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Kung Fu History

Chinese martial arts, like combat systems from many cultures, had its start from the dawn of mankind (likely with very simple techniques), as the need for self defense/protection and hunting arose. The first documented form of Chinese martial arts, however, originated over 4,000 years ago, during the time of the legendary Yellow Emperor, Huangdi. Texts describe an ancient form of Chinese wrestling. Chinese wrestling continued to be practiced, and this practice became more widespread over time, including laypeople as well as military groups and religious sects.
Around 525 AD, according to legend, a Buddhist monk named Bodhidharma left India and traveled to China in order to spread his teachings. Bodhidharma ended up at the Shaolin Temple in China. There, he saw that the Shaolin monks were weak and could not perform his rigorous meditations, so he augmented their training with various breathing and exercise techniques, with an emphasis on "chi" (氣) (vital breath/energy) cultivation. This, along with the incorporation of martial knowledge from military and other experts, helped to shape what would become known as Shaolin Kung Fu. With the arrival of the Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD), the Shaolin monks demonstrated their martial prowess in battle, and therefore curried the favor of the Tang government. By the mid-16th century military experts from all over China were travelling to the Shaolin Temple to study and exchange fighting techniques.
Today, Shaolin Kung Fu is regarded as amongst the first institutionalized Chinese martial arts. And its vast repository of martial and other knowledge is credited with influencing the development of many systems of Chinese kung fu as well as various martial arts (and even health practices) throughout the world.#
wu shu picture of Shaolin monks practicing wushu
Ancient depiction of monks practicing kung fu.2
#Chinese kung fu has influenced the development of karate, silat, and eskrima. It is also thought to have influenced the development of taekwondo, jujutsu (and therefore also judo and sambo), Muay Thai, and many other martial arts. Even modern MMA (mixed martial arts) has been touched by Chinese kung fu, both directly and indirectly (through these various other martial arts).
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kung_fu, "Chinese martial arts", as of 5/19/2011.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shaolin_kung_fu, "Shaolin Kung Fu", as of 5/19/2011.
Alan Lee's Chinese Kung-Fu Wu-Su Association, http://www.kungfuwusu.com/pages/history/, "History", as of 5/19/2011.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karate, "Karate", as of 5/26/2011.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Silat, "Silat", as of 5/26/2011.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eskrima, "Eskrima", as of 5/26/2011.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taekwondo, "Taekwondo", as of 5/26/2011.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jujutsu, "Jujutsu", as of 5/26/2011.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sambo_(martial_art), "Sambo (martial art)", as of 5/26/2011.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Muay_Boran, "Muay Boran", as of 5/26/2011.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mixed_martial_arts, "Mixed martial arts", as of 5/26/2011.
2Image source:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kung_fu, "Chinese martial arts", as of 5/19/2011. (Originally from http://www.shaolin.org.cn/html/html/wu/menu4.htm. This is an image from the Wikimedia Commons. Commons is a freely licensed media file repository. This image is in the public domain because its copyright has expired. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Shaolin-wushu.jpg for more information.)