A man training outdoors in the middle of a Kung Fu stance

Kung Fu (Or Kung Foo?): Meaning And Explanation

Kung fu is a part of traditional Chinese martial arts. According to YourDictionary.com, “kung fu” refers to any of various Chinese martial arts, especially the ones where sharp blows and kicks are applied to the pressure points of your enemy.

A Kung Fu training in a  monastery

You might hear the syntax “Kung foo” in pinyin, the official Romanization system for the standard Mandarin language in China. The term kung fu is more popular in the western world, but both are technically correct.

Kung Fu Meaning And Etymology

In China, the word kung fu refers to any study, practice, or learning that requires patience, energy, and time to complete. It doesn’t have to be a martial art.

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the word “kung fu” refers to “any of various Chinese martial arts and related disciplines that are practiced especially for self-defense, exercise, and spiritual growth.”

Gong Fu Vs Kung Fu

In the Chinese community, the term kung fu is related to any skill acquired through learning or practice. Chinese literal equivalent for kung fu is gong fu, and here is its original meaning of its two characters:

  • 功 (gōng) – “work”, “achievement”, or “merit”;

  • 夫 (fū)- the second word is a particle or nominal suffix with diverse meanings.

In literal translation, the “kung fu” noun means “acquired skill”. Also, the word “gong fu” literally means work (gong) and time (fu).

Kung fu is an English term, but the majority of Western-based people make a mistake because they describe Chinese martial arts with a “kung fu” noun. It’s wrong because Chinese kung fu is way more than a fighting style.

Origin: How Was Kung Fu Invented?

At first, Kung Fu included only basic moves like stabbing, cleaving, and chopping. It started to form in ancient China, during the slavery era, but its popularity skyrocketed during the feudal society (221 BC – 1911).

After Emperor Qin Shihuang (259 – 210 BC) unified the central plain of China, the fighting skills among the soldiers gradually developed into Guanzhong Boxing. From then, the Chinese martial art was improving from dynasty to dynasty.

The first non-government kung fu organization, Jingwu Gymnastics Club, was created during the time of the Republic of China (1912-1949). Later it evolved into many branches and styles in different areas of the world, even outside of China.

In Popular Culture

There are many concepts of kung fu in ancient books and Asia-specific martial arts. In Chinese, there is a literature direction called “wuxia”, where martial arts play a prominent role.

There is a lot of influence in Chinese culture, especially on dance and opera. Chinese kung fu is way more than self defense.

Bruce Lee

Bruce Lee is the first actor who showed the real power of Jeet Kune Do, a style of kung fu. His kung fu movies opened up new limits and were important for the influence of Chinese martial arts in the western world in the 1960s and 1970s.

It also led to the appearance of new rising stars in kung fu movies – Donnie Yen, Jackie Chan, and Jet Li. Thanks to Bruce Lee, Chinese martial arts’ popularity exploded in the late twentieth century. It led to the explosion of Chinese movie subtitles, which additionally boosted the popularity in the west.

Influence On Early Hip Hop

The movie “Enter the Dragon” in 1973 became a hit in America across all backgrounds, and hip hop was just starting to grow.

A Hip hop dancer doing a mid air acrobatic dance step

DJ Kool Herc was creating a new form of music by taking rhythmic breakdowns of songs and looping them, which led to “breakdance”, a form of dance known for many acrobatic moves. Many credit kung fu for the development of this dancing style.

What Are Some Basic Kung Fu Moves?

There are tons of basic techniques but it depends on kung fu forms. This educational video tells you more than a thousand words. I am a fan of Shaolin training routines and moves, enjoy!

What Is The Purpose Of Kung Fu?

There is one goal – to defend and stop your foe by using quick strikes.

What Does Kung Fu Symbolize?

It is a synonym for work performed, strength, ability, special skills, or time spent.

What Does Kung Fu Teach You?

It teaches you self defense. Abuse for the attack is considered wrong.

Who Is Kung Fu For?

The “national art of China” is for any willing student, You just need enthusiasm and desire to accept discipline and work diligently.

A man doin an outdoors kung fu train at sunset

So What Actually Is Kung Fu?

Kung fu is primarily an unarmed striking discipline, but it is not intended for the sport.

What Kung Fu Really Isn’t

Kung Fu is not escapism, it has nothing to do with recreating the past of other cultures. It doesn’t relate to performing beautiful moves because of aesthetics, nor it means defeating multiple armed opponents via your hidden chi powers.

What Is The Difference Between Karate And Kung Fu?

 Unlike Karate, kung fu favors circular over linear moves. It means the strikes mostly travel longer, which leads to different trajectories. It demands a lot of skill to master. You need months of hard work to master basic kung fu moves, while you can learn basic stances and strikes of Japanese martial art in less than two months.

  •  Is Kung Fu Easier Than Karate?

Kung fu is harder to learn due to its unorthodox patterns, but also harder to defend against moves from the ancient Chinese martial art.

Some styles, like wu shu or Jeet Kune Do, focus on straight-line moves, but overall, Kung fu is way harder to master.

Vladimir Vladisavljevic has been training in the art of kickboxing for over seven years, holds a Taekwondo black belt, and has a master's degree in sports and physical education. He's also a huge mixed martial arts fan. He's a big deal in Bulgaria as a mixed martial arts commentator, analyst, and podcaster.
Article by

Vladimir Vladisavljevic

Vladimir Vladisavljevic has a master's degree in sports and physical education. He has been training in kickboxing for over seven years and holds a Taekwondo black belt. He's also a huge mixed martial arts fan. Vladimir is a big deal in Bulgaria as a mixed martial arts commentator, analyst, and podcaster. He was known as The Bulgarian Cowboy in the Western world. In addition, he has a YouTube channel where he talks about his love of esports, one of the fastest-growing fields in the world. Our testing and reviewing method.
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