragon and the tiger. When you can walk in this corridor, the inner path to the outer world and can push the urn aside with your forearms, you will bear its markings with you for the rest of your life.
“How can I, Master, having only the strength of a man and the weaknesses?”
It is because you are a man that you can do this, Grasshopper. As the softest clay in time, becomes the hardest brick; a fragile leaf, a diamond; as a stream of fiery ore freezes into unbending iron, so too, may a man ascend to himself. By slowly forging the Chi within your self. The bond between the finite and the infinite; the inner essence of your spirit, and the limitless power of the universe. You will have found your strength and the source of your survival.
I am not sure how many teachers profess the teachings of Chi or inner energy, but I try to understand it and slowly develop more power. With Mushin, it can become second nature.
There is much evil in the world, Grasshopper. It has always been thus. And so our ancestors built this monastery and developed the art of Kung Fu, so they might cultivate virtue and protect themselves from harm. But, whatever one man possesses, another will covet. The Manchu emperor heard of our prowess, so he sent an army of soldiers to burn the monastery to the ground. Only 5 escaped. They made their way to Fukien and founded the Tong to overthrow the Manchus and restore the Ming emperors to the throne. Violence became their tool for combating violence. Thus, the Sage Chuang-Tzu has said, “By ethical argument and moral principle, the greatest crimes are shown to have been necessary, and in fact, a great benefit for mankind.”
Two hundred years have passed. The Manchus are still sitting upon the throne. The Tong still kill – no longer for a noble cause- yet they are the children of the 5 Shaolin who went to Fukien long ago, and we are the parents. Evil cannot be conquered in the world. It can only be resisted within oneself. A superior man fights only great battles.
It is written, shape clay into a vessel. It is the space within that gives it value. Place doors and windows in a house, it is the opening that brings light within. Therefore, be the space at the center. Be nothing, and you will have everything to give to others.
“That man suffers for want of food.”
Did he not say he had eaten well?
“He does not speak truly. He is weak from hunger.”
Perhaps his desire for dignity is greater than his need of food?
“He is poor. He should admit it. He’s too proud.”
Perhaps pride is the only crown he has left to wear. Would you not truly help him by offering first respect and then food?
“He fights with such power. He is the strongest and surely the best.”
He is the strongest, and the weakest. He will soon be dismissed.
“You confuse me, Master.”
What is gained by using one’s strength in violence and anger?
“A victory that is swift.”
Yet, to be violent is to be weak. Violence has no mind. Is it not wiser to seek a man’s love than to desire his swift defeat? There is strength in us that can shatter an invincible object with a hand, which comes from a strong and disciplined body. There is another strength that allows us to feel the pain of others and give comfort where comfort is needed. This comes from a compassionate heart. True strength must combine both, for that is in harmony with the duality of our natures.
A man truly himself will not enrich his own interests and make a virtue of poverty. He goes his way without depending on others, yet is not arrogant that he needs no one. The greatest man is nobody. The Sage says: “That which shrinks must first, expand; that which fails, must first be strong; that which is cast down, must first be raised. Before receiving, there must first be giving.”
Beware of judgments of others. In this imperfect world in which we live, perfection is an illusion. And so the standards by which we seek to measure it, are also in themselves illusions. If perfection is measured by age, race, color of skin, color of hair, physical or mental prowess, then we are all lacking, and its well to remember that the hardest judgments are reserved for ourselves.
I am aware of his unsavory ventures. I am aware also, of his hunger and cold. Will the earth fall away from under his feet? Will the sun, shining on all else, withhold light and warmth from him? Will water turn to mud when he stops to drink? If sun and earth and water refrain from judgment, who am I to withhold a blanket and a bowl of rice?
It is said that honor dies where interest lies.
One thinks of death more as the years gather. It becomes almost acceptable…and yet fear remains. One wonders what it may bring.
Something mysteriously formed between Heaven and earth, silence and the void. Standing alone and unchanging, ever present and in motion. Perhaps it is the mother of 10,000 things. I do not know its name. I call it Tao. For lack of a better word, I call it “Great.”
A breath of life moves through a deathless valley, a mysterious motherhood which conceives and bears the universal seed…seeming of a world never to end. Breath for men to draw from as they will, and the more they take of it…the more remains. It is, “The Way.”
“I have disgraced myself.”
It is no disgrace to lose if one has sought to win.
The forces of destiny; as we stand with 2 roads before us, how shall we know whether the right road or the left road will lead us to our destiny? In destiny, there is no such thing as chance, for whichever way we choose-right or left- it must lead to an end, and that end is our destiny.
“How can we find our way when all paths seem dark?”
The way runs true through darkness, through shadow. Neither is cause for despair. The Sage has said that 5 colors blind the eye. The 5 tones deafen the ear. The 5 flavors fell the taste. Therefore, the wise man is guided by what he feels, not by what he sees. When our senses are confused and overpowered, our deeper feelings may yet keep us on the way.
At times, the task that you face may seem overwhelming, and you may feel unequal to what is required. The Sage has said others are contented. I, alone, am drifting, not knowing where I am. I am alone without a place to go. I am different. I am nourished by the great mother. In an uncertain hour, the wise man acknowledges uncertainty.
“Master, what is the best way to meet the loss of one we lost?”
By knowing that when we truly love it is never lost. It is only after death that the depth of the bond is truly felt and our loved one becomes more a part of us than was possible in life.
“Are we only able to feel this toward those whom we have known and loved a long time?” Sometimes a stranger known to us for moments can spark our souls to kinship for eternity. “How can strangers take on such importance to our souls?” Because our soul does not keep time. It merely records growth.
The Old Warrior
the dragon no longer breathes fire
the tiger’s fangs and claws have expired
the crane’s wing are too weak to fly
the leopard’s quickness has faded by
the snake’s poison is without effect
the Warrior does not hold his life in regret
and must die facing the enemy
moving forward until his death
An old warrior, 2012
-Thomas Lee Bentley
While it will be a long time coming, or never coming, for the next promotion and title, I would like to thank those in my journey of the art to the present.
Maybe it was the PAL boxing match when I was 6 years old and on local TV, that got me started in pugilism. I had to put on boxing gloves that were as big as my head. I really don’t know why I was there. To no surprise, I lost the match, but then I really didn’t know what I was supposed to do. Then I got involved in school skirmishes. I would go home, after losing again, and my Mother would make me go back out and find the kid I had the “run in” with. And of course, I had to win before I went home. And I did. It took a lot to get me to a point where my adrenalin kicked in and I kept swinging, until there was no one standing in front of me.
After a few years of this type of behavior, my mother took me to, probably, the only Karate school in our area: the Isshin-Ryu Karate Club in New Cumberland, PA. It was hoped I would temper my temper and learn the art. This was 1964. Sensei Ralph Lindquist, who today still operates out of the Harrisburg YMCA, runs the State’s oldest continuous Martial Arts school.
Sensei Lindquist became more than a sensei, but a mentor and a guiding beacon of many of my paths, these last 50 years. In my life, nothing else has taken up so much of my time as those things he taught me, from karate to fine jewelry, and our love of Rolls-Royce and Bentleys (Proper Motor Cars). He was then and I am sure still is, one tough, compassionate artist. A noble individual.
Moving around in the type of business I was in, I met several other stylists in various arts and with the help of Sensei Lindquist, discovered a Uechi-Ryu dojo in Brandon, Florida, and studied under Sensei Joe Guidry. Uechi-Ryu was an approved style! With Sensei Guidry and a few other members of the dojo, we made a pilgrimage to Okinawa, and visited Uechi Dojo, as well as many other well known dojo’s, such as Nakamatsu, Shinjo, Takamiyagi, and Tomoyose.
Still moving around the country, I benefited from the teachings of Bob Yogis, John Bassett, Master Gushi, and, finally, Sensei George Mattson. Sensei Mattson loved the central Florida area so much, he moved here. I think that was about 10 years ago.
A couple years ago, I met and trained with Sensei Tom Bentley in Kobudo. The Jo being my favorite. Sensei Bentley also sent me on the path of learning more about the Tao and how our energies are developed for more explosive power in our Art. Sensei Bentley is well versed in several other disciplines, and president of our South China Martial Arts Alliance: “My gi, my armor. My art, my refuge.”
Also, I would like to thank the writers and producers of the Kung Fu television series for their narratives of wisdom from the Tao.
So a heartfelt thank you to everyone and I hope I can still continue the journey to “The Way” with Master Mattson and the teachings of those who have gone before me.
Shihan, SichiDan, Renshi
Candidate for NanaDan, Kyoshi