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What is Kung Fu?

Updated on November 30, 2016

Kung Fu is a Chinese style of karate that probably evolved from a form of hand and foot fighting first practiced in India. The activity is also known as gung fu.

Kung fu is distinguished from other styles of karate by a preference for clawing and stabbing hand blows and by the stylistic manner in which the routines are practiced. Hard-style systems of kung fu emphasize strength and power, kicking, and the "iron hand". Soft-style kung fu stresses speed and the "poison hand". The iron hand involves conditioning of the hands until they are so desensitized and callused that blows may be struck on hard surfaces without pain to the hands. The poison hand refers to the ability to strike at vulnerable parts of the body. As part of the mystique surrounding kung fu, some masters have been credited with secret knowledge that permits them to inflict serious injury or death to opponents by the application of light pressure or apparently innocuous blows.

For most people, kung fu is more practical as a means of exercise than as a technique of unarmed combat. A student of kung fu may exercise from ten minutes to an hour or more daily. Additionally, he may profit from "mental practice" by rethinking or visualizing the sequence of movements. Mental stimulation and relaxation are achieved by concentrating on the physical routines to the exclusion of preoccupation with daily problems and frustrations.

A student may practice alone or with a partner or at a kung fu school. He first assumes a stance. In the most common one, the horse stance, his knees and legs are bowed as if he were on a horse. His back is straight and his fists are held, palms up, at the hips. From the initial stance he may move forward, to the side, or to the rear to confront any threat. Various hand blows and kicks may then be delivered, and the arms can be used to parry attacks.

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