Gung (Kung) Fu literally means skill, art, or technique derived from diligent practice (hard work). Or translated to time and effort.
In the west, most Chinese martial arts are generally referred to as "Gung Fu". It is a martial discipline with applications ranging from combat and self defense to health and wellness.
The beauty of Chinese culture shines through in traditional
kung fu. One must experience its training methods to fully understand the depth of Kung fu. Every martial art is distinctive and flavorful and appeals to different types of people.
Regardless of origin, the goal of any martial art should be to develop one's character, improve health and promote cooperation and understanding. Martial arts are special because they promote learning and growth at every level of the entire person.
The History of Chinese Kung fu is as colourful as the many styles. It was said to have originated at the Shaolin temple over 2000 years ago. The historical value of Kung Fu predates any form of martial arts. Chinese martial arts has evolved through the centuries and has been kept traditional and modernized variations. The modern variations are called Wu Shu (martial skill or art), although Wu Shu generalizes all martial arts, it is particular to Chinese styles. The modernization of traditional martial arts has helped to allow the Chinese martial arts to become sport specific.
These fighting styles are often classified according to common traits, identified as "families" (jiā), "sects" (pài) or "schools" (mén) of martial arts. Examples of such traits include physical exercises involving animal mimicry, or training methods inspired by Chinese philosophies, religions and legends. Styles that focus on qi manipulation are called internal (nèijiāquán), while others that concentrate on improving muscle and cardiovascular fitness are called external (wàijiāquán). Geographical association, as in northern (běiquán) and southern (nánquán), is another popular classification method.
The main perceived difference between northern and southern styles is that the northern styles tend to emphasize fast and powerful kicks, high jumps and generally fluid and rapid movement, while the southern styles focus more on strong arm and hand techniques, and stable, immovable stances and fast footwork. Examples of the northern styles include Changquan, Praying mantis, and Xingyiquan. Examples of the southern styles includer Choy li Fut, Wing Chun, and Bak mei. Chinese martial arts can also be divided according to religion, imitative-styles and family styles such as Hung, Lao, Fut Gar.
There are distinctive differences in the training between different groups of the Chinese martial arts regardless of the type of classification. However, few experienced martial artists make a clear distinction between internal and external styles, or subscribe to the idea of northern systems being predominantly kick-based and southern systems relying more heavily on upper-body techniques. Most styles contain both hard and soft elements, regardless of their internal nomenclature. Analyzing the difference in accordance with yin and yang principles, philosophers would assert that the absence of either one would render the practitioner's skills unbalanced or deficient, as yin and yang alone are each only half of a whole.
Chinese martial arts training consists of the following methodology: basics, forms, applications, weapons, conditioning and qigong (breath skill); different styles place varying emphasis on each component. In addition, philosophy, ethics and even medical practice are highly regarded by most Chinese martial arts. A complete training system should also provide insight into Chinese attitudes and culture.
Basics (Ji Ben Gong)
The Basics are a vital part of any martial training, as a student cannot progress to the more advanced stages without them; Basics are usually made up of elementary techniques, conditioning exercises, and stance training. Basic training may involve simple movements that are performed repeatedly; other examples of basic training are stretching, striking,throwing,tumbling, or jumping. Without strong and flexible muscles, management of Qi or breath, and proper body mechanics, it is difficult for a student to progress in the Chinese martial arts.A common saying concerning basic training in Chinese martial arts is as follows:
Train both Internal and External.
External training includes the hands, the eyes, the body and stances.
Internal training includes the heart, the spirit, the mind, breathing and strength.
Stances (steps) are structural postures utilized in Chinese martial arts training. They represent the foundation and the form of a fighter's base. Each style has different names and variations for each stance. Stances may be differentiated by foot position, weight distribution, body alignment, etc. Stance training can be practiced statically, the goal of which is to maintain the structure of the stance through a set time period, or dynamically, in which case a series of movements is performed repeatedly. The Horse stance (Ma bu) and the bow stance (Gung bu) are examples of stances found in many styles of Chinese martial arts.
Horse stance Bow stance
Forms are series of predetermined movements combined so they can be practiced as one linear set of movements. Forms were originally intended to preserve the lineage of a particular style branch, and were often taught to advanced students selected for that purpose. Forms contained both literal, representative and exercise-oriented forms of applicable techniques that students could extract, test, and train on through combative sessions. Today, many consider forms to be one of the most important practices in Chinese martial arts. Traditionally, they played a smaller role in training combat application, and were eclipsed by sparring, drilling and conditioning. Forms gradually build up a practitioner's flexibility, internal and external strength, speed and stamina, and teach balance and coordination.
Many styles contain forms that use weapons of various lengths and types, using one or two hands. Some styles focus on a certain type of weapon. Forms are meant to be both practical, usable, and applicable as well as promoting flow, meditation, flexibility, balance, and coordination. Teachers are often heard to say "train your form as if you were sparring and spar as if it were a form."
There are two general types of forms in Chinese martial arts. Most common are solo forms performed by a single student. There are also sparring forms-choreographed fighting sets performed by two or more people. Sparring forms were designed both to acquaint beginning fighters with basic measures and concepts of combat, and to serve as performance pieces for the school. Weapons-based sparring forms are especially useful for teaching students the extension, range, and technique required to manage a weapon.
Application refers to the practical use of combative techniques. Chinese martial arts techniques are ideally based on efficiency and effectiveness. Application includes non-compliant drills, such as Sparring which occurs within a variety of contact levels and rule sets and Pushing hands in many internal martial arts.
Competitive sparring disciplines include Chinese kickboxing (San Shou) and Chinese wrestling (Shuai jiao), which were traditionally contested on a raised platform arena (Lei Tai). The objective for those contests was to knock the opponent from a raised platform by any means necessary. San Shou represents the modern development of Lei Tai contests, but with rules in place to reduce the chance of serious injury.
Traditional Chinese schools of martial arts, such as the famed Shaolin monks, often dealt with the study of martial arts not just as a means of self-defense or mental training, but as a system of ethics. Wu de (武德) can be translated as "martial morality" and is constructed from the words "wu" (武), which means martial, and "de" (德), which means morality. Wu de (武德) deals with two aspects; "morality of deed" and "morality of mind". Morality of deed concerns social relations; morality of mind is meant to cultivate the inner harmony between the emotional mind (Xin, 心) and the wisdom mind (Hui, 慧). The ultimate goal is reaching "no extremity" (Wu ji,) (closely related to the concept of ( Wu wei), where both wisdom and emotions are in harmony with each other.