What is Kung Fu?

kung fu

Often misunderstood as a unique martial art, kung fu is a term encompassing all of the many Chinese martial arts. Kung fu training can be highly beneficial to a person’s physical and mental health. It teaches self-defense through the practice of kicks, pivots, and punches while simultaneously improving flexibility and strength. Other benefits of Kung Fu are increased blood circulation, lower blood pressure, stress relief, improved concentration, and discipline, as well as providing a sense of community.


Kung fu is a Chinese phrase that means a skill learned over time through hard work, more literally, human achievement. Over time, kung fu came to be used as a term representing all Chinese martial arts. Tracing kung fu’s history is extremely difficult because preserving the teachings in writing was forbidden, but historians have theorized that the first form of kung fu originated around 211 BC. The Shaolin monks of the 5th century AD introduced the more modern versions of kung fu known today.

Playing Surface

Kung Fu Playing Surface

Kung fu training doesn’t take place on a regulation court or field, as is common in other sports. Kung Fu is practiced both indoors and outdoors. It may be beneficial to practice Kung Fu on padded flooring to prevent injury, but there aren’t any rules specifying this. In China it is common to train on grass, dirt, stone, or wooden floors provided there is room to maneuver.

Kung Fu Equipment

Kung Fu Equipment

The Chinese martial arts can be practiced alone or in a group with an instructor. There are a variety of training tools and equipment available to improve fitness, strength, and technique while practicing. Protective equipment is also available and highly recommended due to the repeated striking during training. Another category of kung fu equipment is weaponry. Due to the danger involved in traditional kung fu weapons, training may involve a safer alternative.

Here is the essential kung fu equipment you should have:

  • Balance poles
  • Gloves
  • Leg Wraps
  • Nunchucks
  • Shoes
  • Sticks
  • Striking dummy
  • Swords
  • Throwing weapons
  • Uniform


The three main objectives of kung fu training are combat efficiency, health, fitness, and character development. Combat efficiency mainly focuses on self-defense in the event of an attack. Athletes training for competition will focus on offensive combat as well. Repeatedly practicing punches, kicks and pivots will provide strength and flexibility to the athlete’s physique. Health benefits include lowering blood pressure, increasing circulation, strengthening the immune system, and lowering stress. Kung fu can also improve confidence, self-expression, and self-discipline.

Rules and Regulations

Kung Fu Rules and Regulations

There are many martial arts techniques that comprise kung fu, so the rules may vary among them. Kung fu stresses the rules of conduct and character as highly as those of combat. The way you behave toward your instructor and fellow students is as important as how you perform in competition.

Here are the most important kung fu rules you should know:

  • Respect and loyalty to your instructors and your club
  • Wear the proper uniform
  • Be humble, don’t show off your skills
  • Students do not teach unless instructed to do so
  • Salute with an open palm and fist before competing
  • Compete only against others in your skill level (based on experience)


There are so many styles of kung fu that it is impossible to master them all. Some styles are better suited to large, physically solid athletes, and others more suitable for smaller, agile athletes. However, all kung fu styles require expertise in four major techniques. Some styles are known for complex hand movements while others stress using the legs as a primary weapon.

Here are the most important kung fu techniques you should know:

  • Kicking
  • Hitting
  • Wrestling
  • Grabbing
  • Throwing
  • Weapon training


kung fu lingo

Here is the common terminology and slang in kung fu:

  • Combat training: a workout preparing a technically trained competitor for a fight.
  • Fa Jing: the explosive power a good fighter is able to release on their opponent. It requires special training.
  • Faints: A technique used by fighters to deceive the opponent by simulating the beginning of a strike but not completing it.
  • Full-contact: A competition that allows the competitors to hit each other at full power, within the rules of the competition.
  • Openings: A way to reach the target that the opponent is attempting to block with their defense.
  • Shifu: Also called “master”, a person that based on experience and knowledge is able to teach others.
  • Strike: Offensive contact against the opponent made with the hand, arm, or leg.


There aren’t any Olympic or World Championship Kung Fu competition broadcasts as you find in other combat sports. Famous kung fu athletes are known through other endeavors.

Kung fu didn’t become a popular term in America until the 1960s when Hollywood began making fighting movies featuring Bruce Lee, undoubtedly the most famous of all kung fu athletes. The majority of famous kung fu athletes gained their notoriety through motion pictures.

Here are the most famous kung fu players you should know:

  • Bruce Lee
  • Jackie Chan
  • Jet Li
  • Biao Yuen

Events and Competitions

Kung Fu Events and Competitions

There are many kung fu competitions across the globe every year. Most of these events take place in local clubs or gyms among small communities. The best of these competitors may have their sights on more significant competitions and awards. While not very familiar to most Americans due to little publicity, a few large Kung Fu competitions are held every year.

Here are the most popular tournaments in Kung Fu:

World Kung Fu Championships (WKFC): Hosted every two years by the International Wushu Federation in China. It is a tournament where competitors of all ages and skill levels can compete in a wide variety of events. The event focuses on building friendships and interest in kung fu.

International Chinese Martial Arts Championship: Takes place in the United States. It is an event where Kung Fu practitioners of all skill levels and ages compete against their peers to determine a champion.