Are there Ranking System in Chinese Kung Fu & Its Relation To Chinese Culture.
One of the most concerning issues now is many smart businessmen have already capitalized on the unclear Chinese culture scene and started Kung Fu Martial Arts Schools in the West. They employ a few athletic looking men and have them do some basic movements from Kung Fu movies or Kung Fu performance to advertise their school. They also deploy a very "contemporary modern feeling" packaging and marketing strategies to appeal to the modern city-dwellers living in the West. Of course, out of curiosity the "martial arts layman" tried it out and stuck to them. Very few of these schools are actually run by real students of true masters of real Chinese Kung Fu. These school used a very different approach of teaching to bring it to a wider audience. If they are teaching the real deal, then there's nothing wrong about that, in fact it's strongly encouraged. But if it's merely a marketing campaign with Fake Kung Fu, then it's a really sad case for the poor students who fell into the wrong hands.
Firstly, let me cover on the few reasons why our friends the West do not get the Right Information:
1. Communist Chinese Cultural Revolution. We all know that in the 50s-60s, China just became a communist country and the Red Guards overran the land, destroying anyone who does any sort of preservation for traditional Chinese culture. Their purpose is to create a totally new China culture for the new age, and their idea of doing it is through getting rid of the old. They succeeded, the China we see now is indeed populated by Chinese people who live this new lifestyle and adopt this new mindset which the government integrated in them since the sixties. So most Chinese people in China are now contemporary modern people instead of people with a cultural heritage and ethics. Despite this, the China government has restored the world renowned Shaolin Temple and turned it into a tourist attraction. Many tourists who have been to Shaolin Temple would have seen monks doing "contemporary wushu" instead of real kung fu meant for combat.
2. Overseas Chinese. So where did the martial arts survivors of Chinese culture go? They fled overseas to Hong Kong, Taiwan, Malaysia and Singapore or even to Europe and America when their home country purged them. It was all good in these countries, there was freedom to do what they want, except that these kung fu practitioners have to work hard in other jobs to earn a living. Most of them were not rich and struggled to make ends meet, therefore many abandoned their martial arts practices. Regardless the art is still intact within many Kung Fu groups in the above countries, except that you don't expect all of them are as good as the old days. Many of the kung fu groups have also sort of 'watered down' their training when they passed on their skills, as the modern generations are unable to endure the rigors of Kung Fu training of the old days. Some of these groups were also greatly influence by other cultures' martial arts, such as Thai Boxing, Karate, Taekwondo and Boxing. Some have also added "fanciful gimmicks" to their art to stand a higher chance of winning in wushu demonstration competitions, making it not much different from China's contemporary performance art.
3. Real Kung Fu is combat based. Nothing wrong about it, except that the Westerners do not know that Traditionally Chinese Kung Fu Masters have a very cautious mindset and will not teach Kung Fu to anyone who is likely to cause harm to others unreasonably. That is why in the old days the beginners in Chinese Kung Fu will always practice the basic exercises & in some instances "forms" until the master deem them worthy of learning the combat skills. These basic exercises develop willpower, self-control, understanding of oneself & others. With this values, one is able to restrain himself from abusing the skills he have learned. That is also why sometimes you see the Chinese martial artists practicing moves that don't resemble fighting at all, unlike in Thai Boxing and other Combat Ring Sports. So many Westerners get misconceptions that: "Hey if these guys don't have the real stuff, maybe their Japanese friends have it in their Karate, they do sparring and lots of combat stuff". So they either learn Karate, or learn from Chinese Kung Fu schools which use the karate structural system.
With all the above reasons, our friends in the West are very confused and are very likely to not pursue this dream of learning Kung Fu or ended up in the wrong school. Not just them, even Chinese people living outside China are having problem finding a genuine Kung Fu teacher these days. Majority of modern youngsters in China do not want to learn Kung Fu as they think it is too time consuming , instead they want to adopt Western Culture & prefer learning easier combat systems like kickboxing. This is a especially sad case, because over 80% of the world's Chinese population definitely have no Kung Fu training.
Fret not, for these days massive media effort has been put into reviving Real Chinese Kung Fu, through channels like television and the internet, though the ratio of Real to Fake or Right to Wrong kung fu coverage is still at 20:80. So we have to say that the producers of the 20% that have the real or right kung fu coverage are either very lucky, smart or well-informed. We in www.SingaporeKungFu.com is also one of the movements in bringing the Truth of Kung Fu to light. It is actually not that hard to find a real Kung Fu school if you know how to tell what is Kung Fu.
Now let me explain the social system in Kung Fu and why we do not have belt ranking system in Traditional Chinese Kung Fu. We all know that the best way to find out a person's skill level is to fight a battle to prove it. Which is why in the past many Kung Fu practitioners were either dead or crippled in their path to be the Top Kung Fu Warrior. Therefore Chinese people do not use the belt system since prehistoric days, the skill of the person says it all. However Kung Fu now is very peaceful and lawful in the 21st century, we refrain ourselves from fighting & most masters these days will go easy on their students compare to the old days. Before the 20th century the training life or conditions of a Kung Fu practitioners were much rigorous than that of a Japanese Martial Arts Dojo or Thai Boxing Gym. Also there was many things to learn and the teacher often taught according the student's capabilities and affinity with certain skills or weapons. It was hard to follow a standard learning path like in other martial arts.
Much to our dismay, there were actually schools in the West that claim that they are teaching just 'Kung Fu', with no mention of school of origin or clans. Some even took away the name of the forms and skills or renamed them to make it easy for the Westerner. By right there should be a style and name for every kung fu style or move, like 七星螳螂門(Seven Star Praying Mantis School)，崩步(Crushing Step form)，螳螂捕蟬(Mantis catching Crickets). But they just used names which is common in popular culture, like Kung Fu, and Tai Chi.
If the school is teaching Real Kung Fu, there ought to be a school of origin or clan (門派) which the school comes from. Most Chinese martial arts school retains its roots from their teachers and ancestors. There is no way one can learn all the Kung Fu in China and call their skill 'Kung Fu'. Even for a very gifted person to master just one style of Kung Fu, it may take him a decade of dedication. There are more than 1500 distinguished styles in China and unless one has a lifespan of 5000 years, he will not be able to master all styles and teach all of them as 'Kung Fu'. There is a few exception though, the worldwide Chin Woo Athletic Federation teaches many different styles of Kung Fu, they either teach all of these themselves or they invite teachers from other clans to teach in their school. Even so, they let you know what style of Kung Fu you are learning and where it came from. Chin Woo started out and specializes in Mizong Quan or Lost Track Fist (迷蹤拳).
When you enroll in a Chinese Martial Arts School, remember to ask which clan and style the school is under !
I have to stress another fact about Chinese Kung Fu. There is no way in Kung Fu that you don't have to train your horse stance. It is the exercise which you open your legs and sit/squat down with your buttocks almost as low as your knees, a static exercise which will make your thighs and buttocks sore after 30 seconds. Don't think that only Hung Gar Kung Fu has this rigor regiment, even if you learn Tai Chi or the agile northern styles, you will still have to go through this horse stance training. Since the Zhou Dynasty, our Chinese ancestors have all been doing horse stance training.
Why is that so? Because the body functions as a whole unit and the upper body movements require a strong and stable base to cope with the inertia. A good example is Wing Chun or Filipino Arnis which have a higher and narrower stance. They use small knives instead of long and heavy weapons like Guan Dao and Snake spear. It's because the widespread weight distribution of the weapon needs a big firm base, Wing Chun and Arnis stances only permits lighter and shorter weapons. Also, footwork is very prominent in Chinese Kung Fu. There is only a few standing and moving stances in Boxing, Kickboxing and Sport Taekwondo. Contrastingly, there can be up to 10 stances and even more movement patterns in most Kung Fu styles. Chinese Kung Fu is very mobile with its elusive footwork systems and almost all the attacking and defensive maneuvers have to be done with footwork. Even kicks are considered as footwork patterns.
So if someone is offering you a shortcut, then that is not the real way or "Real Kung Fu".
There are some exceptions though. Some southern Shaolin martial arts do not use a low stance and have very little footwork, you will probably don't need to strain your legs like in Hung Gar as their stance is high and small. Why is that so? According to legends their great ancestors, the Shaolin monks in the Ming Dynasty got their legs maimed by the Japanese pirates when summoned by the emperor to fend them off them in China southern coastal provinces. That's why they have very little leg movements. In fact, Japanese Karate originated from this kind of Kung Fu. The Japanese actually added more footwork movements and some kicks into their style to bolster its fighting capabilities. There is drawbacks for stationary Kung Fu, footworks allow one to evade attacks and adds another dimension of unpredictability to one's offensive. For 1 to 1 self defense in confined areas these stationary styles are adequate, but for fighting against a well trained martial artist or many attackers, it is difficult to win the battle without moving around unless you have super fast reaction speed and have a deep understanding of the art. However, this too is an art of combat from the Chinese and if you are really interested in them, you may try them.
Chinese Kung Fu is closely tied with Chinese culture too. There are links with Chinese medicine, religion like Taoism and Buddhism, historical events, feng shui and poetry. Which is why Kung Fu contain very profound knowledge & interesting expects for exploration. It is a way of life, not just how you defend yourself, but also how you live and carry yourself.
It will help a big deal in training if a student is able to speak in Chinese. In the 60s to the 80s, many Westerners learned how to speak and write Chinese, then they went to Hong Kong or Taiwan to learn Kung Fu alongside the usual Chinese students. The teacher will feel more at ease teaching you as he don't have to translate every sentence.
A very good way of finding a genuine Chinese Kung Fu school is to observe their training or their Kung Fu moves. Authentic kung fu moves are supposed to be practical and functional, even when they do look artistic at times. It is meant for interaction with the enemy, not doing your own performance like in modern Wushu. The Kung Fu which Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung and the Shaw Brothers actors exhibit are the real Kung Fu skills with some modifications for spectacular effects on the camera. You can use these as a reference. However some of the movements by Jet Li are the modern performance Wushu, Jet Li himself is a Fanzi Quan practitioner.