Hard Work? The Meaning of ‘Gong’
The Chinese word ‘gong’ (工) is sometimes translated as ‘work’ but beneath this simple translation lie some powerful and important lessons in self-cultivation.
The ‘gong’ in ‘qi gong’ is actually the same word as the ‘kung’ in ‘kung fu’ – 2 different systems of Romanising Chinese words gives us 2 different spellings, but the Chinese character is the same for both, and the meaning is the same.
‘Qi Gong’ is normally translated as ‘Energy Work’. While ‘Qi’ refers the the vital energy that we work with using Qi Gong, the word ‘Gong’ doesn’t exactly mean ‘work’ as we know it in English. In fact, it has a much more subtle and complex meaning.
Here’s my definition.
Gong (工) : knowledge, understanding and ability gained through persistent effort over time.
The key here is that effort must be persistent, and it must extend through time. The understanding of ‘gong’ does not come overnight, no matter how hard you work.
Just as a master craftsman practices for years to hone his or her skills, in kung fu, qi gong and martial arts we must practice constantly to attain the highest skills.
In fact, in all aspects of self-development or self-cultivation, we must likewise persist with training day after day to gradually improve and learn. Eventually, we begin to attain the Gong – our understanding, experience and abilities grow through dedicated practice.
In traditional Qi Gong a ‘100 day practice’ is often recommended. This means taking one particular exercise, set or form, and practicing daily for 100 days without missing a single day. When you consider that this is more than 3 months, that’s no mean undertaking!
The idea is that such regular practice will really make you familiar with that exercise, your understanding of it will grow with your experience, and it will have plenty of time to have an effect. It’s as if it ‘sinks in’ and takes root in your body and mind. You gain an a deep knowing that is only possible with this kind of repetition. This is ‘gong’ at work!
I have experienced this effect myself, and noticed it many times in students and patients in my clinic. Here’s the take-home message:
Whether in meditation/mindfulness, qi gong, tai chi, yoga, stretching, or any kind of self-cultivation practice, it’s better to practice for just 5-10 minutes per day, every day, than for a 2 or 3 hour block, just once per week.
In other words, it’s the consistency that makes the big difference.
I find this quite liberating, knowing that I don’t have to set aside huge chunks of time for practice. Anyone can find 5 minutes per day, and on days that you have extra time, then by all means extend your practice to 20 minutes, an hour, or however long you like.
But don’t put off practice because you don’t feel that you have the time. Just do your 5 minutes, and you’ll keep the continuity going.
In this way, you can develop your own gong. And it doesn’t have to be hard work.
This is really interesting. I have been doing qi gong for a while and have never known what it meant. i will have to try the 100 day practce! Thanks, Tam.