Chinese Martial Arts
Most people know the Chinese systems of martial arts by the general term “kung fu”. The word kung fu does not represent any particular system of Chinese martial art; rather the word kung fu translates roughly to “diligent practice”. So, when someone says they study Shaolin kung fu, what they are saying is they are diligently practicing Shaolin.
The Chinese martial arts are thought to be one of the oldest forms of Asian martial arts from which Japanese, Korean, Okinawan, and many other off-shoot arts originated. Through the centuries teaching and techniques evolved. Now, the Chinese martial arts comprise literally hundreds of different systems that have propagated over the last 2 millennia.
The roots of the first Chinese martial arts systems seem to spring from three primary origins. They are the Shaolin Temple, Wudang Mountain, and Chen Village. The Shaolin systems of kung fu are probably the most widely known outside of China. There is historical evidence that the Shaolin branch of
Chinese martial arts were adapted from teachings of an Indian monk named Bodidharma (Da Mo as he was called by the Chinese). The 1970s show Kung Fu introduced America to the Shaolin systems for the first time. Your Best Defense Martial Arts Center is connected with the Shaolin Monastery through our teaching monk Wu Shangwei who visits us 2-3 times per year from the temple.
The movie “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” and the new “Karate Kid” movies introduced us to Wudang Mountain kung fu. And finally, it is said that the popular martial arts health practice of T’ai Chi Ch’uan originated in the Chen village. From the Chen origin, two other popular systems to T’ai Chi Ch’uan were founded, Yang and Wu. While T’ai Chi Ch’uan is mostly practiced today for its health benefits, it still remains a formidable self-defense system.
Kung fu is further delineated by whether the system is a hard style system, or a soft style system. Often, you will hear hard style referred to as an external system, and soft style referred to as a internal system. Hard style kung fu is characterized by fast and graceful movements culminating in crushingly powerful strikes and kicks. Empty hand and weapons forms or tokens exist. The five animal forms are representative of hard style kung fu.
There are primarily three systems of soft style kung fu, T’ai Chi Ch’uan, Baguazhang, Xingyiquan. The practice of these systems is quite different in concept from that of the hard styles. In soft style kung fu, relaxation and
flowing movement are stressed. Power is generated from the motivation of internal energy or Qi or Ch’i (pronounced chee) as it is called in Chinese. Even most hard style systems of kung fu draw upon principles of moving in ways that utilizes Qi.
The concept of Qi is not limited to the practice of martial arts. Knowledge of Qi is prevalent throughout Chinese culture. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is founded upon the idea that Qi is central and key to a person’s overall health and well being. The health regimen called Qigong, or practice of moving energy, is a direct application of these ancient ideas of energy and health.
These lineages have deep heritages and are rich in traditions. This introduction can not do them justice. You’ll find many books written about these systems and more in our pro-shop.