For me, Traditional Kung Fu is inextricably linked to Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine. As much as some would see the potential to cause physical harm, kung fu is about the development of the whole person. It’s never just about the physical body, though that is important. There’s an entire cultural history that is ingrained in every movement of every style; it carries with it the spirituality of centuries, if the practitioner cares to develop it. So, in honor of my kung fu training, a bit of history…
Many people may not be aware of this, but the the precursor to the styles of kung fu we see today came from India. Bodhidharma, an Indian monk, introduced Zen Buddhism to China around 520 AD and settled at the Shaolin temple. There he discovered a lack of discipline among the monks (and monks in training), who would fall asleep during meditation and became ill and weak during fasting. He instituted a program of 18 different exercises and breathing disciplines to develop their focus and discipline. Physical discipline provided them with the tools to develop and mature in their spiritual endeavors as well. Frequently the target of bandits, they also developed a fighting system with the long pole. This is the very beginning of what becomes known as Shaolin kung fu.
A Bit of a Melting Pot
There are quite a few theories as to why and how kung fu developed to such an extent of sophistication at the Shaolin temple. One of the theories is that the temple itself was a haven for political dissidents, military men, revolutionists and the like, who were skilled fighters. As such, fighting knowledge was exchanged and refined over a long period of time.
In the 1500s, a young swordsman by the name of Kwok Yuen is credited with developing the Shaolin fighting techniques into the five animal categories of Tiger, Crane, Leopord, Dragon, and Snake. This is known as the “Five Forms Fist.”
Five Forms Fist
Each animal is symbolic and represents certain techniques (and fists) within the system:
Tiger: Symbolizes ferocity and strength. Open hand striking techniques with the fingers clenched in the shape of a claw.
Crane: Evasive techniques, kicking (Crane standing on one leg), arms spread like wings opening, fingers pressed together to form a beak-like weapon.
Leopard: Foreknuckle strikes imitate the animal’s paw.
Dragon: Claw techniques, whipping backfists that symbolizes a thrashing tail, scissors stance techniques that imitate the twisting maneuvers of a dragon.
Snake: Fingertip thrusts upon soft vital areas that characterize the serpent’s forked tongue.
To be continued…because the government had different ideas.