The Chinese art of Kung Fu consists of vast systems and styles, however almost all kung fu masters claim that their arts are derived from the great Shaolin Temple boxing traditions.
The Shaolin tradition is divided into two schools, the northern and the southern. The phrase, ënorthern leg southern fistí, denotes the primary differences between the two styles. It may be that this technical distinction reflects the existence of two distinct Shaolin Temple traditions, but most Chinese see its origins in the geography of their country.
The land to the north is mainly open, with undulating plains where the people are accustomed to walking and riding horses over great distances. Their strong legs therefore gradually became their main weapons of attack and defense.
The terrain of South China is cross cut by a huge network of waterways. Rowing and poling was the primary way in which the residences of this region got around. Subsequently they developed great arm strength and used the fist as their primary weapon.
The northern styles are noted for their graceful, ballet-like movements. These movements provide the martial basis for many of the Peking Operas. Northern style stances are mostly very wide and open. Arms and legs are often full extended when they defend and attack with emphasis placed on fast leaps, turns, and high kicks, flying kicks and sweeping movements. The animals whose movements influenced these styles tend to move in similar long, flowing motions: the white crane, the horse and the praying mantis are among them. One notable technique is the leaping side-kick use to dismount an attacker on horseback.
Most southern styles maintain a solid stance and balance. This may have arisen from the tradition of fighting in boats and upon the slippery, muddy ground of the marshlands. The southern schools tend to look for sudden, overpowering, forceful movements. The attacks of the tiger, leopard, eagle and monkey are all sources of inspiration. One of the most noticeable aspects of a southern attack is the principle simultaneous attack and defense.The essence of southern boxing is to shower an opponent with a series of blows, never allowing any limb to be grabbed, nor attempting to throw an opponent. Southern boxers believe that the speed and power of their attack will defeat the soft boxers with their mentalist approach.
Almost all fighting is done at close quarters where snap punches, elbow jabs and open-handed cuts are combined with blocks to form single movements of devastating speed and power.