Kung fu (Mandarin: gung fu; Cantonese: gong fu) is a Western- catchall term for the Chinese martial arts. Literally translated, kung fu means “work hard,” which is why people who work hard are described as having a lot of “kung fu.”
While the martial arts have existed in China since 2600 B.C., the foundation for modern kung fu began in A.D. 527 when Indian monk Ta Mo arrived at the Shaolin Temple in the Henan province and created the 18 Buddhist Fists. As a result, many kung fu styles can trace their lineage back to Shaolin.
There are two main schools of kung fu: Shaolin (known for “external” styles that strengthen muscles, ligaments and tendons) and Wu Dung (known for “internal” styles that strengthen and manipulate chi or life force). Geographical association is another way to categorize kung fu styles: northern (long extended postures, leg work, kicks, acrobatics) and southern (deep, stable stances; focus on arm work). Kung fu skills also can be categorized by hard movements (force-on-force mentality) and soft movements (turn attacker’s force against them).
Even the words “kung fu” in China have become synonymous with chuan fa and wushu.