Here are some common terms and acronyms that are used on our website. We will attempt to assist you with pronunciation, and provide a small treatise on Pinyin, which is the process of Westernization of the Chinese language. The written language is a pictographic format called “Han-zi” (literally, the “script of the Han” peoples). This base script is used all over Asia and is very closely related whether you are in China, Korea, or Japan. (In Japan, it is called “Kanji”.)


What is TCM?

TCM is an acronym for Traditional Chinese Medicine. This medical approach has been in practice from the beginning of recorded history in China with references dating back to the legendary “Yellow Emperor”, circa 2,970 BC. Briefly, it begins with the separation of energy into opposing yet complimentary components, known as Yin & Yang. These represent up vs. down, left vs. right, male vs. female, night vs. day, etc. It is said that when these energies are in a balanced harmony, then good health will rule. But when these are out of balance, there will arise illness. There are different approaches to reintroduce this balance to the organism, one is acupuncture, another is herbal, and the third is Chigong.  The word Chi means energy, and the word gong means to work (or work at/work with). In the Chinese language, it also means to play with energy. The highest form of energy work is literally Tai Chi which translates into the “Grand Ultimate Energy”.  It is not only a very highly evolved form of martial art, but a very highly evolved level of Traditional Chinese Medicine for those who understand it and practice it at the highest level of skill. For those less skilled, the practice still holds significant benefits for health maintenance and prevention of illness/disease.  In all three cases, the essential energy, or Chi, is the element that must be brought into balance. Any one of these approaches, or any combination of the three may be used to achieve this result.

What is Kung-Fu?

“Kung-Fu” means (Literally) great skill (in life) learned through great effort over a long period of time, spanning years and stages of development from childhood to adulthood. Unfortunately, here in the United States, it has become a term to mean “Chinese martial arts”, similar to the use of the word “karate” to mean “Japanese martial arts”. Both of these interpretations are unfortunate and a simplistic approach to the true meaning of these words.

You may recall the program “Kung-Fu”: Here in the United States, this word was used by Hollywood as the title of a television series that depicted a half Chinese, half American young man, Kwai Chang Caine played by David Carradine, in the seventies. They actually did a good job of depicting the process of learning that this young monk was subjected to during his stay in the Shaolin Temple. His life was one of constant learning about proper etiquette, humility, art, language, martial art, and a host of other subjects that are a part of a classical education in both a school and home setting. Traditionally, ethics and values would be taught by extended family, while reading, writing and arithmetic would have been taught in a classroom setting. In his case, he was abandoned to the care of the monks, and they played the role of parent, guardians and educators.

Unfortunately, many tuned into the series to watch the occasional fight scene and confused the original intent of the title and substance of the material with the martial aspect. On this site, Kung-Fu will always be used in its correct interpretation, and not to be confused with Wusu.

What is Wusu?

“Wusu”: This word means Chinese martial arts in general, it includes both internal and external martial arts.

What is meant by External?

External martial arts: There are three considerations that characterize the external approach. The first is physical attributes, raw power and speed, harnessed into forms (or format) that will develop these attributes to a high degree. The second has to do with the perceived threat as coming from a source outside of oneself. The teaching of “external martial arts” immediately utilizes a partner to introduce a source of aggression to which the student must respond. The student is not focused on how he feels within but on using his external senses, sight and sound and feel, to acquire the sensory input of the (external) offending party and to act accordingly to resolve the threat. The response is a sequence of techniques the student must practice as part of a routine until it becomes an instantaneous and totally natural response to external threats that may present to the student. Frequently, tests are a part of this external training process. The third consideration is just a variation in that the subject matter can be performed quickly and suddenly, or it might be performed with a slow, dynamic tension, so that the muscularity remains a significant part of the training process.

“External” is also often termed as “Shaolin”. Over the many years of usage, the Shaolin became synonymous with all Chinese martial arts that emphasized speed and muscular power. This approach is particularly appealing to young people who have great physical skills that can be developed by practicing dynamic routines characterized by very physically aggressive tactics and maneuvers. Because young acolytes came from different villages and provinces all around China to enter the five Shaolin temples to commit themselves to lives of spiritual discipline, the martial arts practiced in their hometowns became available to share in the temple confines. Over time, an evolutionary process occurred, a synthesis that made the Shaolin priests invincible in the many tournaments and contests held regularly all over China. This synthesis was dominated by external martial arts and thus the moniker of Shaolin was used interchangeably with the term external.

What is meant by Internal?

Internal martial arts developed with a different perspective, though the ultimate intent was always the same, martial arts, self-defense, or Wusu. The focus was to concentrate on the development of internal energy, or chi, which when used along with physical skills would increase the net effect. However, the training initially focused on the awareness and cultivation of this internal energy as opposed to the development of raw physical attributes and routines that emphasized them.

What are examples of Internal Martial Arts? 

There are three major branches commonly recognized by the martial arts community: the most prominent is Tai Chi Chuan, of which there are four main branches (Chen, Yang, Wu, and Sun {soon}). The second is Hsing-yi-chuan, a system characterized by straight, linear offensive & defensive moves. And the third is Bagua-chuan, a system that emphasizes circular movements. Taichi has many sub-branches and variations on the dominant theme. The Yang style is practiced in what is termed Classical Yang Style, as passed on through the Yang family from father to son. It is also offered in a modified format, called simply Modified Yang Style. It is so named because of Chen Man Ching, a one-time student of Yang Chenfu, who changed the emphasis on many of the postures to suit an older student body encountered when he escaped from Shanghai to Taiwan after the takeover of mainland China in 1949. Further to the south, Yang Zhenming, the eldest son of Yang Chenfu escaped to Hong Kong. While changing the process and information base is almost always frowned upon, Chen Man Ching nevertheless taught a number of individuals who developed great skills in Taichi and have contributed significantly to the spread of the art in the United States. Because of these contributions, it is hoped that those who truly love the art can move beyond superficial judgements and acknowledge the worthiness of these individuals and their respective contributions.

Chen Man Ching taught both T.T. Liang and William Chen. The former spent much time in the Pacific Northwest, Seattle, Vancouver area, and the latter settled in New York City. These students well embodied the teachings they received and certainly achieved Mastery in their own right. Note that US relations with Taiwan after 1949 made it possible for Modified Yang Style to make a prominent appearance here in this country while Classical Yang was more directed through Hong Kong and followed a pathway through the United Kingdom. It is not until 1978 that Gin Soon Chu, a student of Yang Zhenming, opened his school in Boston, Massachusetts, teaching the Classical approach of the Yang family.

It is important to note that all the variations of Taichi are essentially derivative of the original approach set forth in the Chen Style. All of the expressions available therein eventually were parsed out and became the focus of these other subsequent systems. One may take a very parochial and provincial attitude in saying that one system is better than another one, but that is really just a movement in the wrong direction. It is an unfortunate inability to get beyond the ego rationalization. All these arts have something to offer inasmuch they draw from the same pool of knowledge. It would be better to focus on the ties that bind than nit-pick the details that differentiate. Unfortunately, the ego investment in time/energy and the confidence that one has made the correct decision in choosing one over another style often clouds the mind and makes it difficult for individuals to take the enlightened path. Truth is universal. Patience, practice, and perseverance are more important than what style one has been exposed to. It is also very important to note that the quality of instruction, or lack thereof, plays a much greater role in the development of skill sets in the students. Here the words “Caveat Emptor”, “Let the buyer beware” are most appropriate.

One may distinguish various systems by how they are taught, approached and performed. If the visual expression is external (that is, physical) and the focus of intent is someone else (that is, a training partner), that usually is a good sign that the system is external. If the performance involves an almost trance-like quality and slow, measured pace, with no radical dynamic physical expression, one may be sure the initiation of the art is more internal. (Of course, continued study of these Martial Arts eventually brings the student to a Fast Form, or Two Man Set, or Tui-Sou, in which the Internal Energy is now used in a more traditional martial format, meaning the expression appears to be more external.)

So now comes the interesting part; if one practices an external art form for many years, particularly the circular Chinese systems, the individual will gradually remove extraneous physical effort and gradually perform the information with an emphasis on smooth, flowing, internal energy. This skilled expression is virtually the same as that in a skilled expression of internal systems. Also, if one practices internal systems diligently for twenty years or so, that individual will have developed tremendous physical energy equaling that of someone skilled in external systems.

So, assuming equally skilled instruction, both proponents will have developed the same skills as the other. In fact, in our discussion with Martial Arts Masters in China, we have learned that the top Masters have been practicing both Internal and External Martial Arts for many, many years, and consider this dual training approach to be the essence of life. In fact, if I may paraphrase a conversation I had with Master Zhang in Xian, he said, “If you practice only hard style, you die young. If you practice only soft style, you die young. If you practice both styles of wusu, you will live a long and productive life, because you will achieve balance. Hard style makes you aggressive in attitude and physically stiff. It beats your body up and depletes your energy. Soft style makes you passive in attitude and tends to being physically soft. It doesn’t provide enough tension to the muscles physically, and intellectually, you will tend to yield even when you should be firm in your position. So you must develop a balance between courage and humility. To do this, you must practice both approaches and gain the necessary wisdom as to how and when to apply the appropriate lessons of Yin & Yang. Hopefully, your teachers have shared their wisdom with you and helped you to develop yours along with your wusu skill sets.” This was a very special conversation. I thanked him profusely for his sharing and promised him I would continue my training on both sides of the equation and share his wisdom with my students.

Considering the above statement, today, the Internal Arts have become an important part of training in the Shaolin Temples and thus, the unique connection of Shaolin to External may not be as valid a point in 2008 as it may have been five hundred years ago.

What is Karate?  

Karate: The original interpretation of this word is literally, China hand. Unfortunately, due to long term regional animosities that have occurred historically over time, this was changed to mean empty hand. However, linguistically and historically, it is a reference to the fact that the art form was imported from China.

Shorin is a Japanese word that means Shaolin. So, Shaolin Kenpo is the Chinese expression, and Shorinji Kempo is the Japanese version of the same art. Shorin-ryu is also a reference back to the Shaolin teachers or monks who escaped certain death when the Chinese emperor attempted to eradicate them by burning the temples to the ground and killing every priest they could track down. A number of them escaped to Okinawa and taught the local indigenous people a basic version of the art form they practiced in China. During its long history, Okinawa has often been an independent island society and at other times it has been ruled by the Japanese. The indigenous people were banned from owning weapons and readily absorbed the teaching of the Chinese priests. In addition, they learned how to use common farm implements to defend themselves against the heavily armed samurai. 

This unfortunate state of affairs was often set aside during various points in the long history between China and her neighbors, Korea and Japan to the East, and the rest of Asia to the south and beyond the Himalayas. For instance, during the Tang Dynasty, Japan greatly admired Chinese culture and maintained high level political and social contacts with China. This allowed for a significant cultural exchange during which Japan came in contact with TCM and martial arts, and other arts and architecture. Today, one finds highly stylized Tang Dynasty architecture in Japan, while architecture in China continued to evolve in other directions.