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You see them flying through the air and running across roof tops, swords flashing and ponytails whipping. When Jackie Chan does it, it’s hilarious. When Michelle Yeoh does it, it’s charming and graceful. It’s Kung Fu, all right, but what does that mean?
Also known as Chinese martial arts, it is one of the most easily recognized arts in the world and also one of the most popular exercises. It’s a whole lot of things all mixed under one word. People who think it is kick ass are wrong. People who think it is movie stunts are wrong. People who think it’s any one thing are wrong.
Let me explain it this way. I like movies and I have a friend who is a music teacher and she also likes movies. The only problem is that every time I ask her something like, “How did you like The Matrix?” She says something like, “Great music score.” She is so into music that, for her, movies are all and only about music. But that’s not right, there’s music, camera work, acting, writing, special effects, you know.
This great martial art has been around for over 3000 years (yes, you read that right) is a lot like this. Here’s just a sample of it’s branches that might interest you…
1. Kung Fu is an art form. Experts practice beautiful choreographed sequences call “sets” that show off their ability to fight, to master weapons, to move slowly or explosively. There are thousands of sets from everything with three people mock fighting one another to a single person performing with a fan.
2. It is for health. Not only that but it incorporates all sorts of health practices would normally never associate with Kung Fu. Did you know, for instance, that Tai Chi is a form of Kung Fu. Also that every style of Chinese martial arts has a Qigong associated with it!
3. It is a meditation. Why else would the Shaolin monks, probably the most famous monks in the world, practice this powerful martial art? Kung Fu emphasizes deep and profound methods of concentration.
4. It can be practiced at any age. How is this possible? Because the many different branches of Kung Fu are actually varied enough to offer something even into your nineties. Many styles are famous for the longevity of their masters.
5. It has no belts and does not necessarily participate in competitions. Ranking and competing are all up to each school’s head instructor but unlike Karate and Judo which are Japanese arts, Kung Fu had no belt system until recently and even now many schools do not offer any ranking.
There are more styles of Kung Fu that all other forms of traditional martial arts combined. The styles vary according to location, family name, animal form and even name of legends like the subject of the popular Disney film, Mu Lan (a real person, by the way). Styles have great names like Tiger and the Crane, Drunken Monkey and the Praying Mantis. They come in all kinds of skills from acrobatic to extremely controlled with a lot of emphasis on each student maintaining his individuality and discovering his own unique abilities.
It’s like a great film where all the parts work perfectly together, Kung Fu is a combination of talents and topics that’s been 3000 years in the making and still showing at studios near you.

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