The term Kung Fu refers to the martial arts of China. Kung Fu originated in a place called the Shaolin Temple, where monks practiced Kung Fu for health and self-defense during their quest for enlightenment.
The first Shaolin temple was a Buddhist monastery built in 377 A.D. in the Henan province of China. In 527 A.D. a Buddhist prince, Bodhidharma, or Da Mo in Chinese, traveled to the temple for religious teaching, but found the monks weak and in poor health. To find a way to give the monks strength and vitality, Da Mo locked himself in a room for nine years of meditation. His resulting work, Yi Jin Jing, a series of exercises which developed strength, vitality, and internal energy, is considered the original Shaolin martial art.
Historically, Kung Fu in China was an integral part in the education of scholars and the leaders of government. The Chinese people placed great value in the practice of Kung Fu because they felt it taught respect, patience, humility, and morality.
Many Americans believe that Kung Fu is a term which describes a single martial art, much like Taekwondo, Judo, or Aikido. In reality, Kung Fu is a general term which includes hundreds of styles of Chinese martial arts. Some examples of Kung Fu styles are Long Fist, Eagle Claw, and Taiji Quan.
Another misconception is that Kung Fu is a “soft” style compared with Karate or other “hard” styles. This is not so: each Kung Fu style contains both hard and soft techniques. Also, many people believe that Kung Fu is an external style and Taiji Quan is an internal style. While most Kung Fu styles emphasize external development, all styles of Kung Fu contain both internal and external components.