Kung Fu - Chinese Martial Arts

  Kung Fu performance at the Shanghai Expo 2010


Kung Fu practitioners strike a pose in various stances

The world of Chinese martial arts burst upon the Western scene in the 1970s when a contingent of Hong Kong films, like Gordon Liu’s 36th Chamber of Shaolin and Bruce Lee’s Enter the Dragon, captured the attention of an audience that was largely unfamiliar with Chinese culture. It became an almost instant fascination; the agile but powerful movements of the combatants combined with ultra-athleticism and aesthetically pleasing movements were a kind of martial acrobatics far more enthralling and breakneck than standard Western wrestling, boxing or kickboxing. This appeal became even more powerful through the philosophies that were apparently an integral part of the Chinese martial arts (outlined in many films and interviews with Bruce Lee and artfully expounded by the 1970s American television show Kung Fu), taking an already captivating fighting system and adding mystical touches that were associated with China.

  The 36th Chamber of Shaolin (1978)

  Enter the Dragon (1973)

In fact, what makes Chinese martial arts strikingly dissimilar to Western schools are the deep philosophical and spiritual principles underlying every style, and seemingly every movement. In a very basic sense, the word kung fu – known as gongfu (功夫) in Mandarin – actually breaks down to a very philosophical meaning. In essence, gong refers to “work,” “achievement” or “effort,” while fu is “intensity.” Together, gongfu is most often explained as meaning “mastery through time and effort” or “achievement through intense practice.” And while the word kung fu was popularized out West to refer to the mind-boggling skills of Chinese martial practitioners, in China it has always referred to a master’s skills in almost any profession or trade. A taxi driver, carpenter, teacher, or noodle maker can have gongfu in their particular medium, just as much as a warrior can have it in fighting off seven villains with swords.

The Chinese have traditionally used the term wushu (武术) – wu meaning “martial” and shu meaning “skill” – to describe their martial arts. The most fervent practitioners in history were more than just amateur philosophers attesting to the quality of their diligence and determination. These men and women were almost always devout monks (or nuns) or esoteric hermits, developing their skills from deeply honored Buddhist and Taoist tenets into a practice that was far beyond a mere hobby – it was profoundly intertwined with their life purpose. Wushu was only at its greatest and most transcendent when it incorporated a numinous union with the natural world, and this belief created a great branching of styles inspired by natural phenomena and humanity’s connection to the ethereal. Such mystical and spiritual underpinnings meant that Chinese wushu all focused to some degree on meditation and most saw it as an indispensable aspect of mastery.

Qi (气)

Besides the obvious health benefits in cardiovascular and muscular health, wushu became inseparable from the creed of traditional Chinese medicine, which stressed above all else the importance of the circulation of vital energy – known as qi (pronounced “chee”) – throughout the body, done through exercises in conjunction with deep meditation. Qi is said to flow through the body via energy pathways called meridians, which come in the form of blood vessels and nerves, but can also be found running along non-typical pathways and manifests as an abstract immeasurable energy in muscles, bones, organs and just about anything else. Just like Chinese doctors of traditional medicine, martial artists seek to balance and develop the flow of qi throughout their bodies; a lifelong spiritual quest that manifested through diligent practices in diet and exercise, as well as moving and sedentary meditation that utilizes focused deep breathing and concentrates on energy manipulation.

Kung Fu Panda working on his flow of qi

While the concept of qi has parallels in cultures throughout the world, including India’s ancient Hindu tradition of prana and French philosopher Henri Bergon’s élan vital, modern physics and medicine have a difficult time reconciling the notions of qi. To this, many advocates of qi and its effects point to the fact that there have been countless discoveries throughout history that were previously doubted by science – such as atoms as a philosophical concept until the 18th century or electricity as a simple curiosity until circa 1600 – or to other phenomena that cannot yet be measured or detected but whose mysterious effect on existence have led to postulates of what they might be (e.g. dark matter). Advocates state that one particular reason the effects of qi are difficult to measure is that few people have devoted the time it takes to truly cultivate it, and those who have – by the very nature of one who would lead such an ascetic life – keep themselves away from the public spotlight.

Whether or not you believe in qi, it and its parallel concepts have been an indispensible part of the Chinese psyche for some 3,000 years, and there are a great number of stories that maintain the power of qi. The internal arts in particular claim that after decades of meticulous qi cultivation… the energy can be consciously transmitted through the body and used for attack and defense.

One story comes from a martial arts exhibition in 1940 at Shanghai’s Big World performance center. A man named Big Spear Liu asked the doorkeeper where he might find a “good hand” (a competitor of high skill) and was referred to a man named Tian Zhaolin, a student of Yang Jianhou (whose father founded Yang-style tai chi). Big Spear Liu tracked down Tian and demanded a sparring match of three hits each to see who had the stronger strike. Tian smiled and proposed instead that he touch Liu, and if Liu could withstand his simple touch then he could walk away the winner. Big Spear felt an easy victory at hand and quickly accepted, but as Tian touched him, he soon found himself contorting under immense pain and had to withdraw. Upon recovering, he described the touch as electrifying and said, “I have traveled throughout five provinces and various cities, but until today I have never seen such profound skill.” Many who have encountered those who claim a superbly high level of qi development have testified that either the masters had refused to display their highest skills, or that their touch could generate an inexplicable sensation akin to the feeling of an electric shock with the great pain.

pic06                                             Man practicing Yang-style Tai Chi


Styles, Schools & Sects


Chinese martial arts have a history of over 2,000 years, and the legendary genesis actually goes back some 4,000 years to the mythical Yellow Emperor (legendary date of ascension: 2698 BCE), who is said to have introduced the first fighting styles to China. As far as historical documentation goes, the first martial techniques are referenced in the Spring and Autumn Annals, from the 5th century BCE, which give the first mention of “hard” and “soft” techniques (more on that later). From then on, over the course of countless generations, a plethora of styles emerged throughout China, with distinctions coming in the form of northern and southern styles (those above or below the Yangtze River) as well as the hard school and the soft school.

Within these general divisions, a myriad of styles and familial sects grew, ranging from the flashy and flamboyant to the practical and deadly. Many drew inspiration from animals, creating the flowery and almost dance-like movements of forms, such as Praying Mantis or White Crane Boxing, while others concentrated more on the principles of human movement, such as Wing Chun or Luohan Fist. Yet, others have cultivated a deep understanding of the energy points (like acupuncture points) in the body, trained intensely in proper striking techniques, and formed systems of supposed ultra deadliness. One of the best known of these techniques is called Dim Mak (aka the Touch of Death).

A great many of these techniques were intensely guarded and handed down over generations to family members or select students within highly competitive schools. Many styles broke into factions, with members on each side claiming to hold the original teachings, while the actual principles of each may have become far removed from their beginnings. Other styles became so exclusive that the art died out along with its last remaining practitioner. Others have still thrived in the mainstream, being driven to the world stage by famed practitioners like Bruce Lee (Wing Chun) or the Shaolin Monks (Luohan Fist).

A scene from the 2010 movie Ip Man, about the origins of Wing Chun

Andy Lau (刘德华, second from left) is training Luohan Fist in his movie Shaolin (2011)


Andy Lau on the cover of Time Magazine for his movie Shaolin (2011)

The two families of Chinese martial arts, the external and the internal (also called hard and soft” respectively), each have particularly distinguishing characteristics, though no style utilizes exclusively hard or soft traits and the line between the two is  often very fine.


Hard style & external family (Wài Jiā; 外家)

The legendary origins of Shaolin Kung Fu are attributed to the Indian sage Bodhidharma (known as Da Mo in Chinese), who arrived at the Shaolin Temple and, displeased with the poor physical condition of the sedentary meditating monks, taught them a set of exercises known as the Yi Jinjing, the “Muscle/Tendon Change Classic.” The exercises were a system of stretches and strength maneuvers that developed the largely feeble, sleepy monks into tough, muscled, and highly flexible athletes. From the Yi Jinjing, the legend of Shaolin Kung Fu developed.

Hard style martial arts are also known as external, because they focus primarily on circulating qi around the external areas of the body – the muscles, hands, feet and skin in particular – and though they have been in practice since before Bodhidharma’s time, it is because of Shaolin that the hard school is generally considered to be Buddhist in philosophy and origin, and highly associated with Shaolin Boxing. They are noted for their outward expression of vigor and physical fitness, employing powerful strikes and pounding routines that maximize the strength and durability of the external body instead of the nurturing of internal energy. External styles emphasize power, strength and resistance over pliancy and sensitivity, as well as aggressiveness over passiveness and redirection.

A promotional event for the Justin Lin movie Shaolin Temple 3D


Soft style & internal family (Nèi Jiā; 内家)

The most famous of all internal styles is tai chi (tàijí quán; 太极拳), which itself is broken down into five different schools and whose origin is also steeped in mystery and legend. Some accounts claim that a Taoist monk named Zhang Sanfeng, who had achieved great mastery in internal practices, watched a snake battle a bird on Wudang Mountain in Hubei Province and, inspired by the snakes ability to effortlessly avoid the bird’s attacks with lithe movements, created the original 72-movement set of Tai Chi Quan. Others dispute this origin (or the existence of Zhang altogether) since the only existing documents attesting to Zhang’s connection with martial arts come from the 19th century.

Whether or not Zhang lived and created Tai Chi Quan, the art itself, as well as that of the internal family, are generally associated with Taoist philosophies and principles, particularly those of balance, harmony and the cyclical nature of existence. Such values are particularly apparent in the goal of internal styles, which procure a great pliancy and sensitivity in the face of hard force. The idea of soft martial arts is to do less with more by using the attackers own power and energy against them through slight redirection of force or leading an aggressor off balance through their own momentum. These principles both correspond directly to the Taoist idea of wuwei, or action through non-action.

Alibaba Group’s founder, Jack Ma (马云) shows off his Tai Chi skills

Jack Ma and famous Hong Kong actor Stephen Chow (周星驰) practicing Tai Chi

Internal martial arts have traditionally been considered the pinnacle of Chinese martial ability and its styles are exceedingly difficult to master. Intensive training not only includes the practice of movements and forms, but also the arduous cultivation of extreme sensitivity to pressure and movements and an essential reeducation of the body’s natural movement tendencies. Students focus on tremendously relaxed movement that comes without effort and is guided by qi, while being able to absorb and redirect “1,000 pounds using 3 ounces.” The most devout of the internal artists delve to the inner reaches of their being to develop the uncanny power of their qi. Besides tai chi, well known internal styles include Xingyi Quan, a linear method based on five fundamental punches that are linked to the traditional five elements, and Bagua Zhang, a quick-footed, circular method that utilizes palm strikes.


Qigong (气功)

Qi is cultivated through a practice called qigong, and while it is not in and of itself a martial style, the skills that it develops are highly applicable to Chinese fighting styles. Both internal and external styles make extensive use of qigong exercises.


Qigong can be practiced in any number of ways, but generally follows specific movements and postures designed over countless generations to maximize the movement of qi through the body, to align the spine and skeletal system and to stretch and strengthen the muscles and joints. Actually a form of meditation, qigong postures include static poses as well as dynamic movements or positions that squeeze the muscles to great intensity, all while performing focused and measured breathing. Static poses and dynamic postures (movements) are both utilized by the two schools, with the soft end of the spectrum being focused on gentle and flowing movements and the hard practitioners engaging strenuous poses that put measured stress on muscles, bones and joints (designed to make the body resilient to attacks). Tai chi – sometimes referred to as moving meditation – is considered a moving form of qigong while Bodhidharma’s Yi Jinjing was said to be a mix of hard and soft poses.


Man uses Qigong to break a wooden pole using only his throat

Forms (Tào Lù; 套路)

Both internal and external schools disseminate their techniques through the use of forms. Students will often learn forms just after, or in conjunction with, learning the basic stances and movements of the style. Essentially a set of hand strikes, kicks, blocks, foot movements and other methods strung together in a fluid pattern, the purpose of the forms is two-fold: one is to create a set of movements that practice a usable and smooth transition from technique to technique (effectively a mock fight), and two is to create a compilation of the style’s system that facilitates effective transfer to the student. The length and complexity of forms, as well as the number of forms, differs for each style. Wing Chun is taught through only three open hand forms, while the system of Baji Quan boasts 20 open hand forms. Yang-style Tai Chi Quan has one long form, but while the moves of a system like Baji each take two to three minutes to complete, you’ll pass a good 20 minutes doing the Yang style in its entirety.

Luohan Quan (罗汉拳)

 A public Luohan Quan training class

Luohan Quan literally means Luohan Fist and was the staple boxing technique of the original Shaolin fighting monks. Luohan is Chinese for arhat, a Sanskrit word meaning “deathless one,” describing one of Buddhism’s many enlightened figures. Said to have achieved nirvana and thus been freed from the cycle of rebirth, luohan statues can be seen in nearly every sizeable Buddhist temple around China, and are mythologized as being undefeatable in hand to hand combat. The original Shaolin monks, after undergoing their initial physical training by Bodhidharma, drew inspiration from the luohan figures around their temple and began emulating their postures to create the original 18 movements of the Luohan Quan boxing system. It eventually developed to 108 full combat movements.

The movements were originally revered for the beauty of their simplicity and grew to an effective hard external style of martial arts, employing powerful kicks, punches, blocks, skin searing grapples, and takedowns. Most of the movements take place in a linear fashion with both jarring punches and kicks and are often combined with blocks to the vital areas. Everything is designed with quick footwork to allow the fighter rapid advancing and retreating during combat. Strong flanking movements are an integral part as well, engineered to engage an opponent off balance through grabbing, tripping and generally brutal throws to the ground.

Most of the training for students of Luohan Quan begins with hours of sitting in deep stances in order to build a foundation for solidity of movement and great leg strength, making the student difficult to bring to the ground. Grueling conditioning methods draw upon natural devices in the training environment, where students often find themselves running up stairs with arms outstretched and carrying pails of water or hanging from trees upside down and endlessly passing items up the trunk using the strength of their abdomen. Punches and kicks are practiced incessantly until they are proficient enough to be combined with blocks and used in applications. When the student reaches aptitude in these basics, the forms and movements are taught in full and used in advanced applications. Rigorous physical training is constant, and students usually go through painful procedures designed to increase bone density throughout the body in order to deal great damage through a strike (especially through the fist or the shins and elbows) and to create highly resilient limbs and torsos that can withstand heavy attacks.

A statue featuring two men practicing Luohan Quan

From Luohan Fist a body of other styles eventually evolved. The thunderous punches and joint-fracturing grappling of Honan (Henan) Bei Shaolin Mei Hua Chuan are strongly tied to Luohan Fist. Baji Quan, a deadly art highly associated with top level bodyguards, combined with Luohan Quan to blossom an art called Jingangbashi. Perhaps the best known of Luohan’s eventual progressions, however, and a great testament to the often blurry line between hard and soft styles, is Xingyi Quan, one of the loftiest and most difficult of the internal styles.

Bagua Zhang (八卦掌)

A Bagua Zhang practitioner

A fascinating and mysterious Taoist internal martial art, Bagua Zhang – meaning Eight Trigrams Palm – captures that indescribable esotericism of Chinese martial arts that makes them so utterly intriguing to many in the West. The art was modeled on the mystical divination system from the obscure Taoist canon Yi Jing (also called the I Ching). A set of eight trigrams, each composed of three broken or solid lines that form a circle around the yinyang, is known as the bagua – forming the backbone of Taoist theory on the cycles of existence and the nature of the universe. Because it is so deeply interwoven with this circle and the philosophical underpinning involved in Taoist cyclical theory, the system of Eight Trigrams Palm is in many ways a physical embodiment of Taoism.

Practitioners of Bagua can be seen marching a circle with arms placed in a variation of open-palm positions and sweeping quickly from one direction to the next – around and across the width of the circle – with a cacophony of alterations in timing and speed. The idea is to create a warrior with superior stealth and subterfuge whose maneuverability, unpredictability, and talent for avoidance makes him particularly unhittable and nearly impossible to pin down. Any strikes from a Bagua exponent’s adversary are not countered with further power, but redirected using a multitude of circular movements that are hallmarks of the style, usually resulting in great throws or debilitating takedowns that require little effort on the part of the Bagua user.


When Bagua does strike, it is only done with the palm. The energy for a blow is manifested from deep rooting, whereby the feet are planted firmly in the ground and power is transmitted from the legs, whipped by the waist, and sent through the arm to the sole of the hand. Like any internal art, a supple, ultra-sensitive and relaxed body is required (one reason that internal martial arts are incredibly difficult to master) to refine movement to the point where this chain reaction becomes near instant and elite enough to supposedly generate a sine wave from the palm. Acting similar to a sound or radio wave, the energy ejected from the palm upon a strike creates devastating internal damage to an opponent.

Training in this most intriguing of martial arts begins with three important and basic skills: walking the circle, sitting in stances, and qigong exercises. While the latter two are tremendously important for any internal art and require years of diligent practice to begin generating the monstrous power of the soft style, the former is unique to Bagua. Students are often first given a pattern of eight points around a circle on the ground and spend hours at a time walking the circle, infusing the basic pattern into their being. Later, the ground markings are removed and the student must learn to follow the movements on circles of many different sizes. Higher training involves the wearing of weight vests and ankle and wrist weights in higher increments while walking the circle and performing techniques and routines, which is meant to develop extreme speed and lightness of movement. It is from the student’s knowledge of the movements around the circle that they ultimately gain great skills of evasion and surprise.


Wing Chun (Yǒng Chūn; 咏春)

Flight attendants from Hong Kong Air receive Wing Chun training

Known as yong chun in Mandarin (Wing Chun is a Cantonese term), the martial art popularized in large part by Bruce Lee originated from a Shaolin nun during the Ming Dynasty and the Shaolin resistance to the incoming Qing Dynasty (sometime in the mid 17th  century). The most well-known account of its origin says that the nun Ng Mui taught her skills to a young girl by the name of Wing Chun, who was keen to learn fighting in order to defeat a warlord that wanted her hand in marriage (and whom she obviously wasn’t that into).


Wing Chun today enjoys worldwide popularity not least because it was the art that taught Bruce Lee his movement, quickness, and essential martial skill set. It is often called one of the most scientific and practical of the surviving Chinese martial arts, renowned for its emphasis on speed, evasion and rapid centrally focused strikes in place of the fancy ornamentation that bogs down other systems. Students are first trained in the basics of punching, kicking and blocking, all of which are focused along a line down the center of the human body to either target or defend the most sensitive and critical areas (i.e. the face, the throat, the heart, the solar plexus and the groin). Training for these areas of attack and defense is done through three open hand forms, whose movements do not leave the width of the shoulders, and punches are developed to follow the shortest distance between the attacker and the target.


Though Wing Chun is considered more of an external martial art, it places immense importance on softness and relaxation, arguing that muscle tension reduces the speed and power of strikes by acting as opposing forces. An arm will not straighten as quickly when tense as when relaxed. Strikes are meant to achieve a whip-like power generation, which is impossible if the body is stiff (imagine trying to crack a whip that was stiff). Relaxation is also necessary for Wing Chun’s “opening” techniques, which are designed to open an opponent to strikes and require great sensitivity. If you are tense, you cannot be sensitive.


The beauty of Wing Chun lies in its simplicity – a martial style that dispenses with anything that might slow it down and drives for quick results in favor of esoteric knowledge that takes decades to cultivate.

Baji Quan (八极拳)


Student practicing Baji Quan in a rural Kung Fu school

Known today as the “bodyguard style,” the name of Baji Quan – or Eight Extremes Fist – somewhat betrays the deadliness of the system that’s been in use since at least the early 1700s. The original name was actually Bazi Quan (巴子拳), a term meaning “rake fist” and referring to the style’s trademark technique that uses a slightly open fist to form a claw and strike bluntly with the palm while raking with the fingers. In the end the name was deemed too crude and “eight extremes” was plucked from the Taoist Yi Jing to represent the encompassing nature of the art. The origins of Baji Fist are difficult to trace because of its handing down through oral tradition, and while the first documented practitioner was a man named Wu Zhong in the 18th century, it’s thought that the system dates back hundreds of years.

The defining features of Baji Quan are its explosive power, quick burst strikes, rapid advancement footwork, close quarters techniques and focus on the body’s mid to low areas of particular vulnerability. Exponents often make loud, forceful and demoralizing shouts when striking, which helps to improve power generation through ejection and focus of energy. Baji regularly seeks to open an opponent’s defenses and close in with strong, often circular deflecting motions and hugely stresses the development of debilitating strikes through a full body commitment to power. The famous Baji master Li Shuwen once said, “I do not know what it is like to hit a man twice,” referencing the power of a single one of his Baji strikes to render an opponent incapacitated.

A student of Baji Quan begins training similarly to other martial styles, beginning by developing strong rooting through rigorous stance training in order to pour the foundation for the system’s devastating strikes. Forms and techniques are added once the student demonstrates solid competence in the stances and can withstand a certain degree of punishment (i.e. being struck or  tripped to the ground) while still maintaining their rooting and the integrity of the posture. While forms and weapons are mastered, stance training continues and techniques are performed incessantly to hone the practitioner’s strikes and power.

Baji Quan is one of the most combat applicable of the Chinese martial arts, a trait indicated by the profession of some of its most accomplished masters: Huo Diange (霍殿阁), the bodyguard of Puyi, the last emperor of China; Li Chenwu, the bodyguard for Mao Zedong; and Liu Yunqiao (刘云樵), the body guard to Chiang Kai-shek, president of the Nationalist Party of China. Each was a student of Li Shuwen (quoted above). Since then, Baji Quan has been incorporated into Chinese military and police training and is required in many areas of civil and national defense training.


The “Real” and the “Fake” Martial Arts

Because there is no international regulatory body to govern Chinese martial arts – as there is with kickboxing, Karate-do (Japanese), Taekwondo (Korean) and Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) – the Chinese martial arts student often finds they have little comparison to suggest what level they may have attained or where they might stack up in a real fight or sparring match. Many from international martial communities have criticized the flowery patterns that clutter many wushu styles, particularly those seen in performance routines, and suggested that these forms would be completely ineffectual in an actual combat or defensive situation.

Many proponents of the Chinese martial arts are quick to point out, however, that these performance based wushu arts are just that, performance. Exponents hold little disagreement to the ineffectiveness of such acrobatic arts and often propose that the modern term wushu actually no longer refers to full combat martial styles, but to the showy dance routines that have more in common with Cirque Du Soleil than the Special Forces. To an extent this is true; when the CCP took control of China, traditional martial arts were outlawed out of fear of their potential subversive nature, and when this barring was later relaxed, the government embraced martial arts practice as a non-combative performance art and highly discouraged the practice of fight applicable styles. The result was a great exodus of traditional practitioners to places like Taiwan, Hong Kong and the West, where many have kept their arts alive in  a relatively low key fashion.


Students of Chinese martial arts today often make a distinction between what they consider to be the true arts – those of purely martial nature that evolved from a need for defense or military training – and modern wushu. Those who practice the old combat oriented forms are referred to as traditionalists. Many traditionalists also advocate that it’s difficult to assess many old martial styles within a rule based tournament system because many of the arts were designed to be used as last resort options – when all peaceful solutions have been exhausted – and a good deal of their techniques are designed to maim or sometimes kill. The philosophy of the great majority of China’s martial schools has been to avoid confrontation above all and to keep their most incredible skills highly secret.

Some of the last internationally seen competitions among China’s greatest old school martial artists were held in the 1930s under the Nationalist government. One of their stated rules was “...if death occurs as a result of boxing injuries and fights, the coffin with a body of the deceased will be sent home.”
Foreigners attending a Kung Fu school

Martial Arts Books & Films

If you are interested in pursuing martial arts, there are endless sources out there for you to try. Besides the countless classes found in major cities throughout China, those interested in the fascinating world of internal styles are encouraged to find a copy of Cheng Tzu’s Thirteen Treatises on T’ai Chi Ch’uan, by Cheng Man Ch’ing. Cheng Man Ch’ing was a late student of the Yang family school and studied directly under Yang Cheng Fu, grandson of the style’s founder. He has written over a dozen books, including those on the Taoist book Yijing, and though some of his books touch on esoteric topics, his ability to explain things in lay terms makes anything by him exceptional to read.
A fascinating and illuminating account of Cheng Man Ch’ing’s training style, warm heart and extraordinary skill can be found in the book There Are No Secrets: Professor Cheng Man Ch’ing and His Tai Chi Quan, a postmortem written by Wolf Lowenthal, one of Cheng’s closest students.
Those who already have a familiarity with internal styles should find a copy of A Study of Taijiquan, by Sun Lutang. One of the greatest internal martial artists in Chinese history, Sun was an expert in Bagua Zhang, Xingyi Quan and Yang-style Tai Chi. Furthermore, after studying under Yang Chengfu, Sun created his own tai chi style: Sun Tai Chi. The book gives a captivating synopsis of Sun’s life, including his early training, knowledge of Taoist philosophy and prediction of his own death. He wrote several books, including Bagua Quan (on Bagua Zhang) and Xingyi Quan Xue (a study of Xingyi Quan). They are all available in English under these names.

For a grisly but realistic look at violence and its troublesome consequences, grab a copy of Meditations of Violence: A Comparison of Martial Arts Training & Real World Violence, by Sgt Rory Miller, a United States corrections officer. For more no-nonsense in the form of strength training, snatch up ex-Soviet Spetsnaz (Special Forces) physical trainer Pavel Tsatsouline’s classic The Naked Warrior, which delivers no-equipment-needed muscle-building exercises anywhere, anytime, very much in the vein of hard style martial arts.

And certainly delve into The Way of the Warrior: A Journey Into The Secret World of Martial Arts, a whimsical tour of martial arts training throughout the US, Iceland, Brazil, Iraq, Asia and even an outer Tahitian island by expert fighter John Gilbey. Gilbey breaks down his sincere appreciation for long-developed arts and has some interesting words for the quick results addict who demeans traditional styles.

If you need a few films to get you pumped on martial arts, feast your eyes on the incredible skill of Muay Thai (Thai boxing) and Taekwondo expert Tony Jaa in his mind-blowing films Ong-Bak: the Thai Warrior (2003) and Tom-Yum-Goong (2005; The Protector in the US and Warrior King in the UK). All of the stunts are done by Jaa. Great films from China include the awesome Wing Chun ferocity of Ip Man (2008) starring the madhouse Donnie Yen or Jet Li’s beautiful but controversial final wushu epic Fearless (2006), both of which have their implausibility but are great fun.

Ong-Bak: Muay Thai Warrior (2003)

  Tom-Yum-Goong (US: The Protector) (2005)

  IP Man(2010)

  Fearless (2006)

Old Schoolers looking for something from kung fu film’s golden decade of the 1970s can of course dork out on anything from Bruce Lee – favorites are Way of the Dragon (1972; Return of the Dragon in the US), Enter the Dragon (1973) or Game of Death (1973) – Jackie Chan’s original tongue-in-cheek classic Drunken Master (1978), or dig around for old movies featuring the relentless Gordon Liu, whose signature roles include San Te in 36th Chamber of Shaolin (1976) and, more recently, Pai Mei in Kill Bill: Volume 2 (2004).

Jet Li (李连杰) featured on Time Magazine's cover for his charitable deeds following the SIchuan earthquake of 2008

A bronze statue of Bruce Lee (李小龙) on the Avenue of Stars in Tsim Sha Tsui, overlooking Hong Kong Harbor


Jackie Chan(成龙) and son, Jaycee Chan (房祖名), recently imprisoned for drug-related offenses


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