There are many different schools in kung fu, however they can all be categorized into two main groups; Shaolin and Wu Tang. The Shaolin branch is often referred to as the ‘hard’ or external group whereas Wu Tang is commonly regarded as the ‘soft’, or internal group. Shaolin is regarded as the hard school because when it is practiced it is very physical, forceful and it can even be heard as the force is vocalized.
Conversely, Wu Tang kung fu movements are comparatively slow paced and gentle, making it look more like an elaborate dance than a fighting or self defense system, however, once practiced and mastered Wu Tang kung fu has enough advanced internal force to be able to inflict serious physical damage to an opponent.
Within the Wu Tang category there are three major recognized schools, which are Tai Chi school, Shing Yi school, Pa-Kua school. All three of these schools emphasize the development of Chi, which loosely translated into English means energy. It is fundamentally a force that is found within us and when developed and mastered can be used to help the practitioner achieve brilliant physical feats, as well as helping to improve and sustain ones health.
Wu Tang kung fu originally came from Shaolin kung fu as its founder, Chang San Feng who was a Taoist recluse when he founded it, was a Shaolin disciple before hand. Once he had learned the internal aspect of kung fu he retired to Wu Tang Mountain to spend the rest of his days in solitude and develop his internal kung fu further. It was here that he intently watched a fight between a snake and a bird and was inspired to develop a new system of kung fu that emphasized the training of Chi and minimized the use of external physical force.
Shing Yi school was founded by a well known general at the time of the Sung Dynasty, named Yueh Fei. It was based on the five main elements of metal, wood, water, fire and earth and twelve diffrernt forms of the dragon, tiger, monkey, horse, tortoise, cockerel, sparrow, swallow, snake, camel, eagle and bear. Shing Yi kung fu is now known for its simple outward expression, yet great depth of meaning.
Pa-Kua school utilizes the palm instead of the fist, it is
recognized by its subtle body movements and light, agile footwork. The original founder of this school is unknown but a highly regarded master of recent times is Tung Hai Chuan who helped to popularize the art during the Ching Dynasty.
While Wu Tang mostly emphasizes internal Chi, Shaolin emphasizes external force and there are literally hundreds of kung fu schools belonging to the Shaolin category. Many of these are very small and localized and others are solely connected to certain family lines, however a few good examples of some of the main Shaolin schools from the many that make up the group are Tang Lang (or Praying Mantis) school, Hoong Chia, and Choi-Li-For school, all of which practice for and train mostly external force and strong physical forms.
During the Ming Dynasty of 1368-1644, Wang Lang, who was a Shaolin disciple developed the Praying Mantis style after witnessing a great fight between a praying mantis and a cicada. He was impressed by the way in which the mantis moved its long limbs and relatively small body to take advantage of its much larger opponent. Therefore, the Praying Mantis school trains students to move their arms and legs with great skill in order to be able to defeat much larger opponents.
The Hoong family was one of the most famous families of martial arts and
today many regard this school as the best representative of Southern Shaolin. Hoong kung fu was developed as a logical extension of Southern Shaolin kung fu. This school is renowned for its extremely powerful fist, known as the ‘Hoong fist’ and its brilliantly solid horse riding stance. It was named Hoong kung fu after the Fukien Shaolin temple was burned down to try and hide the term ‘Shaolin’ from the manchurian government and also because the Hoong Shee Kuan was one of the best practitioners of the art at the time.
Choi-Li-For school was another famous school of Southern Shaolin kung fu. Its founder was Chen Harng who had learned both the Choi family and Li family systems of kung fu. After learning these systems, he and his disciple Chang Yen who had learned his kung fu from a Buddhist monk named Cheng Chao Her Shang integrated their systems into one and named it Choi-Li-For to honor the masters of each style. Chen and Chang were revolutionaries who were actively working to overthrow the Manchu government at the time, they travelled both in China and overseas, spreading their revolutionary ideals and teaching their kung fu style at the same time. Some noticeable features of this school are its long reaching arms, wide horse riding stance, and the jab hand.
It is important to note that when Taosist recluse Chang San Feng originally developed Wu Tang kung fu, it was not necessarily an intentional move to set up a rival branch to Shaolin as many still believe. Today, all over the world students effectively study both Shaolin and Wu Tang styles of kung fu harmoniously in order to simultaneously develop physical force and form and to reap the benefits of mastering internal force which can then be used to compliment each other and improve ones health, kung fu and overall understanding of the art.