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History of Kung-Fu and its significance. More News

History of Kung-Fu

Martial Arts in Ancient China

Kung-Fu is the most ancient of all martial arts and it is possible to trace its roots back more than 4,000 years. The earliest form of Chinese martial arts were those practised by soldiers for direct use in battlefield combat. Ancient legend states that weapons and hand-to-hand martial arts’ techniques were propagated by China’s Yellow Emperor. Before he rose to the imperial throne in 2698 BC, the Yellow Emperor had been a notable general and had already written at length on elevated subjects such as astrology, Chinese medicine and the Martial Arts. He developed a form of wrestling called Horn Butting (Jiao Di) where contestants wore horned helmets and attacked each other with their headgear. It is said that this same martial technique was employed on the battlefield, leading to victorious results.

Whatever the truth of such legends, Jiao Di horn-butting developed into a system of wrestling known as Jiao Li during the Zhou Dynasty, 1122 BC – 256 AD. Jiao Li is one of the most ancient systems of Martial Arts in the world and was first put down on paper in the ancient Chinese tome, The Classic of Rites. Jiao Li extended its wrestling repertoire to include sophisticated techniques such as joint-locks, pressure-point attacks plus systemised strikes and blocks. The art was taught to military personnel who also learned archery, war strategy and weapons techniques. Later on Jiao Li became a sport accessible to anyone in the Qui Dynasty around 221 BC. Competitions were held on raised platforms called leitai for popular amusement and military recruitment purposes. A Jiao Li champion could hope to win a post as a military trainer or bodyguard to the court. A form of Jiao Li, called Hui Jiao is still taught today to Chinese police and military personnel. Shui Jiao is also popular in Mongol festivals, although they call it bohke.

During the Zhou Dynasty, martial arts began to develop concurrent with the philosophical trends of society at the time, namely Confucianism and Taoism. In Taoism the universal opposites, Ying and Yang, were transposed to fighting systems, resulting in the hard and soft techniques that are existent in Kung-Fu today. The Taoist system of divination, the I-Ching contributed many mystical elements to Kung-Fu philosophy. Meanwhile Tao itself is a cosmic energy, likened to the Chi power that martial artists sought to harness to boost their powers. Confucianism meanwhile included the practice of martial arts as part of its six arts that should be practised in ideal worldly living alongside calligraphy, mathematics and music.

Warrior Monks

The most famous part of Kung-Fu’s history dates from sometime in the sixth century AD with the arrival of an Indian Buddhist monk, Bodhidarma, at the newly formed Shaolin Temple. Buddhism had been brought to China a few hundred years before but Bodhidarma brought the new religion to the martial arts. Whether or not the monks at Shaolin were already versed in the martial arts and what exactly Bodhidarma taught them, is much disputed. The result, however, is not. Shaolin monks dedicated themselves to Kung-Fu and became a warrior elite whose fame spread throughout China. They were engaged in countless military campaigns and are credited as bringing peace to their own bandit-ridden province. By the 17th Century Kung-Fu experts travelled from far and wide to learn their secrets. Shaolin Kung-Fu is extremely demanding on the body. Only by dedicating themselves to hours of rigorous daily training could the Shaolin rise above the feats of ordinary men. Around the same time, rival Taoist monasteries, such as the one on Wudang Mountain, taught different styles of Kung-Fu, classified as internal.

Kung-Fu in the 20th Century

Up until the early 20th century, Kung-Fu continued to be something practised by the elite, be they military elite, learned men, warrior monks or the members of a particular family. The negative effects of European interference in China had brought Chinese national self esteem to an all time low. First of all, China had been brought to its knees by a mass drugs trade in opium, perpetrated mainly by Britain and France in the two Opium Wars, 1839 – 1842 and 1856 – 1860. The Boxer Rebellion of 1899 was an attempt by the Righteous Harmony Society, previously known as the Righteous Fist Society, to expel foreign elements and reclaim China for the Chinese. The Boxers believed that their Chi Gung expertise would allow them to repel bullets, as it did swords and clubs. The limitations of internal Chi power were quickly discovered as many died among hails of enemy gunfire. The failed rebellion only saw more concessions given to the occupying powers, as the Chinese government were unable to protect their thousand year old traditions against the humiliation of European colonisation. In an attempt to recapture cultural aspects that were essentially Chinese and boost national pride (and health), the government encouraged martial artists to open up their doors to the (Chinese) general public. Much of the mythology surrounding the Chinese martial arts was also created around this time, serialised in popular novels. At this point, many Kung-Fu organisations were established that are still in existence today. The Chin Woo Athletic Association was founded in 1910 and a central governing body for Kung-Fu was established in 1928. By 1932 National Kung-Fu competitions were being held throughout China and in 1936 Kung-Fu was put on the world stage at the Berlin Olympic Games.

The Cultural Revolution and the persecution of Kung-Fu

In 1966 Mao Zedong, the creator of China’s unique brand of Communism, launched the Cultural Revolution. His aim was to rid China of all remnants of traditional thought so that it could radically modernise into a fully functioning Communist State. 80 million speakers communicated Mao’s revolutionary doctrine to some 400,000 Chinese through the Central Peoples Broadcasting Station. In a kind of nationwide hysteria, millions of revolutionary youngsters, entitled Red Guards, marauded through the provinces, destroying ancient buildings and artefacts, and torturing and killing people as they saw fit. Persecution of Chinese traditions hit Kung-Fu hard and no one was safe. Even the venerated Shaolin Temple was subject to revolutionary purges and the abbots were made to parade in public with paint slashed on their robes. Books and ancient martial arts manuscripts were looted from the monastery and burnt. The extent of the damage wreaked in the turbulent years of the Chinese Cultural Revolution was on a scale never seen by the world before and the physical losses can never be repaired.

Those Kung-Fu masters that could, fled overseas, whilst the remainder went into hiding or suffered harsh reprisals. Kung-Fu continued to flourish in its overseas setting and many famous masters set up Kung-Fu schools in Hong-Kong and Taiwan. A lesser number moved to the United States and Europe. Chinese cultural traditions became stronger in expat Chinese communities than back home in mainland China. After the tumult caused by the Red Guards had settled down, China began to rethink its policy toward Chinese martial arts as a sport.

Styles of Traditional Kung-Fu

With its rich history spanning some 4000 years, Kung-Fu has expanded, multiplied and been refined into literally thousands of styles. From a single type of martial combat, different masters over the years placed emphasis on different strikes, stances, philosophies and approaches to the problem of combat. Kung-Fu styles are classified in a variety of ways, such as the location of their origin, the philosophy or religion upon which they are based, the name of their founder or the particular emphasis they place on combat. Rigid classification can be difficult due to overlap. For example, a style may be classified by its location and its combat emphasis, in addition to being known for having sprung form devotees of a certain religion. Whatever the name or classification may be, the resulting differences can be great, with one style favouring kicking while another mostly ignores these in favour of punches. One Kung-Fu style may feature great acrobatic leaps, while an opposing style may endeavour never to kick above waist height. Any one particular style of Kung-Fu will defend its superiority over others with reference to classical teachings, great exponents and lengthy discourse and demonstration, if not actual combat.

In the past, Kung-Fu masters would compete in open competition to prove their style’s superiority. The truth of the matter, however, is that styles do not win competitions or fights. Individuals do and as the saying goes, ‘there are many ways to skin a cat’. All established Kung-Fu styles have something to offer the Martial Artist, depending on what his goals are. If it is a popular, well run and well taught system of Kung-Fu then it will likely be worth learning. Before we go into detail on any particular style, let’s look at the main classifications of Kung-Fu.



Kung Fu, also known as Gong Fu, is an ancient Chinese martial art. Should you be inspired to learn this art, yet there isn't a school nearby, you can't afford classes, or your schedule simply doesn't allow it, you can learn it yourself. As long as you're committed and ambitious, it can be done. It won't be easy, but it'll be worth it.

Part Getting Started

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    Clean out an area of your home. Since you'll be doing a lot of jumping, kicking, punching, and basically tearing through whatever's in front of you (or to the left, right, or behind), designate an area of your home to be for your kung fu practice sessions. At least ten feet by ten feet should be plenty.
    • If you don't have an empty room you can use, just clear out the corner of a room and remove any object you don't want to break or that you can hurt yourself with.
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    Get a punching bag. You can hold off on this for a bit, but eventually you'll want a punching bag. At first you'll be doing your moves just in the air, but eventually you'll want to have resistance, which is where a punching bag comes in handy.
    • You can hang a bag from your ceiling (if the room makes that feasible) or you can purchase a free-standing one at most sporting goods stores.
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    Find instruction. Simply put, an actual teacher, or "sifu," is the best way to learn kung fu. But you can also learn kung fu yourself if you're diligent and persevere. Buy some DVDs, watch some videos online, or look at the websites of schools. Many have short videos that offer you a taste of the program, teaching you moves at the same time.
    • It's best to find more than one source. There a few different schools of kung fu, and you want to make sure you're doing the one that appeals most to you. What's more, there are some people out there that claim to be experts when they're really not. Finding more than one source can help you know that you're doing it correctly.
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    Choose an area to focus on first. There's so much to learn when it comes to kung fu – to tell yourself that you're going to learn everything is quite the tall order. When you're starting off, pick a focus. Once you get a few stances down, do you want to concentrate on jumping? Kicking? Punching?
    • This makes it easy to write yourself a lesson plan, too. On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, say, you'll work on stances and kicks. Then, on Tuesdays and Thursdays, you mix it up with core skills, like balance and flexibility.

Part 2
Beginning Basic Training

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    Work on your balance and flexibility. In order to hold the stances in kung fu, your balance needs to be in tip top form. What's a good way to master this? Yoga. It may seem like it's unnecessary and keeping you from truly practicing, but what it's really doing is setting you up to be truly great at kung fu.
    • And as for flexibility, every session should begin with a warm up and stretching session. A warm up can be a light jog, some jumping jacks, and push ups. Then, stretch out your muscles. This not only keeps you injury-free, but it also makes you more flexible, getting your kicks higher and your bends more limber.
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    Master a few stances. The bare bones of kung fu lies in the stances. You can't deliver the right moves if you're coming from the wrong position. These first three aren't meant for fighting, though – they're meant for traditional kung fu and use with weapons. That being said, they're an integral part of kung fu ideology. Here's a few stances you can work on:
    • The horse stance. Bend your knees about 30 degrees, widen your feet a bit farther apart than shoulder width, and hold clench fists in at your sides, palms up. Keep your back straight, like you're riding a horse.
    • The front stance. Bend your knees and draw your left leg back, like you're in a lunge. Then, snap out your right fist in front of you, holding your left fist to your chest. Switch legs, bringing your left in front. As you do so, switch fists, too.
    • The cat stance. Place your right leg slightly behind you, and lean back on it. Take your left leg and only touch your toes to the ground. Hold both fists as if you're in a resting boxing position, protecting your face. If someone were to come at you, your front leg should be able to automatically come up in defense.
    • The fighting stance. If you're looking to practice kung fu against others, you'll need the fighting stance. This is essentially the same as a boxing stance – one foot slightly in front of the other, fists up, protecting your face, knees relaxed.
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    Work on your punch. When it comes to punching, remember that most of the force comes from your hips. Just like in boxing, kung fu has jabs, uppercuts, and hooks. Let's discuss all three.
    • The jab. In fighter's stance, left foot in front of right foot, bend your knees, turn your hip toward your opponent, and throw out your left fist, immediately followed by your right. As your right comes out, rotate your right hip, too.
    • The hook. Contrary to intuition, you want your hook to start out small. In fighter's stance, right foot behind, take your right fist, rotate your hip back, and swing strong through to your left, forming a hook shape. Remember, the power is in your hips.
    • The uppercut. In fighter's stance, lower your fist and bringing it swinging up, as if you're aiming for your opponent's chin directly in front of you. With each uppercut, always twist your hips slightly as this is where your power is coming from.
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    Work on your blocks. Your block will be different depending on what you're blocking. But whatever's coming at you, start with the fighting stance. In this position, you're fully prepared to protect your face and keep attacks from being effective.
    • For punches, jabs, and hooks, blocking is very similar to boxing. Whichever side is being threatened, take that arm and, keeping it bent, stop your opponent's motion. With your other arm, you can attack.
    • For kicks and elbows, use both arms. Keep them bent and by your face, but rotate your hips to whatever side is being threatened. This prevents you from hitting your own face upon the backlash and is more painful for them.
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    Get your kicks strong. Kicking is one of the funnest aspects of kung fu and also one of the easiest ways to see improvement. Here's three basic kicks you can start with.
    • The step kick. Stand in front of your punching bag. Take a step forward with your left foot, and then hit the right side of the bag with the inside of your foot. Then, switch to the other side.
    • The stomp kick. Stand in front of your punching bag. Take a step forward with your left foot, and bring your right foot straight out in front of you, bent at the knee. Then, snap it forward, "stomping" on the bag, sending it shooting away from you.
    • The side kick. Stand in fighter's stance, your left foot in front of your right. Move your weight onto your left foot, swinging out your leg up into the air, hitting the punching bag at shoulder level with the side of your foot. Try to bring your leg in, but stay on your back leg to practice your balance.
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    Practice combinations in the air and on your bag. As you're just setting out, start with doing the motions in the air. Once you're consistent and have a grip on the move, switch to doing it with your punching bag. When you start getting worn out, take a break or switch up what you're doing.
    • Once you get really confident, try to find a friend to spar with. That is, if you have protective gear each other can wear, or pads you can put on the recipient's hands while the other practices their punching and kicks.

Part 3
Learning Traditional Moves

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    Do the dragon. This move is all about being intimidating – the entire time you should be staring at your opponent. Here's how it's done:
    • Take up the horse stance, but widen your legs a bit farther apart and bending your knees a bit deeper.
    • Snap out your wrist like a jab, but put your fingers in a claw shape. This would be used to dig into your opponent.
    • Come out of your squat and do a side kick to your opponent, aiming for their stomach.
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    Try the snake. In this pose, you slink backwards, and raise your head up when you're striking, just like a snake. Here's how:
    • Spread out your legs, right behind your left, resting your weight on your back foot. Keep your knees bent.
    • Flatten your hands as if you want to slice through your opponent. Snap out your right in front of you.
    • Block your opponent by grabbing their arm, and launching at them with a stomp kick.
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    Approach like a leopard. This move is a little less direct – it allows you the opportunity to flee if need be.
    • Take up a wide fighter's stance, leaning back on your back leg.
    • When you're ready to strike, throw your weight forward curl your fingers and hit your opponent with your palm and the ridges of your fingers, instead of your closed fist. However, this must be done very carefully or you could hurt yourself.
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    Fly like a crane. This move is very passive. With the crane, you wait for your opponent to come to you. Here's how it's done:
    • Take up the cat stance, but with your feet close together. This "hides" your foot.
    • Raise your arms to the sides, distracting your opponent.
    • As he comes near you, lift up that front foot that has only the toes on the ground and launch into your favorite kick.
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    Pounce like a tiger. This move is swift, hearty, and effective. Here's how to do it:
    • Take up a fighter's stance, but wider. You should essentially be in a squat.
    • Put your hands in front of your shoulders in a claw-shape, facing outwards.
    • Do a combination jab-jab, and then launch into a side kick at throat level.

Part 4
Understanding the Philosophy

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    Know the two main schools of kung fu. On the days you're not practicing practice, read some of the classic literature on kung fu and combat, such as Sun Tzu, Bruce Lee, Tak Wah Eng, David Chow and Lam Sai Wing. These will teach you about the two schools of kung fu:[1]
    • Shaolin. This is the oldest school of kung fu. This type is known for “external” moves and practices that strengthen muscles, ligaments and tendons. It is what most people think of when they think of kung fu.
    • Wu Dung. This school is slightly newer and is an interpretation of the original concept of kung fu. It is known for it's “internal” moves and practices that strengthen and manipulate chi or life force. It is more about focus, zen, and internal power.
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    Think of the moves as animals. In many of these moves, it is helpful to think in terms of animals – this is, after all, the origin of this martial art. It may also put you in the proper mindset and allow you to tap into your potential.
    • There is a story that says a man from New Zealand once dug a 3 feet (0.9 m) deep hole and practiced jumping in and out of it. Over time he dug deeper and, little by little, he turned into a humanoid kangaroo. Not only should you think of animals when you're combating, but when you're practicing, too.
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    Meditate. Japanese samurai used meditation to enhance their fighting skills. They believed (and rightfully so) that it gave them clarity and helped them see what the right attack would be. It allowed their minds to clear and for everything to slow down. The same is still true today. Just 15 minutes or so a day of meditation may help you find inner balance and power.[2]
    • Think of being in a car accident. While it's happening, everything just sort of slows down. This is the state of meditation. This peaceful, zen state can be useful in fighting because everything becomes slower, allowing you to react faster.
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    Practice, practice, practice. The only way to truly get in the mind of a kung fu artist is to keep practice. Alone, the moves may seem silly. You may seem like you're not getting anywhere. But if you practice every day, meditate, and are reading literature, it can become a way of life you can't believe you ever lived without.
    • Try practicing in the air, against a punching bag, and sparring with a friend. Seek out the next challenge as you get better and better.
    • Always fix yourself and make constant corrections. Review your source material and make sure you're doing it correctly. Otherwise, you're not truly doing kung fu.

Reader Questions and Answers

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Answered Questions
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  • When you fight, try to use your feet as much as you use your hands. Unleash the full potential of your limbs.
  • Practice repetitions of each move, to synchronize your mind and body to be fast and accurate.
  • Try to get books that show you step by step instructions to different moves.
  • Get top quality materials.


  • Don't start hurting people once you've learned Kung Fu. Kung Fu should only be used for self defense.
  • Don't show off. If your main aim of learning Kung Fu is to show off to others, you are better off not training at all.
  • Be careful when embarking on any training of any sort. Always be aware of the risks and hazards before starting.


Posted by GOPAL KALITA, Created Wed Mar 16, 2016

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