Home Page

All the information you ever wanted to know about Kung Fu and Shaolin

On this page. . .

. . . there is information about Kung Fu, specifically Shaolin Kung Fu and Shaolin Animal Kung Fu as well as the Shaolin Kung Fu Academy system!
1 - What is Shaolin Kung Fu and how does it compare to other martial arts and Kung Fu styles.
2 - A short look at which style of Kung Fu is best for you
3 - And an overview of the Shaolin Kung Fu system.

The menu below will jump you to the listed segments.

Table of Contents

Prologue (our perspective) →
What is Kung Fu?
Why is it called Kung Fu in the west?
Are there many Styles of Kung Fu?
What is Shaolin and Shaolin Kung Fu?
Why is Shaolin Kung Fu so considered to good?
For Whom is Shaolin Academy Kung Fu best Suited?
How to Choose the Right style for YOU!
Summary & Conclusion?
Links to other related pages


There are possibly more Kung Fu styles in China then outside of China; and as different as all the world martial art styles are so also Chinese Martial Arts. Although these can be summarized in some broad terms not all practitioners will agree with this summation.

There are a lot of descriptive terms bandied around by Chinese Martial Artists including Northern and Southern Styles. But when questioned, many can not say where the dividing range is between these two. Some say that the mighty Yellow River is the defining line; which is close to being the middle of China. Other see the defining spot to be where Shaolin is also called the Center of China and others refer to the Capital City Beijing. But this too is not really applicable as the current capital city Beijing or Northern Capital has not always been the capital. But it really dose not matter as there is a simple way of defining what Northern and Southern styles are; Northern is a cold weather style with long and round movements and Southern is a hot weather style with short and sudden movements. Then there is the Soft and Hard, and Internal and External Styles. All this can be confusing especially as each Chinese martial artists uses a different reference.

The Chinese Government, having recognized that Kung Fu is a resource has tried to unify the terms and styles under one banner called Wushu. originally, a very floral, jumping and acrobatic style, Wushu is starting to become more of a martial art than a few decades ago. Yet, many Kung Fu practitioners who started their training before the 90's prefer the old way of Kung Fu and of these there are a few outstanding styles; Shaolin 5 Animal, Hung Gar, Choy Lee Fut, Wing Chung and Tai Chi.

There are, as mentioned before, many, many other styles that are now coming to the for including Eagle Claw, Monkey, Hsing-I, Bagua Zhang, and Wudang Kung Fu to name just a few. So, for the purposes of understanding, we use a slightly different way of looking at these styles to remove the confusion of too much detail and just look at the pure reason for the martial art!

You would think that the main reason for martial arts is fighting and that is most certainly true for many but not all. Many modern martial arts refer to them selves as sports. These focus on fitness and competitions and do some contact fighting. Then there are fighting styles that do restricted full contact; like Boxing, Muay Thai, Wing Chung. These focus on ring based rules. The modern no-rule cages fighting (although there are rules!) style is really a multi style consisting of Boxing, some martial arts and grappling. Army styles are killing styles and although they are often watered down versions, there are still some idiots around that teach their students to cause severe damage to their opponents.

Shaolin Kung Fu was developed for health, fitness and self-defence but under the influence of the Buddhist Precepts. This means that the Monks would avoid doing any real harm to their attackers unless this would prevent greater harm. For this to work they had to be exceedingly good at their Kung Fu and also be tough. For this reason only some 5% to 10% of actual Shaolin Monks became Warrior Monks, for a period of time. These are the monks that a lot of the legends of Shaolin refer to.

All the other monks would also be very versed in Kung Fu and well above the average martial artists but they were not warrior monks and would rarely engage in combat other than amongst themselves for the enjoyment, fitness and fun of the activity. And that is also the way the Shaolin Kung Fu Academy teaches and promotes Shaolin 5 Animal Kung Fu, For health, fitness and fun mainly and as a side benefit you also learn to handle dangerous situations, but not always with the fist!

What is Kung Fu

It is one of the many names used to generically identify Chinese Martial Arts although it is not always the name a Chinese person would use. In western society the term is the most popular for Chinese martial arts, although the Chinese Government prefers the term Wushu.

In the past terms such as Chan Fa, Koshu, Gung Fu, Quan, Quan Fa, Shui Jao and a number of other terms could be found. This can be in part attributed to the fact that there is no Chinese Language but almost 400 different dialects of which Mandarin is the now official language but Cantonese is still very widely spread. For the purposes of explanation we will refer to General Martial Arts as Martial Arts, to Modern day Chinese Martial Arts as Wushu and to the Shaolin Arts as Kung Fu; as Kung Fu does not mean martial arts!

So, to answer the initial question, What is Kung Fu? Shaolin Academy uses the traditional Shaolin term which is also pronounced (more of less) Kung Fu meaning "Perfection through hard work" or "Hard work with the aim of leading to perfection". The Shaolin character and spirit of Kung Fu is that of working towards internal perfection using self discipline rather than external training with the aim of dominating others.

Thus, we use the capitalized version (Kung Fu) to depict the art and the lower case version (Kung Fu) to depict the meaning. But there are many different styles and types of Kung Fu that developed over the some 8 millennia of Chinas chaotic and violent history. It is a wonder that we have so few terms for Chinese Martial Arts considering that China is about the size of Western Europe and the amount of different languages spoken there.

A short exert from the 70's Kung Fu TV Show on Wisdom

Why is it called 'Kung Fu' in the West?

The name was popularized in the west through the 70's series with David Carridine called "Kung Fu".

Rumored to be the brain child of Bruce Lee, who was declined in favorer of David, who made the role his own over a period of 4 seasons from 1972 to 1975. The series was very influential in the forming of western opinion about Shaolin Kung Fu, showing the wisdom (see video clip ---->), grace, beauty, justice and power of the art. Hong Kong cinema took up the subject in the 70's too but chose to focus on the blood, gore, death and fighting aspect of both Kung Fu and Shaolin. It is rumoured that this depiction of Kung Fu in Chinese Cinema had a significant impact on the Olympic Committees view of Chinese Martial Arts and contributed to declining 'Wushu" to be even demonstrated at the opening ceremony forcing the Chinese to use Tai Chi practitioners to show Chinese Arts. Although the crafty organizers slipped in some aspects of Kung Fu into the opening ceremony demonstration.

The another bench-mark movie came out just before the 1st screening of Kung Fu the Series, Bruce Lee's Big Boss (71). Public media was really ready for this and Bruce Lee became a cult hero following this success with a further 3½ films. Although Lee's films had nothing to do with Shaolin, it added to the mystique and fascination of this new martial art style keep secret for over 100 years from the western world.

It was the 1982 movie Shaolin Temple starring Jet Li in his debut role that really excited the martial art world (at least) thus cementing Shaolin Temple, it's philosophies and martial arts in Western and Eastern society.

Are there many Styles of Kung Fu?

Yes, many, many! Eight Thousand years in a landmass 25 million sq Km's, housing 20% of the world population, often waging war internally but also being attacked from the outside; many styles developed and forgotten. In addition, China was poor on metal ore deposits and thus weapons were scarce and very expensive which lead to a higher focus on the bare hand and minimalist Kung Fu styles. This is one of the reason that many, many ways of defence and attack were developed. Some estimates suggest that there are still now 1000 major styles with up to 10,000 family or house styles. It may be better to look at some 'generic' types of Kung Fu.

Often Chinese refer to Yin/Yang driven style descriptions such as Long vs Short Fist, Northern vs Southern (although the mid point for where the center between north and south varies), Hard vs Soft, Fist Style vs Feet based, Traditional vs Modern, Internal vs External Focus etc. Although these have meaning for the individual calling them so, often there is no set standard and thus one man's Long Fist is another mans Northern Style and then another's Hard Style.

At the Shaolin Academy we focus on the Shaolin 5 Animal Style, arguably the best martial art style in the world. But we also have other forms and styles but nowhere as many as there are. Just below are some examples of those the we have some materials and knowledge.

What is Shaolin and Shaolin Kung Fu?

About Shaolin and History

The idea and spirit Buddhism would have traveled to China from India over the Silk Road from the earliest days. But the 1st official temple to Buddhism was when the Emperor sent en envoy to India to bring back scriptures. The envoy returned with two Indian Buddhist and a Temple was erected to facilitate the translation and studies of these. As the envoy retuned bearing the documents on the back of a White Horse, so the temple was named.

Many other such exchanges ensued over the next few centuries but for our purposes during the 6 Dynasties era of China and Indian Buddhist names Buddhabhadra called Batuo was spreading the word of Lord Buddha when he came to the attention of the Emperor. He grated the Monk the Space and Resources to build a temple. Batuo chose on the side of Mount 'Shao' in the center of a Young/Little Forest (Lin) and thus it was named Shaolin.

Thus, Shaolin is a Chinese Buddhist Temple and we would not know much of it had not another Indian Prince turned Buddhist Monk come across to China and reach Shaolin. There is more to the story, but the brief version is that he found that the monks had become lazy, unfit and even sickly due to the prolonged static meditations. He introduced a novel concept of 'exercises' which later became know as the 18 Hands of Lohan.

Again, cutting the story short, these Yoga based exercises were of little help when the Shaolin Temple was robbed and destroyed some 30 years later. With the re-establishment of the Shaolin Temple around 600 CE, Shaolin Monks had to manage their own security and protection. As it was the habit of outlying temples to host specialist of all kind to educate and share information with the resident temple dwellers, they added martial art masters as welcomed guests. Thus was Shaolin Kung Fu born.

The principles of Buddhism could not be contravened so the Shaolin Martial Art had to be Kung Fu (of highest quality) so that they did not do undue damage to even those persons wanting to kill them. After a while an elite Warrior Monk force was established with the blessing of the Emperor (as private person could not have their own army's or warriors), Shaolin Martial Art became very . . . effective.

It was to be another 500 years before Shaolin made a leap of style and skill when after the 2nd destruction and re-establishment of Shaolin, the 5 Animal Kung Fu style was born. This even today is still considered to be the most advanced and comprehensive martial art style in the world. excluding lethal styles.

In answer to the heading question; Shaolin Kung Fu is a health and well being exercise developed to extend life, protect and improve health using martial art techniques and strategies but not causing death or undue harm beyond that of a teacher or self defence.

There is a full history of the Shaolin Temple @ Shaolin Temple History, to understand the non-tangible aspects of Shaolin look at The Spirit of Shaolin and for an overview of the 20 year history of the Shaolin Academy look at Shaolin Academy

Which is the best style of Kung Fu?

It depends on what you want from your martial art AND why type of person you are. Some think, strike first and hard and you will always win; others think that this type of thinking causes much conflict. Some think that you wait until the person attacks and then retaliated; others think that you need to be very confident and skilled for this type of thinking. Some think that you need to out-think your opponents; others think that action speaks louder than words and then again some think that we have Laws and Police who manage violence; others say, read the newspapers. So again, it depends on what 'type' of person you are as to what may be the best style for you.

Shaolin 5 Animal System recognizes that there different types of people with different needs and methods of solving problems. The principle of Shaolin Kung Fu is to teach practitioners most of the basics and allow a high degree of specialization at an advanced level. Thus you have the Proactive Tiger Style, the Strategising and Misdirecting Panther Style, The Evading and Wearing-down Crane Style and the Hold and Controlling Snake Style (if you would like more information on the Animal Styles, click here).

But this is only one view of the Kung Fu world and there are other more modern criteria to consider. Many people train martial arts for reasons other than fighting and self defence and thus, depending what your primary motivation is you may want to think which may be best to do. Some examples of this are (generic interpretations of styles and just some examples);

Shaolin Kung Fu works on all these levels as it is an adaptable style.

Why is Shaolin Kung Fu so considered to good?

Some of the exploits of Shaolin Monks using Shaolin Kung Fu are legendary! It even started before Shaolin was famous, when a band of brigands saw that all the monks had left for field work and only the cook was left, they decide to rob the place. The cook saw this and stepped out to meet them with his man sized wooden ladle. As all monks were fit, he swung his ladle around in such an impressive display that the brigands thought it best not to rob the temple, ever.

And there were more such legends/history (?) including he 13 Monks, multiple successful encounters with Pirates, saving the Tang Emperors son and often it is referred to as the birth place of Kung Fu; but this is not true. The Shaolin were instrumental in quite a few historical events in Chinese history which saw them gain an almost God Like martial art status.

Although Shaolin did not originate the concept of Animal Kung Fu, they are the first to organize the many Animal Styles into a 5 Animal integrated multi-style that allows Shaolin practitioners to apply the Kung Fu that is best suited to their needs and character. It is really the only style that allows for this total adaptation to the needs of the practitioner. And long before any other martial art style considered the need for a warm-up and preparation before training Shaolin was using a combination of Stretching, Strengthening, Meditation, Relaxation, Fitness, Endurance and more; in the form of practicing what we now know as Yoga, Tai Chi and Chi Kung. This has seen Shaolin to survive and thrive as a Kung Fu stye for almost 15 centuries since 537 CE.

This variety and style flexibility allows the Shaolin Kung Fu practitioner to continue training well into their eighties and nineties decades longer than most other martial arts; especially if they are purely strength and speed based or kicking and throwing based.

For Whom is Shaolin Academy Kung Fu best Suited?

Shaolin Kung Fu, What is it

Short answer, most anyone who can move (even in a wheel-chair) and believes in peaceful action is more important than face smashing! If you are looking for a style of exercise and fitness that is very easy to learn, has tremendous variety and is complex to master; keeping your mind, body and spirit active you have to come and try out three free sessions with us; really!

Where Yoga gives you breathing, posture and flexibility, Shaolin Kung Fu (which derived from the original Indian Yoga) achieves the same, but together with coordinated and purposeful directional and coordinated movement achieves much more. Where Tai Chi focuses on relaxing slow movements, often these movements have little meaning. Shaolin Kung Fu forms have both martial meaning and body-workout meaning and can be exercises both at a slow page and at a rapid combat pace; Your Choice once you have learned the forms!

Other styles like boxing seek to give you an excellent workout, good movement and an excellent punch but can often lead to RSI and Impact injury just from the repetitive hitting and impacting on bags and balls (we are not even referring to entering the ring and having your head punched in). And this applies to most combat arts with long term physical consequences being the reward for diligent and hard training. Writ, Hand, Head, Elbow, forearm, knee,lower leg, ankle and foot injuries are very common and practitioners needing hospitalization (refer "http://www.aihw.gov.au/WorkArea/DownloadAsset.aspx?id=60129549097" report on Combat Sport Injuries).

We do not seek to lessen any of the exercise methods mentioned above and if you do not choose Kung Fu, choose Karate and if not that Yoga or Tai Chi. Most other forms of exercise do not feed the mind as Shaolin Kung Fu does and often create long term physical repetitive or injury caused problems. Most other exercises do not have a structured and coordinated approach with levels to ensure safety and allow progress. At the same time, Shaolin Kung Fu has one of the lowest incidents of injury and accidents of most other sports including martial arts.

Shaolin Kung Fu is so well suited for mature minded person for all the reasons listed above. The diversity, adaptability and variety of Shaolin Kung Fu will keep your mind active; the nature of the style will develop your body's core strength, power, posture, coordination, flexibility and more. The excellent instructing team will ensure a sensible and steady base giving you a Safety and Sensible training and social environment!

How to Choose the Right style for YOU!

First we need to understand the changing nature of need. The reason you start a martial art is often not the reason you stay with it past the honeymoon period (6 months or so) and then the reason you may continue past the 2/3 year point is also different! So what you want to do is chose a style that has many facets and options. Yet, there some no-negotiable's when choosing a style.

Non-negotiable's/Fundamental Requirements

It needs to be safe for your health and well-being; not only avoid all head contact but also extreme training regimes that WILL have a lasting and negative effect on your body, joint and muscles. It would seem stupid to do a martial art that causes you Brain Damage, Disability or Chronic Physical problems!

It needs to be in touch with the real world! We live in the 21st century. A smash to the face, broken bones and bleeding are no longer acceptable unless you are in extreme circumstances. It would be stupid if you maimed or even killed someone because of your martial art training. Shaolin Academy uses Dragon Style techniques for the most of it's defence. These are techniques that attack Breath and possibly Muscle/Sinew rather than the very damaging techniques that attack Structure, Joints or even Spirit/Head.

Has the club/organization been around for a while. Although this is not a guarantee of quality, reliability and safety, inexperienced teachers, clubs and many back-yarders are almost always a guarantee for high risk training. There are exceptions but if you do not know you way around, if it is not a know, registered and insured organization; avoid, avoid, avoid!

People, Place and Environment!

Can you relate to the person teaching - is that person speaking the same style of language as you, educated or professional, practical or formal; what ever type of person is teaching they have an enormous influence on you. Choose with Care .

Would you have the instructor over to meet your friends, parents or work colleagues? Your instructor (your children's instructor) will have a lot of influence on your thinking about many things both subtle and overt. If this instructor represents a view that is not best for you (or your children) there will be conflicts.

Would you hold your next family, friends or work colleagues celebration at the venue where you will be training? Is this the right environment for you to be exposed to? Is it clean, well managed and suited for the activity? If you are looking for a short term adventure, rough and ready may be on the order but if you are seriously looking for a life-style, choose clean and ordered over chaos and scrappy.

Has the instructor the qualification/accreditation and the professional and/or educational level suitable to your needs? Or will you be developing some new habits and interesting vocabulary? THIS is especially important when choosing a martial art for your children; for this person will have a lot of influence on your offspring. If he is a strong language red-neck, don't be surprised if your children start browsing guns sights on the internet.


How dangerous do you want your automatic defence reaction to be? Styles that teach attacking the Breath (Dragon Techniques) are the safest and relatively effective. Whereas styles that attack Organs, Structure (Bone) and Spirit (Head) are most dangerous. Styles that attack joints, muscle and tendon are somewhere in between. Remember, if you choose a throwing style, every time you fall (whilst practicing) it will need to be perfect else you are damaging your spine! If you choose a kicking style, you need to be in great control of your techniques as kicks have proven to be lethal in street defence. If you choose grappling, great for Security and Control but not very good for multiple attacker situations. Consider the effect the skills you are developing will have when applied and what consequences to your health there may be training these sills.

How repetitive is the training? Repetition is the key to mastery but you need a wide variety of techniques else you will wear out the joint you are constantly using. Then, long before you ever need your skill, you will be a damaged person.

How Tough/Hard is the training? There is a fine balance between toughening and tenderizing when it comes to a live human being. there have been many martial art practitioners lost to the martial arts because of too tough training methods, especially in the beginning. You need a very experienced teacher for toughening as usually, more wrong is done than right.

Styles principles to encounters! is fairly key. Are they are hit first and then check type of teacher/style or a step away, avoid first and if aggression persist, manage the situation type of style/teacher. This is very important because in a bad case scenario, if you are being attacked you need to win three times;

  1. Against the attacker.
  2. With the Police if you are charged for violence/aggressive behaviour or some-such.
  3. In the Civil court if the person attacking you seeks to now to sue you for damages or inappropriate response!

You think this exaggerated? Read the Newspapers where people even defending their own home have been investigated and charged for inappropriate response, aggregated assault and even manslaughter.

"28 March 2016 Headline - A Newcastle man who caught an alleged burglar has been charged with murder."

Yes, there is a lot to consider but there is also a lot at stake; your safety, your health and your future. it is well worthwhile taking sometime to make a real choice rather than choosing something that is close and convenient. It is your life that you are changing.

Summary & Conclusion

Well before most anyone else, the Shaolin Academy and even the Shaolin Monks knew that there is more to martial arts than just hitting someone to the face. Actually, most people are not really capable of such crass violence, often choosing to be the victim rather than hurting another human being. Fortunately, Shaolin Monks were in the same circumstance as Buddhists and developed the 5 Animal Style which allows you to deal with a conflict situation and the way that suits your personality best! The link will give you more insight into the 5 animal Style. But there are many refined, advanced and conscionable options for training a Martial Art style that will still be relevant in the future should you need it.

More Question, Thoughts, Ideas Proposals and/or Suggestions (QTIPS)?

In Australia call us on 0417 5864 38 or e-mail sijo@shaolin.com.au!

Links to other interesting Shaolin Kung Fu pages.

Shaolin Kung Fu Academy, Mordialloc and Camberwell, Bayside, Victoria, Australia Shaolin Kung Fu Academy, Mordialloc and Camberwell, Bayside, Victoria, Australia Shaolin Kung Fu, What is it Shaolin Kung Fu, What is it Shaolin Kung Fu, What is it Shaolin Kung Fu, What is it Shaolin Kung Fu home training Shaolin Kung Fu home training