Meaning of Kung Fu

Many don't know where the term "kung fu" comes from. In this short blog I want to explain a bit more about it and deconstruct the confusion about all the definitions of Chinese martial arts.


Kung Fu

Kung Fu

It is important to know where terms and concepts come from. Also should you know what you are practicing when you do a martial art and where it comes from.

Everybody know that kung fu is referred to a martial arts which was developed in China. Either way the term came up during the 20th century. Before that kung fu or gongfu meant and still means to achieve knowledge or a skill through hard work and practice. If you want to talk about martial arts in Chinese you would refer to “wushu” and a lot of modern Chinese martial arts is called wushu nowadays. Another term you can find is “chuan fa” meaning fist fighting. According to Sifu Douglas Wong the term Gong Fu was first used by Chinese who migrated to the US and North America in the 19th century.

Kung fu compounds two words: kung (gong) which means work or achievement and fu meaning simply man or, in a more complex understanding, practice. So it could be translated as “achievement of man”. So since it is not really meaning martial arts it is referred to strength of body and mind. It’s the self-mastery of something on a high level.

One important ingredient in this concept is a basic rule for a lot of martial arts: patience. Since mastering something, could be a move, a weapon or a form, needs repetition and consistency. So it is more important to learn one thing good then many just average.


Long history

Kung fu has been practiced for over 4.000 years in China. This might happened under another name or term but doesn't underestimate the power of it. We also have to think about the arriving of oriental martial arts in the West and how they transformed there. In fact, a lot of grandmasters had to leave China and the East during the cultural revolution and brought there wisdom and knowledge to Hongkong, North America or Europe and found new places to teach their art. It is obvious that the style of teaching had to change too. So in modern days we actually can discuss which martial arts is more traditional: the one taught from old grandmasters without an interruption of lineage in the west or the ones nowadays taught in China with new masters who's lineage is interrupted or broken and are teaching now "wushu". As always the "truth" is to find somewhere in between and each one who wants take the path of studying martial arts and especially kung fu has to find his or her own way of doing so. 

That said you should follow your heart and study with a master who you feel capable of guiding you in your progress and your skills. 

“Kung fu is a philosophy; it’s an integral part of the philosophies of Taoism and Buddhism, the ideals of giving with adversity, to bend slightly and then spring up stronger than before, to have patience in all things, to profit by one’s mistakes and lessons in life. These are the many-sided aspects of the art of kung fu; it teaches the way to live, as well as the way to protect oneself.” —Bruce Lee

Since Kung Fu comes, according to legends and historians, from Shaolin (temple) it is an important next to enter the world of Shaolin. In the next weeks we will deepen the meaning and history of Shaolin and the Shaolin temple.