Since "kung fu" is not a martial art and simply means the mastery of a discipline, I'm wondering firstly which martial art is known in the public eye as kung fu and secondly which martial art is actually taught under this name.

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    This question could be improved with some indication of what research has been done prior to asking the question. – Mike P Apr 1 '18 at 19:53
  • "Kung Fu" can be translated as "martial art" - so all of them are. – Mark C. Wallace Apr 5 '18 at 23:06

The Chinese term "Kung fu" (gong fu) usually refers to martial arts, though it also more generally means skill attained through hard work that can be applied to any skilled trade. When referring to martial arts, the term does not refer to a single martial art but can refer to many different martial arts styles.

Chinese martial arts tend to be less organized than their Korean (tae kwon do), Japanese (karate, judo, aikido), and Western (boxing, fencing, wrestling) counterparts. Organization means there is a governing body that makes decisions. Without organization, variation is very high.

The term kung fu is applied to styles including, but not limited to:

  • shuai jiao
  • wing chun
  • hung gar
  • shaolin
  • mantis
  • white crane
  • baji
  • bagua
  • taiji
  • xing yi

Many of these styles themselves can be subdivided into distinct substyles.

I personally would consider the application of "kung fu" to styles such as karate to be correct when considering martial skill earned through hard work, as opposed to classification of martial arts. Karate is not normally referred to as kung fu because it is named from Okinawan or Japanese origins, which use different terminology.

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    Kung fu does not specifically refer to martial arts, though that connotation is very strong in popular culture. A classic non-martial use of the term refers to the traditional tea ceremony, and masters of calligraphy have long been described as having good kung fu. I otherwise agree with you on its general use to describe martial arts. – Dungarth Apr 1 '18 at 6:56
  • So it depends on the movie actor or teacher. It's like joining a club called "Japanese martial art" and not knowing if you're going to be taught karate, judo or aikido - weird. – WaterBearer Apr 1 '18 at 13:22
  • @WaterBearer - the kung fu gyms in my area generally specify their respective styles somewhere in their name. "Wing Chun Kung Fu Academy" and so on. Those that don't usually list the names of the styles that are taught on their website/front door. As gym space is expensive in metropolitan areas, it's not unusual for different teachers to group up and share a gym, so the name on the door can be a little bit more generic (but they'll still list all the styles somewhere). – Dungarth Apr 2 '18 at 15:26
  • @Dungarth I think we are actually in perfect agreement, though my wording should have been better. See if the new edited wording is better. – mattm Apr 2 '18 at 22:32
  • @WaterBearer It's like joining a club that says karate, but not knowing whether it's a Goju-Ryu, Uechi-Ryu, Shotokan, Kyokushin, or actually a Tae Kwon Do club that uses the word karate because people know the word from the movie "The Karate Kid" but not TKD [I have seen such a place]. Most people cannot tell the difference between any of these martial arts; "kung fu" is the appropriate level of detail for this audience. – mattm Apr 2 '18 at 22:43

Technically the Chinese term "Kungfu" (spelled and pronounced numerous ways) means "skill obtained through hard work and diligent study" as stated in the previous post.

However, if you use this term in China it will be always be assumed that you are speaking of "Chinese Martial Arts" and nothing else.

There are other terms in the language that are used too. These often have specific connotations in mind: "Wushu" - for the performance side of martial arts, "Sanshou" - free fighting (no weapons used), "Kuo Shu" - a general term for combative martial arts (not necessarily respectable or earned through hard work and study), etc.

Though you could technically make a case for using the term "Kungfu" when referring to a martial art of any origin, that might appear dishonest frankly. Kind of like calling a person an "Engineer" when what they really do is collect garbage from the streets ("Sanitary Engineer").

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