Historically, the term “Kung Fu” is not featured in any ancient texts. It was first coined by a Frenchman named Jean Joseph Marie Amiot, a missionary who lived in the 18th Century, about Chinese martial arts. Kung Fu is also called Gongfu, Wushu, or Kuoshu, and originally denotes expertise in any skill, and not exclusive to martial arts.
The practice, philosophy, and concept of Kung Fu can be traced back to ancient Chinese texts such as Zhuang Zi, Dao De Jing, and Sun Zi Bing Fa (Art of War written by Sun Zi), all written between 1111-255 BC. These texts contain passages related to the practice, propagation, and principles of Chinese martial arts, or Kung Fu as it is known today.
One theory regarding the first written history of Kung Fu suggests that the Yellow Emperor, who reigned from 2698 BC, wrote the first treatise on Chinese martial arts. Others give credit to Taoist monks for introducing an art form that resembles modern Tai Chi around 500 BC. Then in 39-92 AD, Pan Ku included “Six Chapters of Hand Fighting” in his discourse on the history of the Han dynasty (Han Shu). As the popularity of martial arts progressed, a physician named Hua T’uo also wrote his treatise entitled, “Five Animals Play” in 220 AD.
Kung Fu had become a common word in the West beginning in the late 1960s, popularized by martial arts movies and TV series. The Western world today has also seen an immense upsurge in the creation and production of martial arts movies starring great actors/masters such as Jackie Chan and Jet Li.
The concept of Kung Fu revolves around three basic principles – Motivation, Self-discipline and Time.
According to experts, the real motivation behind learning Kung Fu is an inspiration and not force, which should come from an inner craving to learn and develop the mind and body. The motivation here is the fundamental driving force. There is no external or worldly gain for the learner, and the only reward is that of knowledge, skill, strength, and wisdom.
In Kung Fu, discipline is complementary to motivation. Discipline puts motivation into deed and action. A learner has to make an effort into what he has been motivated for, and self-discipline helps him get started and guides him to achieve that goal. Therefore, without discipline, motivation is just a dormant state of mind.
Time is the path to perfection in martial arts. Once motivation and self-discipline have set in, a learner has to spend a considerable amount of time putting mind and body into practice. A truly inspired learner does not have the privilege to waste time, stay idle or indulge in fruitless activities. Everything done by him/her should reflect real motivation and self-discipline.
Variants and Styles:
With the passage of time, numerous variants and styles have come up in martial arts, or Kung Fu. Some of the more popular ones include Karate, Escrima, Wing Chun, Jujitsu, Judo, Tae Kwon Do, Shaolin, White Crane, T’ai Chi Ch’uan, and Bagua Zhang.