Kung Fu

Different Kung Fu Styles

Shaolin Kung Fu

There are few historical entities that engender as much debate, confusion, and acrimony as the nature and reality of Shaolin. We have heard distinguished university professors categorically deny the existence of either Shaolin or its problem-children Tongs; that only authenticated accounts by the Communist Chinese government are to be trusted; or that the temples are fictitious, based on stories in old novels. The following accounts are taken from sources who 1) practiced the specific kung fu styles to Master level from the “supposed” temples, 2) learned their arts AT those temples before the temples were destroyed, or 3) were taught by practitioners from those temples. Also, our sources were corroborated by at least three individuals (standard rule of evidence accepted by most professional journalists). The masters, however, have declined to be named for the reasons that 1) they do not want to engage in controversy-the information is here to accept or reject as you like (as directed by the last lesson of the Buddha), 2) they have assumed new names after leaving China because, as refugees, did not want their families to suffer for their actions. Having said that, and agreeing in advance to protect the confidentiality of our sources, we have been told that…

The Shaolin order dates to about 540 A.D., when an Indian Buddhist priest named Bodhidharma (Tamo in Chinese), traveled to China to see the Emperor. At that time, the Emperor had started local Buddhist monks translating Buddhist texts from Sanskrit to Chinese. The intent was to allow the general populace the ability to practice this religion. This was a noble project, but when the Emperor believed this to be his path to Nirvana, Tamo disagreed. Tamo’s view on Buddhism was that you could not achieve your goal just through good actions performed by others in your name. At this point the Emperor and Tamo parted ways and Tamo traveled to the nearby Buddhist temple to meet with the monks who were translating these Buddhist texts. The temple had been built years before in the remains of a forest that had been cleared or burned down. At the time of the building of the temple, the emperor’s gardeners had also planted new trees. Thus the temple was named “young (or new) forest”, (Shaolin in Mandarin, Sil Lum in Cantonese). When Tamo arrived at the temple, he was refused admittance, probably being thought of as an upstart or foreign meddler by the head abbot (Fang Chang). Rejected by the monks, Tamo went to a nearby cave and meditated until the monks recognized his religious prowess and admitted him. Legend has it that he bored a hole through one side of the cave with his constant gaze; in fact, the accomplishment that earned his recognition is lost to history. When Tamo joined the monks, he observed that they were not in good physical condition. Most of their routine paralleled that of the Irish monks of the Middle Ages, who spent hours each day hunched over tables where they transcribed handwritten texts. Consequently, the Shaolin monks lacked the physical and mental stamina needed to perform even the most basic of Buddhist meditation practices. Tamo countered this weakness by teaching them moving exercises, designed to both enhance chi flow and build strength. These sets, modified from Indian yogas (mainly hatha, and raja) were based on the movements of the 18 main animals in Indo-Chinese iconography (e.g., tiger, deer, leopard, cobra, snake, dragon, etc.), were the beginnings of Shaolin Kung Fu.

It is hard to say just when the exercises became “martial arts”. The Shaolin temple was in a secluded area where bandits would have traveled and wild animals were an occasional problem, so the martial side of the temple probably started out to fulfill self-defense needs. After a while, these movements were codified into a system of self-defense. As time went on, this Buddhist sect became more and more distinct because of the martial arts being studied. This is not to say that Tamo “invented” martial arts. Martial arts had existed in China for centuries. But within confines of the temple, it was possible to develop and codify these martial arts into the new and different styles that would become distinctly Shaolin. One of the problems faced by many western historians is the supposed contraindication of Buddhist principles of non-violence coupled with Shaolin’s legendary martial skills. In fact, the Shaolin practitioner is never an attacker, nor does he or she dispatch the most devastating defenses in any situation. Rather, the study of kung fu leads to better understanding of violence, and consequently how to avoid conflict.

Failing that, a Buddhist who refuses to accept an offering of violence (i.e., and attack) merely returns it to the sender. Initially, the kung fu expert may choose to parry an attack, but if an assailant is both skilled and determined to cause harm, a more definitive and concluding solution may be required, from a joint-lock hold to a knockout, to death. The more sophisticated and violent an assault, the more devastating the return of the attack to the attacker. Buddhists are not, therefore, hurting anyone; they merely refuse delivery of intended harm. The Shaolin philosophy is one that started from Buddhism and later adopted many Taoist principles to become a new sect. Thus even though a temple may have been Taoist or Buddhist at first, once it became Shaolin, it was a member of a new order, an amalgamation of the prevailing Chinese philosophies of the time.

Other temples sprung from Henan. This happened because the original temple would suffer repeated attacks and periods of inactivity as the reigning Imperial and regional leaders feared the martial powers of the not-always unaligned monks. Refugee Shaolin practitioners would leave the temple to teach privately (in Pai) or at other Buddhist or Taoist temples. In rare cases, a new Shaolin Temple would be erected (Fukien, Kwangtung) or converted from a pre-existing temple (Wu-Tang, O Mei Shan). Politically and militarily involved monks (such as the legendary White Eyebrow and Hung Tze Kwan) would be perpetual sources of trouble for the generally temporally aloof monks.

The Boxer rebellion in 1901 was the beginning of the end of the Shaolin temples. Prior to that, China had been occupied by Western and Japanese governments and business interests. The British had turned the Imperial family into an impotent puppet regime largely through the import and sales of opium and the general drug-devastation inflicted upon the poor population. This lead to the incursion of other European powers, including Russia, France and Holland, and later the Japanese and Americans. By the late 1800s, China was effectively divided into national zones, each controlled by one of the outside powers (similar to post World War II Berlin, on a hugely larger scale). The long standing animosities between China and Japan worsened, and extended to include all other “foreign devils” as well. Coupled with the now almost universal disdain by the Chinese for their Empress, a Nationalist movement with nation-wide grass-roots support was born. Among the front line soldiers of the new “order” were the legendary and near-legendary martial artists-many Shaolin-known as Boxers (remember how Bruce Lee, in his films depicting these times, refers to himself as a Chinese boxer…). Though their initial assaults on the military powers of the occupation governments were not entirely successful (many believed in Taoist magical spells that would make them impervious to gunfire), their temporary defeat would lead to a more modern reformation that included adopting modern military weapons and tactics.

The withdrawal of western forces was prolonged over many years, and by the end of World War I saw China in an almost feudal state of civil war. Not only were national troops fighting loyalists, but both sides had to fight the Japanese (who still held much of the northern Manchurian region of China) as well as many powerful, regional warlords. Many parts of China were virtually anarchies, but by 1931 almost all non-Asian occupants had been successfully driven out (with the interesting exception, in the late 1930s, of the volunteer American airmen known as The Flying Tigers, who helped repel Japanese forces prior to World War II), and the major combatants within China were the Nationalists and the Communists. Both sides displayed the typical jingoistic attitudes of forces in mindless warfare-if you aren’t with us, you are against us. Neutrality meant nothing except the possibility of a later enemy. Consequently, Shaolin and other monks were routinely murdered by soldiers from both sides. One result of this program of murder was the exodus of many monks into the hills, or abroad, with the hope that Shaolin knowledge might survive even if the temples themselves did not. The temples were unfortunate victims of war in a land that had abandoned its historical practice of respecting posterity and ancestors. All were ransacked and looted by various armed groups.

O Mei Shan Temple (“Great White Mountain”), in Szechuan Province, was situated on a mountain top and deemed by Chinese officers to be a fitting target for artillery practice. It was shelled in turn by Nationalist and Communist armies. In a fitting twist of fate, this one-time site of medical and natural history knowledge was rebuilt by the Communists in the mid 1970s, and now stands as the National Park and Research Headquarters for the panda preserve. There are various stories coming out of China today referring to the history of Shaolin, particularly over the past 300 years. However, many of these stories are suspect (compare Chinese accounts of Tiananmen Square with CNN news coverage), with the more commonly “authenticated” versions coming from government records. The fact that Chinese authorities outlawed Shaolin and martial arts practices makes any story about their history from such sources suspect. The prevalent wu-shu styles originated as a result of a compromise between the post-World War II governments and the national need and history of having a martial arts tradition. Wu-Shu, however, was not designed as a martial art (strictly illegal), and claims to the contrary date back only a decade or so, following on the popularity of Kung Fu.http://www.shaolin.com/historycontent.aspx

Choy Li Fut

Choy Li Fut (Cantonese), 蔡李佛, or Cai Li Fo (Mandarin) Kung Fu is a traditional martial arts system based on Shaolin martial arts from the Shaolin Temple.

It combines the agile footwork of Northern Chinese Martial Arts with the intricate Hand Techniques of the Southern Kung Fu styles, making Choy Li Fut one of the most complete and effective styles for health and self-defense.

Choy Li Fut , 蔡李佛, emphasizes relaxed, internal power rather than stiff, muscular force. This is not only more effective in combat, giving the smaller person an advantage, but is also better for the practitioner’s health as it develops the entire body.

Choy Li Fut forms are circular, powerful, and as beautiful to watch as they are effective in combat. They often contain over 150 individual movements, each having a practical application in self-defense. Done at full speed, forms provide an excellent cardiovascular workout.

Unlike many other martial arts, Choy Li Fut contains a wide variety of techniques, including long and short range punches, devastating kicks, deadly sweeps and takedowns, lethal pressure point attacks, joint locks, and grappling, making it one of the most well rounded and versatile fighting systems. Each set covers many aspects and concepts of the martial arts and even provides dynamic 2 and even 3 person combat sets, giving the student the ability to develop a real time sense of the techniques in combat application.

Choy Li Fut also has forms teaching the use of a large arsenal of traditional kung fu weapons, 53 to be exact, divided into long, short, twin, and flexible categories with the Nine Dragon Trident as the symbol of the Choy Li Fut system. There are even 2 and 3 person weapon combat sets to develop the full range and abilities of the practitioners with their weapons. Finally, it includes internal training such as meditation and breathing exercises unifying the body and mind with traditional Chinese Martial Arts.

Choy Li Fut has proven itself effective through it’s conception during revolutionary times to the modern days of combat sports, and is still one of the worlds most popular Chinese Kung Fu systems. Famed for it’s effectiveness in the Chinese underground full contact martial arts tournaments, it’s traditional values and self-discipline and self-protection attitude provides Choy Li Fut as the perfect martial arts base for anyone looking to better themselves.

Do Pi

Chan Dau

Do Pi, or the Style of the Way, was founded by the late legendary boxer Grandmaster Chan Dau.

The Yu family and the Hung Style Fist
Chan Dau began training in martial arts at the age of nine.  He was a native of the Yung Kay district of Canton, and early in his life, he was kidnapped and sold to the powerful Yu family in the nearby town of Toishan.

Encouraged by the Yu family’s grandfather, Chan Dau began learning Hung Kuen, or the Hung Style Fist, under Yu Mui.  At that time, Master Yu Mui had just returned from the US, and brought with him Western boxing techniques.

Chan Dau immersed himself in martial arts and rapidly excelled in Hung Kuen.

Retreat into the monastery
Somewhat of a naughty child, Chan Dau was one day practising martial arts and happened to hit his grandfather with an accidental blow.   His grandfather became enraged, and drove him out of the Yu household.

With no place to turn, Chan Dau sought refuge in a nearby Buddhist monastery.  The place was already familiar to Chan Dau.  He had been taking additional lessons from a monk at the monastery on account of his step-grandfather’s encouragement.  Homeless and without money, the monastery become Chan Dau’s new home and the monk his new teacher.

For two years, Chan Dau lived at the monastery and learned Hop Gar, or the Fighting System of Gallant Knights, from the monk.

The return home
After two years at the temple, Chan Dau returned to Canton with help from his new mentor.

Unable to find his family in Canton, Chan Dau was forced to become a peanut-peddler to earn a living.  One day, Chan Dau participated in a martial arts exhibition in the streets of Canton, and impressed the students of Charn the Fish-Monger.  Chan Dau became a student of the Fish-Monger, and quickly gained a name for himself as one of Canton’s “Four Mad Fighters.”

Chan Dau would later make contact with his family, and also furthered his studies under Leung Kwai and Chow Lung.

Creating the Style of the Way
Encouraged by Wong Fay Hung’s adopted son, Kwan Kwun Kau, Chan Dau set up a gymnasium in Canton.  It is at his time that he combined what he had learned from his teachers and formed his own style of martial arts called Do Pi.

Years later, he would establish himself in the Sham Shui Po district of Kowloon, Hong Kong.  His lineage is succeeded by a number of students most notably his son Chan Ching, his protégé Lok So, and Master Paul Chan.

Do Pi Training Principles
Do Pi has a coherent set of training principles and techniques.

With roots in many different styles such as Hung Kuen,Choi Lee Fut, and Hop Gar, Do Pi is a very unique southern style.  The foundation of the system is based on the following nine techniques: chuen, pow, kup, tong, pin, sek, ten, chik, and got.  You can see the Chinese Characters for these techniques on the left.

In the execution of its techniques, Do Pi employs body movements.  Most of the foot and hand techniques are economical in nature.  Master Paul Chan recalls that Grandmaster Chan Dau always stressed that simple movements are always the most effective in battle.

Do Pi has many form routines to help its practitioners progress in their development.  The most famous sets include Drunken Eight Fairies and Drunken Fan.


Here is a good article that explains the kung fu belt system from MMA Guru – Kung Fu Belt System Explained

I Know Kung Fu.

By Emma Suttie, D.Ac

Ever since I can remember I have loved kung fu. It is hard to pinpoint where the love came from, but there are a couple of possibilities. I am a child of hippies, and grew up in a house filled with music, ethnic food and martial arts. My parents are martial artists – Aikidoists – and they tried, in vain, to get me into Aikido.

I remember going to class with them and watching the graceful interactions. Students running at each other and, being gracefully flung about and landing, silently rolling out to standing awaiting their next chance to politely attack. It was beautiful to watch, and it looked effortless. The thing that especially impressed me was that strength and size didn’t seem to matter. This became even more impressive when I saw my mother, who is five foot four, throw my father who is more than six foot three over her head like he was made of cotton balls. This filled me with delight, and, I suspect, deeply frustrated my father.

Aikido is a Japanese martial art developed by Morihei Ueshiba. It is translated as “the way of unifying with life energy” or “the way of the harmonious spirit”. One of the interesting things about Aikido is that it is purely defensive. There is no way to “attack” someone using Aikido in its true form. It is purely used and was developed as a way to defend oneself, but also to do so while protecting your attacker from harm. What a lovely philosophy. Because there is no way to attack someone using Aikido, what began to happen around our house was that my father, desperate to show me his new moves and joint locks (which hurt like hell) would ask me, in desperation, to grab his wrist. Only then could he throw me around and bend my joints into pretzels. If I was feeling generous I would oblige, but if I was feeling sassy I would refuse and taunt him. Grab my wrist became the most uttered phrase in our house for years.

Morihei Ueshiba

The other wonderful thing about Aikido is that you are using your attackers energy and inertia to either direct them out of the way, or, throw them into the next room depending on how much of their energy you want to use. For this reason, the Aikidoist is using very little of their own energy. It is also incredibly graceful, and does not have any of the hard edged movements of many of the Korean and Chinese martial arts. It is one of the most beautiful martial arts to watch. Here is a video so you can see what I mean.

I have an enormous respect for all the martial arts, and Aikido in particular is so elegant, refined, efficient and beautiful, but it wasn’t the one that resonated with me. What I wanted to learn was kung fu. Perhaps it was all those years of kung fu movies, but I decided that this was what I was going to learn. It was my dream to be a doctor of Chinese medicine and a master of kung fu – 2 very complimentary pursuits, I thought.

For years I had been obsessed with kung fu movies and every Friday had gone to Kung Fu Friday’s at the Royal cinema where a group of enthusiasts would sit and bask in each others euphoria at watching these ancient movies with elaborate fight scenes and terrible dubbing. The nerd level was through the roof, but it was the best hour and a half of my week. Once I finished college, I was excited to seek out a kung fu school and start my training. I went all over, looking for the right school that was teaching a style that felt right for me. It was a long search, but I knew the right place as soon as I walked in the door. It was a very traditional Chinese kung fu school in Chinatown. On the outside it looked like a small storefront painted red and black with the windows covered. The writing was in Chinese but in English it said Kung Fu. I walked in and it was dark and smelled of sweat. There was a Chinese guy sitting at an old counter reading a Chinese newspaper. He looked up at me surprised.

*Perhaps now is the time to explain something. I, at least on the outside, am not Chinese, but am a tall blonde girl. I do not blend in most places, least of all a kung fu school in the heart of Chinatown. If I thought I had been an outsider before, I was about to receive a rude awakening…

The man looked up and thought I was lost. I said no, I was there to inquire about kung fu. His surprised look remained as he slowly explained what styles the school taught, when their classes were and how much a year membership cost. I nodded and asked if I could return to watch a class. He said sure, the surprised look never leaving his face. I had a good feeling I had found the place. This was the real thing. Old school. I returned to watch a class and fell in love. I bought my uniform and showed up for my first class and managed to hold my own. It was tense, as I was one of a few girls and the only white girl. I could see the smirks on the faces of some of the guys. I found out later that the guys had a running bet on my first day to see how long I would last. Most said I wouldn’t last longer than one class. A few said I might make it a week. I stayed 8 years. They all lost that bet.

kung fu

The school taught two styles – Choi Lee Fut  – created by Chan Heung, a disciple of the famed Shaolin Temple, and Do Pi – a Southern style . There are many styles of kung fu, and I think finding the one you like is just like anything else, you have to find the one that resonates with you. These styles really spoke to me because they had large sweeping movements which suited by tall body and long limbs. I later tried Wing Chun – a style that focuses on close range combat. I found it cramped and awkward, like watching a spider monkey fight another spider monkey nose to nose. You have to find the style that is right for you. Classes were 2 nights a week and one Sunday afternoon and were about 4 hours each. They consisted of stances, punches, kicks, stretching, callisthenics and finally, forms – a series of movements that you move through beginning to end. They were the most hard core workouts I had ever had and I had been an athlete all my life. I pushed through. Thankfully, in this case, my stubborn nature probably exceeded my physical abilities, at least at first. No one spoke to me for about 6 months. I think they were all waiting for me to drop out and were confused as to why that hadn’t yet happened.

After the six month mark I got the occasional smile. I couldn’t believe it. Finally, they were accepting me as part of the group. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy, but I was determined to follow my dream of learning kung fu, and I loved it. I am happy to say that after the guys decided I wasn’t leaving they accepted my presence and we all became friends. We went to class together and the ritual became to go out to eat Vietnamese afterwards. It became like a family and we had dinners for Chinese New Years and participated in parades through Chinatown in our uniforms, holding banners and doing Lion Dance. It seemed every time a new restaurant opened, our kung fu school would be called upon to do a Lion Dance (a good luck omen for any new business) and I felt like I was always at the school for class or some function. Hanging out with my classmates socially became a window into this culture which had always fascinated me and I felt so comfortable in. We would have big dinners together and spent way too many evenings doing karaoke. I don’t think I will ever be able to listen to Hotel California without fondly remembering my tone deaf classmates.

Studying kung fu was an amazing experience. It was not just learning a martial art, but becoming part of a living breathing organism. The school was an integral part of the Chinese community and it was fascinating and wonderful to feel like a part of something that perhaps few people had been able to experience before. I learned so many things. I learned that a martial art is not about just training your body, but training your mind, understanding the mind of your opponent and honing internal skills like Qi Gong to develop your internal power. I was privileged to become immersed in a culture that I have so much respect for, and I think it made me a better person and a better acupuncturist. I learned discipline, and that usually things that are worth learning, take a lifetime to master. I also learned that I love Vietnamese food. I later dabbled in a few more martial arts – Wing Chun, Jeet Kun Do, Muay Thai, Escrima, Kali and Savate (French kick boxing), and although I loved them for what they had to offer, my heart will always belong to kung fu. <3

Here are some clips you can watch which demonstrate the awesomeness of kung fu. Many of my favourite movies are too old to find now (I have them all on VHS!!) but these are some of the masters. Enjoy.

Shaolin Kung Fu

Here is a National Geographic Episode on Shaolin Kung Fu which gives some history and shows some of the monks incredible skills.

Bruce Lee – The Chinese Connection

Bruce is, and will always be, my hero. <3

Ip Man – Donny Yuen – Kung Fu Fight Scene

Jet Li – Fist of Legend

Jackie Chan – Drunken Style Kung Fu – Drunken Master

Master Killer / The 36 Chambers of Shaolin – Trailer

My favourite kung fu movie of all time. :)

A clip from Master Killer detailing Kung Fu training at Shaolin.

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