Kung Fu

When most people hear the words Kung Fu, they think of energetic kicking and punching. However, Kung Fu actually means something like" accomplishment" or" successful effort" . In China, a master painter or calligrapher may be said to have" good kung fu" .

The Kung Fu of fighting is taught in hundreds of different styles. Each one is different from the others but they can be broadly grouped into four main divisions: boxing, wrestling (Shuai Chao), joint twisting (Chin Na) and weapons use. Best known are the spectacular kickboxing and weapons arts, including use of the sword, staff, spear, halberd, chains and whips. Unlike Karate, the" empty hand" art, a student of Kung Fu may start learning to use weapons soon after he begins his boxing training.

The Chinese claim that the fighting arts of some other countries are descended from Kung Fu. They say that Japanese Okinawan Karate comes from Shaolin Kung Fu and that Shuai Chao and Chin Na are the ancestors of Judo and Jujitsu.

The most famous Kung Fu styles come from the Shaolin Buddhist monastery in China' s Honan province. The warrior monks of Shaolin developed their Kung Fu to protect themselves against bandits when travelling. Later, Taoist hermits developed the family of styles known as Tai Chi.

Shaolin Kung Fu can be broadly divided into Northern and Southern styles. Northern Shaolin Kung Fu often uses low stances, high kicks and long arm movements because in the cold winters people often wear heavy padded jackets which restrict arm motion and protect the body from light blows. Low stances help keep your balance on rough, hilly ground.

Southern Shaolin Kung Fu, on the other hand, often uses high stances, low kicks and more hand techniques. This style was often used by boatmen who had well-developed upper bodies from rowing boats. In China, when they talk about Kung Fu they say," Southern hand, Northern foot" .

Shaolin stances are often named for animals and imitate the movements of the tiger, snake, crane, leopard, monkey etc. Some of the wonderfully imaginative names are" golden rooster stands on one leg" ," wave hands at clouds" ," parting the wild horse' s mane" .

Shaolin Kung Fu styles are often called external styles, because they begin with strength training and physical conditioning. Tai Chi and other styles such as Hsing I (mind-body boxing) and Pa Kua (eight trigrams boxing) are called internal styles because they start trying to develop the internal Chi power at the beginning of training. The internal styles are practised for health and longevity as well as self-defence.

In addition to developing fighting techniques and the strength of the body, many Kung Fu masters say that long practice develops a mysterious" life force" called Chi. They say that this energy moves in channels throughout the body, and that when the energy is blocked anywhere the body becomes sick. Techniques like acupuncture are used to unblock the channels and restore the free flow of Chi. For this reason many Kung Fu masters are also doctors of traditional Chinese medicine. They say that if you learn to hurt the body, you must also learn to heal.

Kung Fu was once taught only to Chinese people, and even in China sometimes only to members of certain families. Nowadays it is taught all over the world, to people of all nations and races. The Chinese consider it a part of their heritage and are proud that the whole world wants to learn about their ancient culture.

Stephen Browne