How is Kung Fu different from other Martial Arts?
When you hear the words “kung fu”, your first thought might be about a series of movies featuring a fighting panda – but many people assume that kung fu is interchangeable with all the other fighting styles you hear about. While these styles are all related, the differences actually go much further than that!
Kung fu, as we think of it today, began more than 1,500 years ago in China as a method of training, in honour of the Buddha, designed to strengthen the connection between the body and the mind. To the monks who created it, this connection between the spirit and the physical body was the most important part of the entire practice, and they developed exercises over the years, decades, and centuries that enhanced this aspect – noticing the many health benefits in the process.
Focusing on meaningful actions that trained the body and the mind to work together, and to improve reactions and perception, the martial art of kung fu emerged over time, but that was only one expression of the discipline – and not even the main one, at that! The emphasis on unity and feeling “at one” with oneself was, and still is, the underlying goal, and following meditative physical techniques bridges that gap. As the fighting form developed, the organized system created many off-shoot versions as well, which you have more than likely heard of: tae kwon do, karate, jujitsu, judo, wing chun, and many others. That means that kung fu is the ancestor of all of these, which focused on and tweaked specific philosophies of movement and attacking/defending to form the new styles.
Kung fu, which can be roughly translated as “skill and art”, is a term that describes a dedication to doing something to the very best of your ability. In fact, this doesn’t even have to be fighting at all – if you engage your whole body and mind towards any art form, be it painting, writing, or anything else, you can confidently say that this, too, is kung fu. The self-defense version that most people envision with these words is, more specifically, “wushu kung fu”, or “military skills and art”. Beyond that, our training style is what’s called “Moh Pai”, a.k.a Shaolin Kempo – an ancient Eastern self-defense philosophy that has been tailored to a North American lifestyle. (One such change is the coloured belt system as you progress in skill, which in its original Chinese form is a new sash every ten years!)
So why is the fighting style still called “kung fu” if it has all these other aspects? Well, it comes down to the healthy mind/body connection and expression. You must use and practice with your body, and be well in control of it in order to have a strong spiritual connection to it. You must be able to defend it against harm, and that is where the self-defense comes in. It is hard to explain, but kung fu is even more so about being ready – physically and mentally – for every situation, than it is about actually fighting.
Our main goal at Kung Fu for Life is not to create fighters that can deal out excessive damage. It is to foster awareness of one’s self, to improve the health of each of our students, and to individually work with them one-on-one so that they get a personalized path to success as they learn more about our techniques. We give our students confidence in every situation – not simply physical confrontations – because they know and trust themselves and their instincts. Even when things escalate, our primary ideal is to defend rather than attack, to protect ourselves rather than harm others. That is the true spirit of kung fu: to highlight how everything is connected and that we should all work towards being better, together.
When it comes to martial arts, there’s no such thing as “the best”: they are, after all, art forms, and those are always subjective, like a painting or a poem. As long as they are done safely and to the very best of one’s ability, that is all that matters – and at Kung Fu for Life, that is what our tenets are based on.
If you are interested in learning more about our kung fu classes, don’t be afraid to ask! You can contact us through our site or even visit our studio, conveniently located beside the 39 Ave C-Train station. We look forward to meeting you!