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Friday, 04 January 2008
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Art of Kungfu
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Introduction of Gongfu
The terms 'Kuoshu' (Chinese National Arts) and 'Wushu' (Chinese Martial Art / Athletics) have become widely heard of in the Western Hemisphere. This is due mainly to television and video presentations. Some, like the famous series called 'Kungfu', depict the ideas, philosophy and types of people involved. Kungfu is a slang word really, it means, rather loosely translated, trained skills or a trained person. The name which should replace Kung-fu is Ch'uan-shu, meaning Fist-skills or more broadly translated, training to fight. It is believed that India, China, Tibet and Mongolia all had their own forms of Martial Arts. These may have been developed by soldiers who wanted to improve their combat ability, or by Monks and travellers who merely wished to defend themselves from robbers along the way. For our example let us look at Lord Buddha (The Enlightened One) who was Siddhartha Gautama, the son of a Warrior Caste Prince in India. He was naturally brought up as a warrior and was taught all aspects of combat and military procedure. After dropping out from his inherited lifestyle and seeking enlightenment he discovered that he needed some form of exercise to keep his body in good working order. The exercises and technique associated with unarmed combat seemed to be most effective so, he did this. He also recommended this to his followers (disciples) and that is why most Martial Art schools of a non-military nature have very strong Buddhist connections. (NB: It would be interesting here to note the dictionary definition of 'Military' which is under 'Militant').

Buddhist Influence - Shaolin Monks
One of Gautama Buddha's disciples was keen to take the scriptures that had been written about Gautama Buddha's philosophy to other parts of the world, and so travelled to China. During the period 520 to 529 AD, Damo, as the Chinese called him, stayed at a Temple in Honan Province after leaving the Emperor's Palace, where he had felt the scriptures were not taken seriously. The Temple was named 'Shao-lin' (Young Forest) and the monks there learned about Confucianism, Taoism and practised some Martial Arts, one art was probably Chi-chi Shu (the parent of Jiu-jitsu, the origins of this Art go back to the Han Dynasty, 206 BC to 220 AD), another was the use of a wooden Staff (Kun). The Shaolin was believed to be mainly of Taoist persuasion then. The monks were already renown for their skills with a wooden staff. It is impossible to accurately portray the exact happenings of those times as much historic evidence has been destroyed.

Damo noticed that the monks lacked concentration and stamina during the long scripture redings. He then developed several sets of exercise which are thought to have had some strong influences in the development of the Shao-lin Ch'uan-shu (Young Forest Monastery Boxing-skills). The best known of these is probably 'The Muscle Changing Set'. It was later on that really profound changes were made and the Arts of Ch'uan-shu really prospered.

At the end of the Mongol invasion into China came the Ming Dynasty, 1368 to 1644. During this reign a Taoist hermit-priest named Chang Sam-fung (In Cantonese = Cheng Salm Feng (Canton is really 'Kwang Tung' Province.)) introduced a new and refined form of 'boxing-exercise', it became known as T'ai Chi Ch'uan - Supreme Universal-polarity Boxing. It is thought that Cheng used to reside at the Honan Shaolin Temple whilst practising Taoist Boxing sets. Legend recalls that Chang did not wish to change philosophies to suit fashions, but wanted to seek a 'perfect' boxing form which reflected Yin and Yang. He went to live as a hermit in the mountains in order to develop and refine Taoist concepts and skills. However, one morning he was awakened by the scream of a Crane. He looked out from his window to see this big bird fighting with a snake. The two were well matched.

Chang noted that the snake used Yin technique and the crane used more Yang moves. Chang then set about incorporating some of these movements into his new style. This 'new' form was generally less reliant on short-lived muscle power (termed 'hard style') and instead developed internal organ strength and internal energy, ch'i through careful and considered practice. This was later known as 'soft style' or 'internal' training skill (Kung-fu). This won lots of favour with the Chinese as it was said to be a far superior form of boxing.

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