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WHAT IS THE CHINESE MARTIAL ARTS? Chinese martial arts are said to have originated from Kalaripayattu when Bodhidharma took the art to China around 520 AD. Some contest this claim. There's no doubt, though, that China, India and Korea are the oldest places to practice martial arts. ''The concept of a style is a rather complicated one, and Chinese martial arts claim as many as 1500 different styles. By "style" we mean a particular school of martial practice, with its own training methods, favored techniques, and emphasis on attack and defense. While it is impossible to quantify differences between most styles, it is easy to see the distinctions between such disparate approaches to combat as practiced by Tiger, Crane, and Monkey stylists. In choosing a style (a contemporary privilege; traditionally, styles were assigned by the teachers), try to find one that suits your physical attributes, interests, and sense of utility. It does no good to study the graceful single-leg and flying techniques of White Crane if you have the flexibility and grace of a turtle! The Shaolin systems were developed from animal actions and were divided into low systems and high systems. The low systems of the Shaolin were choy li fut, crane, cobra, and tiger. The high systems of the order were snake, dragon, Wing Chun, and praying mantis. The primary features that separate high from low are the fantastic economy of movement and the differences in application of ch'i in the high systems. The low systems were so called because they had their basis both in physical maneuvers and in earthly creatures. Choy li fut was based on a posture called a riding horse stance, so called because when adopted, one appeared to be straddling a horse. The movements are very stiff and hard, depending primarily on muscular power to perform adequately. There are only three kicks in the original system, although recently the style has adopted many techniques of the Northern Shaolin system. According to legend, it was designed for use on the houseboats of the south where a stable stance and powerful hand techniques were necessary. The certain portion of its history is that the system was named for two Chinese boxing masters, Choy and Li. Fut means Buddha, serving in this instance to refer to the Shaolin temple's Buddhist influence. On the other hand, and kung fu practice will enhance your physical skills, dexterity, and alertness, and it is not uncommon for a beginner in one style to change to a more "appropriate" style later. Whatever else may be said of styles, the first year basics are almost universal--punches, kicks, and stances show little variation at the beginner's level. Kung Fu refers to the hundreds of styles of martial arts in China, all of which are different. However, there is one thing that all Chinese martial arts have in common and that is the idea that Kung Fu itself is only skill. The real value of Chinese martial arts goes beyond self-defense. It lies within the strong traditional training that all Kung Fu styles emphasize: training that teaches the student to respect the teacher and the teacher's advice; to be respectful towards other Kung Fu styles and to only use Kung Fu in a morally correct manner. MARTIAL ARTS: 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. Novices and philosophical dilettantes, ignorant of the inseparable nature of duality, often wage arguments about the reality of the concepts. 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. WHAT IS KUNG FU? Kung Fu means "skill and effort" and can describe anything that one needs to spend time training in and becoming skillful in. When it means "martial art," Kung Fu refers to the hundreds of styles of martial arts in China, all of which are different. The power of the kung fu practitioner lay in his ability to defend himself against impossible odds and situations. After years of the most diligent practice, these monks became more than merely adept at the ways of survival. But the initial acceptance to be one of the chosen few was difficult. As children, applicants for priesthood were made to do the most menial and difficult work related to the upkeep of the temple. Their sincerity and ability to keep the secrets of the order were severely tested for years before the finer aspects of the order were revealed to them. But, upon being accepted by the elders of the temple, his or her entry into kung fu was to open a whole new world. The student would work long hours training mind and body to work together in a coordinated effort. He would learn the principles of combat, the way of the Tao, and together they would ensure his way to peace. Upon completion of the student stage, one became a disciple who would be taught the higher secrets of the arts and philosophies. Weapons of all descriptions would become familiar to him as weapons of attack and defense. One would perfect his movements to coincide with his breathing. One's mind would meld into the realm of meditation known as mindlessness. And one would learn to harness ch'i. 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 HISTORY OF KUNG FU The history of Kung Fu is extremely controversial, as the exact date of its development is not known. There are two main theories about the beginnings of Kung Fu. A large number believe that Bodhidharma, (also called Ta Mo), an Indian Buddhist monk is the founder of Kung Fu. And some believe that Kung Fu was already in existence long before Bodhidharma arrived in China. Throughout history credit has been given to Bodhidharma as a creator of Sil Lum Kung Fu or the man responsible for introducing the martial arts to China. Some historians date it as far back as the Shang dynasty (16th century B.C.). Others date it back to the time of Huang Ti Emperor (475-221 B.C.). 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. Written text about Kung Fu was depicted in the early 17th Century by the Jesuit priest Pere Amoit. He wrote of "peculiar" exercises, which he called "Cong Fou," practiced by the Taoist priests of his area. The Chinese term that translates into "military art" is "Wu Shu." As with 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.
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