A matter of style

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 12 July, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 12 July, 2012, 12:00am

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In times past, rivalries between kung fu fighters were settled with their fists. Combatants would duel (often to the death) for the honour of their respective styles.

Today, well, not so much. Not even for famous rival schools like Shaolin (which practises hard style or 'external' kung fu) and Wudang (which pursues a softer 'internal' kung fu).

'Each style has its own strengths and weaknesses,' said 18-year-old Zou Peng, a Wudang practitioner from a Taoist monastery in the Wudang Mountains. He is in Ngong Ping Village on Lantau Island for a kung fu exhibition.

'I really can't say which one is stronger,' he said.

Yuan Ren Xu, who lives and trains at the famous Shaolin Monastery in Henan province, agrees.

'It's hard to say [which is superior], because we each have our own advantages,' he explained, after a performance at Ngong Ping Village, alongside a Wudang team.

Shaolin kung fu uses more muscular force, which is why it is considered a 'hard' style. The 'external' refers to the origins of Shaolin: the style was underpinned by Buddhism, a religion imported to China from India. 'External' also refers to the physical force practised in Shaolin kung fu.

Wudang kung fu, meanwhile, emphasises the use of chi, the life force believed to be present in all living things, to produce movements. Practitioners cultivate chi through meditation so they can harness it for better health.

Wudang is considered an 'internal' or 'soft' martial art since it originated from Taoist monasteries near the Wudang Mountains. Unlike Buddhism, Taoism is 'internally' Chinese. 'Internal' also refers to the inner nature of chi. 'Hard' and 'soft' are measured in relative, rather than absolute, terms.

Kung fu has generated huge interest among ordinary people who are eager to witness martial arts spectacles.

Both Zou and Yuan say they, too, were first attracted to martial arts after watching kung fu movies on television.

'I wanted to do kung fu after watching Bruce Lee on TV,' said Zou, a Hubei native. 'Also, most of the people in my hometown learn Wudang kung fu.'

Yuan, 21, joined Shaolin after seeing it on television. He was always an active child, and he knew that Shaolin would allow him to maintain a vigorous lifestyle.

Zou and Yuan may follow different styles, but their daily routines are similar. They usually wake up about 5am, and train for two to three hours. And by dusk, they will have spent about eight hours honing their kung fu skills.

But physical training is not all they do. They also practise meditation to focus their minds and enhance their concentration.

'We have cultural classes, and learn about theory and other stuff, too,' Yuan said. 'We learn maths, English and Chinese.'

Interestingly enough, our two martial arts heroes have never had to use their beloved art for anything more than physical exercise and spiritual enhancement.

'We focus a lot on chi and that helps people stay healthy,' Zou said. 'It's not for fighting. It's not permissible for us to fight.'

This begs the question: which of the two would win in a fight? Yuan, with his forceful punches and kicks, and his finely toned body, or Zou, with his delicate and fluid movements?

Then again, the question could be like one asking: 'Who's more intelligent - a chemistry or a maths professor?'

And it's a challenge that these spiritual warriors would rather not put to the test.

From now until September 2, Ngong Ping 360 presents Shaolin and Wudang kung fu demonstrations. Workshops are also available. For details, visit www.np360.com.hk