Defining the best Shaolin Kung Fu is a tough question, considering the high quality of this martial art. I mean, people don’t teach it just to make money, they teach it for passion and love of art. Still, we should be able to focus in on how to isolate the best gung fu.
First, we can usually cross such arts as Lohan Quan off the list. The reason for this is because they come mostly from Wushu practices. Wushu is actually a martial art created, or at least altered and pushed by, the communist government of China, and one does not feel like learning something for correct political behaviour, and from which the self defense has been deleted.
So we stay with the old versions of Chinese Gung Fu, the versions that leaked out of China before the cultural revolution. These were the styles passed down through the generations, given from family member to family member to create a true martial arts lineage. These are the Kung Fu styles in which the fires of true self defense techniques were stoked liberally.
Many of these old Gung Fu schools trace their lineage to the Shaolin Temple, but there is no real proof that can be verified. Still, people accept certain martial arts styles as legitimate when it comes to these claims. Thus we end up with three specific martial arts which can claim good lineage, and present such high quality of Shaolin technique that they can be considered as a possible answer to our question.
There are two types of Praying Mantis styles, the north and the south, and these can further be broken down into styles. The main feature of this style is the hooking and clawing movements, which enable one to keep an opponent trapped long enough to dispatch him. This is a strong contender, but tends to be a bit specialized.
There are also many styles of Wing Chun, which is the art made famous by Bruce Lee, and which features the close in handwork of the Sticky Hands exercise. Sticky Hands has possibly the best method for developing ‘closed eye’ intuition. It does have several weakness, such as immobile stances, workability concentrated in on specific distance, and so on.
The strongest kung fu, but lacking some of the close in work of the previous arts mentioned, is Hung Gar. Hung Gar is also taught as Choy Li Fut, Fut Ga, and so on, and it is considered the quintessential shaolin martial art in China. For all it’s strength, however, it does have certain stylistic problems, as the techniques don’t always relate to real life situations.
Now, of the three arts, I believe Praying Mantis may be the strongest. However, this is a personal opinion, and one should really study all three and focus on the points which are of most personal benefit. Really, in the final analysis, the best Shaolin Kung fu is going to be that kung fu which has been personalized, and which fits the person studying it the best.
For an interesting look at what can be done with Shaolin Kung fu, click on over to Monster Martial Arts and take a look at the Shaolin Butterfly.