A Historical Outline of Kung-Fu Canada
Kung-Fu means skill or accomplishment that comes as a result of practice. The term applies to all kinds of expert performance and not only to the martial arts. "Wushu" is a more correct designation of Chinese martial art, but the term "Kung Fu" has become popular and describes a broad spectrum of martial arts practices in which fighting techniques, physical fitness, performance routines and weapons training combine. There are hundreds of Kung-Fu styles and attempts to classify them in detail are futile. Nonetheless, it is useful to identify our own practice at Kung-Fu Canada by relating it to some specific aspects of this complex background.
Era of the Chinese Shaolin Temple
The legendary place of origin of the martial arts in China is the Shaolin Temple in the northern province of Hunan. It seems that an Indian Buddhist monk named Bodidharma traveled to China in the sixth century A.D. and settled at the Shaolin Temple. He might have taught breathing and stretching exercises to the monks, perhaps on the model of Indian yogic practice. There is no evidence that he taught martial arts, though this point is disputed. Nonetheless, it is clear the Shaolin Temple eventually became a training place for warrior monks who were sometimes employed in defense of the empire because of their fighting skills, but who were also held in suspicion by the government as possible dangerous adversaries. One theory is that young men who were already skilled in various fighting techniques entered monasteries to avoid being drafted into the army, and the Shaolin Temple in particular, these young monks added their fighting skills to the breathing, stretching and Chan Buddhist meditation techniques already established there.
Eventually, the government destroyed the Shaolin Temple fearing that it gave refuge to rebels who were also dangerously well-trained fighters. Apparently, a second Shaolin Temple was afterwards founded in the southern province of Fukien, though some authorities dispute this. Others claim that the second Shaolin Temple also became a martial arts center, training its members especially to defend themselves against brigands.
The details of this legendary history are debatable. It is clear that fighting skills were widespread in China long before the founding of the Shaolin Temple. Nonetheless, the Shaolin Temple represents a first organized attempt to blend fighting techniques with moral and spiritual principals in an effort to understand violence and to deal with it in ways that best promote the virtues of compassion and peace recommended by Chan Buddhism. The difficulties and significance of this spiritual and moral challenge have remained fascinating until the present day, and at Kung-Fu Canada, we see ourselves as continuing to address this challenge as it was formulated at the ancient Shaolin Temple.
A distinction is often drawn between Northern and Southern style of Kung-Fu, perhaps reflecting the location of the two Shaolin Temples. The Northern style is usually described as hard, concentrating on legs; by contrast, the Southern style is soft, concentrating of hands. It is doubtful if this contrast was in fact so clear-cut, but distinctions between hard and soft, external and internal are themselves useful, and a Kung-Fu Canada, we attempt to achieve a balance between them, recognizing also that different students might have aptitudes in one or other of these directions.
Kempo in Japan
"Kempo" is also a key word for understanding the history of our tradition. Kempo is Japanese translation of the Chinese "Chuan-fa" or "way of the fist", and describes a kind of training similar to karate, also based on Buddhism and stressing personal development. It is possible that increased Japanese contact with China in the early seventh century opened the way for the transmission of martial arts techniques of Japan, and students of Buddhism might have been the principal means of such transmission. A further theory suggests that Japanese soldiers also brought Kempo techniques back from China during a war at the end of the sixteenth century. Certainly, during the classical age of Japanese martial arts (1500-1868) Buddhist monks were often military leaders, and the dialogue between the martial arts and Buddhism continued energetically. But Kempo is also especially important to our history because of how it was adapted for the modern West by James Mitose, a Japanese American from Hawaii who at an early age, was sent to Japan where he received instructions in Kempo, learning also of its derivation from the Shaolin Temple. Mitose returned to Hawaii where he founded a martial arts club in 1942. Mitose's Kempo system (sometimes confusingly spelled "Kenpo") was handed on to his most important student, William K.S. Chow. Briefly, Mitose's system was taught in the practitioner's language rather than Japanese, and adaptation of techniques was recommended to suit the different needs of individuals.
William K.S. Chow inherited Mitose's system, adapting it and passing it on to Ed Parker, another Hawaiian. Parker conducted a thoroughgoing and intricate analysis of the knowledge he received classifying it in detail and producing manuals of instructions. Parker also stressed the practical use of martial art in self-defense and divided his system into three main categories: forms, self-defense techniques and freestyle sparring. Parker also founded the International Karate Championships (1964), which, through the involvement of Bruce Lee, helped to popularize martial arts in the United States.
Transmission of the Kempo tradition to Canada occurred in part through Olaf Simon, who studied Ed Parker's system, combining it with elements of other styles. Ed O'Brien was trained as an instructor in Simon's schools, and from 1979-84, he taught in Edmonton, Vancouver and Calgary. In 1985, he founded Kung-Fu Canada in Quebec before moving to Victoria in 1989.
As this historical outline indicates, Kung-Fu Canada traces its lineage through Olaf Simon and Ed Parker to the Hawaiian Kenpo movement, which is based in turn on Japanese Kempo, a version of Chuan-fa deriving from the broad spectrum of Kung-Fu techniques linked to the legendary Shaolin Temple where the spiritual dimension of Chinese martial art was first explored in a serious manner. Kung-Fu Canada maintains the philosophical interest of the Shaolin tradition by attempting to understand violence in order to prevent it, and to deal with it in ways that best promote compassion and peace. In the spirit of the modern Kenpo movement, Kung-Fu Canada is also eclectic and continues to develop and adapt traditional techniques for the practical purposes of self-defense. The introduction in 1996 of a ground-fighting component to our system is a key case in point, as is the willingness of Kung-Fu Canada to train people regardless of their size, age, weight or physical disability.
There are three main phases in the history within which we identify ourselves. The first is the legendary era of the Chinese Shaolin Temple; the second is the historical period of Kempo in Japan during the classical age; the third is the period of modernization in the West since World War II. Kung-Fu Canada attempts to maintain links with all three of these crucial phases, describing itself as Kempo-based and eclectic, and as honoring the ideals of the Shaolin Temple in a modern context.
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