The word Kung Fu has two meanings, one is the more modern meaning used in the West. Kung Fu has a very different more original meaning that is still used in China today. Let’s first look at what is meant by Kung Fu in the Western world.
Kung Fu in Western culture.
Since the sixties Kung Fu has been a word which in the West at least means Chinese martial arts. A common mistake is to think of Kung Fu as a particular fighting art in the way that Taekwondo or boxing is. In fact Kung Fu is an umbrella term that describes hundreds of different martial arts styles some of which have little in common with each other than they all originated in China.
China has the largest population of any country in the world with an unbroken history that goes back to the time of ancient Egypt. Over a long period of time many diverse colourful and effective martial arts styles have evolved in this vast and varied land.
Kung Fu films.
Kung Fu in the Western mind at least is closely associated with the highly popular kung fu films. Most of these films came out of Hong Kong in the seventies starting with Bruce Lee in The Big Boss. Some time after Lees death Jackie Chan hit the big screen with Drunken Master.
Many of these films took artistic licence to new heights with the main hero having almost superhuman powers. To the experienced fighter these fantasy films gave a bad impression of Kung Fu,just as the fantasy fight scenes in the Rocky films would do if that was all that you knew of boxing.
With Hong Kong, the home of the Kung Fu movie, being a British colony at this time, it was a world away from Red China. Ironically the kung fu films were never shown in China until many years after they were seen in Britain and America!
Chinese Martial Arts in recent history.
The Communist Cultural Revolution was a deliberate attempt to destroy anything that was old or traditional in the ancient land of China. Although many Masters of fighting styles were persecuted and martial arts in general were suppressed Chinese kung fu continues to this day. The fact that the martial arts had always been shrouded in secrecy must of helped it to survive during this dark time.
Having had much of their ancient culture deliberately destroyed, the Chinese place a great deal of importance on this living link with their past and the people who went before. Chinese martial arts are seen as a national treasure, a complete reversal from when some famous Masters were forced into ex ile often to distant lands only sixty or so years ago.
Kung Fu styles in Britain.
The most well known style of Kung Fu in Britain and in the Western world is Wing Chun. Although well known in Hong Kong it would be considered a rather obscure branch of White Crane in mainland China. It’s high profile in the West is largely due to it being the foundation of Bruce Lees study of martial arts. It’s popularity with its many practitioners is probably due to its effective results in street encounters after a relatively short period of practice.
A popular style in England, Lau Gar places great emphasis on a high level of fitness and competition. In England at least it is the most well known of the five Gar,or family, styles.
Tai Chi is taught in the West for it’s enhancement of balance breathing posture and overall health. Many Tai Chi teachers are more into new age rather than the martial arts and it’s slow smooth movements seem on the surface a million miles away from real fighting. However Tai Chi can be a very practical fighting art when taught as such.
Kung Fu, it’s other meaning.
Kung Fu in its older meaning has nothing particularly to do with Chinese martial arts. Kung Fu describes a skill or knowledge that comes from hard work. A skilled surgeon could be said to have good Kung Fu and someone who fails a degree in history could be said to have bad Kung Fu!
While a particularly skilled martial artist such as Bruce Lee could be said to have very good Kung Fu so to could a top gymnast musician or dancer!
So Kung Fu is more of a serous mind set that can knuckle down and study rather than a way of kicking and punching. This ability to focus on a particular pursuit demands a mental discipline and self motivation that is essential to excel in anything. Once learnt this essential mind set can be trained onto any other pursuit or disipline.
Kung Fu and entertainment.
While getting good Kung Fu was always a hard fought battle with the self the slow pace of life before the modern world would of been a helpful setting.
If you lived in a village were not a lot ever happened as most folk did for the last few thousand years, there wouldn’t be that many distractions to becoming an excellent cook or a really good herbalist. In todays world we are swamped with entertainment and many folk would be lost without it. With televisions in every house and radios in every car, not to even mention the internet people are constantly distracted.
The achievement of great skill in anything strengthens the mind but to be constantly absorbing the many varied opinions of people on television is to weaken our ability to think for ourselves.
Life is very brief and it’s easy to be distracted and waste it. By finding something that you have a passion for and pouring yourself into the pursuit of it, you to can have good Kung Fu.