Kung FuWhat is Kung Fu?

In China, “Kung Fu” is a very general term and can mean mastery at anything through long, diligent practice.  Outside of China it is associated with the practice of one of many Chinese Martial Arts that utilize kicks, blocks, both open and closed hand strikes and sometimes throws and joint locks.

Styles of Kung Fu can be classified in many ways.  One common division is between Northern and Southern Kung Fu styles.  Northern style focuses more on fluid movements and the use of the feet and legs.  Southern Style is more about strong, immovable stances and powerful striking with the hands.  

Differences aside, most Kung Fu Styles emphasize the concept of Qi in their practice.  Qi can be seen as the motivating energy within any living thing, and learning how it works and how to harness it can lead to excellent health and sometimes great feats of physical ability.    

Other ways of classifying different styles can be as ‘external’ or ‘internal,’ by family lineage, or by association with different animals.  Some of the major “Kung Fu” styles are:
•    Bagua
•    Bak Mei Pai
•    Drunken Boxing
•    Eagle Claw
•    Five Animals
•    Fujian White Crane
•    Hsing I
•    Hung Gar
•    Jeet Kune Do
•    Lau Gar
•    Monkey
•    Praying Mantis
•    Sanshou (Sanda)
•    Shaolin
•    Sport Wushu
•    Tai Chi Chuan
•    Tiger
•    Wing Chun

History of Kung Fu

The history of Kung Fu is the history of Chinese Martial Arts which reaches back 3,000 years.  There is wide mention of both martial art theory and practice throughout China’s long and illustrious history.   

When the Chinese attempted to oust foreign imperial powers during the failed Boxer rebellion of 1900-1901, it was in traditional martial arts that the “Boxers” were trained.

Chinese martial arts flourished during the Republican Period (1912-1949) as China celebrated its national pride with the creation of many kung fu schools and associations systematizing these arts.

The founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949 had a great effect upon Kung Fu.  Many teachers left for Hong Kong, Taiwan and other parts of the world in an effort to spread it internationally. Within China there was a general suppression of traditional  Kung Fu schools in favor of a nationally regulated sport of Wushu.

Kung Fu has been the major export of the Hong Kong Film industry since the early part of the 1900s (also called Wuxia film style).  The famous Shaw Brother’s Studio, Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, Jet Li, John Wu, Ziyi Zhang, Michelle Yeoh and films like Enter the Dragon, Fists of Fury, Drunken Master, Crouching Tiger - Hidden Dragon, Hero and  Kill Bill have all helped to embed Kung Fu in modern culture. It is hard to think of any recent action film that does not have some ‘Kung Fu Fighting” in it.

Kung Fu cannot be underestimated as it is perhaps the ‘mother-art’ to most Asian martial arts, as well as some ancient Indian Martial Arts.  Muay Thai, Karate, Tae Kwon Do, Arnis and more can all be shown to have small or major Kung Fu influences.

Philosophy of Kung Fu

There are a wide range of Kung Fu styles, each with their own philosophy or theory of how to fight effectively.  For example, consider Shaolin’s incredibly hard body training versus Tai Chi Chuan’s soft and supple body training as evidence of the variations of Kung Fu styles that abound.  

Infused into many Kung Fu schools are both Taoist and Chan Buddhist concepts, reflecting their integral role in Chinese culture and thought.

Kung Fu as Self-Defense

Some styles of Kung Fu, such as sport Wushu and Tai Chi Chuan seem dance-like in their execution, leading one to question their efficacy as a self-defense system.  Yet each is rooted in a martial or fighting history and cannot be dismissed as ineffectual.  Tai-chi movements sped-up have very practical self-defense applications. And the athleticism displayed by Wushu artists would surely give them an advantage in many real-life situations.

Kung Fu for Kids

Many clubs offer Kung Fu classes for kids.  As with other martial arts, Kung Fu children’s classes offer a physical workout improving strength, balance, co-ordination and flexibility, as well as personal character development in areas of discipline and self-esteem.

Kung Fu for Adults

Kung Fu is so vast in its range of styles that adults can find almost anything they want if they know where to look.  From the hard fighting, MMA-stylings of Sanshou, to the very soft, fluid, and healing movements of Tai Chi Chuan, to the acrobatic leaps and dexterous use of weapons of Shaolin, Kung Fu has something for all temperaments and ages of adult to pursue.

Kung Fu Associations & Resources:

International Kung Fu Federation
Canadian Karate Kung Fu Association

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