How to learn to use your Kung Fu

learning martial arts shaolin kung fu Apr 29, 2022
How to learn to use your Kung Fu


Have you noticed that there are a lot of Kung Fu programs – online or in real-life – but compared to the vast number of offers, hardly any teaches you how to use the techniques you learn?

Have you ever wondered why those Kung Fu schools who know how to use them, demonstrate nice applications for self-defense, but when it comes to free sparring they would gear up with boxing equipment and bounce about like kickboxers?

Does that mean that Kung Fu can't be used for fighting and that other styles are more effective? While the status quo in the fighting scene would suggest that, it is not about if Kung Fu is not effective for fighting but rather if its practitioners are still able to use their art.


The damaged reputation of Kung Fu

Thousands of people travel to China to learn in one of the huge Wushu schools around the Shaolin temple and elsewhere.

You'd think that they would be able to fight using the techniques they practice so beautifully and there would be a massive amount of Kung Fu fighters now. The sad truth is that this is not the case. Instead, in all sparring videos you see Chinese kickboxing, which is a modern competitive martial sport.

This is so common nowadays, that the term “San Da” is now used to describe Chinese kickboxing, although it translates to “Miscellaneous Fighting” and originally meant “free sparring using Kung Fu techniques”.

The majority now thinks that this is the only way how so-called “Kung Fu” can be used. Some even call it an evolution. Instead it was an emergency solution. 

 Modern Kickboxing

Boxing gloves and sandbags are typical for modern kickboxing but not so for traditional Kung Fu.


For Centuries, martial artists from all over the world travelled to China to challenge the Kung Fu masters, only to return defeated.

After the Chinese had transformed their practice into a purely aesthetic one to please spectators, the combat methodology got lost over time (You can read more about that in the Interview with Shaolin Kung Fu). When kickboxing or Taekwondo practitioners challenged them, the Chinese were badly beaten.

As the Chinese couldn’t resort to traditional knowledge anymore, they had to mimic the fighters they lost to. Soon a new modern style was born that looks like Western kickboxing including some locks and throws. The standard improved so that “San Da” and Chinese fighters are now accepted again.

But not so their traditional martial arts that are still a victim to mockery.


It’s a pity that the application and combat skills of Shaolin Kung Fu are now entirely lost. Well not entirely! One (not so) small school still holds out against the extinction of ancient combat knowledge. ;)

Fortunately, Shaolin Wahnam is not the only school who still uses genuine combat training but one of a few needles in the haystack of modernized deviations.

Shaolin Kung Fu once was the most outstanding way to protect yourself in life-death combat and our aim is to restore its glory… without the need to engage in life-death challenges.

It is a superior art, much more elaborate than modern ways of fighting.

Would every Shaolin Wahnam student always win against a professional MMA fighter whose whole life is centred about winning competitions? Probably not, as fighting isn’t our main priority. But when we spar with each other or need to defend ourselves, we use the same techniques, principles and tactics as developed and used by the past masters.

 Kung Fu Fighting Dark Dragon Enters Well


"Fighting isn't everything in Kung Fu,
but without fighting Kung Fu is nothing."


What you need to use Kung Fu in combat

You see, nature hasn't gifted us with helpful fighting abilities. We even need to learn how to walk when we are small. How should we know how to defend ourselves?

We are given some survival reflexes like covering our head with both hands if something is falling or smashing down on us. And when in big trouble, we curl up on the floor. But those reflexes are not helpful in combat.


Therefore, you have to learn more useful techniques if you’d like to be able defend against various attacks and to react correctly in any situation.

But that's not enough. Wushu practitioners know a lot of techniques but they don't know how to use them in a fight.

Others know the applications and might be able to use them in a pre-defined training drill. But when it comes to free fighting they throw away what they learned and have to rely on their natural reflexes fighting like children (or kickboxers).

So what is it that you need?

You need to re-program your reflexes and train them in a systematic way!


Bar the Big Boss Kung Fu Application

Intercepting a kick with the pattern "Bar the Big Boss" before it can reach you demands a lot of preparatory practice. But once you manage to apply it spontaneously, you can turn the tables round before your opponent recovers from their attack.


This process needs time. And it can't be done if you practice in a fast manner. If you spar too fast, your body will react spontaneously the way it is trained ... or not trained.

It will also not work if you practice free sparring all the time.

The clue is to follow a strategic and systematic methodology that allows your body (and subconscious mind) to engrain better and safer reactions.


Your way to Kung Fu combat efficiency

The structured approach to combat training in Shaolin Wahnam (and here at the Shaolin Treasure House) follows the following steps.


First you need to learn the form. That means you learn how to execute Kung Fu stances, footwork and techniques (or patterns as we call them) and repeat them many times on your own.

At the same time, you develop your “Kung”, which relates to skill and power. Meaning you learn how to build internal force and increase your flexibility for example.


Next, you practice the application of single patterns with a partner in pre-defined drills.

You’ll only learn a few patterns first and focus on developing essential skills like correct timing, spacing and control.

Take care to practice slowly at the start until you can keep your perfect form flowingly.


After some time, your partner may surprise you with a chosen attack out of the limited repertoire and you respond accordingly. This is a first step to spontaneity but still far from completing the method.

(This is the moment after which many schools jump straight into free sparring and everything falls apart.)


Then, you’re introduced to combat sequences. The partners usually attack three to five times back and forth using pre-defined techniques.


Note that this demonstration for participants of a course on the "Tiger-Crane Set" is slowed down on purpose. Over time, the practice becomes faster and more force is applied.


If you think those are just partner forms for demonstration that won’t work in spontaneous fighting, you’re grossly mistaken. It is actually because both partners know what’s coming next, that they can focus on developing important skills ranging from keeping perfect form, regulating exact timing and spacing as well as the breathing.

When learning the “16 Shaolin Kung Fu Basic Sequences” (or the 12 of Wahnam Taijiquan) further techniques are gradually included like kicks, grips and throws… and of course how to defend against them.

Those sequences also incorporate tactics like feint moves, traps and pressing attacks (and how to break a pressing combo).

When you find yourself in free sparring (or a real fight) and a certain attack is coming at you, you’ll be able to recall the situation and react spontaneously, incorporating all those principles that you have engrained through the practice of combat sequences.


Over time, the seemingly rigid structure of the combat sequences is softened up.

Variations like adding or subtracting steps on purpose and combining sequences add spice to the practice and train skills like instantaneous change, quick decision-making and of course reaction.


This all leads up to the point when you keep your Kung Fu form, principles and tactics intact all the time when sparring or fighting.

So, if you’d like to reach this level of traditional combat application by using a time-tested system, “The Entrance to the Chamber of Shaolin Kung Fu” online course can serve as a great starting point.

Of course practicing with our Shaolin Wahnam Instructors will speed up your progress tremendously.

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