Kung Fu or Gung-Fu, It's All Chinese Boxing to me!

Wing Chun fighters train with butterfly knives, but Triad street gangs use two meat cleavers.
Wing Chun fighters train with butterfly knives, but Triad street gangs use two meat cleavers.

Kung Fu is not one style of martial art. It’s just the Cantonese way of saying “martial arts” as a whole, rather like they use the term Wushu to describe the highly acrobatic display form of Chinese martial arts.

So there are many different types of gung fu or Chinese Boxing. These include Wing Chun, Shaolin, Pa Kua, Mantis and Monkey styles, to name just a few.

Wing Chun is a southern Chinese style invented by a Chinese nun. Practicioners often work out on a wooden dummy so they can get their blocks and strikes just right. The wooden dummy is unique to Wing Chun (sometimes written as Wing Tsun). This was the original style learned by Bruce Lee, who founded his own style (of no style)… Jeet Kune Do.

Shaolin is a northern style of Chinese boxing. It was developed by the Shaolin Monks of the famous Shao Lin Temple. These guys now tour the world and demonstrate some amazing skills, such as standing still and taking a full-on kick to the groin without flinching.

Pa Kua is a so-called ‘Internal’ style of martial art. It uses Chi (Ki) energy and goes with the flow, very much like Aikido does.

Mantis is (obviously) an Animal style of gungfu. Practicioners hold their arms out in a stance like a preying mantis insect.

With Monkey style, the kungfu artist crouches and jumps and leaps like a cheeky monkey while he is fighting. This is very confusing to anyone who has never seen it before.

There is even a “Drunken” style of Chinese boxing. Here the fighter sways back and forth like a drunk man trying to keep his balance as the room spins all around him. Again, it is confusing and disconcerting for anyone facing it for the first time.

Chinese martial arts styles also make use of an amazing variety of weapons. These include knives, swords, cudgels, two-section and three-section staffs, chains, whips, spears, halberds and darts.

Bruce Lee (1940-1973)

Master of Wing Chun kungfu and founder of Jeet Kune Do

Bruce Lee, founder of Jeet Kune Do (Way of the Intercepting Fist)
Bruce Lee, founder of Jeet Kune Do (Way of the Intercepting Fist).

Bruce Lee was an extraordinary martial artist, who popularized Chinese kungfu on the movie screen.

Bruce Lee is also renowned for his expertise with the Nunchaku (or Nunchucks) – two batons or fighting-sticks made of wood with a chain or cord between them. In expert hands, it is a devastating martial arts weapon, and Bruce Lee’s expertise with this and many other martial arts weapons was a joy to watch… Just awesome!

Born in San Francisco, California, of Chinese parents, young Lee went to Hong Kong and was educated at Catholic schools there.

In 1954, he began studying Wing Chun kung fu under the Hong Kong Grand-master, Sifu Yip Man. Bruce was soon fighting and beating other martial artists from other styles.

Between 1957 and 1959, he continued his Wing Chun martial arts training, learning from Wong Shun-leung and later William Cheung, (who were both disciples of Grandmaster Yip Man).

He moved back to the USA in 1959, finishing his high school education in Seattle. He then majored in Philosophy at the University of Washington.

By this time, Bruce had put together his own fighting philosophy. He called it Jeet Kune Do – The Way of the Intercepting Fist. Lee also began teaching foreigners (non-Chinese) students. That was something that other Chinese martial arts masters were angry about, and Lee was told to ‘stop teaching the Kwailo’. But he continued anyway.

In 1964, Bruce Lee demonstrated his JKD skills at Ed Parker’s International Karate Tournament at Long Beach, California. He took on all comers, and demolished those who accepted his challenge.

In the same year, Bruce married Linda Emery in Seattle, and on February 1st, 1965, she gave birth to their son, Brandon Lee.

Kato in the Green Hornet TV series

Lee then moved to Los Angeles, and appeared as Kato in the TV series, The Green Hornet. This gave him a cult following with Kung Fu fans around the world.

Bruce’s daughter, Shannon, was born on April 19th, 1969. The same year, Bruce appeared in the film Marlowe, starring James Garner.

Bruce Lee’s entry into Hong Kong kung fu movies

In 1971, Bruce Lee returned to Hong Kong, where he starred in two Kung Fu movies: The Big Boss (called Fists of Fury in the US), which is set in an Ice-Making factory in Thailand, and Fist Of Fury, (named The Chinese Connection in the US) which is set in Shanghai back in early 1900s when China was controlled by foreign powers. In those days, the parks were reserved for foreigners, and a sign in the movie reads “No Dogs or Chinese Allowed”. Here the worst of the baddies Bruce must fight are the Japanese, who murder his Sifu in the story and even tell the Chinese police detectives what they can and cannot do.

The era of Bruce Lee movies had arrived, and Hollywood, which had rejected him years earlier because he looked ‘too Chinese’ to play Kwai Chang Caine in the TV series Kung Fu, sat up and took notice this time.

The next year he made Way Of The Dragon (called Return of the Dragon in the US), where Bruce Lee plays a country bumpkin working in a Chinese Restaurant in Rome, Italy. The restaurant is threatened by gangsters, and Bruce sorts them out. The gang boss ends up importing a Karate champ from the USA (played by a young Chuck Norris) to kill him. But our Bruce beats and then mercy-kills the American champ in a duel set in Rome’s Colosseum, where real gladiators used to kill and die 2000 years ago. This Bruce Lee vs Chuck Norris fight scene launched Chuck Norris’ career as a movie ‘tough guy’. In real life, the two stars were always friends.

Lee also worked on the film Game Of Death, but it was not finished until many years after he had died. Game of Death incorporates his philosophy of Jeet Kune Do. Here, Bruce has to fight champions from many martial arts styles until he faces the most dangerous of all – the “Style of ‘No-Style'”.

In 1973, Bruce Lee starred in Enter the Dragon, set on a south Chinese island ruled by an evil drug lord and martial arts master, named Han. Bruce Lee’s movie character goes to the Island to win a martial arts competition (and to spy out the baddie’s operation so the (then British) Hong Kong authorities can be contacted to raid the island and arrest the crooks).

The untimely death of Bruce Lee

So many people still want to know, how did Bruce Lee die? Well I will tell you as best I can because I was living and working as a reporter in Hong Kong when it happened. I never met him, but I did attend the coroner’s inquest into his death, as I was assigned to it by my radio station.

The inquest was disappointingly inconclusive. I remember the pathologist stating that Bruce had a swollen brain. There was some speculation at the time because it all occurred at the apartment of a Taiwanese actress named Betty Ting Pei. But Lee was there because he had been at a business lunch there with producer Raymond Chow. Bruce said he felt ill and asked to lie down. Ms Ting Pei gave him a painkiller and Mr Chow left the apartment. Bruce Lee fell asleep and Betty Ting Pei left him for a few hours and then tried to wake him. When Bruce could not be roused, the actress called Raymond Chow who hurried over. When the producer was unable to make Bruce up, they called for an ambulance. But it was too late.

Bruce Lee died in the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, in Kowloon, Hong Kong, on July 20th, 1973.

Apparently Lee’s body was so low in fat, dangerously so, that some specialists said years afterwards that they believe he had a reaction to ingested cannabis, which was found in his stomach during the autopsy. Other doctors believe he had an adverse reaction to the ordinary pain-killer tablet he had been given for his back pain.

Bruce Lee is buried at the Lakeview Cemetery, in Seattle, USA. His son, Brandon Lee, shot in a movie accident some years later, is buried next to him. Brandon Lee made several movies, including The Crow.


Martial Arts and Bullying

Martial Arts and bullying are often linked in people’s minds, for two completely opposite reasons.

The first reason people link martial arts & bullying behaviour, is because they think martial artists must be bullies. And certainly many bullies go and learn some martial arts skills so they can put more fear into their victims.

The second reason martial arts and bullying fit together, is that many people who have been bullied seek an answer to their problem by taking up a martial art or a self defense course.

When I was an adolescent teenager, growing up in Hong Kong of all places. My English parents worked there.

I was often bullied at secondary school, King George V School. This was how I got into doing martial arts in the first place.

My mother found out there were Judo classes at the Chinese YMCA in Waterloo Road, Kowloon, and took me along to see the Chinese instructor there, Mr. Fung. (No. he wasn’t a Japanese.)

I started learning how to fall safely and how to throw my training partners (who were very patient and forgiving of my mistakes). And Mr Fung also showed us some self defense moves on top of the regular Judo stuff.

One of these Jujitsu defense techniques involved trapping your opponent’s attacking wrist with your left arm, then slipping to your left and stepping behind him, as you twist his arm back and up.

Your left arm then has him in a hammer-lock behind the back, and your right forearm comes around his neck. This arches his body back and off balance where you control him completely. It’s your choice then whether to add a choke with your forearm to add more pain or to render your opponent unconscious.

We used to practise chokes and strangles in class back then, and there is a difference between the two… A choke cuts off the air supply to the lungs, whereas a strangle cuts off the blood supply to the brain. Some holds do both, but not all. Stopping the blood, and therefore oxygen to the brain, accomplishes a knockout as quickly as 6 seconds. That’s a sleeper hold.

A choke hold takes a bit longer to work, and is a bit more dangerous. If you damage your opponent’s windpipe, he could easily die. That’s why chokes and strangles are only taught to advanced students of the martial arts.

And black belts used to be expected to be able to do Kuatsu resusitation as well. That included first aid for chokes and strangles, plus helping you recover after a kick or punch to the testicles. They would also reset discolations and fractured limbs.

Stretching Exercises For Martial Arts

STRETCHING exercises for martial arts stretching are so important that they are the first routines to be done during the warm-up session at the beginning of a class.

The only exception I have come across is where the class omits the warm ups because students are expected to have enough sense to do their own warm-up exercises and stretches before they step on to the training mats.

Stretching exercise are vitally important to reduce training injuries.
Stretching exercise are vitally important to reduce training injuries.

This doesn’t work if there are beginners in the class or newcomers who don’t yet know the routines.

I can’t speak for your style, but in my classes (Shodokan Aikido) we’d always start with warm ups, and usually end the class with warm-downs as well. These were designed to get your breathing slowed down again, and get any adreneline out of your bloodstream. We’d also end with Moksa a sitting, deep-breathing,  relaxation and visualization exercise.

But as far as martial arts stretching goes, the warm up routine went through… All of these were done to two counts of 8, usually four repetitions done one way (clockwise, to the right) – followed by four reps in the opposite direction (anti-clockwise or to the left) – then repeated again until you have done 16 all in all for each repetition.

  • Jumping up and down, while stretching the arms up and in circles, starting left, then to right, etc.
  • Hands on hips, feet shoulder width apart. Loosen up neck muscles. Head exercises forward and back, left to right (90 degree turns), Side to side (lean to each shoulder), then rotate head in circles
  • Then Aikido wrist-strengthening stretches. Then,
  • Feet apart, stretching left and right.
  • Feet apart stretching in large circles, clockwise and anti-clockwise.
  • Feet wide apart, bend one knee and straighten the other. Left then right.
  • Feet wide apart, both knees bent… buttocks down, stretch. (Like a ‘Riding Horse’ stance).
  • Feet together, bend knees and rotate knees in horizontal cirles. Left, right.
  • Feet together, bend knees, and squat, then straighten. Repeat.

Then we’d sit down on the mats or ground and go through leg stretches.

  • Feet together. Legs straight, knees down. Touch your toes, or grab feet and hold on. Stretch.
  • Soles of feet touching together. Buttocks on ground. Hold feet with your hands and use elbows to push your bend knees towards the ground. Bend forwards and try and get your head to the ground in front of you.
  • Feet wide apart, stretch down the center.
  • Feet wide apart, hold left foot and stretch head and body towards it. Repeat on other side.

Some of the routines are sure to have changed slightly by now, and they vary a little from dojo to dojo anyhow. But this should give you a good idea of what stretching exercise are done in many martial arts classes.