Kung fu is a Chinese term referring to any study, learning, or practice that requires patience, energy, and time to complete. In its original meaning, kung fu can refer to any disciplineor skill achieved through hard work and practice, not necessarily martial arts.
It is only in the late twentieth century, that this term was used in relation to Chinese martial arts by the Chinese community. In the Western popular culture, The term "Kung fu" is often erroneously used as an umbrella term when specifically referring to Chinese martial arts.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines the term "kung-fu" as "a primarily unarmed Chinese martial art resemblingkarate.
In Chinese, gōngfu is a compound of two words, combining (gōng) meaning "work", "achievement", or "merit", and (fū) which is alternately treated as being a word for "man" or as a particle or nominal suffix with diverse meanings (the same character is used to write both).
Kung Fu, an ancient sport popular in China, has a very long history, during which a variety of skills were created and massively improved. Originated from the hunting and defense needs in the primitive society (over 1.7 million years ago – 21st century BC), it at first only included some basic skills like cleaving, chopping, and stabbing. Later the system of Kung Fu formed and developed mainly as the fighting skills from the Xia Dynasty (21st - 17th century BC) to the Yuan Dynasty (1271 - 1368), and reached its peak during theMing and Qing Dynasties (1368 - 1911). In modern times, it develops well and becomes not just martial skills or physical movement. It is also a way for keeping fit, entertainment, and performance.
Chinese Kung Fu started to form during the slavery society (around 11th century BC – 403 BC). Upon the foundation of the Xia Dynasty, it well developed to be more practical and standard to better serve battles. During the Shang and Zhou Dynasties (17th century BC – 256 BC), martial dance was used to train soldiers and enhance the morale of the army. The theory of Tai Chi was put forward then to lay a foundation for the early system of Chinese martial arts. Later, the vassal states in the Spring and Autumn Period (770 - 476 BC) paid much attention to the fighting skills used in the battles. Qi Huangong (716 – 643 BC), one of the state kings at that time, even held martial arts contests twice a year to select heroes.
The development of Kung Fu started during the feudal society (221 BC - 1911). After the Emperor Qin Shihuang (259 - 210 BC) unified the central plain of China, the fighting skills among the soldiers gradually developed into Guanzhong Boxing which was called Hong Fist later. Wrestling, fencing, sword dance and sword fighting were popular during the Qin and Han Dynasties (221 BC – 220 AD). For example, Xiang Zhuang, a famous general at that time, played sword at Hongmen Banquet with the intention to kill Liu Bang, who later became the Emperor Gaozu of the Western Han Dynasty (206 BC – 24 AD).