CAN SHAOLIN KUNGFU BE USED FOR FIGHTING?
My friend and I learn Shaolin Kungfu from a famous instructor here. But we still cannot use our techniques to fight. I see in your webpages that your students use kungfu techniques for sparring. We still put on our gloves when we spar. Can Shaolin Kungfu be used for fighting?
— Jacob, USA
Of course, Shaolin Kungfu can be used for fighting. This is fully substantiated in writing and painting. In the 19th and 20th centuries many masters from various countries went to China to test her kungfu, and all of them were convincingly defeated by Chinese masters, most of them using Shaolin Kungfu. To say that Shaolin Kungfu cannot be used for fighting is actually insulting past Shaolin masters, though you and many who say so may not mean to be insulting.
Your question as whether Shaolin Kungfu can be used for fighting is actually illuminating. Today many of those who practice Shaolin Kungfu cannot use it for fighting. They use Boxing or other martial techniques when they have to spar or fight.
There are many reasons for this degeneration.
A main reason is that the present Chinese government promotes Shaolin Kungfu as a sport, and not for fighting. The government is pragmatic; promoting it as a sport gives the people recreation, promoting it for combat is outdated. Today wushu, which is the Chinese term for kungfu, and almost all of wushu is Shaolin, is for demonstration, there is no fighting. The promotion of wushu has great influence on Shaolin Kungfu today.
We in Shaolin Wahnam independently adopt this pragmatic attitude. Although we still practice combat application, we train kungfu, Shaolin and other styles, for enhancing our lives, like giving us good health, vitality, longevity, peak performance, mental clarity and spiritual joys. We practice combat application because it is precisely this training that gives us the wonderful benefits of kungfu.
Another main reason is that it takes a longer time to be proficient in using Shaolin Kungfu for fighting. As a rough estimate, it takes just 6 months for a person using Boxing for fighting, but it takes him three years, if he is fortunate to learn the techniques and skills, in Shaolin Kungfu to be combat efficient.
A third reason is that the methodology of kungfu fighting is generally lost. This is due to various factors. One important factor is the change of times. Kungfu fighting was necessary in the past, but not in our law-abiding societies. An important factor was the influx of Karate and later Taekwondo schools, which openly advocated free sparring as part of their training. Many kungfu practitioners copied their methods.
We in Shaolin Wahnam is one of the very few schools that still use kungfu techniques and skills for fighting. Besides enabling us to be combat efficient, our combat application using kungfu techniques and skills also gives us many other daily benefits.
Today, sanda which mostly uses Boxing techniques is popular among kungfu practitioners. Actually, sanda, which means free sparring in Chinese, has been in kungfu training since classical times. Of course, in the past when kungfu practitioners sparred or fought, they used kungfu techniques.
A main reason why combatants put on gloves when they spar is to avoid serious injury. Another reason is influence from Boxing.
The irony is that in our sparring where combatants do not put on gloves, there is no injury, and is often marked by laughter. This is because our students are used to having excellent control, which was the norm in the past.
Was it true that masters in the past could fight using kungfu?
It was certainly true that masters in the past could use kungfu for fighting. The masters did not use gloves, and they fought the way they trained. Fighting using kungfu techniques and skills was well documented in writings and pictures.
Writings of the thirteen monks who helped to set up the Tang Dynasty in the early 7th century and of Zhang San Feng in the 12th century in the Song Dynasty, for example, clearly showed the masters used kungfu techniques and skills for fighting. In later periods during the times of Yang Lu Chan in the late 18th century, and of Wong Fei Hoong in the 19th century, masters used kungfu techniques and skills for fighting.
Not only masters in the past but even ordinary students used kungfu for fighting. It would be silly of them not to use kungfu, as they had not only trained in kungfu, but also kungfu was most sophisticated compared to other martial arts. Many martial arts would face much difficulty facing kungfu techniques. The various methods of developing internal force, which was unique in kungfu, were not found in other martial arts. Kungfu schools systematically and progressively taught tactics and strategies, which were not available in other arts.
Sanda, which means free fighting, was an important part of kungfu training. Kungfu practitioners, of course, used kungfu for fighting.
The above is taken from Questions 1 and 2 April 2019 Part 1 of the Selection of Questions and Answers.
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