THE ORIGINS AND HISTORY OF KUNG-FU FROM THE ZHOU DYNASTY TO BRUCE LEE

It is very important when learning a martial art, whether it is Kung-Fu, Taekwondo, Muay Thai or Jujitsu, to understand its origins and history. I have never really attempted to learn about the history of Kung-Fu until now, but I believe that if you have an interest in anything even if it is something other than a martial art, you should find out about its past. Early martial arts like Kung-Fu are based in an area of history that I am not accustomed to. They begin during the ancient period of history and mainly in Asia, whilst my main interests lie in modern European History. However, I will still try to provide a detailed and informative history of Kung-Fu which hopefully should provide you with a better understanding of how this ancient martial art has developed and changed progressively throughout history.

Perhaps the origins of Kung-Fu began during the Zhou Dynasty which reigned from 1111 BC to 255 BC as the development of a writing system enabled authors to outline the principles of martial arts. For instance, famous ancient Chinese philosophers such as Zhuang Zi, Lao Zi and even Sun Tzu, the famous author of 'The Art of War' mentioned the practice of martial arts. Therefore, it can be suggested that Kung-Fu originally evolved from the writings and ideas of these early Chinese authors, which enabled future generations to further develop their principles. By 600 BC, a Taoist sage called Lao Tzu wrote the book 'Tao Te Ching' (The Power and the Way), which outlined the principles of Taoism such as scholarship, meditation and alchemy. As a result, Taoism was fused with the arts of Cong Fu and Go-Ti, which consequently led to the creation of Kung-Fu. In a sense, many of you would not be surprised what the term 'Kung-Fu' came to mean. In Chinese, the word 'Kung' means 'energy' and the word 'Fu' means 'time', and it can also be translated as 'hard work'. So for those of you who have any intention of progressing in Kung-Fu remember what it actually means! The ancient Chinese understood that you needed to endeavour thousands of years ago and contemporary readers should similarly understand that if you want to become good martial artists, the key is commitment and hard work. The principle does not change in the twenty-first century! Following the collapse of the Han Dynasty, China became separated which led to the formation of The Two Chin and North-South Dynasties which existed for nearly 400 years from 221 AD to 617 AD. The concept of patterns was established during this period as martial artists created set routines, which differed from individual techniques and were used to help improve their skills and weapon abilities.

In 527 AD, the Venerable Bodhidharma travelled from India to China to spread Buddhism and he settled in the Shaolin Monastery in the Henan province. As Bodhidharma realised that the Shaolin priests were weak, he meditated in front of a wall for nine years according to legend. He subsequently wrote two books called 'Sinew Change' and 'Washing Marrow' which outlined 170 different techniques and consequently resulted in the creation of the five animal styles: Crane (hao), Leopard (pao), Tiger (hu), Snake (she) and Dragon (lung). Sil-lum Kung-Fu was based on the five animal styles (Ng Ying Ga) and was solely taught to monks, who were not allowed to leave the temple until they escaped a chamber containing traps and mechanically triggered wooden dummies. The Venerable Bodhidharma was additionally responsible for the 'Yi Gin Ching' system, which intended to improve the strength and health of the body through exercises such as the 18 Lohan hand movements, which also led to the separation of Kung-Fu into two systems: internal (nei-dan) and external (wai-dan). Other teachings by Bodhidharma such as 'Shi Sui Ching', which encouraged Buddhists to use Chi energy, were incorporated into Kung-Fu. As the Venerable Bodhidharma ultimately inspired the beginnings of Shaolin Kung-Fu, he fundamentally influenced the institutionalisation of Kung-Fu into different schools such as Bagua, Wing Chun, Praying Mantis and so on.

During the past 800 years many forms of Kung-Fu were created. During the Sung Dynasty (1206-1337), the Taoist Chang San Feng introduced the 'tai chi chuan' or 'Grand Ultimate Fist', which focuses on internal strength or chi, and is based on the following five elements: metal, wood, water, fire and earth. This system, which was formed in 1417 attempted to help circulate blood, breath and chi more easily around the body. In the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), Wang Lang devised the 'tong long' or praying mantis system of Kung-Fu, which involved the use of the arm and hand to understand the opponent's strength and direction through hooking and trapping techniques. Chin-Na was also introduced during the period by Ch'en Yuan Ping, who taught the Japanese about joint manipulation through locks and holds. In the Ching Dynasty (1644-1911), Kou Sze invented the monkey (hou-chuan) style of Kung-Fu following his observation of monkeys from his prison cell.

As a result of historical events, the Sil-lum style of Kung-Fu became divided for better or worse, and many new schools were established in subsequent centuries. After the Manchurians invaded China in 1644, they destroyed the Shaolin temples and its inhabitants consequently escaped, which fortunately allowed Kung-Fu knowledge to be spread throughout the region. Kung-Fu practitioners tried to support the Boxer Rebellion against the Manchurians in 1900, but martial arts skills could clearly not compete with the organised and advanced Manchurian army and they were resultantly defeated. Therefore, many Kung-Fu practitioners became involved in crime and formed into organisations such as the Triads. But once Japan invaded China during World War II, the Triads gained extensive powers and Kung-Fu knowledge spread to the West after 1945. With the appearance of Bruce Lee during the 1960s, Kung-Fu became increasingly popular and significant in the martial arts world especially in the West, as his movie appearances allowed Kung-Fu to be spread to a worldwide audience.

Perhaps without influential figures like Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan, Kung-Fu would not be as popular as it is currently in the twenty-first century. But please remember that when you watch twentieth century martial arts movies, Kung-Fu did not solely derive from the efforts of Bruce Lee. It has an incredibly long history which extends long before the advent of television, computers and printing. When learning and practicing Kung-Fu, you must remember that the Ancient Chinese could not envision the technology we currently possess today and only used Kung-Fu as a method of self-defence. Although Bruce Lee makes Kung-Fu look unbelievably spectacular, the Ancient Chinese were not thinking about that. All they were worried about was how to protect themselves and in your future progression in San-Da Kung-Fu, you must realise that is also your primary objective: to learn how to defend yourselves.

You should always remember Lao Tzu's phrase: 'Violence, even well intentioned, always rebounds upon oneself.'

You must also bear in mind that a relatively modern martial artist, Bruce Lee, who was writing in a completely different period also warned practitioners in a similar way during the twentieth century: 'Take things as they are. Punch when you have to punch. Kick when you have to kick.'

In other words, remember that you are not being taught how to be a flashy, arrogant idiot. Rather, you are being taught how to sensibly defend yourself against an opponent who wishes to cause you physical harm. The key point here is self-control.

Tony Sullivan