Quan Fa (Kung Fu Forms)

Shaolin forms can be seen as a bit of a collection of styles from around China. Over the years from Da Mo’s initial exposure of martial arts to the monks of the Shaolin Temple, it grew to be a kung fu central. Shaolin has had a difficult history, partly due to its nature as a haven to all, including revolutionaries and those wanted by the authorities in general.
That being the case, many different styles converged on Shaolin over the years. For example, There is a praying mantis Shaolin form, although there are entire styles devoted to praying mantis kung fu in China, originating from Yantai in Shandong province.

It should be noted that there is a big difference between traditional Shaolin forms and modern wushu forms. Traditional Shaolin forms include those such as Xiao/Da Hong Quan (Little/Big Red Fist), Xiao/Da Luohan Quan (Little/Big Luohan Fist), Qi Xing Quan (Seven Stars Fist) etc… These forms can be characterized as being practical, although not as flashy as modern forms. They are fighting forms, designed to prepare one’s body, strengthening the body and involving movements one would use when applying Shaolin kung fu in combat.

Modern wushu forms have an entirely different look. These forms are typically seen in competitions. They are usually set forms which look more like a gymnastics routine. They are incredibly impressive to witness, involving a lot of flips, high kick and rotations. These forms are actually a relatively modern feature of Shaolin’s identity. That is not to say that traditional forms don’t involve acrobatics. Some do. However, these forms are designed primarily for show, as opposed to combat.

There are also many weapons forms in Shaolin kung fu. The most basic is the staff. That is not to say it is easy, and there are many staff forms, simply that it is most likely the weapon that your master will teach you first. Considered the holy grail of weapons is the sword. There are many amazing weapon forms, from chain whips to the Guan Dao, a massive weapon wielded by the famous three kingdoms warrior, Guan Yu.

There are also some quite funny forms. Shaolin monks had to be able to fight with whatever they could get their hands on. This has led to forms such as the broom form. Among more amusing sounding forms inspired by animals, of which there are many. There is for example, a duck form, which is still performed to this day at the Shaolin Temple by Shaolin warrior monks. Other animal forms include the tiger, eagle and leopard forms. There are many more. Think of an animal and there may well be a form for it. The animal forms will take on the personality of the animal they are mimicking. For example, the tiger form is ferocious and powerful, with the hands at points in the shape of claws, in order to tear the skin away from the body. The eagle form is grace personified and arms at points in the form will be spread out the take the shape of wings.

Shaolin forms are an essential part of Shaolin training. While they may feel as though they are superfluous to becoming a fighter, after a while, if you perform the forms as they are supposed to be, you will realize just how much balance and strength you gain from them. Remember, kung fu is about repetition and doing, not about knowing. I know how to punch you, but I won’t be amazing at it if I have never done it before. Shaolin forms are at the heart of Shaolin training, for combat and performance.