Kung fu today, regardless of the style, explains most of its theories through Taoism and\or Buddhism. A lot of effort is put to connect kung fu’s ancient roots to Taoism and Buddhism, even the superficial observation will lead to a conclusion that these philosophical and religious systems are not the original systems which laid foundation of Chinese martial arts. Before republican period (1911-1949) Taoism and Buddhism has no connection to kung fu . A person who fist used Taoist teachings to describe and explain his arts , and who actually shaped modern view on Chinese martial arts , especially “internal” styles was Sun Lu Tang. His work , for better or worse , gave the frame for modern kung fu theories and way of explaining them. Buddhism , or more precise its theories and philosophy ,as a foundation of martial arts was used only in last several decades ,and even today it is not widely spread . Although , first mention of “Buddhist’s” martial arts can be found in early republican period , at the beginning of 1920’s as a result of marketing strategy used by the leadership of Goushu academy , serious attempt to use Buddhist teachings as a frame for kung fu concepts and theories was not made until the end of 1970 and “kung fu craze’ after Bruce Lee’s death.
If not Taoism or Buddhism, what philosophical system was used as a foundation for Chinese martial art?
Separated from its original cultural context, especially on the west , kung fu can be easily seen as “Taoist” of “Buddhist” , but in Taiwan , where original Chinese culture and way of life is still alive it is obvious that philosophical system which is deeply ingrained in Taiwanese culture and represents its basic foundation is Confucianism .
Confucianism is a comprehensive system of thought and behavior encompassing religion, philosophy, morality, and political science. Confucianism and its teachings have shaped the political and social development of China for hundreds of years. Confucianism established the social values, institutions, and transcendent ideals of traditional Chinese society. It influenced and shaped every aspect of life in China for two millennium. Confucianism is very specific , it is a system of social and ethical philosophy rather than a religion in sense that we perceive Buddhism or Christianity. Sense of religious identity and common moral understanding are laid at the foundation of a society's central institutions, which were not a separate entities like a church or religious order of any kind , but family, school, and state institutions .There are no priests , that role belongs to parents, teachers, and officials.
Confucianism developed over the course of two thousand years, beginning with the teachings of its founder, the philosopher Confucius (551-479 BC). Confucius established a system of ritual as well as moral and social teachings which fundamentally shaped the evolution of Chinese society. Confucius taught during the Warring States Period, when China was divided into many warring factions, and governments were corrupt. His teachings dealt mainly with personal and political morality. His teachings sought to restore the Mandate of Heaven to the rulers so that peace and prosperity would return to China. His goal was to help the people achieve social and personal perfection and reestablish the ordered society that had supposedly existed before this period of internal warfare. We do not have original teachings of Confucius, his teachings were revised , developed and formalized by political philosophers during the course of history .
Chinese martial arts are inseparable part of Chinese society and way of life. Confucianism influenced kung fu the same way as it influenced Chinese society in general. We can see reflection of main Confucianism core concepts in traditional kung fu.
Ren or humanness is a core principle of Confucianism . Altruism is a natural feature of a human being and urge to protect lives and wellbeing of family members and not only them but to protect all weak and in need and on the highest level to protect the state and the people of the state led eventually to the invention of martial arts .Kung fu in its core is not aggressive , and , although it has deadly techniques and it used the best weapons of the time , kung fu is defensive , protective and used only as a last resort . If we look Chinese history , which cannot be separated from kung fu history , China led only defensive wars although ,for the most of its history was the strongest military force in Asia . That fact says a lot of the nature of Chinese culture and nature of kung fu .
Rites , in Chinese “Li” in the context of human individual and social behavior has been translated as "custom", "mores", and "rules". It is a way of formalized behavior used to distinguish between people; their usage allows people to know at all times who is the younger and who the elder, to people on their correct social place . In traditional Chinese society and especially in kung fu family \school , there is a highly formalized way of social interaction and hierarchy. There is one more level of Confucianism influence on kung fu in this area. Kung fu ,just as Confucianism , is highly formalized. Actually, forms , as a basic tool in martial art’s training are invented in China and are originally part of kung fu . Forms were and still are the main way of transmission, preservation and teaching in kung fu. This way of martial arts teaching later spread on Japanese and Korean martial arts and on some other Asian countries like Vietnam, India ect but the influence was not so strong .
Constant seeking for knowledge as well as constant effort toward one’s personal improvement is one of the basic principles of Confucianism .Exactly same principles are part of the basic foundation of kung fu .
Loyalty , one of the core concepts of Confucianism was and still is one of the core concepts in kung fu. In old times , commitment to the particular martial school , teacher , style was life long . Member of one school\style couldn’t neither wanted to become a member of another school . These things happened only in very rare occasions .
Filial piety(孝, xiào) in Confucian philosophy, is a virtue of respect for one's father, elders, and ancestors and also to be obedient . In more general terms, filial piety means to be good and take care of one's parents; to bring a good name to one's family and ancestors; to support parents materially, carry out sacrifices to the ancestors. Xiao also includes respect and support among brothers, to show courtesy among family members, ensure male heirs, and uphold proper rituals after parents death as well as show sorrow for the lost . Also uphold necessary rituals for the ancestors.
Filial piety is considered a key virtue in Chinese culture and influenced almost every aspect of life in China, and kung fu is not an exception. In traditional kung fu school there will always be an altar dedicated to the famous ancestor or founder of the style. In more traditional school, like the school of Zonghequan where I learn this art, before every training session , teacher and students will show respect to the founder of the style and offer a cup of tea which would be left on the altar. Kung fu ancestor is respected as an family ancestor.
Traditional kung fu school is a reflection of traditional Chinese family. Same rules of behavior are upheld on kung fu school as well as they are upheld in the real family. In the past , more than today , teacher was really considered as a father and school was really considered as a family . Even the titles and ranks are reflection of the traditional family where teacher , Sifu(師父, 師 means "skilled person" and父 is "father"),is a fatherly figure and his word is followed without question . Students , depending of the time of their arrival and time spent in school are addressed as older or younger brothers and sisters . Teacher’s kung fu brothers are addressed as kung fu uncles , ect. Complete structure of kung fu school is identical to the structure of the family. From the member of the school same things are expected as from the family member. Teacher had responsibility to take care for his students same way as he would take care for his own children, to passes the all his knowledge and to be a good example for them in every way. On the other hand, for the student was like the son and he had same responsibilities and obligation as he has in a real family. Student should respect his elders and his teacher, his actions should bring good name to his teacher, school and style. To perform duties well to display courtesy ,uphold fraternity, respect and support among brothers , to keep himself from any moral unrighteousness, to continue teaching and ensure next generation of style’s practitioners after the teachers death.
In Confucianism great attention is payed to relationships .Harmony results in part from every individual knowing his or her place in the social order, and acting according to that.
In a kung fu school one’s particular duties arise from one's particular situation in relation to others. The individual stands simultaneously in several different relationships with different people: as a junior in relation to his teacher and elders, and as a senior in relation to younger students, as an equal to his classmates. These rations define one’s duties and a place in traditional kung fu school.
As we can see , traditional kung fu is for the most part based in Confucianism , at least the social part which governs the relationships , behavior , duties , ethics ,moral ,heritage .