Kung Fu for the 8-bit Nintendo was a first generation game. It was released in 1985, just before the Nintendo craze of 1986 - and it shows. It's old. But that doesn't mean it isn't fun. While it's not a game that you can play for weeks on end (or even hours) and not get bored, there's something about it that many older gamers love. Maybe it's partly because it's simple. Maybe because it's really easy. Maybe it's just me. I put it in my machine last night (yup - it still works!) and immediately died on the first boss. Less than ten minutes later I had beaten it already. And damn, it was a fun ten minutes!

The plot is typical for early Nintendo games:
The girlfriend, Sylvia, of the hero, Thomas, has been kidnapped by a bad guy (The evil Mr. X) and he must rescue her by fighting through a number of levels (5).

Thomas uses his fighting techniques to defeat the enemies and bosses of each level.
These are:

  • Directional pad: Makes Thomas move left or right, jump straight up, left or right, or crouch.
  • A Button: Punch. Thomas can punch while standing, jumping, or crouching. The jump punch has little practical use since it cannot hit standing enemies. You gain more points by punching enemies because of its short range.
  • B Button: Kick. Thomas can kick while standing, jumping, or crouching. The crouching kick is a foot sweep. You gain fewer points from kicking enemies than you do by punching them, since the kick has a longer range.
Exerpts from the instruction manual
  • Stick Fighter (1st Floor Boss)
    Dangerous to approach unprepared as he whirls his stick around

  • Boomerang Fighter (2nd Floor Boss)
    He throws boomerangs. Work out the flying pattern of the boomerangs

  • Giant (3rd Floor Boss)
    As strong as Hercules. His movements are slow but his power is enormus. Watch out for that killer punch!

  • Black Magician (4th Floor Boss)
    He can grow back parts of his body and perform other amazing tricks. He can even grow another head when severed. Just what kind of attack will work on him?

  • The Gang Leader, Mr. X (5th Floor Boss)
    Master of all the martial arts, he's the strongest man in the castle. As he uses all techniques, fighting with him is a dealy contest

  • The Gripper
    Lots of them come to get Thomas. No specific techniques.

  • Knife Thrower
    He throws knives aimed right at Thomas.

  • Tom Toms
    They come to get Thomas. They are liable to turn in mid-air and attack.

  • Dragon Ball
    Drops from ceiling.

  • Dragon
    Attacks by breathing fire.

  • Confetti Ball
    Drops from ceiling. Before it can burst, attack it!

  • Snake Basket
    Drops from the ceiling.

  • Snake
    Emerges from the snake basket. Jump to avoid being bitten.

  • Poisonous Moth
    When it comes flying toward you, attack it!

In the geek sense, Kung Fu is the level of skill one possesses in a particular area. An example:

John: I contributed a fix to the Linux IPv6 stack.

Jane: Wow. Your Kung Fu's pretty good, but I ported FreeBSD over to my calculator watch last night.

John: Your Kung Fu is the best.

My Kung Fu teacher translated "kung fu" as "expedient means", a translation that has always been confusing to me since I really have no idea what the word "expedient" means (English is not my native tongue).

At any rate, for years he taught kung fu without doing any physical exercises at all, emphasizing mental practice, developing problem solving abilities.

He said the physical martial art aspect developed as a solution to a problem as well: The monks at Shao Lin spent hours sitting in meditation every day so they developed effective physical exercises to counterpoint any negative effect prolonged sitting might have had on the body.

Or, put differently, they worked on total evolution of man. Not being dualists, physical and mental advancement was of equal importance to them.

Occasionally he would hint that one of the reason for the martial art training at Shao Lin was the tradition in Zen Buddhism which makes it an acceptable reaction for a student to strike the teacher when the teacher answers a student's question in a way which confuses the student even more, and frustrates him. Of course, the teacher is not required to take the strike, so he learns how to avoid it.

I have never seen anyone strike my teacher, though I certainly went through periods, especially early in my training, when I felt like it! Though, come to think of it, I probably challenged him verbally more often than the rest of the students, especially again in the early stages of my training.

Recently, I have been giving kung fu some thought. It seems to me it is essentially a nice practice of the right effort factor of the Eightfold Path. The martial art of kung fu is very soft, almost "lazy" (certainly compared to tang soo do which I studied before). That is, you exert the exact amount of effort necessary to defend yourself, not a bit more.

Same holds true for the mental effort in kung fu (e.g., applied to computer programming, or any other problem solving situation).

1972 made for television movie (the pilot for the subsequent series) starring David Carradine. Carradine playes Caine, a young Chinese-American Shaolin monk living in 19th century China. After avenging the death of his teacher, he becomes a wanted man in China. Fleeing to America, he works on the railroad in the American West and helps the railroad workers.

Perhaps the most famous sequence in the film is the following (taken from the Internet Movie Database):

Master Po: (after easily defeating the boy in combat) Ha ha, never assume because a man has no eyes he cannot see. Close your eyes. What do you hear?
Young Caine: I hear the water, I hear the birds.
Master Po: Do you hear your own heartbeat?
Young Caine: No.
Master Po: Do you hear the grasshopper that is at your feet?
Young Caine: (looking down and seeing the insect) Old man, how is it that you hear these things?
Master Po: Young man, how is it that you do not?

Hereafter, Master Po referred to his young pupil as grasshopper.

The martial arts aspect of Kung Fu is based on the movements of various animals.

The Tiger teaches power and stamina.

The Snake teaches fluidity and precision.

The Crane teaches grace and poise (as well as getting to stand on one leg a lot, which is always fun!).

The Monkey teaches speed and unpredictability.

There are variations of each style, but those are the four basic animals of Kung Fu.
Jet Li about Kung Fu:

Nowadays, one associates the word, “kung-fu,” with punches, kicks, martial arts champions, fighting. But the original meaning of “kung-fu” was never intended to describe martial arts in any way. Kung-fu originally referred to the time and energy spent in learning something.

A successful chef expends lots of “kung-fu” to cook the tastiest dishes. A doctor undergoes considerable “kung-fu” to be able to take care of sick people. A martial artist uses lots of “kung-fu” in practicing his physical forms so he may display them to audiences one day.

The term “kung-fu” was first broached to Western audiences by Bruce Lee when he stepped into the spotlight and used it to describe his martial arts. From there, a misconception arose and people began using “kung-fu” to refer to Bruce Lee, martial arts, punches, kicks, and the whole related system".

Breathing

You must be able to control your breathing. Your breath gives you the energy that flows through you. A mistimed breath can throw off your rhythm, which could be a deadly mistake in combat. Breathe out when punching and kicking; it will help amplify your energy output.

Energy

Energy is vital. This may be obvious to some, but to others it is put aside and only strength is sought after, Energy is the most important element of martial arts. Energy guides punches, directs kicks, and heightens the senses. If you can control your energy, you can gain more energy and mold it towards your destination.

Speed

Speed is a necessity. Without speed, you cannot avoid a hit, or strike quickly. Speed separates the tortoise from the hare. The downfall of the hare was that all he had was his speed. He was overconfident that it would carry him to victory. No, speed does not guarantee a win, it is, however a deciding factor.

Strength

Strength is the most recognizable aspect of martial arts. Strength is an important physical trait for martial arts, but not the most important over all. Strength is as much of a state of mind, as it is a state of being.

Stamina

Without stamina, a few minutes of combat can seem like hours. In many martial arts matches, both participants are drained of their energy. It is the fighter that can stand after the last blow that is declared the winner. Stamina is why many martial artists seem to be always awake.

Passion

Passion is what drives a fighter. Without passion fighting is futile. Our lives are pointless without passion. Passion can, however, cause a warrior to lose the physical battle, but be victorious in the mental side of the fight. Passion separates man from anything else, but also unifies it with everything.

Emotion

Emotion, a certain aspect of passion, is a very important non-physical trait. Emotion, dealing with your opponent can both help and hinder you. If you let your anger rule you, it will show in your arts. If you let a non-violent emotion rule you, it too will show in your fighting. You must not let one sole emotion rule you, you must keep balanced.

Balance

Balance is the skill that ties man other's together. Mental, emotional, and physical balance is important. If you are not mentally balanced, you cannot prepare before a fight. If we are not physically balanced, our overconfidence in the stronger skill will be our downfall. If you are emotionally unbalanced, you will be distracted and your victory will be almost unattainable.

Ambition

Ambition, without it, you wouldn't care if you won or lost. You wouldn't train without it. You wouldn't meditate without it. There would be no motivation in your life. Nothing will matter, even if it isn't martial arts related.

Determination

Determination, another trait required to win. Without determination, fighting is pointless. Determination gives you the strength and the energy to continue even when your stamina has run out. This is a non-physical trait that is key for victory. You could have everything else in martial arts, but without determination, nothing will matter. The greatest martial artists had at least one thing in common, Determination.

Kung Fu is also a simple game that can be played with just about any number of people. There are no equipment requirements, though the game should be played on flat, preferably somewhat soft, ground.

Players stand in a rough circle and should be arms-length apart. At his turn, a player makes one smooth motion in an attempt to touch another player with his fingertips. The targeted player may make one smooth motion to dodge the attack. Play proceeds around the circle, with any player who is touched eliminated from the game at once.

The difficulty in the game lies in the fact that each "turn" a player may only move once. If the move results in the player off-balance, she must wait until the next time she can move to correct the problem. If she should happen to fall over in the intervening time frame, that is where she must stay until the game allows her to move again. The one motion rule remains in effect, so returning to a standing position can be quite complicated.

Despite its very simple rules, Kung Fu can be very fun and very challenging, like a good Sudoku puzzle. In order to win, a player must have well developed speed and balance, and be constantly paying attention to the players nearby. There is no rule that forbids a player from crossing the circle to make his attack after the game has started.

Nonetheless, some player will find the initial rules dull after many games. There are a few variants that can be added to make the game more challenging:

  • Hand to Hand - A player is only eliminated if another player's fingertips make contact with her hand. The considerably ups the difficulty for attackers and allows for creative usage of blocking moves.
  • By the Letter of the Law - When a player is touched, rather than instantly losing the game, he gains a letter in the word "Kung Fu". Play progresses until all but one player have gained all six letters, similar to the method of elimination in word games such as Ghost. This doesn't make the game itself any more difficult, but can give players chances to recover from singular mistakes.
  • Lockdown - The game begins with a much tighter circle (possibly as little as one foot between players). During gameplay, a player loses if she moves her feet. If the game progresses to a stage where none of the remaining players are actually able to touch each other, the circle is reformed with no penalties. This variant is extremely challenging with more than four people playing.

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