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In general, kung fu/kungfu (// (listen) or //; pinyin: gōngfu pronounced [kʊ́ŋfu]) refers to the Chinese martial arts also called wushu and quanfa. In China, it refers to any study, learning, or practice that requires patience, energy, and time to complete. In its original meaning, kung fu can refer to any discipline or skill achieved through hard work and practice, not necessarily martial arts (for example, the discipline of tea making is called the Gongfu tea ceremony). The Chinese literal equivalent of "Chinese martial art" would be 中國武術 zhōngguó wǔshù.
There are many forms of kung fu, such as Shaolin Kung Fu, Wing Chun, Tai chi, etc., and they are practiced all over the world. Each form of kung fu has its own principles and techniques, but is best known for its trickery and quickness, which is where the word kung fu is derived. It is only in the late twentieth century that this term was used in relation to Chinese martial arts by the Chinese community. The Oxford English Dictionary defines the term "kung-fu" as "a primarily unarmed Chinese martial art resembling karate" and attributes the first use of "kung fu" in print to Punch magazine in 1966. This illustrates how the meaning of this term has been changed in English. The origin of this change can be attributed to the misunderstanding or mistranslation of the term through movie subtitles or dubbing.
In popular culture
References to the concepts and use of Chinese martial arts can be found in popular culture. Historically, the influence of Chinese martial arts can be found in books and in the performance arts specific to Asia. Recently, those influences have extended to the movies and television that targets a much wider audience. As a result, Chinese martial arts have spread beyond its ethnic roots and have a global appeal.
Martial arts play a prominent role in the literature genre known as wuxia (武俠小說). This type of fiction is based on Chinese concepts of chivalry, a separate martial arts society (武林; Wulin) and a central theme involving martial arts. Wuxia stories can be traced as far back as 2nd and 3rd century BCE, becoming popular by the Tang dynasty and evolving into novel form by the Ming dynasty. This genre is still extremely popular in much of Asia and provides a major influence for the public perception of the martial arts.
Martial arts influences can also be found in dance, theater and especially Chinese opera, of which Beijing opera is one of the best-known examples. This popular form of drama dates back to the Tang dynasty and continues to be an example of Chinese culture. Some martial arts movements can be found in Chinese opera and some martial artists can be found as performers in Chinese operas.
In modern times, Chinese martial arts have spawned the genre of cinema known as the Kung fu film. The films of Bruce Lee were instrumental in the initial burst of Chinese martial arts' popularity in the West in the 1970's, following a famous demonstration of "Chinese Boxing" to the US karate community the Long Beach International Karate Championships in 1964. Martial artists and actors such as Jackie Chan, Jet Li and Donnie Yen have continued the appeal of movies of this genre. Jackie Chan successfully brought in a sense of humor in his fighting style into his movies. Martial arts films from China are often referred to as "kung fu movies" (功夫片), or "wire-fu" if extensive wire work is performed for special effects, and are still best known as part of the tradition of kung fu theater. (see also: wuxia, Hong Kong action cinema). In 2003, the Fuse (TV channel) began airing episodes of a half-hour television show titled Kung Faux that married classic kung fu films with hip hop sensibilities and comic affects to gain resilient critical success.
"Bitter Work," the literal Cantonese translation of "kung fu," is the title of the ninth episode of season 2 of Avatar. The episode entails the protagonist and nemesis of the show mastering different aspects of kung fu.
Influence on early hip hop
In the 1970s, Bruce Lee was beginning to gain popularity in Hollywood for his martial arts movies. The fact that he was a non-white male who portrayed self-reliance and righteous self-discipline resonated with black audiences and made him an important figure in this community. With the release of Enter the Dragon in 1973, kung fu movies became a hit in America across all backgrounds; however, black audiences maintained the films’ popularity well after the general public lost interest. Urban youth from every borough in New York City were attending movies in Manhattan's Times Square every night to watch the latest movies.
Among these individuals were those coming from the Bronx where, during this time, hip hop was beginning to take form. One of the pioneers responsible for the development of the foundational aspects of hip-hop was DJ Kool Herc, who began creating this new form of music by taking rhythmic breakdowns of songs and looping them. From the new music came a new form of dance known as b-boying or breakdancing, a style of street dance consisting of improvised acrobatic moves. The pioneers of this dance credit kung fu as one of its influences.
Moves such as the crouching low leg sweep and "up rocking" (standing combat moves) are influenced by choreographed kung fu fights. The dancers’ ability to improvise these moves led way to battles, which were dance competitions between two dancers or crews judged on their creativity, skills and musicality. In a documentary, Crazy Legs, a member of breakdancing group Rock Steady Crew, described the breakdancing battle being like an old kung fu movie, "where the one kung fu master says something along the lines of ‘hun your kung fu is good, but mine is better,’ then a fight erupts."
- "Dictionary". Dictionary.com. 10 March 2010.
- Lorge, Peter (2012). Chinese Martial Arts From Antiquity to the Twenty-First Century. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9780521878814.
- "Dictionary". Oxford Dictionaries Online. 26 February 2011.[dead link]
- Conor Herbert, Remember "An Ode to 'Kung Faux'— The us Martial Arts and Hip-Hop", DJBooth.net, 8 May 2019
- Hoad, Phil (18 July 2012). "Why Bruce Lee and kung fu films hit home with black audiences". The Guardian.
- Wisdom B (5 June 2017). "Know Your Hip-Hop History: The B-Boy". Throwback Magazine.
- Friedman, Chris (9 October 2017). "Kung Fu Influences Aspects of Hip Hop Culture Like Break Dancing". JetLi.com. Archived from the original on 27 February 2018.
Media related to Kung fu at Wikimedia Commons