Using kungfu against Boxers

Using kungfu against Boxers


You said that in the past sanda was using Shaolin kung fu but now people use Boxing. Why was the change?

— Thomas, USA


San da, which means “miscellaneous fighting”, was an important aspect of kungfu training. It was for all forms of kungfu, not just Shaolin Kungfu.

It was natural that if a student was trained in Lohan Kungfu, his san da would consist of Lohan techniques. If he was trained in Taijiquan, his san da would consist of Taijiquan techniques. The san da of any practitioner would consist of the techniques of the kungfu style he was trained in.

However, the situation today is different. No matter what style of kungfu a person is trained in, his san da would consist of Boxing techniques. A student once told me succinctly that no matter what style a kungfu practitioner was trained in, when it came to san da, he would talk about how to hit his opponents with jabs and crosses, hooks and upper-cuts, and not with tiger-claws or no-shadow kicks.

To understand this development, or debasement, it is helpful to know why free-sparring, which actually is san da, is not taught in kungfu nowadays. Today, learning kungfu means learning kungfu forms or kungfu sets.

There are a few reasons why kungfu has debased from learning how to fight well to learning kungfu forms.

A main reason was a change of time. Once learning kungfu was a need, but now learning kungfu is a hobby, though it is difficult to understand why people submit themselves to be hit and kicked in free sparring when it is supposed to be a hobby.

Connected to his reason is the use of firearms. When firearms were introduced, the need of kungfu for effective fighting became obsolete.

A third reason was a change of teaching methodology. In the past a kungfu master rarely taught. At the most he had only a handful of students. It was a rare opportunity and privilege to learn kungfu from a master.

In the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), the situation changed. A kungfu master would start a kungfu school with hundreds of students. This change, however, was gradual. Early kungfu schools were known to exist in the Song Dynasty, which was more than 400 years before the Qing Dynasty.

Teaching a few students was different from teaching hundreds of students. Moreover, early kungfu masters took teaching students as a hobby, whereas later kungfu masters took it as a job. Nevertheless, despite this change of teaching methodology, those who were trained in kungfu still used kungfu in free sparring.

Many martial art masters of different countries went to China to test her kungfu, and they were convincingly beaten by kungfu masters. However an important change occured in the 19th century during the Qing Dynasty, the last dynasty before China became a republic. Mediocre kungfu intructors taught kungfu forms, instead of internal force and combat application for fighting. This was because the instructors had to depend on wealthy men who employed them to teach their children, and wealthy children generally had no interest to train internal force and combat application for fighting. Kungfu form suited these wealthy children well as they could demonstrate kungfu sets during celebrations.

By the middle of the 20th century, Karate and Taekwondo schools bloomed with a persistent advertisement that theirs were martial arts. Some kungfu masters became alarmed, and as they were used only to kungfu forms, they started borrowing methods from Karate and Taekwondo.

Actually Karate and Taekwondo students also fight like Boxers. They bounced about ignoring their Karate and Taekwondo techniques, because Boxing was closest to instinctive fighting. Hence, today in san da combatants fight like Boxers.

The above is taken from Question 1 November 2019 Part 1 of the Selection of Questions and Answers.


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