Kung FU: A Detailed Guide

Kung FU A Detailed Guide
This post was updated on: November 1, 2023

Kung Fu is an American action-adventure martial arts western drama television series starring David Carradine. Starring David Carradine, Kung Fu is an American action-adventure martial art Western drama television series.

As Kwai Chang Caine searches for his half-brother Danny Caine, armed with only his spiritual training and martial arts skills, he travels through the American Old West. Tao Te Ching, an ancient Taoist text attributed to Lao-Tzu, is a source of many of the aphorisms found in the series.



The emergence of Chinese martial arts has been attributed to the need for self-defense, hunting techniques, and military training in ancient China. Hand-to-hand combat and weapons practice were important in the training of ancient Chinese soldiers.


Detailed knowledge of the status and development of Chinese martial arts became available from the Nanjing decade (1928-1937), when the Guoshu Central Institute established by the Kuomintang regime endeavored to compile an encyclopedic overview of the martial arts and martial arts schools. Since the 1950s, the People’s Republic of China has organized Chinese martial arts as an exhibition and full-contact sport under the title “Wushu”.

Legendary Origins

According to legend, Chinese martial arts originated over 4,000 years ago during the semi-mythical Xia Dynasty. The Yellow Emperor (Huangdi) (legendary accession date 2698 BC) is said to have introduced the first combat systems to China. The Yellow Emperor is described as a famous general who, before becoming the leader of China, wrote lengthy treatises on medicine, astrology, and martial arts. One of his main opponents was Chi You, credited with creating Jiao Di, a precursor to the modern art of Chinese wrestling.

Ancient History

The earliest references to Chinese martial arts are found in the Annals of Spring and Autumn (5th century BC), which mentions a theory of hand-to-hand combat that incorporates notions of “hard” and “sweet” techniques. In the Classic of Rites, a wrestling system called Juélì or Jiǎolì is mentioned. This combat system included techniques such as punches, throws, joint manipulation, and pressure point attacks.

Jiao Di became a sport in the Qin Dynasty (221-207 BC). Bibliographies of Han history report that in ancient Han (206 BC – 8 AD), there was a distinction between unrestrained unarmed combat called shǒubo, for which they had written training manuals earlier, and sports combat, later known as Juélì. The struggle is also documented in Shǐ Jì, Records of the Great Historian, written by Sima Qian (c. 100 BC).

In the Tang Dynasty, descriptions of sword dances were immortalized in Li Bai’s poems. In the Song and Yuan dynasties, imperial courts sponsored xiangpu competitions. Modern Wushu concepts were fully developed by the Ming and Qing dynasties.

Building the Shaolin Temple

In 495 CE, a Shaolin temple was built on Song Mountain in Henan Province. The first monk to preach Buddhism there was an Indian monk named Buddhabhadra, simply called Batuo by the Chinese. There are historical records that Batuo’s first Chinese students, Huiguang and Sengchou, had excellent combat skills. For example, Sengchou’s skill with the tin cane is even documented in the Chinese Buddhist canon.

After Buddhabadra, another Indian monk named Bodhidharma, also known as Damo by the Chinese, came to Shaolin in 527 AD. His Chinese student Huike was also a highly trained martial arts expert. There is evidence that these first three Chinese Shaolin monks, Huiguang, Sengchou, and Huike, may have been in the army before entering monastic life.

Shaolin and Temple-Based Martial Arts

As one of the first formalized Chinese martial arts, Shaolin-style kung fu is considered one of the earliest. The earliest evidence of Shaolin’s involvement in the fighting is a stele from 728 CE that attests to two events: a defense of the Shaolin Monastery against bandits around 610 CE and its later role in the defeat of Wang. Shichong at the Battle of Shaolin at Hulao in 621 CE. . From the 8th to the 15th century, there are no surviving records showing Shaolin involvement in combat.

Between the 16th and 17th centuries, there are at least forty sources showing that Shaolin monks practiced martial arts and that martial practice became an integral part of Shaolin monastic life. The oft-quoted legend of Bodhidharma’s supposed founding of Shaolin Kung Fu dates to this time for the first time. The origin of this legend dates back to the Ming Yijin Jing Dynasty, or “Muscle Change Classic”, a text written in 1624 and attributed to Bodhidharma.

Depiction of fighting monks demonstrating their skills to visiting dignitaries (early 19th century mural at Shaolin Monastery). References to the practice of Shaolin martial arts appear in various late Ming literary genres: epitaphs of Shaolin warrior monks, martial arts manuals, military encyclopedias, historical writings, travel journals, fiction, and poetry. However, these sources do not indicate any particular style originating in Shaolin.

These sources, unlike those of the Tang dynasty, relate to Shaolin’s methods of armed combat. This includes a skill that Shaolin monks became famous for the staff (gùn, Cantonese gwan). General Ming Qi Jiguang included a description of Shaolin Quan Fa and staff techniques in his book Ji Xiao Xin Shu, which can be translated as New Book Effective Engraving Techniques. As this book spread across East Asia, it had a major impact on the development of martial arts in areas such as Okinawa and Korea.

The History of Five Animals and Kung FU

One of the theories that Bodhidharma question about the origin of kung fu concerns a Chinese doctor named Hwa Tuo. He lived centuries before the construction of the Shaolin Temple during the Three Kingdoms period from 220 to 280 AD.

He developed a series of exercises based on five animal movements: tiger, bear, stork, deer, and monkey. Interestingly, these are almost all the same animals that appear in Kung Fu Panda. The Furious Five consists of a tigress, a stork, a monkey, a viper, and a praying mantis. Also, if you count the panda, the bear will appear.


Unlikely. The reason this all matter is that many moves in Shaolin and Kung Fu martial arts are based on animal movements.

This is one of the reasons why some people disagree that Bodhidharma developed kung fu in the Shaolin Temple centuries later. He may have refined the moves and undeniably had an impact on the history of Shaolin Kung Fu. However, Chinese kung fu was born through the work of this doctor and others long before Bodhidharma walked the earth.

Shaolin Monks Live the Legacy

After Bodhidharma, Shaolin monks continued to practice their system. During the time of the Sui Dynasty from 581 to 618 AD, Shaolin monks continued to practice kung fu and developed it into the fighting system it is today.

The monks even fought in some skirmishes during the change of dynasty. However, they were not militarized and there is no evidence that they were trained to be warriors. They learned the system simply as a form of practice and self-defense when necessary to protect the monastery.

Due to its growth within Shaolin monasteries, kung fu also has a philosophical side related to the principles of Buddhism and Taoism. In the past, kung fu was much more reserved about its training practices.

Either way, modern kung fu practitioners have these monks to thank for keeping kung fu alive over the centuries.

Chinese Martial Arts in Okinawa

Okinawa is a Japanese island physically closer to China than the rest of Japan. As such, Okinawans had strong trade ties and ties to China, even at a time when Japan was at odds with China. In fact, anything Chinese was considered truly amazing in Okinawa.

Chinese Martial Arts in Okinawa

Therefore, when traditional Chinese martial arts arrived in Okinawa, they quickly became popular. As a mostly unarmed form of defense, it was also very useful to later Okinawans when Japanese samurai occupied the island and kept Okinawan farmers under their control.

The Birth of Karate

Although the Okinawan fighting system is largely based on kung fu, they called it “toudi”, which means “Chinese hand”. The name was changed to “Empty Hand”, karate when it was introduced to Japan so that the Japanese would not reject an art with the word “Chinese”.

Over the years, the style has also changed to reflect previously observed differences in the flow of language. Furthermore, the Japanese seem to have “optimized” karate with fewer techniques than those taught in kung fu.

That’s why some people get confused and ask, “Is kung fu Chinese or Japanese?” Westerners are generally more familiar with karate, which is a solid Japanese style. But if you do some research, you will discover its Chinese roots.


It doesn’t matter if you study karate or kung fu. It is important that you enjoy what you learn and do. You will be much more successful with a business you enjoy. Are you interested in learning more about other martial arts you could study?