In Chinese, kung fu (功夫, gōng meaning “work” or “achievement” and either fū, “man”, or fu, a particle or suffix which can mean “intensity”) can also be used in contexts completely unrelated to martial arts, and refers to any individual accomplishment or skill cultivated through long effort and hard work. It is only in the late twentieth century, that this term was used in relation to martial arts by the Chinese community. Wushu is a more precise term for general martial activities.
The beginning of Wushu(Kongfu) may come back to primitive society. At that time, men began to fight against the beasts with the primitive tools like sticks as weapons in order to protect themselves and get living things. Later they made weapons with more execution for getting others’ fortune. So more weapons were made and the skills of fight were also improved during the war.
In Yin and Shang Dynasty, some coppery weapons like spears, daggers, halberds, axes, swords broadswords had come out. Meanwhile how to use these weapons appeared, too.
In Chunqiu and War Periods, with the development of ironware and the rising of footmen and cavalrymen, weapons’ handles were changed into short ones, short ones into long ones in the war. Then there were so many kinds of weapons, and the characteristic of attack was more extrusive. And people also attached importance to it. In Qin Dynasty head-fighting and hand-fighting were prevailed. In Han Dynasty the dances of swords and double halberds had come forth. These show that the Wushu(Kongfu) dance had had obvious feat, it had not only actions to attach and protect, but also series of it presented. Many different art styles of genres had come into being.
In Jin, North and South Dynasties, in the continuous wars bureaucrats and peers wanted to have eosin lives, it affected the lives of different social estates. The practice of Wushu(Kongfu) was taken instead by the absurd heresy. Therefore lore Wushu(Kongfu) stopped.
In Sui and Tang Dynasty, Wu Shu rose again. In Tang Dynasty the excellent knights were given some corresponding titles according to their skills. Every title had its own standard.
In Song Dynasty the civilian organization of Wu Shu presented. They practiced on the street and it was full of jollification. In Song Dynasty Wu Shu was mostly taught secretly in one family.
Ming Dynasty was a developing period for Wushu(Kongfu), different styles of genres came forth, especially in boxing and engineeries. Some works wrote its genres, evolution, action names, characteristic, moving ways and technical theories, some had pictures and verses to show the action clearly. It gave the important basic for the late generation to research Wushu(Kongfu).
In Qing Dynasty some kinds of boxing had formed such as Shadowboxing, the Eight Diagrams Boxing and the Form and Will Boxing After the PLA was founded ,Wushu(Kongfu) is inherited, cleared up and improved as the bequest of an excellent people. And a large number of associations have been come into existence while our nation also has the special departments to be in charge of the exercise of Wushu(Kongfu) and regards it as a formal competition.
Shaolin and temple-based martial arts
The Shaolin style of wushu is regarded as amongst the first institutionalized Chinese martial arts. The oldest evidence of Shaolin participation in combat is a stele from 728 CE that attests to two occasions: a defense of the Shaolin Monastery from bandits around 610 CE, and their subsequent role in the defeat of Wang Shichong at the Battle of Hulao in 621 CE. From the 8th to the 15th centuries, there are no extant documents that provide evidence of Shaolin participation in combat.
Between the 16th and 17th centuries, no fewer than forty sources exist to provide evidence both that monks of Shaolin practiced martial arts, and that martial practice became an integral element of Shaolin monastic life. For monks to justify it by creating new Buddhist lore, the earliest appearance of the frequently cited legend concerns Bodhidharma’s supposed foundation of Shaolin Kung Fu dates to this period.The origin of this legend has been traced to the Ming period’s Yijin Jing or “Muscle Change Classic”, a text written in 1624 attributed to Bodhidharma.
References of martial arts practice in Shaolin appear in various literary genres of the late Ming: the epitaphs of Shaolin warrior monks, martial-arts manuals, military encyclopedias, historical writings, travelogues, fiction and poetry. However these sources do not point out to any specific style originated in Shaolin.These sources, in contrast to those from the Tang period, refer to Shaolin methods of armed combat. This include a skill for which Shaolin monks had become famous—the staff (gùn, Cantonese gwan). The Ming General Qi Jiguang included description of Shaolin Quan Fa (Pinyin romanization: Shào Lín Quán Fǎ or Wade-Giles romanization Shao Lin Ch’üan Fa, 少 林 拳 法 “fist principles”; Japanese pronunciation: Shorin Kempo or Kenpo) and staff techniques in his book, Ji Xiao Xin Shu (紀效新書), which can be translated as “New Book Recording Effective Techniques”. When this book spread to East Asia, it had a great influence on the development of martial arts in regions such as Okinawa and Korea
Chinese martial arts training consists of the following components: basics, forms, applications and weapons; different styles place varying emphasis on each component. In addition, philosophy, ethics and even medical practice are highly regarded by most Chinese martial arts. A complete training system should also provide insight into Chinese attitudes and culture.
The Basics (基本功) are a vital part of any martial training, as a student cannot progress to the more advanced stages without them; Basics are usually made up of rudimentary techniques, conditioning exercises, including stances. Basic training may involve simple movements that are performed repeatedly; other examples of basic training are stretching, meditation, striking, throwing, or jumping. Without strong and flexible muscles, management of Qi or breath, and proper body mechanics, it is impossible for a student to progress in the Chinese martial arts.A common saying concerning basic training in Chinese martial arts is as follows:
Which can be translated as:
Train both Internal and External. External training includes the hands, the eyes, the body and stances.
Internal training includes the heart, the spirit, the mind, breathing and strength.
Stances (steps or 步法) are structural postures employed in Chinese martial arts training.They represent the foundation and the form of a fighter’s base. Each style has different names and variations for each stance. Stances may be differentiated by foot position, weight distribution, body alignment, etc. Stance training can be practiced statically, the goal of which is to maintain the structure of the stance through a set time period, or dynamically, in which case a series of movements is performed repeatedly. The horse-riding stance (骑马步/马步 qí mǎ bù/mǎ bù) and the bow stance are examples of stances found in many styles of Chinese martial arts.
In many Chinese martial arts, meditation is considered to be an important component of basic training. Meditation can be used to develop focus, mental clarity and can act as a basis for qigong training.
Use of qi
The concept of qi or ch’i (氣/气) is encountered in a number of Chinese martial arts. Qi is variously defined as an inner energy or “life force” that is said to animate living beings; as a term for proper skeletal alignment and efficient use of musculature (sometimes also known as fa jin or jin); or as a shorthand for concepts that the martial arts student might not yet be ready to understand in full. These meanings are not necessarily mutually exclusive. The existence of qi as a measurable form of energy as discussed in traditional Chinese medicine has no basis in the scientific understanding of physics, medicine, biology or human physiology.
There are many ideas regarding the control of one’s qi energy to such an extent that it can be used for healing oneself or others. Some styles believe in focusing qi into a single point when attacking and aim at specific areas of the human body. Such techniques are known as dim mak and have principles that are similar to acupressure.
Most Chinese styles also make use of training in the broad arsenal of Chinese weapons for conditioning the body as well as coordination and strategy drills.Weapons training (qìxiè 器械) are generally carried out after the student is proficient in the basics, forms and applications training. The basic theory for weapons training is to consider the weapon as an extension of the body. It has the same requirements for footwork and body coordination as the basics. The process of weapon training proceeds with forms, forms with partners and then applications. Most systems have training methods for each of the Eighteen Arms of Wushu (shíbābānbīngqì 十八般兵器) in addition to specialized instruments specific to the system.
Application refers to the practical use of combative techniques. Chinese martial arts techniques are ideally based on efficiency and effectiveness.Application includes non-compliant drills, such as Pushing Hands in many internal martial arts, and sparring, which occurs within a variety of contact levels and rule sets.
When and how applications are taught varies from style to style. Today, many styles begin to teach new students by focusing on exercises in which each student knows a prescribed range of combat and technique to be drilled; these drills are often semi-compliant, meaning one student does not offer active resistance to a technique in order to allow its demonstrative, clean execution. In more resisting drills, fewer rules are applied and students practice how to react and respond. ‘Sparring’ refers to the most important aspect of application training, which simulates a combat situation while including rules and regulations in order to reduce the chance of serious injury to the students.
Competitive sparring disciplines include Chinese kickboxing Sǎnshǒu(散手) and Chinese folk wrestling Shuāijiāo(摔跤), which were traditionally contested on a raised platform arena Lèitái(擂台).Lèitái represents public challenge matches that first appeared in the Song Dynasty. The objective for those contests was to knock the opponent from a raised platform by any means necessary. San Shou represents the modern development of Lei Tai contests, but with rules in place to reduce the chance of serious injury. Many Chinese martial art schools teach or work within the rule sets of Sanshou, working to incorporate the movements, characteristics, and theory of their style. Chinese martial artists also compete in non-Chinese or mixed Combat sport, including boxing, kickboxing and Mixed martial arts.
Forms or taolu (Chinese: 套路; pinyin: tào lù) in Chinese are series of predetermined movements combined so they can be practiced as one linear set of movements. Forms were originally intended to preserve the lineage of a particular style branch, and were often taught to advanced students who were selected to preserve the art’s lineage. Forms were designed to contain both literal, representative and exercise-oriented forms of applicable techniques which would be extracted, tested and trained by students through sparring sessions.
Today, many consider forms to be one of the most important practices in Chinese martial arts. Traditionally, they played a smaller role in training combat application, and were eclipsed by sparring, drilling and conditioning. Forms gradually build up a practitioner’s flexibility, internal and external strength, speed and stamina, and teach balance and coordination. Many styles contain forms using a wide range of weapons of various length and type, utilizing one or two hands. There are also styles which focus on a certain type of weapon. Forms are meant to be both practical, usable, and applicable as well as promoting flow, meditation, flexibility, balance and coordination. Teachers are often heard to say “train your form as if you were sparring and spar as if it were a form.”
There are two general types of forms in Chinese martial arts. Most common are “solo forms” which are performed by a single student. There are also “sparring” forms, which are choreographed fighting sets performed by two or more people. Sparring forms were designed both to acquaint beginning fighters with basic measures and concepts of combat, and to serve as performance pieces for the school. Sparring forms which utilize weapons are especially useful for teaching students the extension, range and technique required to manage a weapon.
Forms in Traditional Chinese Martial Arts
The term “taolu (套路)” is a shorten version of “Tao Lu Yun Dong (套路运动)”; an expression that was introduced only recently with the popularity modern wushu. This expression refers to “exercise sets” and is used in the context of athletics or sport.
In contrast, in traditional Chinese martial arts alternative terminologies for the training (練) of ‘sets or forms are:
- lian quan tao (練拳套) – practicing sequence of fist;
- lian quan jiao (練拳腳) – practicing fists and feet;
- lian bing qi (練兵器) – practicing weapons;
- dui da (對打) and dui lian (對練) – fighting sets.
Traditional “sparring” sets, called dui da, 對打 or, dui lian, 對練, were an important part of Chinese martial arts for centuries. Dui lian (對練), literally means, to train by a pair of combatants opposing each other (the character l練, means to practice; to train; to perfect one’s skill; to drill). As well, often one of these terms are also included in the name of fighting sets: 雙演, shuang yan, ‘paired practice’; 掙勝, zheng sheng, ‘to struggle with strength for victory’; 敵, di, ‘ match – the character suggests to strike an enemy; and 破, po, ‘to break’.
Generally there are 21, 18, 12, 9 or 5 drills or ‘exchanges/groupings’ of attacks and counter attacks, in each dui lian, 對 練 set. These drills were considered only generic patterns and never meant to be considered inflexible ‘tricks’. Students practiced smaller parts/exchanges, individually with opponents switching sides in a continuous flow. Basically, dui lian were not only a sophisticated and effective methods of passing on the fighting knowledge of the older generation, they were important and effective training methods. The relationship between single sets and contact sets is quite complicated in that in many cases there are skills which simply can not be developed with single sets, and, conversely, with dui lian. Unfortunately, it appears that most traditional combat oriented dui lian and their training methodology have disappeared, especially those concerning weapons. There are a number of reasons for this. In modern Chinese martial arts most of the dui lian are recent inventions designed for light props resembling weapons, with safety and drama in mind. The role of this kind of training has degenerated to the point of being useless in a practical sense, and, at best, is just performance.
By the early Song period, sets were not so much “individual isolated technique strung together” but rather were composed of techniques and counter technique groupings. It is quite clear that “sets” and “fighting (2 person) sets” have been instrumental in TCM for many hundreds of years —even before the Song Dynasty. There are images of two person weapon training in Chinese stone painting going back at least to the Eastern Han Dynasty.
According to what has been passed on by the older generations, the approximate ratio of contact sets to single sets was approximately 1:3. In other words, about 30% of the sets practiced at Shaolin were contact sets, dui lian, 對 練, and two person drill training. This is, in part, evidenced by the Qing Dynasty mural at Shaolin.
Ancient literature from the Tang and Northern Song Dynasties suggests that some sets, including those which required two or more participants, became very elaborate, “flowery”, and mainly concerned with aesthetics. During this time, some martial arts systems devolved to the point that they became popular forms of martial art storytelling entertainment shows. This created an entire new category of martial arts known as Hua Fa Wuyi, 花法武藝, or “fancy patterns for developing military skill”. During the Northern Song period it was noted by historians that this phenomenon had a negative influence on training in the military.
For most of its history, Shaolin martial arts was largely weapon-focused: staves were used to defend the monastery, not bare hands. Even the more recent military exploits of Shaolin during the Ming and Qing Dynasties involved weapons. According to some traditions, monks first studied basics for one year and were then taught staff fighting so that they could protect the monastery. Although wrestling has been as sport in China for centuries, weapons have been the most important part of Chinese wushu since ancient times. If one wants to talk about recent or ‘modern’ developments in Chinese martial arts (including Shaolin for that matter), it is the over-emphasis on bare hand fighting. During the Northern Song Dynasty (976- 997 A.D) when platform fighting known as Da Laitai (Title Fights Challenge on Platform) first appeared, these fights were with only swords and staves. Although later, when bare hand fights appeared as well, it was the weapons events that became the most famous. These open-ring competitions had regulations and were organized by government organizations; some were also organized by the public. The government competitions resulted in appointments to military posts for winners and were held in the capital as well as in the prefectures.
Even though forms in Chinese martial arts are intended to depict realistic martial techniques, the movements are not always identical to how techniques would be applied in combat. Many forms have been elaborated upon, on the one hand to provide better combat preparedness, and on the other hand to look more aesthetically pleasing. One manifestation of this tendency toward elaboration which goes beyond combat application is the use of lower stances and higher, stretching kicks. These two maneuvers are unrealistic in combat and are utilized in forms for exercise purposes.Many modern schools have replaced practical defense or offense movements with acrobatic feats that are more spectacular to watch, thereby gaining favor during exhibitions and competitions. This has led to criticisms by traditionalists of the endorsement of the more acrobatic, show-oriented Wushu competition. Even though appearance has always been important in many traditional forms as well, all patterns exist for their combat functionality. Historically forms were often performed for entertainment purposes long before the advent of modern Wushu as practitioners have looked for supplementary income by performing on the streets or in theaters. As documented in ancient literature during the Tang Dynasty (618–907) and the Northern Song Dynasty (960–1279) suggest some sets, (including two + person sets: dui da, 對打 also called dui lian, 對 練) became very elaborate and ‘flowery’, many mainly concerned with aesthetics. During this time, some martial arts systems devolved to the point that they became popular forms of martial art storytelling entertainment shows. This created an entire category of martial arts known as Hua Fa Wuyi, 花法武藝 – fancy patterns for developing military skill. During the Northern Song period, it was noted by historians this type of training had a negative influence on training in the military.
Many traditional Chinese martial artists, as well as practitioners of modern sport combat, have become critical of the perception that forms work is more relevant to the art than sparring and drill application, while most continue to see traditional forms practice within the traditional context—as vital to both proper combat execution, the Shaolin aesthetic as art form, as well as upholding the meditative function of the physical art form.
Another reason why techniques often appear different in forms when contrasted with sparring application is thought by some to come from the concealment of the actual functions of the techniques from outsiders
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