Chinese Kung Fu (Martial Arts or as popularly referred to as Gongfu or Wushu) is a series of fighting styles which has developed over a long historical period in China. Nowadays, it is regarded as a traditional sport gaining more and more popularity and even stands as a representative for Chinese culture. Styles including Shaolin, Tai Chi and Qigong have many followers worldwide. Some westerners think that all Chinese people are Kung Fu masters. That’s not true, but this traditional heritage has its unique existence in modern times and left much influence on the locals’ lifestyle.
The term Kung Fu refers to the martial arts of China. Kung Fu originated in a place called the Shaolin Temple, where monks practiced Kung Fu for health and self-defense during their quest for enlightenment.
The first Shaolin temple was a Buddhist monastery built in 377 A.D. in the Henan province of China. In 527 A.D. a Buddhist prince, Bodhidharma, or Da Mo in Chinese, traveled to the temple for religious teaching, but found the monks weak and in poor health. To find a way to give the monks strength and vitality, Da Mo locked himself in a room for nine years of meditation. His resulting work, Yi Jin Jing, a series of exercises which developed strength, vitality, and internal energy, is considered the original Shaolin martial art.
Historically, Kung Fu in China was an integral part in the education of scholars and the leaders of government. The Chinese people placed great value in the practice of Kung Fu because they felt it taught respect, patience, humility, and morality.
Many Americans believe that Kung Fu is a term which describes a single martial art, much like Taekwondo, Judo, or Aikido. In reality, Kung Fu is a general term which includes hundreds of styles of Chinese martial arts. Some examples of Kung Fu styles are Long Fist, Eagle Claw, and Taiji Quan.
Another misconception is that Kung Fu is a “soft” style compared with Karate or other “hard” styles. This is not so: each Kung Fu style contains both hard and soft techniques. Also, many people believe that Kung Fu is an external style and Taiji Quan is an internal style. While most Kung Fu styles emphasize external development, all styles of Kung Fu contain both internal and external components.
Kung fu, (Chinese [Wade-Giles romanization]: “skill” ) , Pinyin gongfu, a martial art, both a form of exercise with a spiritual dimension stemming from concentration and self-discipline and a primarily unarmed mode of personal combat often equated with karate or tae kwon do. The term kung fu can also signify careful preparation for the performance of any skillful endeavour without interference from the intellect or emotions.
The term Kung Fu (功夫) is written in Pinyin as Gong Fu, which is a more accurate and appropriate pronunciation. The term is made up of two characters: the first, Kung (功), can mean skillful work, hard training, or endeavor. The second, Fu (夫), means time spent. Together they mean time spent at skillful work, endeavor or hard training. In no way does this term express the totality of Chinese martial arts, but because training in Chinese martial arts requires a lot of time and hard training, the term somehow came to be used to describe the practice of martial arts.
Wu Shu (武術) is probably a more correct term to apply to Chinese martial arts. Wu means war. Shu means art. So Wu Shu means war art—the art of war. This term is appropriate because the study of traditional Chinese martial arts involves not only the skillful use of kicking and striking, but also wrestling, grappling, weapons training, and strategy in combat.
In mainland China, the term Wu Shu is now used to categorize all aspects of Chinese martial arts. Indeed, Wu Shu is China’s national sport. However, modern Wu Shu, as it is now being taught in China, has lost many of the original functions and martial applications of the traditional styles, and it has become more of a sport and less of a useful martial art.
Many other terms can be used to describe Chinese martial arts: for example, Quan Fa (法拳) – Fist Method, Zhong Guo Quan (中国拳) – Chinese Fist, Quan Shu (拳術) – Fist Art, and Guo Shu (国術) – National Art.
The History of Kung-fu
In Chinese, the term 功夫 (gōngfū) Kung-fu refers to any skill that is acquired through learning or practice. It is a compound word composed of the words 功 (gōng) meaning “work”, “achievement”, or “merit”, and 夫 (fū) which is a particle or nominal suffix with diverse meanings. “Kung-fu,” the way people say this word in the West, is an Anglicized version of this Chinese word 功夫 (gōngfū).
功夫 (gōng fū) Kung-fu is an ancient Chinese martial art of hand-to-hand combat. The martial art was developed to be a defense against an opponent who used any one-to-one, hand-to-hand fighting methods. This was common in ancient China in the context of military combat, when soldiers would often lose their weapons.
功夫 (gōngfū) Kung-fu can also be used in attack, meaning that, having repelled his opponent’s attack, the defender may then go on the offensive, delivering his own thrusts, blows, kicks, and pressure grips – as necessary – in order to overpower his attacker.
What is the Purpose of Kung Fu?
Many consider self-defense to be the ultimate goal of Kung Fu or any Martial Art. Yet, the study of Kung Fu is much more than the mere art of fighting. It is truly an art — an art that seeks to develop the body, mind, character, and soul (see A Transformative Experience).
Kung Fu does NOT teach that we should seek to overcome other people. Rather, it is a discipline teaching us that we must look into ourselves and learn to control our thoughts, emotions and bodies. We should always be peaceful and avoid combat. However, if faced with a situation that threatens severe bodily harm or injury, the soul should become the warrior and we must be capable of defending ourselves.
Like many martial studies, Kung Fu teaches balance which is the key to movement and to the execution of technique. The concept of “balance” is thought of as keeping equilibrium between Heaven and Earth. We can only achieve this concept if we learn to focus our thoughts, concentrate and empty our minds of distraction.
Who is Kung Fu For?
Kung Fu is for any willing student. All that is necessary is the enthusiasm and desire to work diligently and accept discipline. One must have or be ready to develop the physical, psychological and ethical characteristics to allow for growth in the art. Not every student will advance at the same rate. Each of us has a different background and possesses different physical and intellectual capabilities. However, each student should try to the best of his or her ability, and through that effort will progress and continue to learn.
Over the centuries of development in China, Kung Fu has become a large system containing various schools or sects. It is recorded that there are over 300 distinct types of boxing existing around the country. The styles in northern and southern China are quite different. Therefore it is hard to be simply classified
Some of the schools are classified by geographical locations, for example, the Southern Fist (Nanquan) prevailing in south China, and Shaolin School based at Shaolin Temple in Henan Province. Some are named after the creator and master, like the Chen Style Tai Chi and Yang Style Tai Chi. Some are identified by different training methods, such as the Internal Boxing Arts (Neijiaquan) that concentrate on the manipulation of the inner breath and circulation of the body, and the External Boxing Arts (Waijiaquan) concentrating on improving the muscles and the limbs.
Shaolin Martial Arts
Originated in the Shaolin Temple in Henan, this is considered the premier style in China and is widely spread all over the world. Both of its physical exercise and mental training are based upon Buddhist philosophy. The Shaolin Boxing, Southern Fist (Nanquan), Northern Legs (Beitui) and Wing Chun are the representatives of this school.
Wudang Martial Arts
This sect has almost the same fame as the Shaolin. Based at the Mt. Wudang in Hubei Province, it is developed under the guidance of Taoist theories. T’ai Chi Ch’uan, Form / Intention Boxing (Xingyiquan), Eight-Diagram Palm (Baguazhang) are essentials of Wudang.
Emei Martial Arts
Taking Mt. Emei in Sichuan Province as its camp, this sect is moderate and blends the merits of Shaolin and Wudang. Many sub-branches derive under this sect, including Qingcheng, Tiefo, Qingniu, Dianyi, Huanglin, etc.
This is a comparatively slow and elegant style originated from the combination of Taoism, dialectic ideology, traditional medicine and physical exercise. It features attack by accumulating the strength, conquering the rigidity with the flexility, and beating action by inaction.
Form / Intention Boxing (Xingyiquan)
It is a representative of Internal Boxing Arts characterized by its straightforward fist and quick attack which are well suitable for fighting against the enemy. Its boxing routines include Five Elements Boxing, Twelve Animals Boxing and so on.
Eight-Diagram Palm (Baguazhang)
Created by the master Dong Haichuan, the Eight-Diagram Palm features continuous changes in palm styles and steady steps in circle. Many sub-sects derive from this school.
Southern Fist (Nanquan)
This traditional school prevailed over 400 years in south China. Centered in Guangdong and Fujian Provinces, it features short and tight movements, various skills, steady steps and vigorous attacks. The grand master Wong Fei-hung is good at the Southern Fist.
It is not only a school of martial arts but also a physical and mental exercise method, which is beneficial to health and body-building. There are mainly two types – Dynamic Qigong practiced by specific body movements, and Static Qigong practiced by adjusting the breath and mind.
Difference between Kung Fu and Other Martial Arts
Kung Fu Puts Philosophy into Practice
The philosophy of Chinese martial arts originated not with warlords whose aim was to kill, but with Buddhist masters whose aim was to prolong life. This philosophy and history has lead to a difference in the practice and the attitude of students of Chinese martial arts.
Unbelievable violence and hostility are found in some martial arts systems. Such behavior is not found in Kung Fu training, because the nature of the training is such that a calm disposition and a feeling for one’s training partners are developed intrinsically, and harboring selfish, aggressive attitudes would work against the practitioners themselves.
Kung Fu is a Comprehensive System
Martial arts techniques are divided into four areas: striking, kicking, grappling and throwing, and seizing and locking the joints. Every type of Chinese Kung Fu contains techniques from each of these four areas. This is important because each category of techniques is effective against one or more of the other categories. A Chinese martial artist, therefore, can deal with every type of attack and defend himself effectively.
Other martial arts, like Karate, Judo, Jujitsu, and Taekwondo, specialize in only one or two of the four categories of techniques. Because of the nature of these martial arts, their practitioners often have difficulty if opponents use attacks that fall outside the categories in which their respective arts specialize.
One way to prepare yourself to handle any fighting situation is to learn all these different martial arts. A better alternative is to learn a Chinese martial art like Long Fist. It not only saves time and effort, it also gives advantages not found in other martial arts.
How Kung Fu is Taught
n your first class, you will be faced with a great deal of new information. In addition to exercises for stretching, muscle power, and vital energy, there are the actual movements of Long Fist. Each movement contains many physical components: movements of the feet, legs, trunk, arms, hands, eyes, and breath. There is also an underlying mental component of each movement. Every movement has a specific purpose, and it is up to the teacher to develop each student’s understanding of that purpose, so the student can extract maximum benefit from practice.
Some who teach martial arts are not aware of the underlying purpose of each movement, and simply expect students to follow them through a series of unfamiliar and meaningless movements. Other teachers expect that students fight or work with advanced students on the first lesson. Learning Kung Fu at our school is different.
In your first class, you will begin learning how to condition your body. After your first month, you will feel a difference in the strength of your arms and legs, an increased ability to concentrate, and an improvement in your overall health.
After your first six months, your increased strength and concentration will enable you to perform a set of basic Kung Fu movements, and you will feel energy such as you have never known. Progress without unnecessary frustration or injury is possible because, as teachers of Chinese martial arts, we understand the underlying nature of the movements, their true purpose, and how to teach them systematically to beginner students.
The Benefits of Chinese Martial Arts
Health and Fitness
By health, we mean not only being free from illness, but the ability to sleep soundly, to work energetically, to think clearly, and to be calm yet alert. By fitness, we mean not just physical strength, but the ability to react quickly, to endure hard work, and to concentrate without mental fatigue.
Kung Fu is better than other forms of exercise for promoting health and fitness. In swimming, jogging, and karate, for example, the fitness acquired diminishes as one grows old, but in Kung Fu it is enhanced. This is because Kung Fu is more than physical exercise; it develops the inner faculties of vital energy and the mind. A Kung Fu practitioner will exhibit more zest and vitality in both work and play than an ordinary person, and have calmness of mind and clarity of thought even under demanding situations.
Kung Fu teaching emphasizes moral development as well as physical training, stressing values like respect, courage, tolerance, and reverence for life. The very nature of Kung Fu training is a long process of character building. Wholesome qualities like endurance, perseverance, discipline, loyalty, and a calm disposition are prerequisites for progress, especially at higher levels. All these qualities, acquired through Kung Fu training, are transferable to daily life.
Self-defense is the essence of Chinese martial arts. True Kung Fu teaching always instructs students to be tolerant and avoid fighting, but the ability to defend oneself is a valuable asset. It is only when we know that we can defend ourselves effectively that we gain self-confidence. In this way self-defense can be applied to non-combative situations, such as job interviews or school exams. In modern society, this need for psychological self-defense is perhaps more important than the need to actually fight.