This article is from the Martial Arts FAQ, by Matthew Weigel email@example.com with numerous contributions by others.
(Contributors: Nick Doan - firstname.lastname@example.org,
Alex Jackl - email@example.com)
This is an almost impossible category. This label is attached to
almost any martial art that comes from China. It is the generic name
for literally hundreds of individual Chinese fighting arts. In
reality we should have an entry for each individual Gongfu style we
are interested in, but this would fill entire volumes. However, we
will do our best.
This is extremely controversial. Most of what appears here is a
summary of what has been learned from Sifu Benny Meng.
There are vague references of a King in China some thousands of years
ago who trained his men in techniques of hand-to-hand combat to use in
fighting against invading barbarians.
The first real references of an organized system of martial arts came
from a man named General Chin Na. He taught a form of combat to his
soldiers which most people believe developed into what is modern day
The first written record we have of Chinese martial arts is from a
Taoist acupuncturist from the 5th century. He describes combat
designed along the lines of an animal's movements and style.
Legend has it that a Bhuddist monk named Bohdiharma, also called
Damo, came across the Tibetan Mountains to China. The Emperor of China
at the time was much impressed with the man, and gave him a temple
located in Henan - the famed Sui Lim Monastery (Shaolin Monastery).
Damo found that the monks there, while searching for spiritual
enlightenment, had neglected their physical bodies. He taught them
some exercises and drills that they adapted into fighting forms. This
became the famous Shaolin Gongfu system.
"Gongfu" means "skill and effort". It is used to describe anything
that a person nees to spend time training in and becoming skillful in.
(A chef can have good "gongfu".) The Chinese term that translates
into "military art" is "Wushu" Gongfu.
As all martial arts, Wushu in its early stages of development was
practiced primarily for self-defense and for aquiring basic needs. As
time progressed, innumerable people tempered and processed Wushu in
different ways. By China's Ming and Qing dynasties (1368-1911), Wushu
had formed its basic patterns.
Intense military conflicts served as catalysts for the development of
Wushu. During China's Xia, Shang, and Zhou periods (2000BC to 771BC),
Wushu matured and formed complete systems of offense and defense, with
the emergence of bronze weapons in quantity. During the period of
Warring States (770BC to 221BC), the heads of states and government
advocated Wushu in their armies and kept Wushu masters for their own
Military Wushu developed more systematically during the Tang and Song
dynaties (618 to 1279) and exhibitions of Wushu arts were held in the
armies as morale boosters and military exercises. In the Ming and Qing
dynasties, the general development of Wushu was at its height.
Military Wushu became more practical and meticulous and was
systematically classified and summarized . General Qi Jiguang of the
Ming Dynasty delved into Wushu study and wrote "A New Essay on Wushu
Arts", which became an important book in China's military literature.
The latter half of the 20th century has seen a great upswing in the
interest of Gongfu world wide. The introduction of Gongfu to the
Western world has seen to it that its development and popularity will
continue to grow.
Styles of Gongfu encompass both soft and hard, internal and external
techniques. They include grappling, striking, nerve-attack and much
The Shaolin styles encompass both Northern and Southern styles, and
therefore are the basis of the following outline.
I Shaolin Wushu styles
A. External Styles (Hard, Physical)
a. Northern Shaolin
b. Chang Quan (Long Fist)
c. Praying Mantis
d. Eagle Claw
f. Drunken, et al
a. Southern Shaolin
b. Wing Chun
c. Five Animal System (Dragon, Snake, Tiger, Leopard, Crane)
d. Tiger and Crane Systems, et al
B. Internal Styles (Soft, Mental/Spiritual)
2. Others (Bagua, Xingyi, et al)
II Shaolin Wushu Methods
A. Hard or External Styles
1. Stresses training and strengthening of the joints, bones,
2. Requires rigorous body conditioning
3. Consists of positioning and movement of the limbs and body,
correct technique, muscular strength, speed, etc.
B. Soft or Internal Styles
1. Stresses development of internal organs where "Qi" is
2. Allows one to develop mental capability to call upon this
3. Concerned with breathing, poise, and tone of the core body
C. Long or Northern Styles
1. Stresses Flexibility, quickness, agility, and balance
similar to the attributes of a trained and well-conditioned
2. Uses many kicks along with hand techniques
3. Legs specialize in long-range tactics
D. Short or Southern
1. Stresses close-range tactics, power, and stability
2. Uses mostly hand techniques
Gongfu almost always seems to incorporate forms and routines. They
emphasize solo practice as well as group practice. (They even have
forms for two or more people). They train in multiple types of
weapons. There is also a great emphasis on sparring in the harder
styles, and sensitivity training in the soft styles.
Sub-Styles: see above