Top 10 Chinese kung fu styles


The men and women who beat up baddies on the silver screen use a variety of different styles of kung fu to dispense justice. Evelyn Lam checks out 10 of the most colourful style. Illustrations by Jessica Li


A style named ‘white eyebrows’ doesn’t sound too menacing, but bak mei is one of the most vicious martial arts – acceptable bodily targets include the teeth, neck, waist, shoulders, arms and feet. Certain legends have it Bak Mei was a traitor who helped destroy the Shaolin temple, hence why white eyebrows are often the sign of a villain in kung fu movies.


Donnie Yen’s action-packed recent portrayal of Yip Man as a man who takes on all comers, from Japanese occupiers to Mike Tyson, has revived interest in Wing Chun. Believed to have originated in the 17th century, created by a former Shaolin monk, the style seeks to transcend the limits of gender, size and weight, allowing anyone adequate self-defence against hostile adversaries.


Tai chi as practiced by the elderly denizens of Hong Kong seems relatively harmless. The names of certain postures – ‘soft ladies hands’ and ‘fair lady works the shuttle’ –  serve to reinforce that opinion. Indeed, the style is considered more an internal, rather than external, martial art. Only once you’ve mastered your internal energy can you turn tai chi towards combat purposes.


Like tai chi, ba gua zhang focuses on internal abilities – honing one’s spirit, mind and qi – and translating these efforts into external use. Typically the style is characterised by slow moving, flowing forms. A relatively light style, powerful moves are not in the ba gua zhang repertoire – so best avoid anyone experienced in krav maga.


The northern praying mantis style was founded by Wong Long, a monk who opposed the Manchu’s overthrow of the Ming Dynasty. The secret to the style’s success is its use of the legs and waist to generate power in techniques instead of the upper body. Torqueing the waist sends momentum up through the body – combined with short, efficient strikes, the effects
are powerful.


Essentially a counter-attacking martial art, Fujian white crane style was developed by Fang Chi-Niang who sparred with a crane attracted to – depending on the particular tale – either her mirror or grain. The style purportedly has beak-like penetrating power, and like an agile bird, practioners avoid head-on fights based on strength.


The ‘way of the intercepting fist’ was founded by Hong Kong’s favourite son, Bruce Lee. Diverting from the more traditional styles, which have strict movements that need to be followed, jeet kune do is ruled more by philosophy. The culmination of Lee’s own philosophy, JKD recognises an individual student’s own personal process of self discovery and the different techniques they may wish to incorporate.


A style of northern kung fu, the eagle claw technique is founded on powerful fists, grappling and joint locking techniques. Supposedly founded by Ngok Fei, a general during the Southern Song Dynasty, the technique is said to be so powerful it allowed Ngok’s troops to turn back invading Mongolians (who we can only surmise invaded without weapons).


Known as dog kung fu, gouquan was is said to have been born in Fujian province. It was a style often utilised by women, since it was considered they could level a fight by taking it to the ground – especially pertinent for those with bound feet who lacked proper stability.


One of the most recognisable styles of kung fu, zui quan was popularised by Jackie Chan in his two Drunken Master movies (1978 and 1994). Also known as drunken fist kung fu, the martial art imitates the movements of someone who’s had one too many Blue Girls. In his movies, Jackie had to purposely get drunk to unleash his true power, but in reality anyone attempting zui quan – one of the most difficult styles of kung fu – while under the influence, is likely to do more harm to themselves than their opponent.

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