My father has been a master carpenter for 40 years. I never spend much time with him or his father, my grandfather, but I remember granddad saying “This is my son Mike, he can build anything.” He truly can build anything. If you live in Southern California, odds are you’ve been somewhere where his hands have laid stone or drove nails. Building things is my dad’s Kung Fu.
功夫不負有心人/Gōngfu bùfù yǒuxīnrén
This isn’t a chengyu, it’s a suyu. A proverb. Unlike chengyu, it can’t really be traced to a specific origin, but is in common use nonetheless.
So let’s break it down. 功夫, transliterated the old way as Kung Fu, doesn’t mean martial arts. That’s 武術/wǔshù. The best way that I can convey the idea of kung fu is of mastery. The skill that the comes through deep practice and the passage of time. 不 negates verbs. 負 means “to bear” or “to carry.” 有 means “to have” or “to be.” 心 means heart. 人 means people.
Kung Fu didn’t become associated with martial arts until the term came to America. In China, the greatest virtue that one can attain is to become a master, not of any one art, but of themselves for their parents and for their people. That is the Confucian ethic (this has been largely suppressed in China since the Cultural revolution, but you can’t kill a culture without killing everyone who lives in it.) So to attain virtue, one must harness and hone their skill with great attentiveness. They must strive to refine themselves, and become masters. They must practice 功夫.
The skill that comes from hard work and practice over time does not weigh heavy on those with heart.
Life is full of hardships and gaining skill is too. It is a long and difficult road that causes us to throw our hands up in despair. Life is a burden. Honing a skill is a burden. But the mastery gained in the process is not.
Think of it like Milo and the Calf. Milo’s life was hard and arduous, but no wrestler could best him for years (he never wrestled Bryan Callen, though). His 功夫 was wrestling, and it was no burden for him, despite all the strife in his life.
Find your kung fu, and lessen your load.
I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.- 李小龍/Bruce Lee