Kung fu: origin, history, country of origin, all the facts and details

Kung fu: origin, history, country of origin, all the facts and details

Kevin Omuya
updated at April 12, 2023 at 8:23 PM

Kung fu refers to the systematic preparation necessary for performing any skilled task without the intrusion of intellect or emotions. It includes a long martial arts history dating back to the Zhou era (1111-255 bc). Chinese martial arts are among the oldest and most rigorous. Read to learn more about the origins of Kung fu, its rich history, and all facts and details.

Where did kung fu originate from?
A monk performed Shaolin Kung Fu at the Shaolin Temple on October 31, 2009, in Dengfeng of Henan Province, China. Photo: China Photos
Source: Getty Images

In recent decades, martial arts have skyrocketed in popularity. Kung fu is the most well-known martial art due to the efforts of celebrities like Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan to spread its popularity. As commonly understood, it is an umbrella term for several Chinese martial arts with histories stretching back thousands of years.

Where did Kung fu originate from?

There is a lot of mythology surrounding the origins of kung fu. Legends claim that the origins of Chinese martial arts can be traced back to the Xia Dynasty, which occurred around 4000 years ago. Stories about the Xia Dynasty, China's first known dynasty, tend to be more mythological than factual.

Where did kung fu originate from?
Nepal-religion-Buddhism-women-kungfu, a Buddhist nun, practised Kung-fu at the Amitabha Drukpa Nunnery on the outskirts of Kathmandu on April 26, 2012. Photo: Prakash Mathema
Source: Getty Images

It is hardly shocking that people have been working on self-defence measures for millennia. Kung fu, the modern umbrella term for China's traditional martial arts, has a history that extends back at least four thousand years.

Legend has it that Huangdi, also known as the Yellow Emperor, was China's first martial arts master. He was a well-known general and author on medical, astrological, and martial arts topics before he became emperor. Chi You, the legendary inventor of jiao di (Chinese wrestling from antiquity), opposed him.

History of Kung fu

History of kung fu
Students performed at a Shaolin Temple to welcome guests on October 22, 2012, in Zhengzhou, central China's Henan Province. Photo: AFP/AFP
Source: Getty Images

The ancient Chinese sport has been practised for thousands of years, during which time many different techniques have been developed and vastly refined. Primitive societies (more than 1.7 million years ago to the 21st century BC) relied on cleaving, chopping, and stabbing as essentials for hunting and self-defence.

Later, between the Xia Dynasty (21st-17th century BC) and the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368), Kung fu emerged and developed primarily as a fighting skill, reaching its zenith during the Ming and Qing Dynasties (1368 - 1911). It has expanded far beyond its roots in martial arts and physical exercise.

Who first started Kung fu?

The origins of Kung fu as a martial art stretch back to at least the Zhou era (1111-255 bc). As an exercise, it was done by the Daoists in the 5th century bc.

Is Kung fu Chinese or Indian?

Is kung fu Chinese or Indian?
A monk meditates during a Zen Shaolin performance in a mountain valley near the Shaolin Monastery in China's central Henan province. Photo: Ryan Pyle
Source: Getty Images

Many people know Chinese martial arts by the umbrella title kung fu (/k fu/; Chinese: pinyin. In Greater China, numerous fighting techniques have emerged over the years.

Different schools are known to incorporate hand positions called Mudra, also used in the Indian religions of Hinduism and Buddhism. Some think the 108 pressure points used in Chinese martial arts were inspired by the marram points used in Indian varmakalai.

Is Kung fu from Japan or China?

It is a widely recognized symbol of Chinese culture. Martial arts from other countries, such as Japan's karate and Korea's taekwondo, are frequently misunderstood because of their similarities to China's Kung fu.

Facts of Kung fu

Facts of kung fu
Children practice in an impoverished area of Quezon City, suburban Manila, on January 23, 2011. The activity is run by a group called ArKuTaiPA. Photo: Noel Celis
Source: Getty Images

1. The founder was from India

The Indian Buddhist monk Bodhidharma, supposed to have founded the Shaolin order, is said to have meditated for nine years in a cave close to his monastery. According to the myth, the monk slashed off his eyelids and flung them to the ground so he would never sleep again. When he threw his eyelids open, green tea started to grow there, and now it is used by Buddhist monks to help them concentrate during their daily meditation.

2. It is studied in a “Kwoon”

Is kung fu from Japan or China?
Buddhist nuns practise Kung-fu at the Amitabha Drukpa Nunnery on the outskirts of Kathmandu on April 26, 2012.Photo: Prakash Mathema
Source: Getty Images

Dojos are schools that teach Aikido and other Japanese martial arts. Bow 45 degrees with your hands at your chest, right fist closed and left open palm out. This is the proper way to enter a "kwoon". It is a symbol of harmony within yourself and the yin and yang.

3. Its practitioners wear different uniforms

The baggy gis and brightly coloured belts are also influenced by Japanese tradition. There are no belt ranks in traditional Chinese Kung fu (though some Western teachers might use them as a teaching tool). The clothing for Chinese martial arts is skintight, down to the wrists and ankles.

4. The most elite Shaolin monk was a werewolf

Facts of kung fu
A warrior monk of the Shaolin Temple displays his skills at the Songshan Mountain near the temple on April 12, 2005, in Dengfeng, Henan Province, China. Photo: Cancan Chu
Source: Getty Images

Alright, so he was not a true werewolf. Later in the nineteenth century, a monk named Tai Jin lived. The unfortunate man was affected by hypertrichosis. The abnormal growth of excessive amounts of hair on affected regions of the body has earned this condition the nickname "Werewolf Syndrome." Perhaps knowing that he was, in fact, the best fighter in all of China, according to legend, would have boosted his confidence.

Was Kung fu originated in India?

It is one of the oldest martial arts styles, and the Shaolin Temple itself has their roots in the teachings of two Indian monks. So the theory goes. It is believed that Buddhabhadra, a dhyana master from northern India, brought Buddhism to China in 1500 CE.

Is Kungfu stronger than karate?

Is kung fu stronger than karate?
A teenage girl is exercising karate. About 18 years old, mixed-race female. Photo: GoodLifeStudio
Source: Getty Images

It is more beneficial when you might grapple with your target, while Karate is a more attacking martial art. Generally, Karate may be utilized more efficiently to damage an opponent, whereas Kung Fu can be used to halt an opponent.

The traditions and roots of the art date back thousands of years. What most people mean when they say "kung fu" is a fusion of hundreds of different styles and techniques throughout China. Modern styles are the result of thousands of years of cumulative wisdom.

In Kung fu's origin, rich tapestries of styles have evolved due to numerous systems formed from various regions of the world. It has benefitted many with fitness and well-being.

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Kevin Omuya
Kevin Omuya is a Content Writer with 4 years of experience who joined Sports Brief in 2022. In 2019 he held a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism & Digital Media from KCA University.