Introducing the Martial Arts (Gong Fu)
Chinese Kungfu, also called martial arts (Wushu), is a sport item created by the Chinese people during a long time of historical development. Chinese Kungfu on the whole pursues the effect of wrestling and exercise with the use of one’s arms, legs and various cold arms. Correct Chinese Kungfu training improves physical ability, health, and willpower. It gives an individual an excellent method of exercise, a personal art form, a competitive sport, and a basis for self-defense and sparring. Total martial training includes Ti (kicking), Da (punching), Shuai (throwing), Na (controlling), Gi (hitting), Ci (thrusting), etc. Related to each style are basic forms, or sequences, which may involve defense strategies, offense, retreat, mobility and immobility, speed and slowness, hard or soft postures, emptiness and fullness, with or without weapons.
The top concern of the Chinese Kungfu is to settle the relationship between the body and the mind. It emphasizes the “external exercises for bones and muscles and the internal exercises for breath”. All the schools of martial arts stress “presence of mind, breath and strength”, so as to equilibrate Yin and Yang, regulate breath and blood, smoothen channels and collaterals, and build up body and strength. They settle the relationship between “form and content” of Kungfu by settling the relationship between mind and body and the relationship between oneself and his opponent. They all stress “changing according to different opponents”, and “getting opportunities through defending”.
According to tradition, the Yellow Emperor introduced the earliest forms of Martial Arts to China. He is described as a famous general who, before becoming China’s leader, wrote lengthy treatises on medicine, astrology and the martial arts. Shoubo Kungfu, practiced during the Shang dynasty (1766-1066 BC), and Xiang Bo from the 600 BC, are just two examples of ancient Chinese kung fu. In 509 BC, Confucius suggested to Duke Ding of Lu that people practice the literary arts as well as the martial arts. Thus kung fu began to be practiced by ordinary citizens external to the military and religious sects. A combat wrestling system called Jiaoli is mentioned in the Classic of Rites. This combat system included techniques such as strikes, throws, joint manipulation, and pressure point attacks. Jiaoli became a sport during the Qin Dynasty (221-207 BC). The Han History Bibliographies record that, by the Former Han (206 BC-8 AD), there was a distinction between no-holds-barred weaponless fighting, which it calls Shoubo, for which “how-to” manuals had already been written, and sportive wrestling, then known as Jiaoli. Wrestling is also documented in the Records of the Grand Historian.
During the Tang Dynasty (618-907), which was one of the most powerful periods of Chinese history, warriors were actually chosen through martial competition and officers were promoted through this same sort of competition. During the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), various forms of Kungfu were well established in Korea, Japan, Tibet, and many other countries. What is called “Karate” is actually a descendent of Southern Chinese boxing forms, and similarly, Judo can trace its origins to the importation of Chinese wrestling and Qinna, the precursor of Jiu-jitsu.
Classifications of Kungfu
It is hard to classify Chinese Kungfu because of the number and variety of styles in China. Generally, the three most notable schools of Kungfu are Shaolin, Wudang and Ermei.
Shaolin Kungfu is a kind of martial arts practiced by monks under the special Buddhist culture of the Songshan Shaolin Temple in Dengfeng City, Henan Province. Taking martial art skills and actions as the performance form and Buddhism belief and Zen wisdom as the cultural meaning, the Shaolin Kungfu has a complete technical and theoretical system.
The Shaolin Temple, built in the 9thyear of Taihe Period during the Northern Wei Dynasty (495), is a cultural space for the development of the Shaolin Kungfu. The Shaolin Kungfu, which is originally practiced by the Buddhist monks whose duties were to protect the temple, has been gradually developed into an art of perfect technology, abundant meanings and high reputation in the whole world after more than 1,500 years of development. According to martial art books registered by the Shaolin Temple, there are several hundred sorts of routines of Shaolin Kungfu practiced by monks of generations, among which, several dozen are the representative of boxing routines that have been handed down. In addition, there are 72 stunts and Kungfu of special sorts like capture, wrestle, discharging bone, point percussion and Qigong. Altogether 255 routines of boxing art, weapon and mutual practice are still practiced today.
The Zen wisdom of Buddhism has endowed the Shaolin Kungfu with profound cultural connotations. The Buddhist commandment has evolved into the commandment of Kungfu practicing, displayed by the Kungfu morals of the practicers. This evolvement has endowed the Shaolin Kungfu with such characteristics as abstention, modesty and reservation, as well as taking regard to the inner strength, terseness and to winning by striking only after the enemy has struck. The Shaolin Kungfu is an outstanding representative of the Chinese Wushu culture, and is the most representative performance form of the Shaolin culture.
Wudang Kungfu is one of the key schools of Chinese martial arts. It originated in Wudang Mountain in Junxian County of Hubei Province during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). Wudang Mountain is one of the four famous Taoist mountains in China. According to legend, the great Emperor Zhenwu cultivated himself and became a real Taoist master, hence the saying of “It is only emperor Zhenwu who really deserves it”, after which “Wudang Mountain” is named. With a long history, Wudang Kungfu is broad and profound. The Wudang Taoist Zhang Sanfeng of the late Yuan Dynasty and early Ming Dynasty created the concepts of Wudang Kungfu and has been honored as the founder of Wudang School. By ingeniously combining the essence of I Ching and Tao Te Ching with wushu, Zhang Sanfeng created Wudang Kungfu that’s dominated by Tai Chi Chuan, Hsing I Chuan and Pakua Boxing with important body building and health keeping values.
After continuous innovation, improvement and enrichment by Kungfu masters of later dynasties, Wudang Kungfu became major school of Chinese martial arts. It has long been honored as the most authoritative Kungfu in the south alongside Shaolin, the most authoritative Kungfu in the north. Wudang Chuan, also called “Neijia Chuan” (meaning soft, internal martial arts) is aimed at health preserving and a means of self defense. Wudang Chuan values martial spirit rather than strength, focusing on the principle of “levering a ton of weight with four ounces of force” and “letting flexibility control hardness”. Meanwhile, Wudang Chuan is more for defense than attack. Its functions and features also include prolonging life, helping cure and prevent diseases and boosting intelligence etc. Wudang Kungfu embodies distinctive Taoist culture and is a natural combination of Kungfu and regimen, profound in both traditional Kungfu culture and scientific theory. It’s in line with the concept of internal cultivation and external exercising that integrates physical with psychological training.
Emei Kungfu got its name from Mt. Emei. The origin and development of Emei Kungfu have got everything to do with the history of Buddhism and Taoism of Mt. Emei. According to Records of Mt. Emei, Buddhist temples were first constructed in Mt. Emei in as early as the Wei and Jin Dynasties (220-589). In the Tang (618-907) and Song (960-1279) Dynasties, Buddhist temples began to increase in Mt. Emei with the rising of Buddhism. Till the Ming and Qing Dynasties, Buddhism reached its prime time in Mt. Emei, which boasted as the top four renowned Buddhist Mountains in China together with Mt. Wutai, Mt. Putuo and Mt. Jiuhua. As Buddhism and Taoism were spread into Mt. Emei, monks and Taoist priests often practiced some martial arts after meditation, reading sutras and worshiping Buddha so as to strengthen their bodies and protect the temples. Since they had deep inner peace through constant meditation; and the Buddhist and Taoist systems would exchange experience, learn advantages from each other and create respective new approaches during the practice of Kungfu, the unique school of Emei Kungfu was gradually formed in this way. The Emei School of Kungfu combined the advantages of both Buddhist and Taoist systems by absorbing the dynamic Taoist Qigong and static Qigong of Buddhist meditation to create a practicing way with both dynamic and static exercises. The practice has then been held together with various boxing, instruments, free sparring and Qigong to form a huge martial arts system of Emei School.