Monday, 25 March 2013


I thought about posting this last night following a discussion my friends and I had about martial arts, but I was too lazy. Here it is!

Martial arts include Chinese kungfu, right? They asked.

No, I said. A martial art known as 'Chinese kungfu' doesn't exist.

拳 'Quan' ('Fists') and 道 'Dao' ('Ways' or 'Methods') are the words used to describe the different styles or schools of martial arts. I've noticed that the Chinese languages make more use of the former eg 詠春拳 Yongchunquan (anglicised as 'Wing Chun') and 太极拳 Taijiquan (anglicised as 'Tai Chi'), whereas the Japanese and Korean languages utilise 道 (eg in 空手道 Karate-Do (Japanese) and 跆拳道 Taekwondo (Korean)) more often.

And kungfu? The term in Mandarin Chinese is 'wushu' 武术, which literally translates as 'martial arts'.

'Kungfu', or 'Gongfu' 功夫 itself is quite a hard one to translate. It does not, however, mean 'martial arts'. A martial artist, or indeed any craftsman or artisan, has 'deep kungfu' or 'good kungfu' if he/she has shown skill, persistence and endurance when displaying his/her art.

So whenever an English speaker chats about 'kungfu' to a Mandarin speaker, the Mandarin speaker will look quite lost, and when Carl Douglas sings about 'Kungfu Fighting', what he's really singing about is how skillful a certain way of fighting is. And now you know why.

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