Monday, April 15, 2013

What is Kung Fu?

What is Kung Fu?


 
In dealing with the recently popularized concept of kung fu, one must begin the discussion by explaining that kung fu is not a martial art unto itself, yet it encompasses the most effective and devastating methods of self-preservation known to man. The identity of kung fu is diverse; over 1,000 styles are known or recognized. From kung fu came Karate, Escrima, and most important, a way of thinking that became a code of life.
Kung Fu requires of the practitioner a strict code of physical and mental discipline, unparalleled in Western pursuits. It is only as a whole concept that kung fu can be discussed, and this entails more than fighting.
To be adept, one must follow the Tao, the way, the essence of the philosophy and life of the originators of the arts. One cannot pay to learn this art; it is only acquired by the desire to learn, the will to discipline one's self, and devotion to practice.
The standards to be met to attain proficiency are so high that the Chinese refer to the master as a disciple of the way of the tiger, the sign of the dragon.

Kung-fu : Hard vs. Soft, External vs. Internal

The concept of hard/soft and external/internal martial arts is not one easily described. In terms of styles which most people are familiar with, Karate would be an example of a hard style and Aikido or T'ai Chi examples of soft styles. A hard style is generally considered one where force is used against force; a block is used to deflect an incoming strike by meeting either head on, or at a 90 degree angle. A soft style does not use force against force, but rather deflects the incoming blow away from its target. There are uses for both hard and soft techniques. A practitioner may wish to break the attacker's striking arm with the block. On the other hand, a much smaller opponent would not be able to accomplish this, so instead may wish to deflect the incoming attack.
An external style is one which relies primarily in strength and physical abilities to defeat an opponent. In contrast, an internal style is one that depends upon ch'i and timing rather than power. Aikido (at the master's level) would be an internal style, while most karate styles are external.
However, the concepts of hard/soft internal/external are finding fewer proponents among senior martial artists. Both conceptual twins are impossible to separate in reality, and masters will generally acknowledge that any distinction is largely only a matter of subjective interpretation. Arguments about the reality of the concepts are often waged by novices and philosophical dilettantes, ignorant of the inseparable nature of duality. They see yin and yang as elements that can exist independently, while philosophical and physical reasoning demonstrate that they cannot. Without their union (=Tao), neither can exist. Ergo, a "hard" technique such as a straight fist is guided by the soft power of mind and the internal component of ch'i. Equally, the softest projection of Aikido requires the "hard" element of physical contact and movement, coupled with actively redirecting the opponent. In short, preoccupation with distinguishing soft from hard is a distraction from learning martial arts and moving towards a unifying technique and mastery.
China has a long history of martial traditions that includes hundreds of different styles. Over the past two thousand years many distinctive styles have been developed, each with its own set of techniques and ideas.There are also common themes to the different styles, which are often classified by "families" ,"sects"or "schools". There are styles that mimic movements from animals and others that gather inspiration from various Chinese philosophies, myths and legends. Some styles put most of their focus into the harnessing of qi, while others concentrate on competition.
Chinese martial arts can be split into various categories to differentiate them: For example,
Chinese martial arts can also be categorized by location, as in northern and southern as well, referring to what part of China the styles originated from, separated by the Yangtze River ,Chinese martial arts may even be classified according to their province or city.The main perceived difference between northern and southern styles is that the northern styles tend to emphasize fast and powerful kicks, high jumps and generally fluid and rapid movement, while the southern styles focus more on strong arm and hand techniques, and stable, immovable stances and fast footwork. Examples of the northern styles include changquan and xingyiquan. Examples of the southern styles include Bak Mei, Wuzuquan, Choy Li Fut and Wing Chun. Chinese martial arts can also be divided according to religion, imitative-styles , and family styles such as Hung Gar .There are distinctive differences in the training between different groups of the Chinese martial arts regardless of the type of classification. However, few experienced martial artists make a clear distinction between internal and external styles, or subscribe to the idea of northern systems being predominantly kick-based and southern systems relying more heavily on upper-body techniques. Most styles contain both hard and soft elements, regardless of their internal nomenclature. Analyzing the difference in accordance with yin and yang principles, philosophers would assert that the absence of either one would render the practitioner's skills unbalanced or deficient, as yin and yang alone are each only half of a whole. If such differences did once exist, they have since been blurred.

Training



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.

 

Basics

The Basics 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:

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


Stances  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 stance  and the bow stance are examples of stances found in many styles of Chinese martial arts.

 

Meditation

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 training.

 

 

 

 

 

Use of qi

The concept of qi 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.

Weapons training

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 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 in addition to specialized instruments specific to the system.

Application


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 drill on. 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 apply, 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 that reduce the chance of serious injury.
Competitive sparring disciplines include Chinese kickboxing Sǎnshǒu and Chinese folk wrestling Shuāijiāo which were traditionally contested on a raised platform are.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.
Forms

Forms or taolu 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 selected for that purpose. Forms contained both literal, representative and exercise-oriented forms of applicable techniques that students could extract, test, and train on 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 that use weapons of various lengths and types, using one or two hands. Some styles 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 performed by a single student. There are also sparring forms—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. Weapons-based sparring forms are especially useful for teaching students the extension, range, and technique required to manage a weapon.
Characteristics of Kung Fu
Kung fu is primarily a striking style of martial arts that utilizes kicks, blocks, and both open and closed hand strikes to defend against attackers. Depending on the style, kung fu practitioners may also possess knowledge of throws and joint locks. The art utilizes both hard (meeting force with force) and soft (using an aggressor's strength against them) techniques.
Kung fu is widely known for its beautiful and flowing forms.
Basic Goals of Kung Fu
The basic goals of kung fu are to protect against opponents and disable them quickly with strikes. There is also a very philosophical side to the art, as it is strongly tied, depending on the style, to the Buddhist and/ or Taoist principles that were brought up with it.
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