A Brief History of Traditional Kung Fu
Kung Fu Flourished
One of the theories of why kung fu developed to such an extent at the Shaolin temple is that the temple itself was a haven for political dissidents, military men, and revolutionists, who were experienced fighters. As a result, fighting knowledge was exchanged and refined over a long period of time.
In the 1500s, a young swordsman by the name of Kwok Yuen is credited with developing the Shaolin fighting techniques into the five animal categories of Tiger, Crane, Leopord, Dragon, and Snake. This is known as the "Five Forms Fist."
Five Forms Fist
Each animal is symbolic and represents certain techniques (and fists) within the system:
Tiger: Symbolizes ferocity and strength. Open hand striking techniques with the fingers clenched in the shape of a claw.
Crane: Evasive techniques, kicking (Crane standing on one leg), arms spread like wings opening, fingers pressed together to form a beak-like weapon.
Leopard: Fore-knuckle strikes imitate the animal's paw.
Dragon: Claw techniques, whipping back-fists that symbolizes a thrashing tail, scissors stance techniques that imitate the twisting maneuvers of a dragon.
Snake: Fingertip thrusts upon soft vital areas that characterize the serpent's forked tongue.
Kung fu flourishes at the Shaolin temple for a couple hundred years. It did not last, however. The Manchus invaded China in 1664 and established the Ching government. Afterward, supporters of the overthrown Ming dynasty sought refuge at Shaolin. These supporters even plotted to overthrow the Manchu government.
Destruction of the Temple
The Manchu government outlawed kung fu and the soldiers destroyed the temple in the 1700s in fear of rebellion. The burning of the monastery marks the beginning of Hung Gar style.
Kung Fu Returns
Among those who escaped the burning of the temple were abbot Chee Sin and his disciple Hung Hee Koon. Hung is said to have combined his Tiger techniques with the softer Crane techniques he learned from his wife Fong Wing Chun, resulting in a more balanced system we call Hung Gar (Hung's Family) kung fu.
The ban on training ended by the early 1800s. Two disciples of Chee Sin (Hung Hee Koon and Look Ah Choy) came out of hiding and opened kung fu schools. Other schools began to pop up as well, and traditional kung fu has been making its way across the world (though there are many traditionalists who did not take too kindly to the teaching of it to non-Chinese).
While there are many schools devoted to lion dancing alone, it is very much linked to the practice of kung fu. In fact, you can often see the quality of a school's kung fu be watching their lions. According to legend, the Lion Dance was developed to fight supernatural forces. A demon-like creature supposedly wrought havoc on a rice farming community. In order to frighten their evil enemy away, the villagers constructed an awesome looking figure which they called the Lion. They succeeded, and down through the years, the Lion Dance has become a symbol of good luck.