I love martial arts, I really do, but there are so many styles that it gets confusing and complicated. It becomes difficult to keep them all straight. Some are highly effective, some have become sports and some are very unique. However they all have a basis or history of self-defense. All martial arts are meant to be for self-defense. I’m going to attempt to make understanding each style easier for those who may not have watched kung fu movies as a child or are slightly nerdy when it comes to history. I’m going to go through as many styles as I can, give a brief history, style overview, yada, yada, yada. This is beneficial to me because some styles I don’t know much more about them than their name and reputation. Oh yes, martial art styles get reputations.
Let’s start with one that most people have all heard of: Kung fu!
I love kung fu. I watched bad kung fu movies as a child with my older brothers. Bad refers to plot lines and dialogue. My second oldest brother in particular loved the genre. I remember sitting in his room watching terrible dub jobs in black and white. We also enjoyed the good ones too, like Jackie Chan and Bruce Lee. Even though the movies were silly at times, there was some awesome variety and technique going on. Realistic? Not really. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, anyone? As my Chinese friend told me,”No, Chinese people cannot fly.”
Kung Fu is an all encompassing term for a style of fighting originating in China. (Wushu is also another all encompassing term but in Mandarin.) Kung Fu has many styles or schools of thought. For example, a student can learn Wing Chun, or Hung gar, etc. (there are more than two schools btw) The differences will be found in the philosophy behind the techniques and how the moves are executed. Sometimes even small details can define one school of kung fu from another. Like the movement of a hand or placement of a foot in a particular stance. Wing Chun was developed by a woman and has fast rapid successive movements like a machine gun. In stead of one punch, three would be given. The stances are light on the feet and make for easy movement. It also utilizes lots of open handed techniques. This is an effective style for those who do not have a lot of bulk. Hung gar is very grounded, it’s the tank of kung fu. Learning how to ground fight or grapple is a core aspect of the style. As are closed-fist techniques. A wide legged and low squat stance known as “horse stance” is huge in hung gar.
A common theme in kung fu is hard techniques and soft techniques. This refers to the force behind an attack or defense. A soft block is usually open-handed and deflective. Its all about using as little energy as possible. This can include whip-like movements. A hard block is rigid muscles and grounded stances. The muscles are set and hard, hence a hard technique. This stems from the yin-yang philosphy that opposites are complementary and both must be utilized to be effective. Opposites can strengthen each other.
Another aspect of kung fu is blending attacks and blocks. An attack or a block can be well defined. An upward block would deflect or stop an opponent’s fist from making contact with your head. A forward punch would attack a face or ribs. As training goes on in kung fu, the lines tend to blur, ideally where an upward block would have so much force it would actually hurt an opponent. The forward punch would become a block from an inward strike. Thus your fighting becomes so much more effective. A fight could be ended in one move. That is the goal of self-defense, to end something as fast as possible with as little energy expended as possible.
Movements are also based off of animals. During my brief stint with kung fu, I learned tiger, crane, snake, and monkey movements. My favorite was tiger. Lots of clawing and biting with your hands. Other animals are also included, like dragon, eagle, cat, goat and even drunken men.
Kung fu was often practiced and perpetuated by nuns and monks in China. Again this comes originally from a need for self defense and later as a form of meditation. The Shaolin style was the first institutionalized form of kung fu. (I’m often surprised at how different monks and nuns are between the East and West. ) Kung fu is strongly based on the fact that humans are spiritual beings. Energy flow and use is a major aspect of learning and practicing kung fu. My instructor had a certain technique that he would not teach you if you were expending energy sexually. Its a delicate balance. Learning about “chi” as they call energy, gives a greater depth to martial arts than just punching and kicking. It combines the mind and the body and the soul. Little idea.
Learning about martial arts cannot be done without learning about Chinese kung fu. It has given rise to many styles, many bad movies and hundreds of styles of martial arts. Most eastern fighting styles have some basis in kung fu. In later posts I’ll explain which ones are strongly based off of kung fu.
Hope you learned something! I know I did.