It’s odd that we would think in terms of differences when it comes to Kung Fu and Karate, for there are more similarities than one would suspect. They are both combative arts, after all, and karate is actually descended from kung fu. To really understand the differences one needs to consider the arts as a whole, and how they evolve.
In the beginning, those beautiful, refined kung fu forms were most likely developed by peasant conscripts who were given spears and told to fight or die. Training methods were evolved, and eventually workable routines were established. Is it too much to swallow that certain of the warriors, weary and tired of war, would find their way to the Shaolin temple, where the art blossomed?
From the Shaolin Temple the arts flowered, spreading across China, and manifesting concepts and taking on different shapes. This was the genesis of such arts as wing chun (vin tsung) kung fu, Long Fist (Choy Lee Fut, Hung Gar, and so on), and the various animal styles (mantis, monkey, dog fist, five animal, and so on). And, of course, Shaolin styles most likely provided the genesis for such soft style arts as Pa Kua Chang and Tai Chi Chuan.
Basic history aside, we can see a certain tendency in this evolution of art. Hard, workable techniques tend to become softer, more flowing, and people discover that the art can be learned without over reliance on kung fu of the muscular variety. Thus, the arts evolve from hard fist techniques to slipping and sliding, turning and flowing, whole body techniques.
Oh, sure, every once in a while you will see a resurgence of old, hard style kung fu. You will have Chinese boxers, full of vim and vigor, wanting to return to the good, old punch in the face philosophy. For the most part, however, the people who espouse such a return are young and don’t know better, are half trained and overwhelmed by data from other systems, or otherwise guilty of youthful exuberance.
For the most part, however, you will see techniques become more polished and, eventually, making a transition to a softer, easier to work technique. Thus, hard style karate, even such as shotokan or kyokushinkai, will become more liquid, require less effort and require more intelligence. It is an interesting concept, that the hard core karate of today will transmogrify into the flowing style of shaolin kung fu tomorrow.
Or, and here’s a kicker, that the extreme combat karate style of today will become combat wudan style of tomorrow. Could that bassai dai and bassai sho form of today eventually translate into the bassai tai chi of tomorrow? Could those young men doing their makiwara training eventually become like the old men of Chen village tai chi chuan, doing their shuto uke and mae geri as if they are being filmed in slow motion?
This writer believes it is so, and it is inevitable. The effects of age slow men down, and the effects of wisdom make men look, and it is this combination of factors that will translate the hard into the soft, the karate into the kung fu, and the overzealous into the temperate. Now, if you’ll pardon me, I have to go practice my sochin kata slow style.
A dozen courses, complete arts, all the forms and all the techniques, for as little as ten bucks a disc. Pick up a free book while you’re at Monster Martial Arts.