Here’s a sample of an Article published in The Complete Martial Artist magazine, Australia. (Out September 2015)Thanks Stuart for permission to showcase this!
Excerpt from the full article:
Trying to trace the true roots of Kung fu isn’t as straightforward as it may seem. If you’re looking for a single, definitive, point of origin, you’re going to end up in a maze of opinion, speculation and hearsay, search through endless, dusty collections of knowledge, and probably develop a slight headache along the way. The short answer is: Nobody really knows for sure, exactly. If someone claims otherwise, then they are either one of the immortals, who just happened to be alive and present at the very moment that kung fu was invented, or they are simply wrong. You decide.
Much of what we do know is through legend, passed on orally from generation to generation, and often enough, this kind of knowledge suffers from the old “broken telephone” syndrome. The story gets embellished along the way, and although there’s truth in all legends, not all of it is always true.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that we don’t know anything at all, it just means that there isn’t one, clear starting point.
In reality, the art of fighting is something that predates recorded history, and it is part of the fabric of culture all over the world, from East to West, and it is even shared by many animal species too.
Some historians maintain that the roots of esoteric , or “energy” Kung fu can be traced back, even before the Shaolin monks, to an individual by the name of Bodhidharma, who came over to China from India around the 6th Century AD, found a group of weak, emaciated monks meditating in the mountain monasteries, and taught them kalaripayattu, an ancient Indian fighting style linked to Sanskrit and yogic lore. It is certainly true that there are discernible links between early Chinese Taoist ideas and ancient practises from India. Concepts such as Qi or Chi, acupuncture and the like are coupled to ancient Indian teachings on Prana or life energy, and certain Ayurvedic traditions which go very far back into the trans-Himalayan mists of history.
Others disagree wholeheartedly, and with good reason. There are Chinese fighting systems that reach further back in time. We find mention of the martial arts by the famous Yellow Emperor, Huangdi, during the Xia Dynasty around 2697 BCE. Although it was not the refined, elegant art form that was later developed, those early warriors were certainly into some spirited head-butting and wrestling. These forms later evolved.
There’s even evidence of martial arts training in ancient Egypt. At the cemeteries of Beni Hassan in Middle Egypt, you can still see hieroglyphics depicting wrestling scenes and fighting techniques. Apparently Ancient Egypt had a kind of health and fitness club, complete with its own stick-fighting combat style, way, way back in history – perhaps around 2000BC or possibly even further back. If you believe some theories, you might even want to look back, beyond the pyramids, as far as the lost city of Atlantis, but let’s leave that one up to the imagination.
Defining Kung Fu in Chinese History
Coming back to China, we can all agree that at least the name Kung fu had its origins here.
In Chinese, Gōngfu (功夫) is a combination of two words, combining 功 (gōng) which means “hard work” or “merit”, and 夫 (fū) which could mean, amongst other things, “man” or even “Master”. Originally this had nothing to do with fighting styles. Instead, it was a description of someone who had mastered a life skill through hard work – like healing, cooking, calligraphy or making tea. The term “wushu”, meaning “war art”, is closer to what the average Westerner thinks of when he hears “kung fu”. Let’s keep it simple, though, and stick to the one we know.
The story of Kung fu in China is a particularly charming one.
Full of heroes, underdogs, villains and mystical settings, and often teaching the simple values at the core of any good kung fu discipline, these are the kinds of yarns we really love to hear spun. Most of these individual threads of history were kept alive through family lore, inherited by each new generation as a treasured heirloom, and proudly passed along through the years.