Kung Fu - Styles and Belts

The phrase "Kung Fu," sometimes spelled "Gung Fu," originally referred to excellence in any field of study, whether cooking, fishing, calligraphy, etc. It first appeared in the West in the nineteenth century, as multitudes of Chinese began emigrating outside their homeland. Today it is almost always used to refer to any of the literally hundreds of different styles of Chinese martial arts.

These various styles of Kung Fu are often categorized as "internal" or "external," or sometimes as "soft" or "hard." The soft, internal styles emphasize inner balance, focus, meditation, and subtle uses of leverage. The hard, external styles put more emphasis o­n physical strength, damaging blocks, and devastating attacks. Regardless of how styles are labeled, they all generally encompass both aspects.

Many Kung Fu styles were created to mimic and emulate specific animals with their movements, such as the Monkey, White Crane, and Tiger styles. Some of these styles can trace their origin back hundreds, even thousands, of years.

Today, many people continue to study Kung Fu, for a variety of reasons: self-defense, physical fitness, mental discipline, even spiritual enlightenment. Schools can be found all across the country, teaching a wide variety of styles.

Because of this variety, there is no universal standard regarding the color of belt rankings. Indeed, the use of colored belts for ranking is a fairly new occurrence, begun o­nly in the last 100 years or so, and some schools still have not adopted the practice.

For the majority that do award belts, a common ranking system might be white belts for beginners, followed by yellow, green, purple, orange, red, and brown, ending with a black belt for the most advanced students. Though the progressive colors and steps are frequently different, white belts for beginners and black belts for masters have become almost universally accepted.