Kung Fu ( Wushu ) - Everything You Need To Know
What Is Kung Fu
Kung fu is a western catchall term for the Chinese martial arts.
The literal translation of kung fu is “work hard” which is why people who work hard are described as having a lot of “kung fu.”
Chinese Kung Fu also known 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.
The Two Main Schools of Kung Fu:
Shaolin : Known for external styles that strengthen muscles, ligaments and tendons.
Wu Dung : Known for internal styles that strengthen and manipulate chi or life force.
Kung Fu Styles By Geographical Association:
Northern: Long extended postures, leg work, kicks, acrobatics.
Southern: Deep, stable stances; focus on arm work.
Kung fu skills also can be categorized by hard movements (force-on-force mentality) and soft movements (turn attackers forces against them).
Although being fighting styles, Kung Fu advocates virtue and peace, not aggression or violence. This has been the common value upheld by martial artists from generation to generation. With a number of movement sets, boxing styles, weapon skills and some fighting stunts, Kung Fu keeps its original function of self-defense. Now, bodybuilding and fitness are also highly appreciated values.
History of Kung Fu
In order to survive in an extremely hostile environment, chinese ancestors developed primary means of defense and attack that included leaping, tumbling and kicking. Although they knew how to fight with primitive weapons made from wood and stones, fighting with bare hands and fists became essential skills.
Northern And Southern Dynasties (420–589 AD)
The Establishment of Shaolin :
Shaolin temple was built in the Song mountain, Henan province in 495 AD. The first monk who preached buddhism there was the Indian monk Buddhabhadra or Batuo as the chinese people called him.
There are historical records that Batuo's first chinese disciples were Seng Chou and Huiguang, both had exceptional martial skills. For example, Seng Chou's skill with the tin stuff is even documented in the chinese buddhist legislation.
After Buddhabhadra, there was another Indian monk, his name was Bodhidharma or Damo as called by the chinese people, came to Shaolin in 527 AD. His chinese disciple Huike was also a highly trained martial arts expert. There are implications that these first three chinese shaolin monks, Seng Chou, Huiguang and Huike, may have been military men before entering the monastic life.
Legendary Origins :
According to legend, Chinese martial arts originated during the semi-mythical Xia Dynasty more than 4,000 years ago. It is said the Yellow Emperor (Huangdi) (legendary date of ascension 2698 BCE) introduced the earliest fighting systems to China. The emperor Huangdi is described as a famous general who, before becoming China’s leader, wrote lengthy treatises on medicine, astrology and the martial arts. One of his main opponents was Chi You who was credited as the creator of Jiao Di which is a forerunner to the modern art of Chinese Wrestling.
The earliest references to chinese martial arts are found in the Spring and Autumn Annals (5th century BC), where a hand-to-hand combat theory, one that integrates concepts of "hard" and "soft" techniques, is mentioned. A combat wrestling system called juélì or jiǎolì is mentioned in the Classic of Rites. This combat system included techniques such as strikes, throws, joint manipulation, and pressure point attacks. Jiao Di became a sport during the Qin Dynasty (221–207 BC). The Han History Bibliographies record that, by the Former Han (206 BCE – 8 C), there was a distinction between no-holds-barred weaponless fighting, which it calls shoubo, for which training manuals had already been written, and sportive wrestling, then known as juelì. Wrestling is also documented in the Shi Ji, Records of the Grand Historian, written by Sima Qian 100 BC.
In the Tang Dynasty, descriptions of sword dances were immortalized in poems by Li Bai. In the Song and Yuan dynasties, xiangpu contests were sponsored by the imperial courts. The modern concepts of wushu were fully developed by the Ming and Qing dynasties.
During the Republic of China's Kuomintang government of mainland China (1915–1949), the Jingwu Athletic Association (established in 1910) together with the Central Guoshu Institute (established 1928) played an important role in the preservation of traditional schools of martial arts and their transformation into the various modern styles practiced today. In October 1928, the Central Guoshu Institute held a national examination, the so-called Leitai competition, which came to be regarded as one of the most significant historic gatherings of Chinese martial arts masters.
Kung Fu Schools
1- 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.
2- 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.
3- 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 section, including Qingcheng, Tiefo, Qingniu, Dianyi, Huanglin, etc.
4. Tai Chi Quan: 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 flexibility, and beating action by inaction.
5- 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 and Twelve Animals Boxing.
6- 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.
7- 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 atthe Southern Fist.
8- Qigong: It is not only a school of martial arts but also a physical and mental exercise method, which is beneficial to health and bodybuilding. There are mainly two types - Dynamic Qigong practiced by specific body movements, and Static Qigong practiced by adjusting the breath and mind.
The Main Five Animal Styles In Kung Fu
In this style the kung fu artist uses quick, snapping kicks that hit with the blade of the foot; uses the full fist and the forearms to strike; may combine physical techniques of the other animals.
The main strategy of the Crane style is to keep the opponent at a distance and capitalizes on the length of the arms and legs, tends to strike with the very end of the natural weapons, attempts to overwhelm the enemy with rapid hand strikes, evades using circular movements.
strikes quickly to inflict pain in the soft-tissue regions and other vital areas of the opponent, including the ears, neck, armpits, temples and groin, and then follows up for the kill.
Tends to charge the opponent and attack directly with brute force, uses circular arm movements to overwhelm the enemy, relies on the arms but occasionally uses low kicks.
Relies on awareness, employs coiling motions and hisses to intimidate, uses whipping toe kicks to the lower half of the opponent’s body, utilizes simultaneous striking and locking techniques, avoids using the traditional fist.
Main Weapons Used in Kung Fu
There are a huge variety of Kung Fu styles. Some styles do not use any weapons whereas others specialize in using weapons.
In Shaolin School they use the traditional weapons such as:
The Dao, or broadsword in common translations, is one of the four major weapons in Chinese martial arts. The dao is primarily a slashing and chopping sword with a single edge. Chinese folklore refers to the dao as “The General of all Weapons.”
Uncommon in most martial arts, the chain whip is a traditional Chinese martial arts weapon. Characterized by several metal rods connected by rings to form a flexible chain. The chain whip consists of a handle at one end and a metal dart at the end of the flexible chain.
Double Edge Sword
The Jian, or double edge sword, is one of the four major weapons in Chinese martial arts. Dating back 2,500 years in China. Ranging from 18 to 31 inches in length with both edges sharp it is known in Chinese folklore as “The Gentleman of Weapons.”
The hook sword (fu tao) is a Chinese martial arts weapons traditionally associated with Northern Shaolin styles. Hook swords have no known origination date but antique examples date from the late Qing era (1644 to 1912). Also known as tiger hook swords (Hu Tou Shuang Gou), the weapons are similar to the jian with a hook on the end similar to a shepherd's crook.
Most often the hook swords are used in pairs and forms often link the swords to extend reach when flung by the wielder.
The Kwan dao (yan yue dao) is a heavy blade, often in a crescent or half-moon shape with a spike on the other end of a 5-6 foot pole. Due to the deep curve of the blade, the kwan dao is solely used for sweeping cuts and gains advantage from range and power.
Forms consisting of strong slashing movements and momentum keep the heavy blade moving through series of spinning cuts. Practice with the Kwan dao is great for overall conditioning of the body due to its size and weight.
The spear (Qiang) is known as one of the four major weapons in Chinese martial arts. Having an overall length between 9 and 14 feet, the spear consists of a leaf shaped blade with a red horsehair tassel just below the spear head.
The tassel serves a dual purpose on the spear. One is to blur the eye of the enemy so that the spear is harder to block. Second is to stop the flow of blood from reaching the handle of the spear. Blood would make the spear slippery when wet and tacky when dried.
The spear, like the Kwan dao, is a great weapon to practice with for overall conditioning of the body and is an essential part of Northern Shaolin training.
The staff, (Gun in Chinese), is literally a rod or stick. It is one of the four major weapons in Chinese martial arts. Chinese folklore calls the staff, “The Grandfather of all Weapons.”
Made from wax wood or rattan, in most instances, the staff is strong yet flexible and an effective fighting weapon.
Three Sectional Staff
The three-sectional staff (sanjiegun) is a Chinese flail weapon. The weapon is made up of three wooden sections connected by metal rings or rope. The staves can be used to strike around a shield or defensive block or spun to gather momentum for a powerful strike.
The three section staff can be used as a long, medium and short range weapon. It can be used to strike, block, trap, disarm, choke, flail and whip, often performing two functions at the same time.
Kung Fu Fundamental Training
Kung Fu training engages every muscle and simultaneously building flexibility, strength, endurance, balance and power in one fully integrated unit. Training consists of:
Kung Fu Training - Flexibility & Stretching :
Stretching your legs, do the splits and waist can training your softness so that your can do more difficult movements. Shaolin Monks stretch the whole body from the neck down and include dynamic stretching as well as static.
Kung Fu Training - Stamina Training :
Shaolin stamina training consists of short bursts of intense exercise. Research has shown that it’s one of the most effective ways to build fitness levels and lose weight. Frog jumps, Cossack jumps, duck walks, step ups, squats, squat jumps, sprints, toe jumps (don’t bend the knees at all), one legged jumps.
Kung Fu Training - Stances Training :
Stances are commonly found in each style of Shaolin kung fu. The horse stance is a common stance used to develop thigh strength, endurance and patience.
Known as zhan zhuang, or stance training, this position provides a foundation for training in learning intermediate and advanced kung fu moves. Stand with your feet farther than hip distance apart. Bend your elbows close to your sides, with hands fisted and facing upward in front of you. Sink down into a squatting position until your thighs are almost parallel to the floor; hold the position for as long as you can, for 2 to 5 minutes.
Kung Fu Training - Kicks Training :
The kicks training are one of the reasons Shaolin Monks are so flexible. They open the hips at the same time as stretching the leg. And they are a great warm up for fighting kicks and bag work.
Kung Fu Training - Punch & Strike :
While not recommended for the beginners, this traditional Shaolin technique can make a lasting improvement to the strength and power of your strikes. Traditionally used as a black belt test for students graduating from the Shaolin Monastery’s fighting curriculum, this exercise involves wearing a blindfold and breaking boards as you perform your Shaolin forms and techniques.
Kung Fu Demostration :
Black Belt Magazine
The School Of Shaolin
Travel China Guide
Learn Shaolin Kung Fu In China