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Northern style of Kung Fu developed in the most famous monastery in China called ‘Shaolin’ (Young Forest). This is where all Kung Fu first developed in about 500 AD. The monks developed and cataloged techniques based on the movements they studied for health and self-defense from the Tiger, Crane, Leopard, Snake, and Dragon styles.

The first recorded Kung- Fu like movements were in the Yellow Emperor’s book on Chinese medicine recorded about 2600 B.C. In this book, he listed several Kung Fu- like exercises for maintaining health.

In the Han Dynasty (A.D. 25-200), the famous surgeon Hua To originated a series of exercises based on the movements of five animals: tiger, deer, bear, monkey and the bird. These exercises were devoted to keeping his patients healthy. He based the premise of the exercises on the various animals because they were more attuned to nature and had less illness. By mimicking the movements of the various animals, one could maintain his health. Each animal was devoted to a certain aspect of health.

A Buddhist monk by the name of Ta Mo traveled to the Shaolin monastery to expand the monk’s wisdom and understanding of Buddhism. He discovered that the monks fell asleep during the long hours of meditation. He incorporated a series of exercises to strengthen the mind as well as the body. These became known as “The Muscle Change Classic” and “The Marrow Washing Course.”

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The monks later expounded on these techniques by watching various animals. They used five major animals: the tiger, snake, dragon, leopard and crane. Each animal developed different essences for health within the individual.

The dragon movements were devised to develop alertness and concentration. These movements were executed without the application of strength, but with emphasis on breathing in the lower abdomen along with the coordination of mind, body and spirit. Movements are long, flowing and continuous, and provided Shaolin practitioners with the equivalent of tai chi or pakua.

The tiger movements develop the bones, tendons and muscles. The execution of these movements was the opposite of that of the dragon, since emphasis was placed on strength and dynamic tension. Movements are short, snappy and forceful.China Map

The snake movements were used to develop temperament and endurance. Breathing was done slowly, deeply, softly and harmoniously. Movements are flowing and rippling with emphasis on the fingers.

The crane movements were used to develop control, character and spirit. Emphasis is placed on light, rapid footwork and evasive attacking techniques. Movements in the one-legged stance are performed with a considerable amount of meditation.

The leopard movements developed quick speed. The hand formed a half fist. The movements are quick and snappy and developed the arms and shoulders. The footwork used a lot of short postures and jumping that developed the leg strength and flexibility.

During the 1600’s, many businessmen traveled to Okinawa. They showed a few of these techniques to the Okinawans, who formed their own methods of combat. They called their method simply ‘kara-te,’ which means ‘China hand technique.’ Later styles developed such as Shorin-ryu (Shaolin Fist style), Goju-ryu (Hard Soft Style) and Isshinryu (One Heart Way). Later these styles migrated to Japan and Korea. There people changed the techniques to fit their way of life and their mentality.

In the 1800’s, Kung Fu was brought to the United States by Chinese immigrants. Many of these immigrants worked on building the infrastructure for the railroads. They would practice their arts in secret and kept their skills and styles within a family. To further keep these arts secret, the Chinese families would skip a generation. In other words, the grandfather would teach the grandson.

In the early sixties a few Kung Fu schools opened in the Chinatown districts of New York City and San Francisco. These schools only taught Chinese people. It wasn’t until the late sixties with the advent of Kung Fu movies and Bruce Lee that a few Chinese masters decided to share their arts with Westerners.

Tai Chi Man 3 SmallTai Chi

Tai Chi developed from two animal movements: the snake and the crane. The snake develops flexibility, endurance and breathing for internal dynamics with fluid motions with emphasis placed on the hands and fingers. The Crane develops control, balance, dexterity, and leg strength with the emphasis placed on the mind through concentration on the various Tai Chi postures. These two animals were combined with the principles of the Yin/Yang.

I’m sure you’re familiar with the symbol of a circle with the two opposites of one side dark and the other side white. Yin and Yang are polar opposites. Yang represents activity, strength, and power, while the Yin side represents stillness, softness, flexibility and relaxation. Though these two symbols are polar opposites, they flow from one to the other in constant harmony. This is exactly how all Tai Chi (Grand Ultimate) movements flow from one to the other in harmony. As one side is soft and flexible, the other side is active and strong. The medical community agrees that a proper exercise program should have strength as well as flexibility exercises for the maximum health benefits.

Kung Fu for Kids

As you might know, the monks at the Shaolin monastery were the educators and physicians of that era. Children went to the

Little Dragons from Duryea

Little Dragons from Duryea

a monastery for both academic study of math, science, reading, and also medicine, and also for the physical techniques of Kung Fu for health. However, for a child to start Kung Fu training, he had to first develop concentration, discipline, leadership, and respect. These were taught by doing chores, studying, and carrying out specific responsibilities.

You’ve  probably seen these played out in the Karate Kid movies where the instructor has the student doing chores first before they are allowed to actually learn Kung Fu. This educational philosophy can even be seen with the major Kung Fu animals like the ones in the Kung Fu Panda movie: the tiger for discipline, the leopard for patience, the dragon for concentration, the snake for temperance, and the crane for control… both mental and physical control.

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