Inner Strength-Peace

A Brief

History of Kung Fu




Note: the term Kung Fu, while used in the West to denote Chinese martial arts, literally means "Skill Time." It is used in China to denote any skill that takes time and effort to develop, not just martial art skill. The Chinese use the term Wu Shu (literally "Martial Techniques") to denote martial arts. Contemporary Wu Shu focuses mostly on Form competition and really doesn't concern itself with Martial Skill (with many notable exceptions!). In Taiwan and Hong Kong the term Kuo Shu (literally "National Techniques") is used to denote the martial arts.

Chinese martial arts go back to approximately the third century AD to the monastery in Hunan province known as Shaolin. Tradition has it that the monks at this monastery were ascetics (having denied the physical) who had become sickly due to lack of nourishment and care of or providing for the body. Even during meditation they fell asleep because they lacked the stamina required for long periods of inner travel. The Chinese emperor invited an Indian mystic to visit China and study with the monks at its monasteries. His name was Bodhidharma, the twenty-sixth patriarch in a direct line descending from the original Buddha. The Chinese came to know him as Tamo.

Tamo, upon seeing the sad condition of the monks at Shaolin devised especially for them a set of conditioning exercises for spirit, mind, and body. He referred to these as the I Chin Ching and divided them into three levels of study: Muscle Change Course, Sinew Changing, and Marrow Washing. Each provided the monks with the ability to tap ever deepening levels of energy for stamina, alertness, and knowledge of their own anatomy.

The Chinese monks, being inventive, later found that these powerful exercises, linked with their observations of various creature observed in nature, could be used for self-protection. The bandits of the time were ruthless in their attacks on the monks during their travel to and from the monasteries. Sometimes the monks carried valuables, including gold artifacts. The fact that the monks were easy targets and carried gold made them regular prey for the bandits. However, the skills that the monks developed from regular Kung Fu training made them invincible against any attack. Soon they were known as the most fearsome fighters in all of China. The legend of Shaolin was born.

Today, there are many forms of Chinese martial arts: Five Form Fist, Pai Lum, Hung Gar, Monkey, White Crane, Taijiquan, Baji, Xingyi, Bagua Zhang, Wing Chun and Praying Mantis just to name a few. Geographically, these are usually divided into Northern and Southern styles (although there are styles, like Xingyi which come from Western China). Northern styles are noted for their high and flying kicks and a tendency for long-range fighting. Southern styles, in contrast, are noted for their reliance on low stances and close-range fighting. Be aware that there are many exceptions to this general rule.

Chinese martial arts are also divided into Internal and External. External styles, like Five Form Fist, focus on the development of muscular strength and the training of specific technique; they use muscular tension to develop power from the ground up into the upper body. On the other hand, Internal styles, exemplified by Taijiquan, focus on the development of mental, emotional and energetic strength; they teach elemental rather than specific technique. Internal styles seek to release muscular tension and develop power from the ground by using the body's structure and tendon/ligament strength. Just as in the Northern and Southern dichotomy, there are many exceptions to this rule; there is a large gray area between Internal and External. In fact, no art can be totally one or the other, every style uses Internal and External techniques. Whether an art is considered Internal or External is a matter of what it's main focus is.


"Kung Fu must be thought of, in its final form and spirit, as an expression of man's indomitable will to survive adversity in the most direct, self reliant manner possible. This requires only that which nature gave him, a mind and body, vigorously disciplined as an inseparable entity. Within this framework Kung Fu is presented as an experience which begins on the physical level and gradually deepens to a pervasive philosophy of the totality of one's behavior."  

- David Chow