The name ‘kungfu’
Kungfu is the name for Chinese martial arts. However, there are many different kungfu styles/systems. While one kungfu-style might put emphasis on health, the other might focus on fighting techniques Likewise, one style could focus on arm techniques, the other on leg techniques, et cetera. In short, kungfu is a wide term that can mean many different things, and is also modernly used for kungfu-derived martial arts.
Kungfu literally means something resembling ‘skill you have to work hard for’. The term kungfu started circulating in the Western film industry and as such was adapted in Hong Kong and Taiwan. There, the original Chinese term ‘kuen’ (chuan/quan) is still in use, which means ‘fist fighting’.
In mainland China however, the term ‘wushu’ is usually preferred. However, after 1950 a more athletic, agility-based, aesthetic variant has been promoted in China (the so-called modern wushu). Because of this, the term ‘wushu’ can be confusing. For this reason, within the traditional styles, the term ‘kungfu’ is preferred.
What is practiced in kungfu?
Kungfu is a combination of fighting techniques and physical and mental training. Step by step, one learns sets (series of movements). With a partner one practices this movements again as applications, with defence and counter, so one learns to defend him-/herself by reflex. This training structure is supported by a warm-up, mobility/flexibility and functional strength excersises. Furthermore, sparring drills are practiced and, optionally, it’s possible to sparr (semi contact) with some protection gear.
The kungfu style Hung Ga
The name ‘Hung Ga’
Hung Ga Kuen is one of the more known traditional styles/systems of kungfu. Hung Ga literally means ‘Hung family’. Combined with ‘Kuen’ it means ‘fist fighting/boxing/pugilism of the Hung family’. In Western script it is also written as Hung Gar, Hung Ka, and sometimes it’s also just called Hung Kuen of Hung Kyun (Hung’s fist fighting).
The Hung Ga style came into existence a few hundred years ago and is named after Hung Heigun. According to the legends he was a disciple/lay monk at the Southern-Chinese Siulam monastery and was one of the few that managed to escape when the monastery was destroyed by the Manchus, who invaded China. Other stories, however, tell that kungfu was practiced all over in China from early days and that Hung Ga stands for Hung Mun Kyun, the style of the rebells i South China during the Boxer Rebellion.
Anyway, Hung Ga Kuen has a practical base for sure, and over the years has been tested and improved by many masters. For instance, Hung Kuen master Wong Fei Hung, who was legendary in China because of his ‘shadowless kick’, has had big influence on the structure of the system. His student Lam Sai Wing brought the style to Hong Kong, where it got famous and widely practiced as a sport. From Hong Kong it spread all over the world.
The most important characteristics of Hung Ga are the solid, medium-deep stances and emphasis on using the (lower) arms. Furthermore, Hung Ga is known for it’s shadowless kick, kicks in combination with hand techniques that block the view of the opponent.
The techniques in Hung Ga have partially been named after five animals and five elements. These are the tiger, crane, snake, dragon and leopard – and fire, earth, metal, water and wood.
Foremost, Hung Ga can be characterised as a hard style. However, besides hard, direct blocking techniques, Hung Ga also has softer flowing techniques.
Furthermore, Hung Ga also includes internal sets (for advanced students) in which the emphasis lies on regulated breathing (so-called Qigong).
This makes Hung Ga excellent for health and mind as well. In fact, many Hung Ga practitioners become over 90 years old and are still mentally and physically healthy even at a high age.
Also characteristic for a traditional kungfu style like Hung Ga are the weapons, normally one can start with weapons after about 6 months to one year. In Hung Ga there are many weapons, such as pole, butterfly swords, daggers, sabre, straight sword, spear, trident, halberd and chains. Furthermore, weapon application drills and two-men sets with weapons are practiced.