The History of Kung Fu

The History of Kung Fu

As a martial art, Kung fu can be traced to the Zhou dynasty (111-255 B C ) and even earlier . As an exercise it was practised by the Daoists in the 5th Century BC.

THE THREE MAIN “INTERNAL” STYLES (excerpt from “Essays on the Martial Arts,” by Wendell E. Wilson)

Certainly there were well-developed martial arts in the Chinese military for centuries before the time of Bodhidharma. However, the seed which grew into the majority of Asian martial arts today was Shaolin Temple Boxing (Shaolin Ch’uan fa, “Way of the Shaolin fist”) which originated around the 6th century A.D. Succeeding Shaolin masters of Ch’uan (Zen) Buddhism refined and expanded the fighting art until it became known throughout China. Taoist priests were also attracted to it because of its philosophical emphasis on peace, inoffensiveness and meditation. Developing it in their own way to emphasize balance and muscular control, which in turn enhance health, peace-of-mind and longevity, they created the style known as Tai Chi Ch’uan. David Chow and Richard Spangler (Kung fu History, Philosophy and Technique, 1982) have reviewed the history of Kung-fu and its various styles in detail.

T’ai Chi Ch’uan An obscure Taoist priest, Chang San-feng, is credited with creating the T’ai Chi Ch’uan

(“Grand Ultimate Fist”) exercise system. He lived during the Sung, Yuan or Ming dynasties (historians are unsure), and was reputed as being tall, robust and heavy-bearded (a sign of vitality in China). Chang’s overriding personal philosophy was: “My own destiny depends upon myself and not upon heaven.” Therefore his primary pursuit was to find ways of protecting and enhancing health and prolonging life. He left his native province of Liao Tung in northern China on a long search for useful methods and techniques. He spent ten years at the Shaolin monastery learning Zen meditation and Shaolin Kung-fu, becoming a fighting master in his own right. Self- defense, after all, was clearly necessary to preserve health and life.

Still unsatisfied, however, Chang retreated to the verdant Wu Tang Mountains in Hupeh Province, a traditional favorite hermitage of reclusive Taoist monks. His contemplations there were interrupted one day by the sight of a battle between a predatory hawk and a venomous snake. The powerful bird struck and grabbed repeatedly at the snake, but through circular twisting and winding motions the snake managed to evade every attack, until the bird became so fatigued that it became momentarily unbalanced. In that second the snake struck back with a whip-like motion and killed the hawk. Chang saw this as a perfect example of a yielding force defeating a superior strength. He remembered the ancient Taoist saying: “What is more yielding than water? Yet it returns to wear down the rock.”

Chang developed T’ai Chi from the movements of the snake, the bird, the clouds, the water, and the trees swaying in the wind. Utilizing also the Yin-Yang principle of cooperative opposites, Chang incorporated the full stretching of muscles before they are contracted, one movement blending into the next. T’ai Chi is considered to be the first physical therapy program to promote health. Only after years of training and practice does it acquire effectiveness for self- defense purposes, but when it does it is actually one of the fastest, most effective fighting systems known. Proper breathing and the building or accumulating of ch’i (ki) energy are the primary goals. T’ai Chi can also be viewed as a kind of moving meditation. Taoist sages have maintained that “meditation in activity is 10,000 times superior to meditation in repose.”

Pa Kua Ch’uan

T’ai Chi is the first and foremost of the so-called “internal” styles; the other two major branches are Pa Kua Ch’uan and Hsing-I Ch’uan. Pa Kua (pronounced “bah-gwah”) emerged into public view in the 19th century as one of the “soft” systems of Chinese boxing. It emphasizes circular evasion and palm-heel strikes, through the utilization of eight basic postures and revolving, rotating actions said to represent the motions of the dragon, tiger, horse, ox, elephant, lion, bear and ape. Strangely enough, Pa Kua contains no specific “fighting” techniques as such, and places no emphasis on kicking or punching. Rather the goal is to develop elusive, defensive body movements supported by a minimum amount of violent aggression.

Hsing-I Ch’uan The short forms of the compact and flowing Hsing-I style first became known publicly in

China during the 7th century. Tradition maintains that General Yueh Fei developed the system during the Sung dynasty, but he is probably mythological. Hsing-I is clearly the most aggressive of the three leading “internal” styles of boxing, utilizing forms characterized as “pounding,” “crushing,” “drilling,” “splitting,” and “crossing.” It emphasizes the harmonizing of mind and body through practice of the five forms combined with proper deep breathing. Each of the basic forms is thought to benefit certain organs, resulting in a healthy way of life. Oblique movements are preferred, throwing off an attacker’s center of gravity. Closed-fist punches and below-the- waist kicks are utilized efficiently, and selected animal forms are emphasized in different branches of Hsing-I.