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Origin of Kung Fu – Historical Facts


The system of Wuji (forerunner of Taiji) existed more than 4000 years ago, according to the late Shi Zu Chee Kim Thong, who also taught this art.  During those primitive periods, the people tend to succumb easily to diseases or illnesses.  Thus, they devised Qigong exercises to enable them to strengthen their health and increase their resistance to life’s dangers. These exercises also encompassed self-defence moves and had become part of the Taoist and Confucians way of life. 


Taoism (before Lau Tzu) preaches the Way and how to attain longevity, immortality, and enlightenment.  The practice of Qigong became part of its objectivity and long predates Tamo’s (Bodhidharma) arrival at the Shaolin Temple around 527AD.


Zhou Dynasty (1045-256BC)

The oldest evidence of martial arts being practised was during the Zhou Dynasty by the military. Boxing & Wrestling can be traced back to at least 700-800BC.


During this period came Lau Tze and Confucius (580 to 479BC)


Gautama Buddha (563-483BC) was also born during this era in Lumbini, Nepal.


Warring States 475 – 221BC

During this period Guiguzi (鬼谷子) (Kwai Kook Chi in Cantonese) founded the Emperor Fists (Taizu) Kung Fu.  Guiguzi was also an expert in Divinity & Feng Shui. 


According to the late Chee Kim Thong, Guiguzi was an expert of the Five Elements principles. Because of his profound understanding of the Five Elements (Metal, Water, Wood, Fire & Earth) in the human body, Guiguzi was able to maximise his kung fu ability.  This was the essence of the Emperor Fists system, which surprisingly was not based on any animal, but the human structure and a thorough understanding of the Five Elements.  Chee Kim Thong then showed me the Taizu pushing hands, utilising this principle.  It was immensely powerful indeed.


Three Kingdoms 220-265 BC

During the Three Kingdom Period), there was a brilliant physician called Hua Tuo (Wah Toh).  He was an expert of the Taoist Five Animal Forms – Deer, Bird, Monkey, Tiger & Bear.  These exercises combined kung fu with chi kung and predate Tamo (6th Century). 


At around the same time Guan Yu (Guan Gung) (later deified as the God of War) was causing problems to his opponents with his kung fu and his famous Guan Dao (halberd with a long handle)  This was a very heavy weapon and only Guan Gung was able to wield it as he himself was a very powerful person.  There were also other famous warriors during this period as well. 


Coming back to Hua Tuo, I was surprised to discover that the late Shi Zu Chee Kim Tong also taught this art.  One of his disciples (the late Mr. Lam) was giving regular lessons at the club in Kuala Lumpur.  The hand strokes were beautiful to watch and incorporated animal fighting movements. These movements were performed slowly like Tai Chi.  I was really captivated by it.


Han Dynasty (206BC to 219AD)


Huang Shi Kung 黄石公 (Yellow Stone Old Man) was deified as Huang Lau Sen Shi (Wong Lo Sin See in Cantonese).  Like Guiguzi, Huang Shi Kung was also an expert in Kung Fu, Divinity & Feng Shui. He taught kung fu and military strategies to the famous General Jiang Liang.  In Malaysia there are numerous Wong Lo Sin See temples. His disciples practised their spiritual kung fu by evoking him.  They could do it individually or spar, without harming each other.


During this period Wun Yuen, a Taoist Internal Martial Art was founded by Ngai Bak Yeung & Chiu Chi.   The system incorporated hand, palm & leg techniques as well as chi kung & mediation.



Tamo (Bodhidharma) – (520AD)

Bodhidharma taught Buddhism in the Shaolin Temple.  Legend had it that he encouraged his novice monks to do exercises to keep fit for their religious ordeal. 


The classical texts i.e. the Brain Marrow Washing and Muscle-Tendons Exercises and the 18 Immortal Hands, were not written by him, but by a Daoist priest during the Ming Dynasty (1368 TO 1644AD).  The exercises attributed to Bodhidharma are consistent with Chinese qigong exercises and bear little resemblance to Yoga. 


Furthermore, Shaolin Temple records states that long before Bodhidharma’s arrival in China, two of its first monks, Hui Guang and Seng Chou, were experts in martial arts.  The Extensive Records of the Taiping Era also recorded that the monks were practising wrestling for recreation, prior to his arrival.


Those naïve enough would think that Bodhidharma brought Indian Martial Arts to the Shaolin Temple.  They might even be led to believe that he was also responsible for building the temple itself. His encouragement to his followers to do exercises did not mean that he taught them those exercises as well.  His mission was to preach Buddhism to his followers.


Kung Fu was already in existence all over China before Shaolin, a small peck in a vast country. The Shaolin Temple complex simply attracted people from all walks of life, noticeably famous and skilled martial arts exponents, well versed in kung fu.  Amongst them were top generals or skilled soldiers who had fallen out with the Emperor, bandits seeking refuge in the temple or martial arts experts who wanted to follow the Buddhist path.  These were the very people who took their kung fu into Shaolin, not Bodhidharma.  Equally those outside of Shaolin, continued developing their arts. They could be brigands, renegades, farmers, bodyguards, military personals, or just became involved in the art as part of their family or village traditions.   The number of villages, counties or districts in China involved in martial arts at that time were simply phenomenal.  


There is no comparison in India.  The Indian Arts looked too modern or basic in structure.  They lacked the complication, sophistication, development, and essence of the Chinese Arts. 


These days, you will have no trouble finding Karate, Taekwondo, Taiji, Kung Fu or Wushu in India.  However, try looking for an Indian art and you will be directed to one wearing a white karate uniform offering you a system which is ‘Indian influenced’. Alternatively, you will find a guru, complete with a loin cloth and red sash, who copies the modern Wushu art form and call it the ‘Mother of all Martial Arts’.


Chinese Martial Arts have an exceptionally history, long before Bodhidharma arrival at the Shaolin Temple.  The Arts are there for everyone to see, whereas what do we find in Indian Martial Arts?  If their arts had been developed in India just as long as the Chinese, they would be just as impressive. 


Why not admit to the world that they were no Indian Martial Arts to begin with.  We promise that we will not smirk or laugh at them.  We will not say that Indian Martial Arts really came from China, unless of course they are Wushu or Kung Fu arts in disguise


Grandmaster Yap Leong

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