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The calligraphic inscription that hangs over t...
The calligraphic inscription that hangs over the main gate of the Shaolin Monastery was written in the Kangxi Emperor’s own hand. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Kung fu is one of the most well known examples of traditional Chinese culture. It is probably one of the earliest and longest lasting sports which utilize both brawn and brain. The theory of Kung Fu is based upon classical Chinese philosophy. Over its long history it has developed as a unique combination of exercise, practical self-defense, self-discipline and art.

The beginning of Chinese Kung fu probably started long before history was recorded. Kung fu techniques were discovered or created during the long epoch of continuous conflict between human beings and animals, or between different tribes of humans themselves. From these battles, experiences were accumulated and techniques discovered which were passed down generation to generation.

Chinese Kung Fu can trace its origins back some 4000 years to 2674 BC, when Emperor Huang Ti of China used a rudimentary form of martial arts called Chiou Ti as a form of individual combat and military tactic. At that time people use cudgels to fight against wild beasts. Gradually they accumulated experience of self defense. When Shang Dynasty began, hunting was considered as an important measure of Kung Fu training.

240px-Art_of_Shaolin_Kung_FuDuring Shang and Zhou Dynasties, kung fu developed to be a kind of dancing. Usually the dancing of Kung fu is utilized to train soldiers and inspire their morale. During Zhou Dynasty, Kung fu dancing was designated as a component of education. The application of wrestling techniques at the battlefield received much attention from various states during the period of Spring and Autumn. At the same time, the skill and technology of sword forging as well as sword ceremony achieved rapid development. In Qin and Han Dynasties, wrestling, swordplay, and kung fu dancing were very popular. The application of spear play in Han Dynasty reached its summit along with the appearance of many other techniques of spear usage.

During Tang dynasty, Kung fu became part of the examination process for the imperial courts. All officials and soldiers were required to pass some sort of Kung fu test before being promoted. Excellent candidates would receive titles and awards through the examination, largely propelling the development of Kung fu. By then kung fu had evolved to be an artistic form and an independent genre. It was gradually introduced to many countries in Southeast Asia. Today Kung Fu was honored as the ancestor of kickboxing, karate, aikido, and judo.

Song and Yuan Dynasties witnessed the climax of Kung fu development. Kung fu permeated society, as agile performers displayed their skills in the street. Practice of Kung Fu by civil organizations became more and more popular. Some organizations centered on the use of spear play and cudgel, and they were called Yinglue Organization; while others majored in the practice of arching and therefore called Arching Origination. Besides, there appeared another genre called Luqi People. They made a living as performer of martial arts all over the country. Usually their performance was carried out by a single person or two persons as a pair.

Kungfu FigureChinese Kung Fu achieved larger development in Ming and Qing Dynasties. In Ming Dynasty, a lot of genres came into being and numerous books on Kung fu were published. In Qing Dynasty, the ruling empire banned the practice of martial arts. In 1644, the Manchurians invaded mainland China and replaced the Ming Dynasty with the Qing dynasty. The Shao Lin Temples ,which had great influence in the growth of Kung Fu, became hives of revolutionaries. In order to counteract the threat from these insurrectionists, the Manchurians destroyed the Shao Lin Temples. The inhabitants of the Temples fled, and in this way Kung Fu knowledge was spread. And the folk also set up various clubs or societies to pass down feat secretly. Qing Dynasty is the times of integration among different Kung Fu genres. Wrestling techniques were introduced into Kung Fu, facilitating the improvement and mature of martial arts. This period is the shed between genres for appreciation and those for actual combat.

The end of the Qing Empire and the beginning of the Republic generated renewed interest in the Kung fu. Practicing kung fu was seen as being in the national interest because it helped strengthen both the body and the mind. In modern times, Chinese Kung-fu was first introduced abroad to the United States by Chinese-American Kung-fu master Bruce Lee, whose agile movements in a series of his great movies swept American audiences off their feet. Thanks to the giant influence of the American movie industry, it soon swept across the world. The entire globe was enchanted by the magic act, starting the upsurge of interest in Chinese Kung-fu. From then on, Chinese Kung-fu learners can be found everywhere. Now, Lee’s followers, Jacky Chan (Cheng Long) and Jet Lee (Li Lianjie) carry the baton pushing themselves to novel heights.

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