One thing is certain; change is inevitable. Some things change for the better; some not so much. Some things change quickly; some over time through an evolutionary process. Kung Fu is no different; it changes and evolves to meet generational needs and expectations.
You have likely heard people use the terms “traditional Kung Fu”, “authentic Kung Fu”, or “original Kung Fu”, but what do those terms really mean? The implication is that the art is unchanged from its inception, but with Kung Fu existing for somewhere around 1,500 years, that thought is as much a myth as some of the Kung Fu legends that have grown to larger-than-life figures. The reality is that Kung Fu has changed with each passing generation of instructors and continues to change and evolve today as it always has.
Let’s take the Tiger/Crane form for example: The Tiger/Crane is the longest, most complex form that WKFA students learn before testing for their Black Sash. It is generally believed that this form evolved near the beginning of the Qing Dynasty in the mid-1600s. Recently, I actually heard someone state naively that their school still taught the original version of the form. Just query the form on Google and you will find all kinds of schools, articles, and videos related to the Tiger/Crane form; and although some versions are close, no two are the same, and some are drastically different.
The same disparity applies to how moves in a particular form are interpreted. We all know that forms are a choreographed set of moves that contain a host of strikes and self-defense techniques, however when someone tells you that a certain element in a form means a certain thing, or that there is a specific self-defense application attached to the move it is wise to remember that the information given is only their interpretation. It may be the interpretation they were taught or an interpretation that they discovered on their own, and there may be many interpretations for a single move depending on the perspective of the practitioner.
At the beginning of your Kung Fu journey you often look for a definitive and absolute explanation for every move, every technique, every stance, and every release. In time you find that the more your skills increase the more subtleties you discover and that most definitions are a matter of interpretation. Your real training and understanding of Kung Fu doesn’t really begin until you have earned your Black Sash, only then do you truly begin to understand the complexities and variety of meanings associated with our art.
We take great pains to ensure that all of our forms are taught the same way by all instructors; however ask what a specific element means, or how it is applied, and you’re very likely to get a variety of answers; none of which are wrong. The only person entitled to express a definitive explanation is the original creator of the form.
Most of our forms have changed dramatically since I first learned them but those changes were based on expert interpretation and modification. We have evolved as a school, our forms and techniques have changed to compliment that evolution, and Kung Fu continues to evolve as a martial art. Change is inevitable; you can bend like a willow, or resist like an oak, but in the end change will occur.