RZA on Breath Control, Martial Arts and Being a Student
by Gene Ching
Sometimes, when I interview masters, they freeze on the microphone. They may have a lot of wisdom, but they aren't used to transmitting that in an interview. Being interviewed can be very surreal if you're not accustomed to it. Interviewing rappers is never that way. You give rappers the mic, and they'll run with it. After all, that's their trade.
I had the pleasure of interviewing RZA on November 5th, 2008. It was a dense interview. Some masters can talk for hours without saying much of anything. In less than thirty minutes, RZA gave enough material for three articles, so we published it as a trilogy.
Part two is RZA Reflects on Wu-Tang at Wudang Mountain, published in our first official Wudang Special, our March April 2009 issue. This is the final article from that interview.
GC: What can martial artists learn from hip hop?
RZA: I think martial arts and hip hop have a lot in common in many ways. They both start as a way to express aggression and strength through a form, you know? But in the end, it becomes formless. It's not a weapon of offense or self-defense. It becomes a weapon of all sorts of things. It's a weapon of cultivation. I think hip hop has become that for so many people. Hip hop artists like myself, and the rapper T.I., who has a big situation going on. He had to go to jail for the trouble he got into. But the experience that hip hop has taught him, he's a better man now. Hip hop has so many families and helped so many people get out of the ghetto and stuff like that. It brought these people a chance. Look at Jay-Z. He's a business mogul, who's now reading books like the Art of War and things like that. He's cool with these books now, because with economical freedom, you have the chance to find other fields. You have time to read and study and become something. So hip hop, like martial arts, it's helped many people find themselves through slow training and cultivating the spirit.
GC: After Wu-Tang conquered the hip hop world, you said, "You must never stop trainin'. Well, you can stop if you want, if you're happy, but if you wanna go further..." ? what does that mean to you now?
RZA: In other words, never stop being a student. A friend of mine, actually, we were working on the script for IRON FIST together. And I was telling him some of my stories of my life. And he just looked at me like, "Ah, I figured you out, RZA. You never stop becoming a student. That's like the supreme master." He was impressed that I was able to be a hip hop artist one day, compose for a Hollywood film the next day and then be an actor the next day, as well as have a successful business selling clothes, selling books ? different endeavors I found success in, you know? I became an accomplished musician by being self taught. That's because you never stop being a student. That's what Wu-Tang is all about.
Everything starts with wuchi, with no extremities, meaning you have no limitations. And then there's tai chi, which is the grand ultimate, which means all things are possible. And through this yin and yang movement of possibilities, you are able to calculate yourself and move yourself inward and outward, to and fro, fast and slow, soft and hard, soft as cotton, hard as steel. This is the way your emotions must be as well. This is how your reaction must be at times. Sometimes your reaction to something must feel firm against you. Maybe somebody says you're a stupid muthafucka. Instead of you responding to a hard language like that, you respond back with a smile. And therefore, you became cotton-belly, you know what I mean?
These ideas are not only physical ideas. That's where I think the real martial art is. I think it's been there for me in my life. When I read the books on tai chi, when I read the Yang style manuals, and I see the language of what they're talking about, I don't see it as fighting somebody. It says, "One ounce against a thousand pounds." That means one positive thought destroys a thousand negative thoughts, you know? I see it that way. One man can defeat a thousand men. I don't see one man being able to go out there and punch and kick through a thousand men. It's just by the word ? by one word of peace. I'm saying the word "peace." If a bunch of aliens came to earth and we said "peace," we'd get further, you know what I mean?
I just see kung fu and martial arts being really that clear, that powerful that it works on all levels: physical, mental, emotional, spiritual. It's not only on the physical level. That's what you got to realize. It's not only on the spiritual level. It could be applied in any situation at any given time. And if you know it, you know when to apply it. That's why tai chi masters ? some guys never ever got a chance to throw a punch or a kick to another person in their life. They practice all those years to become strong. They realize that the stuff that they built actually was better for them internally because now they're looser ? their bones, their marrow, producing more blood ? and at old age, they still can touch their toes. Therefore their qi channels and their vessels are more open. They're circulating. They don't have to cut off a person's foot because they have diabetes or because of cancer because the blood's not circulating. Or because of poor erections ? erectional dysfunction ? they're taking these pills because the blood isn't entering the penis. But through stretching, clearing those vessels through martial arts training, the blood is always finding the place to go. It's like skin becomes dead because it's not used. If you wear socks on your feet all day for months and months and months, fungus grows and the foot becomes dead because it's not being used. If you don't stretch leg out, or stretch your body out, you become cramped over because you're not using that muscle. It's not getting firm.
I got a brand new Hummer, right? I'll give you an example ? a crazy example of kung fu. I have a Hummer but I left it on the east coast. I live on the west coast now. So I left my Hummer at home on the east coast. For two years, I didn't drive it. I get in it to drive it. It doesn't work. But it's brand new! Why doesn't it work? Because it hasn't been used. The wheel hasn't been turned. The engine hasn't been burnt up. The oil hasn't flowed through it. The blood hasn't circulated through it.
A house ? you know, I had a divorce one time. I had to divorce my ex-wife and we had a big house that we both left. I'm rebuilding it now. I'm actually talking to you from it now. It now has a new life to it. It smells good, fresh and clean again. But when I first came back about a year ago, it was damp. The walls were cracking. The ceiling was peeling away. And not because somebody was here tearing it down. It was because there was no breath of life in it to make it be used and unified.
And that's the power. That's what kung fu is telling you. Use it. Use your muscles. Use your blood. Use your energy. If you sit on your hand for a long time, it falls asleep because the blood's not circulating there. It becomes dead. You got to shake it. Once you shake it, the blood moves back and forth and it's back alive again, you know? Kung fu tells you to do that every morning. Regulate yourself. Do it every morning, every night, and it will prolong your life.
GC: Do you practice qigong regularly? It's got to be good for your breath control.
RZA: I study yijinjing and other stuff Sifu (Shi Yanming) taught me. But by understanding the principles of qigong, I could do anything as long as I realize that I'm flowing that blood and flowing the air. So I might not do the exact routine postures prescribed by our great masters, because I know what their goal and the meaning of that posture. I could do anything and it's still qigong because I'm circulating my mind, my blood, my energy.
GC: Traditional postures like yijinjing have countless variations ? you just got to get the essence.
RZA: They say it's rooted from yoga. And one thing I found funny is that when Islam came to China, it had a great impact as well.
GC: Still does.
RZA: Muslims pray five times a day. They do what's called a salah. And when I looked at the salah, some of the moves resemble some of the Lohan postures and some of the yoga postures. And if you do that five times a day, you're bending your knees. You're stretching. You're looking to your left, your right. You're circulating that blood. Some people walk around all day; they never look up to the sky. Some people don't ever touch their toes, you know? In Muslim society, you have to do it five times a day because it's a prayer. It's good for the health. It's good for the body. And what's good for the body is good for the mind. So that's why I think salah is actually a martial art. I think it was a way to incorporate it into a daily way.
GC: Sure. I see where you're going with that. In a way, qigong or any martial arts form can be a prayer if practiced with that intention.
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Written by Gene Ching for KUNGFUMAGAZINE.COM