Kung Fu can be a very confusing and ambiguous term for those who are not familiar with it. It is difficult to classify it as a single or definitive martial art. Usually, the term is used to refer collectively to all of the Chinese martial arts. Kung was popularized, if not introduced, to the Western world by virtue of potion pictures from China. When Bruce Lee released “The Big Boss” in USA, the average American youth went crazy about flying over fences and dodging bullets. Anybody who enjoys watching these King Fu movies also longs to learn this extraordinary art form in some corner of his or her heart.
There are countless forms and schools of martial arts in China. The most famous of them is the Shoalin style Kung Fu. These styles can be as old as time it; while some of them were recently founded by some extraordinary masters. Jeet Kune Do or the “Way of the Fist” is one of the most recently developed schools of Chinese Kung Fu. It was developed by Bruce Lee himself.
Whatever be the style, Kung Fu is basically inspired by nature and quite often by the oriental mysticism. Most of the styles are based on the defensive and offensive movements of animals and insects. In many famous styles, such as the Drunken Style and Monkey Style Kung Fu, they employ unnatural movements to confuse your opponent and divert his or her attention to gain an advantage. Many forms of Kung Fu were developed by Buddhists and Taoist monks. Their main objective remains to achieve a higher level of spiritual consciousness apart from self defense. These Kung Fu schools are many centuries old and they often combine religious practices and teachings with the martial art training. For instance, practicing non-violence, vegetarianism and meditation forms an important aspect of Shaolin Kung Fu.
Unlike some other Asian and Western martial arts, Kung Fu gives special attention to aesthetics. They like to flaunt their skills and to wave their swords beautifully, while they could have simply stabbed their opponent with the quickest technique. This aestheticism is something that makes Kung Fu more fascinating and it stands out from the crowd. Most of the people learn Kung Fu because they feel it gives them a boost in self esteem and confidence. Many people also learn to have an edge in their military or police career. A large number of people choose to join professional classes hoping to be able to represent their counties in international Wushu events. A very notable international event was held in Beijing in 2008 on the sidelines of the Olympic Games. Every student of this splendid martial art agrees with the fact that Kung Fu gives a sense of purpose to their lives.
Some Major Types Of Kung Fu
There are literally hundreds of King Fu styles in China. All of them are quite different from each other. For instance, some forms like Sanshou, resemble wrestling by allowing full body contact, some other forms like Drunken Monkey focus on avoiding contact and dodging the opponent. Usually these schools are divided into two main categories. These are commonly referred to as Internal Fung Fu and External Kung Fu.
Internal Kung Fu:
Some schools of Kung Fu are classified as internal because they focus on developing inner strength and moral qualities more than the physical aspects of fighting. The Chinese term for Internal Kung Fu is Neijia and is derived from a root meaning inner strength. The main objective of this type of Kung Fu is to gain an edge over your enemy by balancing your mind with your surroundings. With a relaxed mind you will be in a better position to anticipate the moves of your opponent and to take immediate pre-emptive measures. They’d like you to use your brain more than your limbs. Since their focus on brute force is somewhat secondary, they are often called Soft Kung Fu.
There is also some mysticism associated with Sift Kung Fu. They believe that the body can be prepped for withstanding any attack - that would otherwise be hazardous – with careful manifestation of Qi or your soul’s energy. In many Internal Kung Fu styles, they claim to use their opponent’s Qi against himself or herself.
These styles are usually taught at a very slow pace. This allows the students to understand even the minutest movement patterns and include them in their reflex memory as they are. Gradually they ask you to increase your speed. By the time you complete your training you will be in a position to execute these moves with explosive swiftness.
This form of King Fu is best suited for people of small stature and small build. Big and tight muscles make it almost impossible to practice Internal Kung Fu. This is because it creates hindrances in easy and smooth movement of limbs.
External Kung Fu:
Many people believe that this is one of the easier ones to learn. Contrary to the above style, it focuses entirely on external body movements. There is little or no emphasis on berating and controlling Qi. The technique of External King Fu depends more on punches, blocks, kicks and weapons handling. While this is not a much romanticized version of Kung Fu, it is certainly very effective in real life and in games.
Apart from the above stated, there are many other classifications of Kung Fu. They are usually based on religious or regional points of view.
Some Major Schools of Kung Fu
There are many Kung Fu styles that are accessible to Westerners in their own countries. Here is a brief description of some of them.
Shaolin Kung Fu:
Shaolin Kung Fu refers to a collection of Chinese martial arts that claim affiliation with the Shaolin Monastery. The Shaolin Temple is situated in the Henan province of China on a mountain amidst lush forests. Needless to say, Shoalin is regarded as a synonym for Kung Fu in the western world. According to a legend the Shaolin Kung Fu is the most ancient Chinese martial art. It is said to have been started by an Indian Buddhist monk who on a visit to the Shaolin Monastery was appalled by the inferior physical standards of the monks. Due to their physiological limitations they were not able to sit in meditation for long hours. The legend says that he then went into meditation for many years and then developed what is today known to the world as Shaolin Kung Fu. This happened as early as 550 AD. Over the years those styles and techniques were perfected and improvised by other masters.
These styles are primarily aimed at exhibition and competition, and often include more acrobatic jumps and movements added for enhanced visual effect compared to the traditional styles.
This is a very popular form of Kung Fu that is used in training a number of military and police organizations worldwide. This is mainly due to the fact that this form of Kung Fu trains you to handle offensive opponents from close range. Usually it is practiced without weapons. However, sometimes there is use of some close range bladed weapon. Wing Chun is basically a one on one close range martial art. It emphasizes on balance and technique, very much like western boxing. The aim of wing Chun is to dazzle the enemy with your swift and hard kicks and punches, while remaining at an advantageous position.
Unlike many other forms of Kung Fu, Wing Chun is not about pre-choreographed moves for learning and practicing. Most masters would like you learn individual kicks and punches and then apply them as per your needs during combat.
Drunken Monkey Pole Form of Kung Fu is a Chinese martial art, and one of the variations of the Monkey Style.
Liu Seong Kuntao
The Liu Seong System is one of the styles of Kuntao Silat, which are hybrid martial arts systems from the cultures of China and Indonesia.
Famous Kung Fu Weapons
Here are some of the most famous and reputed weapons sourced from the various disciplines of the Kung Fu.
It is called “Gun” in Chinese. This simple weapon is one of the most dangerous weapons of Shoalin Kung Fu. It can be of varying length, weight and diameter. It can be as thick as a pole or as slim as your thumb. A “gun” is made by polishing wax wood that is very strong and flexible. Sustaining staff attacks without any adverse effect on body is one of the signature Shaolin preventative moves.
The Shaolin monks prefer to call it the ‘Grandaddy of All Weapons.”
It is called Qiang in Chinese. It was a signature weapon of all the Chinese armies, or at least such is the perception due to its depiction in motion pictures. It was used both by the cavalry and infantry. Unlike the accounts of some fantasy novels, the spear was rarely made from any other material except wax wood.
To put this simply, Qiang is a staff with an added metal point. Another unique feature of Chinese spear is the addition of long red horse hair at the forward end of the weapon. This serves two purposes, to divert the opponent’s attention and to soak blood and prevent the weapon from becoming slippery.
Double Dan Dao:
It is the famous Chinese broadsword that you must have seen countless times on TV and in movies. It is not necessarily used as a pair but many Kung Fu students do prefer it. The real weapon is quite heavy and difficult to handle. However in practice and presentation they usually use a much lighter version that has thin steel or aluminum plate instead of a heavy and durable blade. It is needless to say that these lighter versions of Dao are sharp and lethal too. This is widely used in most of the Kung Fu styles.
The jian is a double-edged straight sword used during the last 2,500 years in China.
How to Learn Kung Fu
There are many internationally certified and well trained masters (Shifus) in every country who teach Kung Fu for self defense. If you have no familiarity with Chinese martial arts, then you have no other option but to visit a master. However, if you have a decent knowledge of Kung Fu basics you can also depend on video lessons that are available on the internet.
Alternatively, if you are dedicated enough, you can also learn Kung Fu from places like the Shaolin Temple itself. In fact there have been a number of foreign students in the Shaolin Temple. This will be a very extreme move on your part as life in the Shaolin Temple can be much more difficult than the training of elite armed forces.
You can find a good master in your own city too. They need not be Chinese. A common perception is that masters of Asian origin have superior skills as opposed to others. This cannot be any farther from truth. Kung Fu has today evolved into an international martial art and ethnicity is no weighing scale for skills.
Kung Fu is a very lethal art and if you are not careful you can end up hurting, impairing or killing your opponent or even yourself. It is advisable that you do not practice anything without proper training and supervision. Some demonstrations that involve breaking iron bars and sustaining pointed weapons on delicate body parts are very dangerous and they should not be attempted by amateurs at all. Ensure that you are using all the safety equipments and that the weapons are blunt and non-lethal.
Kung Fu as an International Sport
The international Kung Fu Federation or IKF is the undisputed authority that is currently promoting the Kung Fu sporting events on an international level. Their objective is for Kung Fu to be recognized as an Olympic event. They are actively involved in promoting co-ordination and good will between various independent regional groups and authorizes worldwide. The IKF also promotes the training of Kung Fu as a sport and undertakes the development internationally recognized rules and regulations. Anybody can apply to become a member of the IKF for a nominal fee.
Kung Fu is a great way to stay healthy. Not to mention that you can deal with any adversities effectively when they arise. Learning Kung Fu can be especially desirable for you if you are looking forward to a career in the armed forces or in the security business.
If you intend to take this up professionally as a sport, then you will have to choose your style and master carefully. Before seeking admission in any institution, you should confirm that it is recognized by the IKF. It would also be good to ask if any of their disciples have appeared in international tournaments in the past.
Nevertheless, it is a great and a very indulging activity. It would be a great idea for you to join your kids and other family members every weekend.
There is no age for starting Kung Fu practice. Many people start learning it in their later 50s and end up leading a healthier and happier life than what they could have imagined. So if you are also interested in learning this spectacular martial art, then you should go for it without any second thoughts.