The History of Hung Gar, pt. 1

History for me has always been something that I love. So, after years of studying and training Kung Fu I searched for the history of my style only to find a lot of nonsense, and too many lies and legends.
There is no way for me to write the authoritative and accurate account of the history of Hung Gar Kung Fu. The majority of the people in the history of this great martial art did not write much down. In some cases this was due to the fact that they were illiterate, and in other cases, it was out of fear of being killed for training in Hung Kuen. So, much of the actual history of Hung Gar Kuen must rely on the stories which have been passed down to us by the preceding generations of masters. These stories cannot all be true, and some are so fantastic as to be nothing more than moral parables told in the form of a martial arts story. Add to this the fact that “history” is often re-written by people who have an agenda, and one ends up with a lot of garbage through which to sort in an effort to find the truth which lies hidden.
There is, I have discovered, no real way of telling the history of Hung Gar without telling a lot of the history of Shaolin and of China as well. So, we shall begin at the beginning…
The real history of China disappears into the mists of the beginnings of time. China had a civilization at the time my ancestors were squatting outside of caves, or at best – outside of mud huts.
Chinese martial arts must have started long before ay written histories were being kept. Since time immemorial, mankind has been in a state of conflict. Humans have always had to deal with violence from other individuals, tribes, as well as other animals. Arising out of these conflicts, martial arts techniques survived, as one human would remember what he did to survive this or that type of assault. It is not hard to imagine that weapons came into play early on. Humans have had to (because of our biological make up) defend our existence with the puniest physical weapons in all of nature. Our only advantage is our mind, but our weapons started with our hands and feet. We do not have sharp claws, fangs, or the tough skin of some of the other animals in the animal kingdom. At the dawn of time, humans did not need to engage in physical training to keep fit. Exercise as a form of fitness is a modern result of our largely sedentary lifestyle. The first humans were more fit, because of their difficult lifestyle. It is reasonable to believe that the first humans used instinctive self defense and self preservation, and had not set out a system or style of self defense. It is easy to imagine as well that much of the first self defense would have been throwing objects, stones or small branches. This is easy to see as a possibility, as when monkeys, who are so much like short hairy stupid people, will, when threatened, throw whatever is handy. If one has an open mind, it is a simple matter to understand that the stone and stick throwing is a form of armed self defense. Therefore, one could rightly assume that the first martial arts, if the term martial art is rather loosely used for purposes of conversation, were armed martial arts. But this is not to say that bare-hand self defense came later. It is my belief that bare-handed self defense came first, and those who were bested by another human, picked something up and threw it at the victor. However, I also hold to the belief that armed self defense came first where other animals are concerned, as humans have virtually no other chance against wild beasts.

After weapons came into the picture, there would almost definitely have been different shapes and types of weapons; animal bones, stones of various shapes and sizes, etc. The earliest metal weapons are made from copper and bronze. Over time, the science of metallurgy became more sophisticated, and weapons became stronger and sharper.

Chinese culture developed, originally, along the Yangtze River. From here, Chinese culture and civilization spread, eventually to cover all of Asia. To all of the neighboring countries, China was the center of culture and development. Because the martial techniques developed early, and grew along side the people, Chinese martial arts became a part of Chinese Culture.

Over time, Chinese culture has influenced, where it has not completely redefined, the culture of surrounding Asian countries. But, one must keep in mind that martial techniques were kept in the highest secrecy. This is best related to modern countries keeping military secrets in the interest of national security. Even on a smaller, more local scale, if your enemy does not know your fighting style, they will have a harder time in defeating you.
Always keep your full skill hidden.

Some masters in the history of Chinese martial arts kept things so secret that they would kill a student who had betrayed them. And this is the type of mindset which was prevalent when the Chinese began teaching martial arts to outsiders (non-Chinese). Most foreigners could only hope to skim the surface of what was really there. This remains, sadly, still somewhat the case in modern times.

The Shaolin Temple

Buddhism began in India. It did not arrive in China until sometime in the first century AD. Over time, it found its way into the lives of the Emperors, and over succeeding generations, it took a deeper and deeper hold. It is reported that in 464 AD, a monk named Batuo was sent from India to China to teach. The Shaolin Temple was built in Deng Feng County, Henan province in the year 495 AD. Batuo is considered the first Abbot of the Shaolin temple, however, there is no record of exactly what he taught, or if any of what he taught was related to exercise or martial arts.

There is next the well known, and well worn story of Bodidharma. This legend is most likely false, but has been repeated so often that there are very few students of the Chinese martial arts, or most other national martial arts, who do not know the story.

It would serve little to rehash the story here. I will simply state that I have been quite convinced that the story of Bodidharma’s founding of the Shaolin martial arts is falsehood.