A Brief History of Chinese Kung Fu

The origins of Kung Fu are hidden behind myths of outrageous deeds and epic folklore. Much of its recorded history has been lost, with only a few fragments surviving. Only recently has there been such a find - a treasure if you will - now bringing these fragments closer together. The richness and culture of Chinese Martial Arts is now documented in a book by Zang Gewu, entitled "The Spring and Autumn of Chinese Martial Arts - 5000 years", recently translated to English.

First used as a means of self-protection against physically superior animals, Wushu (Kung Fu or Chinese Martial Arts) would later evolve into use against each other. The oldest stone arrowheads that have been found (Qinshui Xiachuan site), date back 2 to 3 hundred thousand years (Paleolithic Age). In terms of written history, the beginnings of the Chinese martial arts can be traced back more than 5000 years in China when personal combat first developed into a science. The history goes back even before the Yellow Emperor (Huang or Xuan Yuan) and a famous battle he won in thick fog with ground fighting techniques (2634 BC). Shou Bo (bare-handed fighting), or Xiang Bo (hand-to-hand fighting), She (archery), Xiang Pu (wrestling), and various weaponry, is documented in old Chinese literature as being a part of Chinese culture during these times.

Also around 2600 BC, were the wrestlers of the Go Ti (horn gore) matches, who fought to the death while wearing horns as entertainment for the warlords. The Yellow Emperor was also instrumental in bringing warfare beyond the Stone Age, utilizing weapons made of polished jade. Then with the invention of bronze (around 1700 BC), many were enticed by its strength and became devotees. One such person was King Wan who invited 3000 sword fighters to fight him. It would be around this era that Wuyi (Wushu) was included in the context of education. The art known as Shuai Chiao (Throwing Tumbling Art) or Chinese wrestling evolved (around 700 BC) is considered the oldest organized Chinese martial art. It grew after the barbaric Go Ti matches were banned. The philosophy of Shuai Chiao is best described by the Book of Rites. "In order to prohibit evils and crimes...there must be Bo Zhi." Drilling patterns for Bo (striking) & Zhi (grabbing) were produced during this period.

Around 500 B.C, there was the introduction of carbonized steel, making weapons stronger and longer. Feuding continued amongst the different provinces, and ground breaking texts on war and martial tactics were written: The Book of Changes, The Book of Songs, The Book of Rites, Spring and Autumn Annals, etceteras. Chinese martial arts had become a way of life for many. Even Confucius suggested people be trained in both literature and martial arts. At the end of Warring States Period (294 BC) and the beginning of the unification of China in the Qin Period (221 BC), the Chinese martial arts broke into a new phase called Jiao Di (Wrestling Play) for performance, amusement, and competition. Emperor Wu of the Han Dynasty practiced Jiao DI and promoted it amongst the people. According to text, 30 of the 100 known kingdoms of Japan, having goodwill relations with Emperor Wu, sent envoys to China (around 100 BC) to take in the culture, literature, and all forms of entertainment, including Jiao DI events.

With the introduction of the Chinese Broadsword, Straight Sword, Hand-to Hand Fighting, and Wrestling the martial arts spread through Japan. In the Chronicle of Japanese Sports Materials, it states that the first appearance of Sumo was in 23 BC, which coincides with the date mentioned above. By 238 AD, Japanese Queen Bei Mi Hu (transliteration), who had set up friendly relations with China, had received many fine crafted swords from China, thus influencing the manufacture of Japanese swords. Kenpo was developed after a member of the Mitose family observed monks in Southern China around 1200 AD. Shaolin Monk Cheng Yuanyun made a visit (around 1600 AD) to Japan to demonstrate his skills, and taught three Japanese men. They in turn opened up their own jujitsu schools. In Japan it was often described as "seizing techniques of the Ming people" & "soft techniques." Judo, Karate-Do, & Tae Kwon Do, were also developed from concepts of the Chinese Martial Arts. Japan, Okinawa, Formosa, Korea and other countries that visited China to examine its culture brought forth a new era in martial arts. Taking in what they saw in China (pirates, emigrants, and welcomed visitor's), they took the material back to their countries and adapted it to their needs and cultures.

While researching the benefits of exercise and medicine, Dr. Hau Tuo (around 190 - 265 AD) developed internal exercises that mocked animals. Dr. Hao performed history's first brain surgeries utilizing anesthesia, and worked hand in hand with the development of Chinese martial arts. In the simplest of terms, he believed that "through exercise bad air will be expelled, promoting better circulation and prevent sickness." This would be of major influence in the development of Qigong. Other internal martial arts and Yin & Yang energy concepts date back to the 11th Century BC, with the writing of The Book of Changes (I Ching), and the development of Ba Gua.

Later, Bodhidharma visited the Shaolin Temple and gave the Monks internal exercises to practice. Their purpose was to vitalize & strengthen their body to help extend their meditations & promote better health. Eventually, internal exercises were developed to ready their iron bodies for combat. As time passed the different methods of self-preservation became highly organized arts. The art of Shaolin was one such method or style, as the Temple became a place of organization. A place where all preexisting exercises, martial arts, and medicinal practices came together. And thus, the building of the first Shaolin Temple in 495 AD, began a new legacy.

© 2013 Robert Daniels. All rights reserved.