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Kung fu, also known as martial arts or wushu, refers to a number of martial arts styles whose theories were developed based upon classical Chinese philosophies such as Taoism, Zen, and Confucianism over thousands of years in China. As an important aspect of traditional Chinese culture, kung fu not only includes fighting styles, but also the combination of physical exercise, self-discipline, self-defense, and art of the human entity that is brain, brawn, and spirit.
Origin and History
The formation of Chinese kung fu originated from the productive life of a primitive society based on hunting. Due to the need for self-defense during hunting and tribal wars, people gradually developed the skills of fighting, stabbing, and hacking, as well as the weapons used in such combat. These elements are the basics of Chinese kung fu.
According to legend, Chinese kung fu first originated during the Xia Dynasty more than 4,000 years ago. After the establishment of the Xia Dynasty (2070 B.C.-1600 B.C.), incessant wars required the systematic and practical development of kung fu to meet the warring needs. During the Shang and Zhou Dynasties, the Taiji Theory (literally meaning “Supreme Ultimate”) was created which helped form the core premises of kung fu. During the Qin (211 B.C.-206 B.C.) and Han (201 B.C.-220 A.D.) Dynasties, wrestling, fencing, and sword dance became very popular. When it came to the Tang Dynasty (618-907), one of China’s most prosperous dynasties, a system of imperial martial arts examinations greatly helped to promote the development and spread of kung fu.
Then in the Song (960-1279) and Yuan (1206-1368) Dynasties, the practice of kung fu became very popular among the common people; many local organizations were formed to help their members practice kung fu. The Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1636-1911) Dynasties witnessed the most prosperous period of kung fu development during which different kung fu sects and types of practices and categories were set up.
Kung Fu Training
Training to become masters of Chinese kung fu takes years of perseverant practice. In order to fully understand and carry out the training system, the kung fu practitioner must also put emphasis on learning Chinese culture, philosophy, ethics, and spirit. The basic practices are vital in any kung fu training, which involve simple and repeated movements such as stretching, jumping, meditation, striking, and the proper management of Qi (breath or spirit). These all help lay the foundation for muscle flexibility and proper body mechanics, and furthering progress in becoming trained for kung fu. To summarize, kung fu training is about both internal and external training, that is, the body and the mind.
Today, Shaolin Temple located near Dengfeng City is a must-see location for kung fu fans. There, visitors will gain first-hand knowledge about Shaolin Temple, Shaolin kung fu, and watch kung fu performances. There is even a Shaolin kung fu school where many Chinese and foreigners can learn to practice kung fu. Shaolin Temple has also established many Shaolin kung fu schools in countries around the world, such as the USA and the UK, to better spread the influence of this profound Chinese martial art and piece of culture. Unrelated to Shaolin Temple are many auxiliary kung fu schools all over China where people can learn the art. Such schools can be easily found in Beijing and the Guangdong, Shandong, and Henan Provinces.
Kung Fu Styles
Shaolin Kung Fu
Shaolin kung fu is a collection of Chinese martial arts affiliated with Buddhist Zen accumulated by millions of people through numerous generations of China’s top kung fu masters. It was the symbol of Buddhism’s ultimate domination of China over the last 1000 years. In ancient times, Shaolin Temple was at times threatened by bandits and murderers, so in order to repel the threats from outside world, Shaolin Temple developed many styles of powerful martial arts, and monks were trained to protect the temple and the holiness of Buddhism.
The essence of Shaolin kung fu is the unity of Zen and martial arts. The practice of Zen is the most important element, while martial arts serve as a complementary element of their practice and discipline. Shaolin monks try to achieve a state of peace and composure as well as self-defense through the practice of martial arts.
Shaolin kung fu has a vast content and numerous forms. According to historical records handed down at the temple, Shaolin kung fu has 708 styles of Taolu (a series of skills and tricks); unfortunately, only about 200 of them have been passed down, but it remains as one of the most powerful and prominent martial arts in the world. Many martial arts styles such as Taekwondo and karate are actually the variants of the techniques that originated from Shaolin kung fu. Since the 1970’s, there have been many films, cartoons, TV shows, and other media featuring Shaolin kung fu, making it one of the most well-known aspects of Chinese culture.
Taiji Quan, with variant translations such as Tai Chi Chuan or Tai Chi, is an internal Chinese martial art that is practiced for both self-defense and health benefits. Taiji Quan literally means “Supreme Ultimate Fist” where Taiji means “supreme ultimate” and is the Chinese term for the cosmos in both Chinese Taoist and Confucian philosophy. Therefore, the Tai Chi theory and practice evolved alongside many traditional Chinese philosophical principles.
Taiji Quan has since spread worldwide and is typically practiced for both its defense training and health benefits. A multitude of Taiji styles exist. Though in popular culture Taiji is typified by slow movements, there are secondary forms featuring a faster pace and even fighting. It is believed that a calm and clear mental state can be achieved by focusing the mind on the movements themselves. In addition, a background understanding of traditional Chinese medicine can enhance the learning of Taiji.
The core training of Taiji Quan consists of two primary forms: solo form and pushing hands. The solo form is the commonly seen slow movements which emphasizes a natural flow of motion and controlled breathing. Pushing hands involves training the movement principles with a partner in a more practical manner, to complement the solo form routines. It allows practitioners to learn how to resist and redirect the external force.
With such emphasis on health benefits needing only low-stress training, Taiji Quan has become popular in modern days among communities and senior centers. Every morning in parks or by lakes, many senior people can be seen practicing Taiji Quan.
Kung Fu Tours
My Chinatours offers well-designed Kung Fu Tours that combine China’s must-see scenic spots with a kung fu experience. We will take you to Shaolin Temple, the cradle of Shaolin kung fu, where you will explore the mysterious world of Shaolin and marvel at the kung fu demonstrations which are perfect combinations of power and grace.
Kung Fu Movie
The Shaolin Temple
The Shaolin Temple is a Hong Kong kung fu film starring Jet Li. Released in 1982, its plot is based on the Shaolin Temple in the Henan Province and depicts Shaolin kung fu. The film was such a hit that it spawned a revival of popularity of kung fu in China.
The film is set during the Sui and Tang Dynasties more than 1000 years ago. At that time, many states were in war with each other in hopes of to conquering Central China. A boy’s father, who served the warlord of Luoyang, was trapped and killed by the defenses of the rival warlords. However, the boy was saved by a monk at Shaolin Temple. While he was being taken care of at the temple, he saw the martial arts practiced by the monks and sought eagerly to learn martial arts in order to avenge his father; he was even given the Buddhist name Jueyuan. When his father’s murderer finally traced his way back and arrived at Shaolin Temple, a brutal fight between them was inevitable.
Fist of Fury
Also translated as “The Iron Hand” or “The Chinese Connection”, Fist of Fury is a Hong Kong kung fu film starring Bruce Lee, who is considered a cultural icon and the most influential martial artist of modern times. Released in 1972, Fist of Fury is one of Bruce Lee’s most influential works.
The film is set in the early 20th century, around the end of the Qing Dynasty, China’s last feudal dynasty. Bruce Lee plays Chen Zhen, a student of kung fu master Huo Yuanjia. When he returns to Jingwu Kung Fu School in Shanghai to marry his fiancée, who was also his sister apprentice, the tragic news of the death of his master awaited him. After investigation, he found out it was some Japanese who killed his master. Not long after his funeral, two Japanese showed up and insulted the Chinese as weaklings. Chen Zhen then decides to go to the Japanese Bushido School to learn to fight them, defend the Chinese honor, and avenge his master’s death.
Also translated as “Drunken Fist” or “Drunken Monkey in the Tiger’s Eye”, Drunken Master is a Hong Kong kung fu film starring Jackie Chan, who is a world-famous martial artist and actor. Drunken Master was a colossal success. It not only made the drunken fist fighting style well known, but is also considered an early creation of Jackie Chan’s comic kung fu style.
The film is set towards the end of the Qing Dynasty in the early 20th century. Jackie Chan plays the young Wong Fei-Hung who becomes a Chinese kung fu master and a revolutionist. In his childhood, Wong Fei-Hung was a mischievous boy who liked playing pranks and practicing kung fu, which leads him into a series of troubles. In order to punish and train him, his father decides to enlist him in rigorous martial arts training led by Beggar So, his father’s friend. He teaches Wong a form of fighting styles that requires the practitioner to be drunk. After Wong masters this new drunken fighting style, he uses it to defeat the contracted killers who were sent by his father’s business rival to kill his father.
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was a massive international success as the highest box office grossing foreign language film in the United States and won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film at the 73rd Acadamy Awards in 2001. Directed by Taiwanese director Ang Lee, it starred many celebrated Chinese actors such as Chow Yun-Fat, Michelle Yeoh, and Zhang Ziyi.
The film is set in the Qing Dynasty in the year 1779 during the reign of Emperor Qianlong. It is a perfect combination showcasing stunning Chinese kung fu action and breathtaking landscapes in China. Li Mubai, a kung fu master of that time, decides to step away from the martial arts world and entrusts his 400-year-old sword to his female friend, Yu Xiulian, to take to Beijing as a gift to Beileye (a rank of the Manchu nobility below that of the prince). However, the sword is stolen on the way to Beijing. Yu Xiulian discovers that it was taken by Yu Jiaolong, a young lady and daughter of a high-ranking government official. When Yu Jiaolong returns the sword to Li, Li finds out that Yu Longjiao had something to do with the Jade Fox who killed Li’s father. Much intense but beautiful fighting then commences in this fantastic and glorious film for a dramatic finish.
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