What Kung Fu Style Should I Learn?

This question comes up a lot.  It usually involves someone’s perceived inadequacy.  People say “I’m not very athletic / fit / flexible, I’ve seen people do Kung Fu on TV and I don’t think I could do that.”

The first thing to point out is that you are talking about entertainment.  I was once at a party where I met a lady who choreographed fight scenes for film and theatre.  I asked her which martial arts she had learned and she explained that she had no martial arts experience at all, she was, by training, a dancer.  What she did was make fights look good.  Real fights aren’t dramatic or entertaining enough.  I’ve been to many and various tournaments and, working as a head doorman, seen many real fights and have never seen anything that looked like Karate Kid or Kung Fu Panda.  Ironically things like MMA have developed their rules to ensure that the fights look more like film fighting, because that’s what people want to see.

Let’s be clear about why you want to learn Kung Fu or any martial art.  Do you want to take part in tournaments?  Do you want to get fit?  Do you want to learn the philosophy and the emotional control in the face of threatening situations?  Do you want the skills to protect yourself of others against physical attacks?

The other thing to consider is do you want to attend a class or do you want to learn Kung Fu at home?

There are some styles of Kung Fu that have developed over the years to be primarily about circus performance and while they are fabulously entertaining, you will have to be exceptionally athletic to seriously participate.  The Shaolin Kung Fu styles are an obvious example of this.

There are Kung Fu styles that are quite frankly beautiful to watch and if you are looking for just the benefits of Chi Kung exercises then these are perfect.  These involve graceful, flowing, slow movements that can become a moving meditation.  These will help you stay flexible while relieving stress.  Tai Chi Quan would be a good example.

If you want a Kung Fu style that will teach you effective techniques to protect yourself while also developing the mental and emotional control to face a threatening situation then you need Tao Te Kung Fu.  This is a style developed to optimise techniques to work for anyone regardless of size, strength or fitness.  Although exercises for strength, balance and flexibility are normally part of the lessons, you don’t need to be particularly flexible or big and strong for the style to work.  Classes generally start with Chi Kung as a warm up and finish with guided meditation.  As the emphasis is on efficacy you will be taught how to finish a fight in the shortest possible time, typically within 2 seconds and you could not use this style in any Tournament without getting disqualified almost immediately; tournament rules are designed to ensure that no one gets seriously hurt, so the fastest and most effective techniques are all banned.  The obvious advantage of this style for most people is that you can learn it online with easy to follow step by step lessons.

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