The Kungfu Difference

What Makes It Kung Fu?

What is the difference between kung fu or Chinese martial arts to the so-called 'western martial arts'?


I could go with the answer that it is up to the user and not the martial art itself.

However, it is not that simple. There are clear and detailed differences between Western and Far Eastern martial arts.

Maybe that's not entirely true.

Western vs. Far Eastern maybe does hit it to a degree and superficially, yes, but not in essence. Although culture plays an important role, which I like to go into further and deeper, before we get there, there are very essential other aspects of the topic itself that should be addressed, understood intellectually, and grasped with the spirit.

What exactly makes a movement a kungfu movement and what makes it modern savate, or kickboxing, or boxing movement, for example? Where do I see the exact DIFFERENCE?

Well, many would now directly mention certain movement images from the classical animal forms, for example, which, in contrast to kickboxing or boxing, are quite clearly recognizable.

The fact that a movement comes from an animal shape does not make that movement 'Kung Fu'. If it were that simple, the demand and need for this article would not exist. It would be clear: animal shapes = kung fu and typical boxing / kicking with gloves = kickboxing. It is not that easy.

The historical background says just as little about the qualities of a movement as the culture where it comes from. This can be compared to a person who comes from a certain culture and political background. Origin says little about his HUMAN qualities, even if many of us do not yet see it that way. It is the HUMAN himself who chooses, cultivates, and refines his character qualities. The culture and political background can be communist, socialist, capitalist, or even a totalitarian dictatorship - or religiously the background could be Taoist, Buddhist. Muslim, Christian, Hinduist, etc. The culture can be middle-eastern, western, far eastern, European, or southern American. People from all cultural and/or political backgrounds can have the same character traits. This is the inner drive of the person himself, even if a lot can be influenced from the outside through the culture and family, the ultimate CHOICE of what kind of person I should be, I always reserve myself as a person.

Something similar (not really the same, but similar) is the case with martial arts. It is not the style that decides what qualities a movement has. The style can promote or influence this, but it is entirely up to the learning OBJECTIVE which qualities are actually achieved and which skills are manifested. A LEARNING GOAL arises from DEMAND. A small example to illustrate this: Take the southern tiger style from Shaolin Quan. This 'style' includes certain elements of grounding, flexibility, light-footedness, speed, stable stance, leg strength, increase in bone density, joint strength, finger and wrist strength, grip strength, suppleness, breathing training, structure formation, Vocal strength, and vocal cord training, muscle-, ligament-, and tendon strength enhancement, to name just a few of the qualities. Now, this gives a large pool of possible skills FROM THE STYLE, however; the DEMAND and LEARNING OBJECTIVE will produce the qualities actually manifested. Style can actually give the potential for the development of certain attributes, but not really the manifestation of these.

But what do I mean by LEARNING OBJECTIVE and DEMAND?

The example of the southern tiger style: A dancer, who finds the movements of this style very graceful and exercises them because of their suppleness will benefit from the style's tools. But it can also be a purely health-oriented person who practices this style to improve his joint strength and lets himself be convinced of the advantages of increasing tendon-, bone-, and ligament strength and makes this the main goal of his practice.

Another practitioner of this style may be convinced of breathing training, quickness of movement, and vocal power as skills and therefore practice this style. Even if ALL THREE practitioners have the SAME set of movements and the same forms, the abilities of these three students will be fundamentally different! The dancer will not achieve the tendon strength and bone density of the health professional, the third student, who mainly focused on breathing training and vocal strength, will not achieve the suppleness of the dancer and vice versa. The reasons for this are the training METHODS within the style. The STYLE is the same. The ORIGIN is the same, the CULTURE of the style is the same, the lineage leading to the founder of the style is the same, but 3 students, 3 completely different skills and qualities.

That's why;

Neither the culture, nor the lineage, nor the country, nor the fact that they are classical animal forms (to stay with this example) is 'mainly' decisive for the actual manifestation of ability, quality, and expression of movement.

It is the training METHOD that is critical to the given potential of the style AND potential of the student.

Back to our BASIC question: WHAT makes it kungfu? WHAT is the difference between kung fu and other martial arts?

Here I have to expand the topic into the definition of martial sports and martial arts. Because that already makes a big difference.

In a sport, certain GOALS are already given by the 'sporting'. In ART, however, FREEDOM is the drive.

What freedom?

The one that can turn a dancer into a smoother dancer, the health-oriented person into a healthier person, and the person of expression into an artist who is capable of deeper, more meticulous-accurate expression skills.

The freedom arises from the pool of potentials - the manifestation, however, from the methodology of practice.

The name says it all: It is an ART. Behind that, there are things that are far beyond the scope of a 'sport', without downing the 'sport', on the contrary; SPORTS are the pulse of the healthy life-(style) of humanity's majority.

Professionally performed sport is certainly also a physical exercise with certain qualities. THESE, HOWEVER, are subject to the sporting GOALS. Let's take boxing. Of course, you can do it just for fun. The MAIN DIRECTION, however, is always already given and set. It is the BOXING TECHNIQUES, BODY STRUCTURE, FITNESS, and very specific STEP WORK with the right coverage and the associated strategies that define this sport. These are connected to the corresponding COMPETITIONS and are largely based on them. This means that a person who has to contest a TaekWonDo fight in the near future will certainly not go to boxing as preparation for it, but will practice Taekwondo. This also applies the other way round, because other GOALS are already 'SET' WITHIN the SPORT.

How does this work in a Martial ART?

Martial arts also have their goals. That's correct. However, these are not based on sporting events and competition tenders, but on the HUMAN itself and its growth. At that point is the first big difference.

That said; a martial sport can certainly also be an ART. That is not impossible. Nevertheless, this art is also dependent and subordinate to the GOAL of SPORTS.

In art, however, the development of the HUMAN is paramount.

This development can be physical, and- or mental-spiritual. But it is not a sporting event that influences or defines this development. The focus is on the freedom of the 'tools' to be used, as well as the manifestation of certain skills through very specific learning methodologies. These are FREE and almost limitless as an origin and source in art because it is the heart now that indicates the drive, not the regulation at a sporting event.

An approach from the sports perspective and the competitive drive can empower very specific skills, TAILORED TO THE SPECIFIC SPORT, to the extreme - to the peek (see today's Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu). At the same time, THAT is exactly why a lot of other tools of skills are neglected or simply NOT given as potential.

As described above, this 'specialization' is also given in ART, so that here too 'neglection' of certain other qualities can arise. However, here at least the main perspective is not limited to a competition-based skill, but often offers, as in our first example, many specializations for different purposes (health, physical-fitness, superiority through tendon-power, ligament and bone strength, Suppleness, light-footedness, etc.)

Now the USER is the one who chooses which qualities he personally wants to push forward, it is not the SPORTS or the specification of the 'sports'-competitions. (There is an important difference between sports- competitions and the competition itself, as such, which THROUGH 'FREE' COMPARISONS can lead to FREE further development.)

What now turns kungfu into kungfu? When can I call myself a kungfu man or a kungfu woman?

Or different: Would a person who has a little desire for training with boxing gloves describe himself as a boxer? Or when a person learns a pair of joint locks for fun on a regular but rather obligatory basis; would he call himself a grappler? Would a dancer call himself a kungfu fighter just because he is now also dealing with kungfu animal shapes in addition to his dance? Certainly not. The dancer remains the dancer, which alone already represents one of the highest arts of humanity in my eyes ... The fact that this person learns the movements of certain animal forms does not make him a kungfu person.

WHEN will it become kungfu?

Through the clear skill that emerges!

Then also the dancer is a kungfu person and also the boxer and also the kickboxer if the skills and qualities are relevant and related to kungfu.

Apart from the fact that Kungfu = Gongfu = Acquire skills through the continuous expenditure of time and effort = EVERYTHING can be called Gogfu that has been continuously practiced and become a skill over a long period of time, we here take Gongfu as KUNG FU - the American term for the Chinese martial arts from the 60s and 70s. Meaning: KUNGFU as a term for Chinese MARTIAL ARTS.

As noted at the beginning, it can be said here "a Martial art is a martial art, the origin does not matter". However, certain INNER martial arts types from Chinese culture harbor very specific qualities and abilities that make this sentence void (not valid for THIS SITUATION AND MOMENT).

First of all: What are INNER martial arts?

I do not want to give the history repeating explanations here and name the typical 3 well-known inner martial arts Taijiquan, Baguazhang, and Xingyiquan in order to then contrast them with the typical external styles, such as Shaolin Quan, Tongbei Quan, Yongchunquan (Ving Tsun), Piguazhang and other styles, which are CATEGORICALLY named as the EXTERNAL styles, because my conception of INNER and EXTERNAL style has considerable differences to the generalized opinions of main large martial arts scene of PR China.

To me, inner style or an inner system means that this system has 2 characteristics.

1) The training METHOD includes certain INNER exercises that we call INNER WORK

2) The abilities that can be seen testify to this training methodology.

In this respect, I have personally met an immense number of Shaolin masters, whom I clearly count among the INNER STYLE USERS, and enough Taijiquan masters who I clearly count among the external styles users.

Given how I PERSONALLY differentiate these two training methods, we will now speak of the INNER styles.

An art that extensively treats and invigorates the tendon force, and places it ABOVE the muscle force while the exercises have a clear method that the tendons and ligaments are continuously strengthened as well as acquire a very dynamic and strong character, then we speak of physical-INNER Skills. (there are also mental- and spiritual inner skills, that are not the topic in this article).