What is Kung Fu? | Spirit Dragon Institute (2022)

Well, if you search online today you will find that it is a popular animated Kung Fu movie about a panda bear or perhaps a TV show from the 60’s. But, you have to go beyond the first couple search pages to get beyond what Kung Fu has become in Pop Culture.

While I enjoy Kung Fu movies as much as the next guy, though the animated movie was very good, and also really enjoyed the TV show that was made in the 60’s, these really only scratch the surface of what Kung Fu really is. They provide a glimpse of some of the philosophy and reflect some of society’s ideas about what it means to be a noble warrior, but they don’t really inform you about what Kung Fu actually it. Instead they use Kung Fu as a means to tell a story.

What is Kung Fu? | Spirit Dragon Institute (1)

Master Louie Martinez - Ng Ga Kuen Broadsword

Kung Fu refers to the Martial Arts of China. There are many styles of Kung Fu and they have evolved and changed over the course of more then a 2000 year old history. The martial arts of China (or Kung Fu) are unique and complete systems of physical, mental, and energetic development that address and solve some of the world’s oldest problems: self protection and health.

What does Kung Fu Mean?

Well you might be surprised to know that Kung Fu doesn’t actually mean martial arts!

It translates to mean Skill that is acquired after a period of work or training. In usage in China - Kung Fu is used to describe any skill that takes practice to master. If someone is good at painting- then they have kung fu.

Martial Arts require lots of practice to master. That is one reason why the term kung fu is used to refer to the practice of martial arts!

History of Kung Fu

All people have the need to protect themselves. From this basic need man developed systems of self protection. Some solutions were more structural, relying on order and rules for people to live by. People formed towns and communities for safety and support. Kung Fu is a more personal solution that addresses survival and personal conflict on a more individual level. It is the science and art of fighting.

Over time these systems of self protection evolved into what we have today. Through long personal training, masters from the past realized that through physical training and exploring conflict we could also come to realize deep truths about the nature of relationship and reality. In addition, the practice of Kung Fu was also shown to convey great benefits to the health and many masters took the study even further by practicing medicine as well as boxing. The range of practices that a martial system might encompass can be anywhere along the spectrum of martial, health, and philosophical / spiritual.

As systems were taught and passed on, they moved from region to region. With the advent of world exploration and travel, these systems spread to other parts of the world. That is why today you can find a Kung Fu class in your city or town!

But, with the vast difference between styles it can be confusing to understand what Kung Fu is all about. The movies don’t help in dispelling the myths but rather provide more disinformation and wild fantasies about invincible warriors with supernatural powers.

What is Kung Fu? | Spirit Dragon Institute (2)

Franklin Fick - Ng Ga Kuen Salute

Kung Fu Styles

Kung Fu is a generic term that refers to all the martial arts of China.

First you must realize that Kung Fu is a generic term for the martial arts of China. It doesn’t refer to any one practice but instead refers to all the practices. There are hundreds and hundreds of different styles of Kung Fu. Although all styles train fighting skills, each style can be very different.

If you are interested in learning Kung Fu it is important to research different styles, because not all the styles are similar. Each style is different and you want to find a style that fits your interest and needs. For example, if you are a very large person you might not want to train a style that emphasizes lots of jumping and acrobatic techniques, or if you are older you might want to train something that is low impact like Tai Chi Chuan.

Although each style of Kung Fu is unique, martial arts styles from China have some general characteristics. They tend to be more flowing and circular then styles from other countries, blending the attack and defense into one circular movement. Also, Chinese styles tend to emphasize solo training in the form of skill training exercises and training kung fu forms.

Internal and External Kung Fu Styles!

The martial arts of China are usually divided into tw0 main categories: External styles and Internal styles. External styles are also sometimes called Shaolin styles. These are styles that emphasize training striking, throwing, grappling, and kicking from the very beginning of training. Shaolin kung fu is known for its very beautiful and intricate forms. Whole styles my be built on the premise of imitating a single animal like the Preying Mantis, White Crane, or Tiger. And some styles combine the movements of the different animals together. For example Shaolin Five Animal style Kung Fu has movements from the Dragon, Tiger, Snake, Leopard, and Crane. These are the most famous animals in Traditional Chinese Kung Fu. In addition there are five more animals that are sometimes included with these five. The additional animals are the Horse, Monkey, Elephant, Lion, and Panther. Together these are the ten animals of Shaolin Kung Fu.

Internal styles on the other hand usually emphasize training movements and exercises that get the practitioner in touch with and in control of the various parts of their body. Once the practitioner can feel and move all the parts of the body, then the different parts are trained to work together to generate whole body power. The most famous and well known internal styles are Tai Chi Chuan, Bagua Zhang, and Xing Yi Quan.

Kung Fu Training

In addition to training empty hand defense and attack, Kung Fu lessons might also involve learning traditional weapons. There are 18 traditional weapons in kung fu. These kung fu weapons include both long weapons like the spear and staff, and short weapons like the sword, short stick, and knife. Kung Fu weapons training evolved in a time when being able to use a weapon might be the deciding factor in how long you would live. Today we train the weapons of kung fu because they are a part of the history of the style, the training is great exercise, and because even though in the modern word we might not get called upon to defend ourselves with a sword, we can use the same principles of training the traditional weapons to defend ourselves with makeshift weapons if the need ever arose.

In addition to the training for fighting, most Kung Fu styles also have some health practices in the form of Qigong, massage, or medicine practices that were passed down along with the martial training. This is because masters of the past also had to make a living, and one of the ways that was traditionally open for a kung fu master to make a living was offering health services. Some masters were even more famous for their medicine skills then they were for their fighting skills. This I why some styles of kung fu also preserve traditional healing techniques along with the fighting skills.

Along with the healing and fighting skills, the master from the past also discovered that with the knowledge to both hurt and heal came a moral responsibility. This responsibility sometimes manifested in different degrees in different individuals, but overall it can be said that practitioners of Chinese Kung Fu should do their best to help others and not to pick fights. In the beginning the student is learning to fight, make the body stronger, and the goal it would seem is to be able to hurt people. But, in reality through long training the goal becomes making yourself a better person and helping your fellow man. This is the paradox of training.

On the pages of this website you will find more information about different styles of Kung Fu and you will also find distance learning programs so that if your are interested you could learn right form your home. I hope that you will explore the world of Traditional Chinese Kung Fu and experience some oft he benefits that training has to offer first hand.

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