What is gongfu (kung-fu)?

monkeygodThe term gongfu is commonly used today to mean fighting arts. It specifically implies a potent quality of movement which is powerful, precisely because it has been refined by years of practice. Gongfu was originally any good work done for the local community, and for this reason I have settled on the translation- meritorious action. In the Tang, dynasty where the term originates: (Quotes from Kristofer Schipper Taoism and the arts of China)
"The traditional dioceses and local communities of the Taoist ecclesia gradually transformed themselves into modern temple organizations. The new bourgeoise of the Jiangnan area organized themselves in associations, which were to dominate the social and economical life of China until modern times, were headed by laymen, but remained intrinsically Taoist in nature. They served many other purposes. Often, the most important associations were vocational groups, such as the grain traders of Nanchang, and hence comparable to Western guilds. Others were pilgrimage associations, which maintained the networks between different localities. Still others had more precise aims, such as performing deeds of merit: keeping the temple clean, reciting scriptures, caring for the old and sick, helping the disabled and the mentally unfit, liberating animals and even collecting old paper (any piece with writing on it was deemed sacred) and training in the marital arts so as to be able to protect the community if need arose. All this was gongfu , "religious merit" (a term we now associate with the Chinese martial arts of the temple associations), and because all these activities were performed as a service to the community we call these associations "liturgical organizations." P.49

[footnote: During the Ching Dynasty because these associations were suppressed, many went underground, became dedicated to the over-throw of the government, and became what we know today as the Triads. ]

The custom of publicly demonstrating one's merit is pervasive in Chinese culture. The New Year's custom in which people who prospered during the year hand out money in red envelopes is a great example of publicly demonstrating one's merit. So are the ribbon cutting ceremonies at newly built bridges or businesses. Early theater was originally the ritual performance of acts of merit, performed at these same temples, which eventually became Chinese Opera and has now morphed into the popular gongfu movie. The basic physical training for Chinese Opera is martial arts or gongfu.