The term Kung Fu literally means 'man's achievement through effort', though it is generally used to refer to any Chinese martial art that uses sharp blows and kicks. Some believe that kung fu was first practiced in the ancient Buddhist Shaolin Temple, which was built in the third century AD at the foot of the Songshan mountain in Dengfeng County, Honan Province.

Da Mo and the Shaolin Temple
In 527 AD an Indian Buddhist monk named Da Mo (Bodhidharma) travelled to the Shaolin Temple but was refused entry. He retreated to a nearby cave and meditated for a full nine years until his dedication was acknowledged and he was accepted by the Chinese monks. Once inside, Da Mo decided that his new Chinese disciples were too physically and mentally weak for the intensive meditation he preached. As a member of the Warrior Caste (Ksatriva), Da Mo was familiar with the Indian martial tradition. So he developed a new series of exercises that combined physical movement with controlled breathing to strengthen mind and body, enabling the monks to achieve enlightenment through their efforts.

The Shaolin Temple in the Honan Province became a centre of the development of martial arts for more than a thousand years, until the practice was brought to an end in the 1700s under the Ching Dynasty. It is interesting to note that many more Shaolin Temples were built across China, though historians cannot decide whether they were set up as rivals to the original, or as an extension of it. While many kung fu styles were first seen in the Shaolin Temple including Hung Gar there are suggestions that the true roots of kung fu extend further back in history. Earlier references include reports of a physician, Hwa Tuo, who lived from around 220 to 265AD and used exercises based on the movements of the tiger, bear, monkey, stork and deer to help improve the physical health of his patients. This is very significant as there is a strong link between the Chinese martial arts and various animal movements.