Want to Learn Kung Fu in China? Read This First

Want to Learn Kung Fu in China? Read This First
Mar 08, 2018 By Lewis Schwinn , eChinacities.com

It’s impossible to watch a Bruce Lee Kung Fu movie and not imagine yourself using moves with the word “dragon” in them and beating people up with nunchucks. Many foreigners who come to China decide they’re going to learn Kung Fu, only find old people in parks doing dubiously authentic Tai Chi and young Chinese people practicing Muay Thai. Where is all the Kung Fu at? Today, we're going to try and answer that question and provide some basic tips on how to find a decent Kung Fu school in China.

Kung fu definitions:
Kung Fu is a generally broad term used to describe martial arts in China. The other popular terms you might hear are Wushu and Sanshou/Sanda. There are several more terms, classifications and sub-classifications that I won’t bore with you with since their meaning can change based on the context and person you’re talking to. What you should know about the basic terms, however, is as follows:

Kung Fu- This is a general term and can refer to dozens of different schools and styles with different training methods.

Wushu- This is another general term for Kung Fu but it often refers to styles that are heavily focused on the practice of forms. Forms are sets of movements that teach basic breathing, stance and proper striking technique. These styles often do not include sparring in their traditional curriculum. If you’re watching a demonstration that looks super fancy, it’s most likely Wushu.

Tai Chi- This is a very popular style of Chinese martial art that, like Wushu, focuses on form practice and breath control. Just about anyone who has been in China for longer than a day will have seen scores of elderly people practicing this style in the park. Tai Chi does have practical applications to real fighting but, due to its popularity as a form of meditation, finding a teacher who knows how else to employ it can be extremely difficult.

Sanshou/Sanda- This can be considered a separate style or a training component practiced in addition to traditional Kung Fu or Wushu. It was originally developed to combine the multitude of Kung Fu schools and styles into one practical standardized fighting technique. It focuses heavily on sparring and can include a variety of moves including kicking, punching and throwing, depending on the rules of your school.

Kungfu confusion
Since the general decline of the Qing dynasty beginning in the 1850s, China has seen massive changes in its culture. Settled villages that existed for hundreds of years were suddenly swept away by war, relocation or industrialization. Consequently, a massive amount of cultural information that had largely been transmitted from generation to generation was lost. Essentially, a lot of Kung Fu technical know-how died with the experts. Combine that with the fact that China has generated hundreds of different fighting styles throughout its history, and a person is left with a bewildering variety of choices.

Also beware: there are dozens of teachers from city to city claiming expertise and pedigree who either only know the basics of their style or are flat-out charlatans. When you practice a seemingly rare or unique style of Kung Fu, you run the risk of having the person teach you absolute nonsense since there’s no real way for you to verify its authenticity. You can avoid this problem by seeking out some of the more famous styles.
One of the easiest traditional styles to find is known as Yǒng Chūn (詠春) in Mandarin, but more popularly as Wing Chun in English. It was popularised by famous movie stars like Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan and, as a result, is one of the most widespread styles in China. Choosing Yong Chun is therefore advantageous as it’s easy to find a school and continue with the training if you need to move cities. But again, despite its ubiquity there are lot of fakers out there, so proceed with caution when looking for a school.

How to find a school
Just like everything else in China, Kung  Fu can cost a little or a lot. There are boutique schools in big cities that charge upwards of 10,000 RMB for a set of classes, and there are gatherings of Tai Chi practitioners in the park you can join for nothing more than a few awkward stares. But here are some things to remember:

Finding a school- You won’t find many options for Kung Fu schools in China if you’re only searching the internet in English. You must use Chinese search engines and search terms if you want a complete set of choices. If you don’t have the language skills, ask your Chinese teacher, a colleague or a friend for help.

Structure- Most schools will charge you for blocks of classes ( X amount of money for X amount of classes) rather than a monthly fee. Additionally, most teachers will offer you one-on-one classes as well as group sessions, but the former will obviously be more expensive.

Cost does not equal quality- Many of the smaller high-end schools that charge a lot are led by people who only have the smallest understanding of Kung Fu. A good practice is to ask them for an exact syllabus of what they’re going to teach you and when. That way you can compare with other schools and hold them accountable to a teaching plan. No-one wants to end up learning how to wash cars for 10 weeks.

There will be a foreigner tax-  Probably one of out of every three schools or teachers I’ve talked to in China have attempted to charge me more based on the fact that I’m a foreigner. I immediately tell them several rude things they can do with themselves and exit. One way to avoid this is to have a Chinese friend call and make inquiries about the price and class structures before you go and drop the bombshell that you’re a foreigner.  

Practicality- If you’re looking for a practical style of Kung Fu to use in real world self-defense situations, remember this most vital of rules: if your class doesn’t have sparring, it won’t help you. Learning forms is an important component of practice, but unless you have someone trying to punch you in the face every once in a while, you’ll be useless in a street fight, regardless of how beautiful your technique is. Whether or not a school has sparring is an important question to ask if practicality is one of your concerns.

The teacher not the style is most important- There are hundreds of schools of varying styles in China, but the most important thing is the teacher. Does this seem like a person who is genuinely interested in having you learn? Do you think you can forge a good working relationship with the person? Do you even like this person? Your connection with your teacher will determine how much and how well you learn, so take this into account when shopping around for a Kung Fu school in China.

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China Shaolin kung fu is one of the greatest forms of martial arts that has gained a lot of popularity in the recent past. It's movements are rapid, quick and forceful. This martial art demands energy, rapid and forceful actions.

Apr 13, 2021 10:16 Report Abuse



Shaolin Kung Fu is only one of several types of Chinese Kung Fu, or "hard-won achievement", "martial arts". It is only one among many such martial arts that claim association with Shaolin Temple, the now famous Chan ("Zen", in Japanese) Buddhist temple located near the city of Zhengzhou, in China's Henan Province.

Apr 16, 2021 10:58 Report Abuse



Regarding the “practicality” of Kung Fu, no martial art simulates real fighting. I have practiced different martial arts (Judo, Tae Kwon Do) and some combat sports ( Freestyle Wrestling, MMA), and I can tell you that no martial art simulates real fighting. If you are looking for a practical self defense style of fighting, then don’t practice Kung Fu. Instead take a military self defense course, or train a fighting system made from a combination of different martial arts. On the other hand, martial arts are a good way for staying active, gaining self confidence, building character, socializing, achieving self knowledge, learning conflict resolution techniques, and more.

Mar 09, 2018 10:43 Report Abuse