“Karate” is probably the most popularized name for Asian martial arts in the United States -- so much so that it is often used as a generic term for martial arts in general. However, a number of defined disciplines exist in the martial-arts world; kung fu and jiu jitsu, also spelled “jujitsu,” are two well-known fighting styles. These styles are both fighting arts from the Orient -- but the similarities almost stop at that point.
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The precise origins of both martial arts are obscured by time, legend and politics, but martial arts historians accept some general ideas. According to the most widely respected models, kung fu originated 3,000 to 4,000 years ago in the Shaolin province of China. From there, it spread out to split into hundreds of variants. Jujitsu developed in Japan 2,000 to 2,500 years ago. Although this art has spawned a handful of variant schools, the techniques of jujitsu have remained relatively congruent and standardized.
The traditional uniform of jujitsu consists of a robe tied with a colored belt. The top is often quilted for durability, and many uniforms have reinforced knees to resist wear while during ground fighting. A kung fu uniform is more ornate, often made of silk or colored cotton. It has a button-up top and often is decorated with intricate knot fasteners and embroidery. Though some kung fu schools now use the karate belt, many others retain the traditional colored sash to indicate rank.
Kung fu is a soft, striking martial art. Practitioners tend to dodge around attacks and then deliver several rapid-fire strikes in retaliation. Many kung fu forms employ a wide variety of arm and leg strikes, often developed to mimic the motions of animals in the wild. Jujitsu is a grappling art, in which practitioners employ holds, throws and locks to control and vanquish an opponent. The repertoire of moves in jujitsu is more focused; students focus on mastering a handful of techniques, rather than memorizing a wide range of options.
Kung fu training is often performed in a traditional culture. Students learn not only the physical aspects of the art but the history, ethical considerations and attendant arts, such as massage and dance. Jujitsu, though a traditional art, is often practiced as a modern sport. Practice and training focus on effective application of techniques in a sporting environment. A school may have its own point of view, though; it is quite possible to find a sport-oriented kung fu school or a traditional jujitsu program.