Chinese Gung Fu: the Philosophical Art of Self-Defense

Author: Bruce Lee
Publisher: Black Belt Books
Subject: Sports/Martial Arts/Self Defense
Year: Originally published: 1963 and the reviewed version published: 2008


“Chinese Gung Fu” is the only book Bruce Lee published about Chinese Martial Arts during his lifetime. It concentrates on the traditional styles of Gung Fu, including Wing Chung. As Bruce learned more styles and started work on his own martial way, he steered away from the more traditional styles as he went towards his Jeet Kune Do -this led him to asking the publishers to stop printing this book after a few years, which they did.

Following his tragic passing, the book was discussed and then reprinted in 1987 as it is considered a classic and contains legitimate Chinese Gung Fu techniques.

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The book is slightly bigger than A5 paper size and measures 7mm thick. It has a great picture of Bruce Lee in a traditional silk, Gung Fu uniform in a defensive pose.

Upon opening the book, the first page presented is a foreward by Linda Lee Cadwell. During this foreward, Linda Lee Cadwell explains the history of the book and how it is a ‘historical snapshot into the life of the legendary Bruce Lee’.

Next there is a Contents page followed by some engaging notes ‘About the Author’ by James Y. Lee, Ed Parker and Wally Jay. These lead on to the Introduction by Bruce Lee himself.

This introduction is really interesting and Bruce highlights how this book is not a textbook on formal techniques per se, but is rather about the basic blocks and punches in the art, as well as Lee’s intentions to produce a more thorough book titled “The Tao of Chinese Gung Fu” in the future (this was titled “The Tao of Jeet Kune Do” upon publication).

When we enter Part 1 we find a list of some of the more popular Northern and Southern styles of Gung Fu, as well as some important pointers Bruce wished us to note. The next section covers basic Gung Fu stances, with Bruce providing his own famous hand-drawn pictures. Lee continues with his own drawings within the next sections as well titled; ‘The Seven Stars’ and ‘The Three Fronts’.

Bruce then moves onto Waist and Leg Training, with clear line diagrams helping to explain these movements. Part 1 closes with a section on ‘The Basic Theory of Yin and Yang in the art of Gung Fu’.

Part 2 of the book which is almost 60 pages, is titled ‘Chinese Gung Fu Techniques’ which contains many excellent photos of Bruce Lee demonstrating the moves in his silk uniform. While some of the techniques are simpler than others, they are not really aimed at total novices who would likely need some training prior to following the book.

Part 3 was not in the original printing of this book and Shannon Lee introduces this section, explaining why it has been added and a little about the photos and notes Bruce made to accompany them. Each photo of a technique has a matching photo of the note Bruce made alongside it, displaying his clear, neat handwriting.

The book then closes with a few photos of Bruce Lee and some friends.

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“Chinese Gung Fu – the Philosophical Art of Self-Defense” is a really intriguing book and definitely worth investigating and reading. While parts of it can be used as a training manual, it is really intended as a historical account of Bruce Lee and his training within the more classical arts, prior to him evolving his own system of Jeet Kune Do.

The photos provide a rich account of the movements under analysis and it is really pleasing to see Bruce’s own drawings and notes in this unadulterated form.

I really enjoyed this book and would say it is required reading for keen martial artists, fans of Bruce Lee and thus can heartily be recommended to all Kung Fu Kingdom readers.

Book Rating: 9/10


Favourite Quotes

‘Every movement of Gung Fu has a flowing continuity without any dislocation. As soon as a movement is completed, it begins to flow into another one. Because of this, the readers will find the techniques of Gung Fu faster than the ordinary method.’

‘The waist is very important in the art of Gung Fu as it plays a major part in both striking and dissolving away the opponent’s force. During practice, the practitioner is required to dissolve away the opponents force by turning waist first before he can side step it.’

‘Firmness must be concealed in gentleness and gentleness in firmness, which is why a Gung Fu man must be pliable as a spring. Notice that the stiffest tree is most easily cracked, while the bamboo will bend with the wind. So in Gung Fu, or any other system, one must be gentle yet not giving away completely; be firm yet not hard, and even if he is strong, he should guard it with softness and tenderness.’

‘Since my three years stay in the U.S, I’ve seen unscrupulous “businessmen”, Americans and Chinese alike, who claim themselves as professors or masters of Gung Fu and whose movements resemble nothing to any school in Gung Fu. I hope that people who are about to join these schools will examine them closely. I would also like to add that whoever reads this book will not be able to become a “holy terror” nor can he become a Gung Fu expert in just three easy lessons.’

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Stuart Grimes

Stuart Grimes is a fan of all martial arts. He has studied Shotokan Karate for a few years as a teenager and also taken classes in Judo, boxing and Kickboxing. His children have inherited his love of martial arts and currently train over 12 hours a week, incorporating Chin Woo Kung Fu, Gymnastics and Sport Karate. His eldest two children compete regularly and either hold or have held English, British or European titles in the WTKA, WKU, ISKA, WKKC, WMO, WMKF and WKC, as well as a Unity International Games title.

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