What is Gung Fu?    In dealing with the recently popularized concept of Gung Fu, one must begin the discussion by explaining that Gung Fu is not a martial art unto itself, yet is encompasses the most effective and devastating methods of self-preservation known to man. The identity of Gung Fu is diverse; over 1,000 styles are known or recognized. From Gung Fu came Karate, Escrima, and most important, a way of thinking that became a code of life.


Gung Fu requires of the practitioner a strict code of physical and mental discipline, unparalleled in Western pursuits. It is only as a whole concept that Gung Fu can be discussed, and this entails more than fighting.


To be adept, one must follow the Tao, the way, the essence ofthe 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 standards to be met to attain proficiency are so high that the Chinese refer to the master as a disciple of the way of the tiger, the sign of the dragon.

The Martial Aspects

The power of the Gung 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 young boys, the applicant for priesthood were made to do the most menial and difficult work related to the upkeep of their 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 entry into Gung Fu was to open a whole new world. He 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. He would be taught initially the first basic fist sets, the prearranged forms which simulated multiple attacks. These in turn became more complex as the student advanced, while he would simultaneously be learning the way of Taoism.

Upon completion of the student stage, he 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. He would perfect his movements to coincide with his breathing. His mind would meld into the realm of meditation known as mindlessness. And he would learn to harness his ch'i. Ch'i is a concept of such magnitude, so alien to the sterile western mind, that we shall deal with it throughout this site in many different lights. For now, suffice it to say that ch'i is the power governing the universal power, so to speak. Only by harnessing such energy can a person of mild stature learn to break bricks with his bare hand, or learn to sense the movements of an opponent in the darkness. The list of feats goes on and on; we shall discuss some of these in other sections of this site.

Essential to movements in Gung Fu are ch'i-controlled actions. Compare the movements of a Karateka and aGung Fu practitioner, and the differences are at once obvious. The Karateka moves deliberately, forcefully, each move unique and distinct from each other move. He punches linearly, kicks in a straight line, and keeps his body as rigid as iron. The Chinese boxer, on the other hand, is smooth and fluid in motion, allowing several moves to meld imperceptibly into one long, graceful action. In short, Gung Fu is fluid. 

Ch'i properly coordinated allows for fluidity. Consider a single drop of water. Alone, it is harmless, gentle, and powerless. But what on earth can withstand the force of a tsunami? The concept of ch'i is the same. By tapping into the universal energies, one increases one's abilities manyfold. How can one damage aGung Fu practitioner, when one is unable to strike and injure a body of water?

Artistic Aspects

There can be little doubt, after examining first hand the structure of Gung Fu, that mastery of it is indeed mastery of a fine art form. It requires a tremendous amount of background, information and disciplines, which would shame our liberal-arts students. The priests of old were adept in all of the following: medicine, music, art, weapons-making, religions, animal husbandry, cartography, languages, history, and of course, Gung Fu. The artist had to be more than a fighting machine, he had to know how, where and why to enter a fight, and even of greater importance, how to avoid conflict. Only with "unbeatable" ability of the priest was he secure enough not to need to fight.

There was a ranking system of sorts used, beginner, disciple, and master. The beginner (novice or student level), was the menial servant. Only very crude rudiments of Gung Fu were in his domain. Disciples were in effect almost priests, still having to master themselves, but of the right mettle to carry the traditions and secrets of the Shaolin. The pinnacle of master was reached by very few; it was truly the achievement of a lifetime.

The primary obstacle that a disciple had to pass to attain the priesthood was the test for master rank. Actually a series of oral and practical exams, they culminated in the test of the tunnel. The candidate was lead to a corridor linked with the outside world. In the corridor were booby-traps, all lethal, all unpredictable. The disciple had to pass all of these, for there was no going back, no way out but to succeed. Most never even began the journey; few finished it. The adept who passed the traps faced one last obstacle; a several hundred pound urn filled with burning iron filings. On each side of the urn was an emblem, different for each temple, usually of a dragon and a tiger. The urn had to be moved with the bare forearms to unblock the exit. In so doing, the now priest was forever branded as a Sil Lum monk. Many priests just out of the temple would wander about the country acting as doctors, roving law givers, and guardians ofthe poor. Some would return to the temple then it was their job to prepare the next generation of priests. Entry was between ages five and seven. Graduation was at the age of at least twenty-two. And every bit was part of a long, hard life.

The stylistic variations within the Chinese martial arts are due to various factors. First, some priests were not content with one "truth", and engineered improvements or variations on the old standards. Some arts had their origin from Indian exercises, while others were influenced by Greek wrestling, and equally unexpected pursuits.

Secondly, the priests were not all content as priests. Some went civilian and taught parts of the temple boxing, mixed with moves oftheir own. A man who preferred the use of one style of attack, i.e. claws, would build a whole discipline around gouging, claw-like attacks (Eagle Claw system).

Thirdly, the civilians taught by priests would adapt what they needed in their real lives. For this reason, Southern Chinese preferred hand techniques with stable stances, adaptable to boats, while the Northern Chinese adapted almost bizarre foot techniques, flying kicks and wild sweeps.


(This article, unknown author, was written with many of the myths and traditions of Shaolin in mind. It should not entirely be taken as the truth.  doc)