The Kung Fu is a ‘ Chinese martial art that has ancient origins in China and is the first sport par excellence, involving – thanks to the many and varied styles – either an audience of young adults that more practitioners.
To clarify and better understand the value of this discipline, just think that historically most of the martial arts derive from Kung Fu, a term used in the West to encompass all Chinese martial arts .
And it is precisely from the term that we start to explain its essence, Kung Fu comes from Gong Fu (written in Pynin) and means ” Hard Work ” or “Work / practice carried out with great skill” to underline the commitment it entails. In fact, the most linguistically correct term to identify Chinese martial art is Wushu which in Chinese means “Art of War”.
Today, with the evolution of the discipline in its most sporting form, it is frequent to hear about Wushu , referring to the more “sporty” version of Kung Fu , characterized by gymnastic and athletic movements. Reason why the Masters speak of “traditional Kung Fu” and “modern Kung Fu”.
Kung fu: what it is
The Kung Fu is the set of martial arts of Chinese origin, that is a discipline that combines the ‘ art , so the beauty of the movement , with martial , so the study and strategies of fighting it with bare hands with weapons. This is also the differentiator with respect to the so-called ” combat sports ” whose sole objective is precisely to study the effectiveness of combat.
We can say that the great success of this term in the West is due to the enormous impact that the Hong Kong films have had and hence the expression ” Cinema Gong Fu” that made it known.
Surely Bruce Lee was responsible for it, thanks to his versatility and agility of movement.
Before this great western discovery there were few who could access the knowledge of Kung Fu , since the knowledge was transmitted only by a Master. In fact, the Master was the main source of knowledge , the one who could give you his knowledge and who became like a father, hence the expression of Shifu which means “father Master”.
This brief premise is useful to make you perceive in a few words the profound value of Kung Fu and its long history, made of precious teachings, cultural wealth and great Masters followed by thousands of practitioners around the world.
Benefits of Kung fu
Before going into the long history of Kung Fu which I will touch on some of the most salient points, let’s see together what are the benefits of Kung Fu and consequently also the reasons why every year many practitioners approach a course.
I will make a total estimate of the main benefits by specifying that hundreds of Kung Fu styles officially exist and that each has its own particular positive effects on the practitioner. To write this list, I mainly based on the testimonies of the hundreds of students I met during my martial career, in courses and seminars.
- Improve physical coordination
- strengthens the muscular system
- boosts physical endurance to exertion
(typical in anaerobic movements)
- develops the body’s natural defensive capacity in dangerous situations and therefore the instinctive reflexes of man
- improves the posture of the spine.
Mental / spiritual benefits
- Strengthens character , self-confidence and courage in taking action in everyday life
- lightens the load of stress : in the case of more dynamic styles such as Shaolin you have the opportunity to physically release the tension, while with Tai Chi to slow down and take time to devote only to yourself with practices such as Chinese meditation and forms Tai Chi
- allows you to get more focus in daily activities, in fact many students have confirmed to me that they have achieved excellent results in the study
- improves mental concentration thanks to repetition and memorization of techniques, developing control over oneself
- enhances the mnemonic ability (especially in the styles in which there are different shapes, thus training the memory to remember many chained movements).
And for children?
The Kung Fu is good discipline for the children , that’s why my advice is always to get as close as possible to develop their own elasticity to the child, coordination, control and above all to instill in him the educational aspects, so as to teach him respect for himself and for others in a natural and fun way.
The history of kung fu
In China already from the first centuries before Christ there were fighting and fighting techniques , with weapons such as the bow, the halberd and the sword, we mention it in historical and legendary texts. But it is only from the fifth century AD that the first real nuclei of techniques are formed, thus defining the first styles of Kung Fu .
The very first style of Kung Fu developed in northern China and is now known by the name of Shaolin which literally means “punch of the young forest ” and is considered the father of all styles of Chinese martial arts.
In fact, a famous saying says:
All martial arts come from Shaolin .
It could be said that starting to study Shaolin is like starting from ABC, from the absolute foundations of martial arts, thus allowing the practitioner to take a gradual path from beginner to expert.
According to the story, which as often happens for the East is steeped in mystery, it was a Taoist monk named Bodhidharma from India who taught the first techniques of defense, combat and meditation to the monks of the Shaolin Temple, from which then the style will take its name.
The monks lived a partially sedentary life, in fact they spent long periods of time transcribing the sacred texts, and in part often sacrificed because of the various looting of foreign populations. These were some of the reasons why the Taoist monk taught them how to defend themselves effectively and not suffer long hours of physical immobility.
Bodhidharma himself is also believed to be responsible for the spread of Chan Buddhism (Zen in Japanese) and another important component of Kung Fu is intertwined: spirituality.
In fact, many of the values of Chinese martial art are traceable to the principles of Buddhism.
Philosophy of Kung fu
It is natural when we talk about Kung Fu and martial culture to mention philosophy, because it is in this that the deepest meanings of this discipline reside. The philosophy of Kung Fu must be seen as a whole, taking into account several aspects, such as cultural origins and its contamination with Buddhism and Taoism.
Among the most important philosophical concepts of Chinese culture that we also find in martial art we have: that of Yin and Yang and that of Wuwei.
Yin and Yang
The concept of Yin and Yang is very ancient and is linked to the creation of the Universe, in fact in Taoist culture everything leads back to this profound principle. In the beginning there was a total absence, called Wu Ji, then from this two poles formed, precisely duality: Yin and Yang.
The union of these two poles is depicted in one of the best known symbols of Taoist philosophy, Tai Chi tu that is the representation of the supreme polarity .
Within the martial forms and techniques, the concept of Yin and Yang is taken up thanks to the alternation of movements and the way of execution.
Respecting duality means reaching a physical and inner balance, the ultimate goal of Kung Fu.
Wuwei: acting without acting
Another noteworthy concept is that of Wuwei which literally means to act without acting , that is, the principle according to which to achieve a certain result it is important to commit and devote yourself , but at the same time avoid excess fury.
Basically, Wuwei teaches us to give the right “void” to make nature run its course, it means trusting and knowing that everything will go in the right direction.
Find out Karate history, benefits and technique
Spread of Kung fu in the world
The spread of Kung Fu in the world takes place only from the last century, in fact up to that moment, although its history is very long, the transmission of styles took place only within schools through the teaching of a Shifu Master . In the past, the Master had a fundamental role in Chinese culture , not only as a martial teacher, but as a true educator of the children to whom Chinese families turned.
Only from the seventies, thanks to the cinematographic films of the films produced in Hong Kong, did Kung Fu begin to make itself known in the West. Also in the same period there were several Chinese Masters who moved to the United States and Europe by opening the various martial arts schools and subsequently in the 1980s the first tours of competitive competitions began which saw Chinese athletes as protagonists, arousing interest in the discipline .
In the late eighties and nineties also one of the most famous internal styles of Kung Fu such as Tai Chi Quan began to spread, thus widening the audience of Western martialists and also targeting an audience interested in health benefits.
The styles of kung fu
When we talk about Kung Fu we refer to a rather generic term if you do not indicate a precise style, because in fact there are about a thousand styles of Kung Fu . There are several factors that have contributed to the development of such an important number of styles and the main ones are:
- land morphology : China has an area of 9.597.000 km² and in such a large place it is natural that different currents of a discipline develop. In addition, the various areas have different characteristics, the territory in the south is more marshy which is why in the past the styles of the south have given greater relevance to punch techniques and less to those of football.
- Objectives of the practice . In fact, there are macro categories of styles whose aim is to develop the internal forces of the body to the maximum, while others in which greater weight is given to the strength, agility and speed of the movements.
- Masters’ families : they held (and still is so for traditional Kung Fu ) the knowledge related to a single style and only the students had access to this knowledge, surely the movements of the Masters far and wide for China led stylistic influences.
The division of styles
When it comes to Chinese martial arts styles there are official subdivisions and the main styles are:
- styles of northern and southern styles , whose geographical dividing line is dictated by the Yellow River
- internal and external styles , they differ in the type of movement and the use of precisely deepest parts of the body or more external and muscle
- imitative styles , are those styles that recall the movements of animals and which can in turn be north or south, internal or external
- Sports Wushu , the modern current of Kung Fu, characterized by gymnastic movements and common rules in order to be able to access Chinese national competitions.
The word used in Chinese to refer to the style is Quan and contains several meanings, as well as being the most used word in Chinese martial art :
- set of styles
Northern and Southern styles
It can be said that the difference between the northern and southern styles mainly concerns the technical aspect, in fact it is visibly evident if one thinks that in some way this is related to the morphology of the territory.
The northern styles are characterized by wide, elegant and fluid movements, the kicks have a relevant aspect, especially the jumped ones, the positions are low and wide.
Examples of northern styles:
- Shaolin Quan
- Bafa Quan
- Sanhuang Paochui
- Hei hu Quan
- Long Quan
- Emei Quan
Instead, southern styles favor the upper body , as in the case of one of the best known, the Wing Tsun which has few kicks and its movements are narrow and short, suitable for short distance combat.
Examples of southern styles:
- Hung Gar (all styles of the Gar family are from the south)
- Mok Gar
- Li Gar
- Pak Mei
- Choy Lay Fut.
Internal and external styles
Another division, I would say even more important, is that between the styles interior and exterior styles going to affect even more on the formation of a martial artist, in order to provide a comprehensive technical background and culture of Kung Fu .
The internal styles called Neijia have the aim of developing and managing the internal energy of the body, so as to bring it into attacks making them more effective. The goal of the internal styles is to improve physical conservation, perform exercises in order to connect the whole body and emit an elastic force.
Examples of interior styles
- Tai Chi Quan
- Xing Yi Quan
- Yi Quan
- Bagua Zhang.
Instead, the external styles use the external mechanics of the body and therefore the muscular strength , thus giving greater weight to the physical-athletic aspect of the practitioner. Most of the external Chinese styles derive from Shaolin, which is why they have common goals and results such as :
- achieving good muscle strength
- development of good coordination
- physical agility and consequent endurance.
Examples of external styles
- Shaolin Quan
- Chang Quan
- Baji Quan.
Then there is another category of external styles defined as imitative because born from the observation of animals , they thus resume some peculiar movements of these. The goal of the imitative styles is to take instinctive movements in nature that contain principles of strength, speed and concentration.
The best known imitative styles come from Shaolin and are 5:
- Hu Quan (tiger style)
- She Quan (snake style)
- Long Xin Quan (dragon style)
- Bao Quan (leopard style)
- He Quan (crane style).
Given the number of Kung Fu styles and therefore the almost impossibility of creating competitions suitable for all practitioners, in 1958 the People’s Republic of China Sports Commission codified the rules of sports competitions and the categories by type of competition.
The competition of Wushu sport are divided into:
- Taolu : chained sequences of spectacular movements, called forms (with bare hands and with weapons)
- Sandà : the type of sports combat that involves the use of punch, football and projection techniques.
The athletes who compete in these categories have an athletic preparation that is similar to that of the athletes of artistic gymnastics, therefore certainly spectacular from the visual point of view, but partially losing some of the elements of traditional Kung Fu , especially in the case of the competitions of forms.
Furthermore, in competitions, greater importance is given to the technical precision of the movements , the way in which the positions are performed and the dexterity of the athlete .
Weapons in kung fu
In Chinese martial arts, weapons play an important role, they are already referred to in the centuries before the birth of Christ and today some are also present in sports Wushu competitions. The extensions of our arts are considered and were used above all in the case of defense and during the various wars that have alternated in Chinese history.
The most important weapons in Kung Fu are :
- The Gun , the stick, is the Shaolin weapon par excellence and is the one from which we usually start in the study of weapons. The stick was a commonly used tool, the material was easily available and the movements simple to learn, which is why it spread quickly and soon became the most used weapon.
- The Jian , the straight sword, considered one of the noble weapons both for the social class to which it was linked and for the material that was used to make it.
- Shuang Jie Gun , also known as nunchaku, was actually not a particularly popular weapon before Bruce Lee used it in movies. It is a two-piece stick joined by a chain, excellent for short-range combat.
There are many other weapons used such as:
- The Dao, the saber;
- the Qiang, the spear;
- Guan Dao, the halberd;
- The Shan, the fan, rarer weapon;
- The Emei Qi, daggers of Emei, and many others.
How a kung fu lesson takes place
When approaching a Kung Fu course within a school, it is a good idea to ask yourself what types of objectives you want to achieve and make sure that the course program is complete.
Here are some essential elements to recognize a good path of Chinese martial arts:
- A recognized school head with good martial training, for example national and international qualifications, degrees and recognition by a great Chinese master. This ensures excellent bases from which to start and a prepared Guide to refer to.
- A program created ad hoc , this is the most important aspect because the program contains all the elements that a complete practitioner should know. There are programs that have imbalances that do not guarantee optimal growth for the practitioner, in which, for example, only forms are taught or only combat is practiced. The goal is to create a balance and provide all the tools for the development of the martial artist.
- A group with which to share the moments of practice and to deal with, the latter aspect is important because it is true that Kung Fu can be a path of personal growth only, but it is also true that confrontation with the other often opens the horizons and makes us grow.
Specialties studied in a Kung Fu course
Now we come to what are the elements of the practice, that is, to all the specialties that are studied within a traditional and modern Kung Fu course .
In the first phase all fundamental positions are studied, considering the Kung Fu alphabet and common to all styles. These are used to understand the posture to be adopted and to develop stability thanks to the rooting of the lower body.
They are the basic elements of Shaolin and of all martial arts in general, in this case we seek the technical precision of the movement, the cooperation of the internal body (and not only of the arm), the search for the explosive effect and the study of technical applications on various distances.
In Shaolin they have always been techniques because they play an important role in combat. There are different leg techniques and they are divided into: football techniques with straight leg, with flexed leg, with semi-flexed leg, beaten and jumped kicks. It is very important to emphasize that each practitioner manages the techniques based on his flexibility and body structure, making efforts only in line with his background.
It is a concatenation of attack and defense techniques peculiar to the style and which represent it in its highest level, which is why they are considered the heart of the system. Beyond the sequence, each movement has its martial application, which is why it is important to fully understand its meaning.
They are techniques in pairs that have the aim of leveraging the opponent in different ways. There are in fact levers for the division of muscles and tendons, to dislocate the bones, to suffocate and block the respiratory tract.
They are exercises aimed at unbalancing and dropping the opponent in various ways. There are techniques of imbalance, uprooting and sweeping of the opponent based on the level of ability and degree acquired.
The study of combat
It is the study of the techniques of displacement, of kick and punch, extrapolated from the forms peculiar to the style. To differentiate the types of combat, reference is made to two terms, sanshou with which traditional combat is indicated, extrapolated from the typical techniques of the style that is practiced; the sandà, on the other hand, is modern combat, closer by rules and competition to combat sports.