The beginning of Chinese martial arts probably started long before history was recorded. Martial techniques were discovered or created during the long epoch of continuous conflict between humanity and animals, or between different tribes of humans themselves. From these battles, experiences were accumulated and techniques discovered were passed down generation to generation. Later, with the invention of weapons, different types and shapes of weapons were invented, until eventually metal was discovered. Following the advancement of weapon fabrication, new fighting techniques were created. Different schools and styles originated and tested one another.
Many of these schools or styles created their forms by imitating different types of fighting techniques from animals (e.g., tiger, panther, monkey, snake, or bear) , birds (e.g., praying mantis). The reason for imitating the animals’ fighting was that it was believed that, in order to survive in the harsh natural environment, all the animals still maintained a natural talent and skill for fighting. The best way to learn the fighting techniques was by studying and imitating these animals. For example, the sharp spirit of the eagle was adopted, the pouncing/fighting of the tiger and eagle's strong claws were imitated, and the attacking motions of the crane's beak and wings were copied.
Since the martial techniques first developed in very ancient times, gradually they became part of Chinese culture. The philosophy of these fighting arts and culture has in turn been influenced by other elements of Chinese culture. Therefore, the Yin Yang Taiji theory was adopted into the techniques, and the Bagua (Eight Trigrams) concept was blended into the fighting strategy and skills.
In terms of technique development, these methods were crude and relatively unorganized. However, over time, a cultural and societal advances were made, established schools of philosophy and martial arts emerged, serving to organize systematic training methods. These arts, refined and perfected in China, were preserved mainly within family clans and religious temples. It is only within the past two or three generations that these arts have become accessible to the West.
As the martial arts of China are deeply founded in Chinese philosophy, they contain both a strong theoretical framework pertaining to technique and skill development, as well as a deep rooting in ethics and morals. It is said that the true martial artist embodies not only physical skill but also a high level of intellectual and moral refinement. Understandably, painstaking effort, dedication and perseverance are essential in order to reach the highest accomplishments, or in short, gongfu.
In the West, Chinese martial arts are usually referred to as "Kung Fu", or "Gung Fu”. However, the term does not specifically mean "Chinese martial arts. Rather, gongfu is the philosophy which is applied to any honored pursuit of excellence. It can refer to any endeavor in which one, over time, refines their skills and art through diligent practice, such as a cook, photographer , artist, and so on. In short, gongfu may be translated as “Skill and success gained from painstaking effort.” Thus, for the practitioner of gongfu, consistent and accurate training are essential.