Due to it’s antiquity (and depending on whom you ask), different theories about Kung Fu’s origin circulate through the martial arts community. One fact is undeniable, however. The lines between Kung Fu’s history and the history of the Asian fighting arts in general, blur almost beyond recognition. That is, if you examine the history of any popular and traditional organized system of fighting, it seems to almost always (there are some exceptions) lead back to Chinese Kung Fu, or at least cross it’s path. This is a testament to the significance and profundity of traditional kung fu.
One popular legend contends that the arts were brought to China from India by a Buddhist monk named Ta Mo during the Liang Period (A.D. 506 – 56), who taught the skills to his Buddhist disciples (supposedly at the Shaolin temple) after becoming dissatisfied with their overall health. However, many assert that Kung Fu had been practiced in China for hundreds of years before the arrival of Ta Mo and that the Shaolin temple played only a very minor role in the propagation of the art. There is evidence that suggests that a study of martial arts existed in China as early as the Spring Autumn Period (721-481 B.C.), well before the Ta Mo legend.
Kung Fu Qualities
Kung Fu styles can differ greatly, but most share some similar qualities. One of these qualities is the non-linear nature of techniques. Rather than using linear attacks and defenses, Kung Fu styles tend to utilize more circular movements. Kung fu techniques, though varying from style to style, are generally just a series of circular patterns that allow for techniques to flow from one to the other, without hesitation. Sometimes these circular patterns are obvious, other times they are quite subtle (appearing linear to the layman). This circular flow of techniques allows a kung fu practitioner to pursue his opponent until he reaches a conclusion (two fighters exchanging single blows back and forth would not be very representative of common kung fu fighting).
Another distinguishing feature of Kung Fu is the manner in which power is generated and delivered. In Kung Fu, the body is relaxed rather than tense. Rather than a fist or foot being driven to the target by the arm or leg, the waist rotates, generating a wave of power that ripples through the practitioner’s body and is transferred to the target through the hands or feet. In this way, your hands, feet, elbows, etc. act like whips – the force stopping at the target (and usually not driving through the target like a baseball bat). By using the force generated by your waist movement, you are able to hit your opponent with the power of your entire body, rather than just the arm.
In addition, Kung Fu styles utilize the concept of “Yin and Yang”. You are probably familiar with the idea as it applies to philosophy, that opposites interact and contain elements of each other – rather than existing separately.
As it applies to the study of kung fu, you can see this concept in such instances as the automatic transition between hard and soft techniques (such as gently intercepting an attack and punching fiercely with the same intercepting hand).
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