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Top 5 Most Popular Styles of Kung Fu

I think it's pretty safe to assume everyone has heard about "kung fu" before. But do you know how many branches of kung fu there are? Do you know which styles emphasize hand work, animal forms, or sport fighting? If you practice kung fu and you're familiar with its history, you might be able to answer questions like that. If you can't, you're not alone. In all honesty, the history of a fighting style and philosophy as ancient as kung fu is too much for any one person to know, but here's a look at the basics of five popular styles.

Wing Chun
Lets start with a style that's arguably the most well known. You might have heard of wing chun from the new Ip Man movies, or from whatever you know about Bruce Lee. Its origins are among the foggiest of all martial arts. We know that it was founded a couple hundred years ago, and rumor has it that many origin stories were told as legends to confuse enemy nations. The most popular involves a woman named Yim Wing-Chun, who denied marriage to a Chinese warlord and beat him in a fight with her new style (you guessed it, wing chun). Legend also states that it was based off of a crane's defense to a fox (or a snake, or other animals, depending on which version you hear). As is popularized by Bruce Lee and his instructor, Ip Man, wing chun has a variety of amazing hand techniques for punching and striking. The "wing chun punch" is the most famous, and is a series of very fast hits. One of wing chun's main bullet points is the focus on defending from an attack while simultaneously counterattacking.

Shaolin Temple Style
This style originated around 1500 years ago. Shaolin kung fu's founding is not necessarily as clouded as wing chun's, just more debated by scholars and martial artists. The style was created because monks in China's ancient monasteries needed a way to defend themselves from bandits and robbers. This need for defense led to one of the most deadly styles of martial arts. Not only are Shaolin monks known to this day for their extreme dedication to technique training, unreal flexibility, and physical conditioning, but they also are masters of a variety of peculiar kung fu weapons. Their tools like hook swords, chain whips, and Emei piercers are stunningly effective when used by the monks, and are things that most people would hurt themselves with on accident very easily. Some of their techniques can be acrobatic, and the style focuses on circular motions with the arms or weapons used.

It feels kind of weird putting wushu on a list of styles of kung fu. Wushu is literally translated as "martial arts" and refers to the martial arts of China in general. But, it is taught as a distinct style and is the name for China's national fighting sport. It was actually founded in 1949 as a competition martial art. Yes, there are some types of kung fu that aren't hundreds of years old with unclear history. Well, it's a broad term and not strictly "kung fu," but wushu is influenced more by it than any other type of fighting. To be honest, "kung fu" is literally translated as something like "a man's achievement," so it's a broad term in itself.

"Free fighting," also known as Sanda or Sanshou, is one of the two forms that make up sport wushu (the other is taolu, which is composed of katas and forms). Sanda is a probably the closest kung fu gets to MMA style fighting, since it involves strikes with fists, elbows, knees, and legs, as well as takedowns, sweeps, wrestling, chokes, and joint locks. You can think of it like Muay Thai or kickboxing with more grappling. The most dangerous moves like elbows and chokes are prohibited in competition, but Sanda is also taught for self defense and used in the Chinese military. Much like the UFC and MMA fighting in the west, Sanda is the most popular form of kung fu sport fighting in China.

Animal Forms
No, not "animal forms" as in kung fu masters transmorphing into animals and engaging in combat. But it is the closest thing to that. Martial arts in general are based largely on animal combat in the wild, but kung fu has some styles that are dedicated solely to imitating specific beasts. I know, I know, animal styles are too broad to be put into just one category, but as we've seen so far with wushu and everything tied into that, kung fu can get a bit weird to categorize in the first place. The most popular, original animals are the crane, tiger, dragon, snake, monkey, and mantis. Since the first five or so styles were developed, so many animal forms like chicken and turtle have been founded (not even kidding) that it would be useless to guess how many there are.


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4 Comment(s)
5/13/19 - 8:55am
7/11/20 - 11:19pm
The five most popular are from kungfu panda excluding dragon which is Po the dragon warrior lol
Dhruva Lalgude
3/20/21 - 3:01am
I need animal Kung Fu dangerous move and fighting technic
5/26/22 - 10:43am
As an oldster with a lot of old injuries and in need of exercise I chose to teach myself the basics of Bagua I have a book to study the stance and moves all very interesting and helpful

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