A Brief Introduction to the Martial ArtsBy Adam Sinicki
'Kung Fu' essentially means 'skill' and its use is not limitted to describing combat. A chef can have 'good kung fu' as can a calligrapher or an actor, and indeed these skills have been compared with martial arts ability.
Kung Fu as we know it however was originally developed in the Shaolin temple (shaolin meaning 'little tree'). Weak at the time from fasting, the monks who lived their were easy prey for bandits and so are said to have been taught the most basic chi exercises and self defence by the legendary Bodhidarma. According to the tales Bodhidarma won them over by meditating in a cave for five years, where apparently his concentration was so powerful that it bore a hole in the wall he was facing. He never seemed to teach the other monks his lazer-vision though.
Shaolin Kung Fu in its original form is an internal style that uses powerful stances and fluid movements. Kung fu now has over a thousand recognised styles. The well-known five animal forms (like 'She Quan' or 'Snake Fist Kung Fu' popularised in Jackie Chan's 'Snake in the Eagle's Shadow') were inspired by nature to mimick the fighting styles from the wild. I developed worm style but it never caught on.
Another important aspect of Kung Fu known as 'Pushing Hands' is not a style itself but an exercise used to develop the ability to adapt to an oponent and anticipate their moves. By lightly touching their arms together practicioners push against each other and attempt to either get the oponent in a lock or ruin their centre of gravity by reacting to the oponent's energy - bending and giving way allowing attacks to 'pass through'. Like the 'little tree' that bends in the wind as opposed to the great oak which tumbles. Over time the practitioners develop an accute feel for the enemy's movements and intentions. Fighting an expert becomes like fighting a ghost - spooky.
According to lore, the popular Wing Chun style of Kung Fu was developed specifically for a young woman named Yim Wing Chun whose beauty had attracted the attention of local gangsters. Coerced into marrying one of the thugs within the year she begged a local monk to teach her Kung Fu to defend herself. Making life more difficult still she had nowhere near the time necesary to become proficient in the art and so the monk taught her only the most basic aspects; stripping it down to its most basic elements and movements and developing a new more effective style in the process.
Tai Chi is an 'internal' style of Martial Arts, meaning that it focusses on slow movements and the development of muscle control, balance and 'chi'. Chi is the abstract concept of energy in the body and has been described as everything from basically star-wars style force powers to simply the basic electrical impulses in the body. Either way by repeating the controlled movements practicioners can develop fantastic power and claim many health benefits. Although it takes several years until the style becomes an effective form of self defence.
The basic principle behind Tai Chi as a fighting art is to 'absorb' energy, meaning that rather than block an attack head-on you should instead step to the side and guide it as it passes through. This will leave your attacker frustrated and off balance and by remaining entirely loose it will be like fighting a ghost for the oponent (again). One way this is developed is through the earlier discussed 'pushing hands'.
Aikido is an all-encompassing martial art that contains aspects of both internal and external styles and includes both strikes and throws. Perhaps it's best known exponent is Steven Segal. Aikido, is the 'way of Aiki' - with Aiki being a state of constant alertness.
Karate literally means 'open hand'. It is a Japanese fighting system adapted from the Chinese styles. There are several marked differences, most notably in the punches which generate their power from the hip and include a twist and a snap on the end. It also uses more direct movements and low rigid stances. Karate is also known for its use of nunchaku, which were originally used for farming and only adapted into weapons when peasants were banned from carrying swords.
Jujitsu is a martial art that incorporates both conventional strikes and locks and holds.
Judo means 'the gentle way'; a title that reflects the fact that their are no striking moves taught until far into training. The style focusses instead on throws and grappling, much of were taken from Jujutso by creator Kano Jigoro. Apparently he was a bit of a wimp.
Capoeira is a Brazillian Martial Art that involves a low stance, many flashy kicks and almost no use of the hands. When Martial Arts were banned in Brazil, slaves developed a style to be disguised as dance and so Capoeira was born, and years later, breakdancing - both kickass and stylish. Capoeira is very tactical and takes a fun attitude to the competition. Rather than calling it 'fighting' practitioners actually 'play' Capoeira. Much as I 'play' the toilet.
Korean boxing that differs from its western counterpart through the use of ; they belive they have 8 lethal weapons; two hands, two feet, two elbows and two knees, it used to be 9, including the head but too many were injured. Thus it is also known as The Art of Eight Limbs. Which is nonsense to be honest. This sport is more like a martial art in that it is a way of life, each combatant does a demonstration before they fight to honour the gods! Currently the style is being put through its paces by the awesome Tony Jaa.
Jeet Kune Do
Jeet Kune Do is the Martial Art devised by Bruce Lee. Growing tired of the 'classical' mess of traditional martial arts, Bruce decided to strip down the already reduced Wing Chun style of Kung Fu to create a Martial Art with no set 'form'.
The principle philosophy was that Jeet Kune Do was the most distilled form of Martial Arts, stripped away to its bare bones. Bruce had followed his own advice and taken what was usefull and rejected the rest, the 'classical mess' or traditional martial arts. Attacks consisted of straight lines, kicks were mostly aimed below the belt and blocks consisted of fencing-style 'stop hits'. The latter point is where the style took its name which literally translates as 'Way of the Intercepting Fist'. As in fencing the best defence is a good offence and by punching 'through' an oponent's attack you can simultaneously land a hit while deflecting their strike.
By using the best from all martial arts he aimed to allow the martial artist to adapt to any situation and act purely instinctively. Some believe that Mixed Martial Arts have their route in the style.