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Kung fu and wushu are popular terms that have become synonymous with Chinese martial arts. However, the Chinese terms kung fu and wushu have very different meanings. Wushu can describe greatly varying martial arts traditions. Kung fu can be used in a context without any martial arts whatsoever.
Colloquially, kung fu (or gung fu) alludes to any individual accomplishment or cultivated skill obtained by long and hard work. In contrast, wushu is a more precise term that refers to general martial activities. The term wushu has also become the name for a modern sport similar to gymnastics, involving the performance of adapted Chinese bare-handed and weapons forms judged to a set of contemporary aesthetic criteria for points.
China has one of the longest histories of continuously recorded martial arts tradition of any society in the world, and with hundreds of styles probably the most varied. Over the past two to four thousand years, many distinctive styles have been developed, each with its own set of techniques and ideas.
The main perceived difference about northern and southern styles is that the northern styles tend to emphasize fast and powerful kicks, high jumps and generally fluid and rapid movement, while the southern styles focus more on strong arm and hand techniques, and stable, immovable stances and fast footwork. Examples of the northern styles include Changquan and Xingyiquan. Examples of the southern styles include Bak Mei and Wing Chun. Chinese martial arts can also be divided according to religion, imitative-styles, and more. There are distinctive differences in the training between different groups of the Chinese martial arts regardless of the type of classification.
Chinese martial arts training consists of the following components: basics, forms, applications and weapons. Each style has its own unique training system with varying emphasis on each of those components. In addition, philosophy, ethics and even medical practice are highly regarded by most Chinese martial arts. A complete training system should also provide insight into Chinese attitudes and culture.
The basics are a vital part of the training, as a student cannot progress to the more advanced stages without them; without strong and flexible muscles including the management of the concept of "Chi" (breath, or energy) and proper body mechanics, many movements of Chinese martial arts are simply impossible to perform correctly. Basics training may involve a series of simple movements that are performed repeatedly over a short interval; examples of these basics training include stretching, stance work, rudimentary conditioning, meditation and basic kicking and punching techniques.
In the west, Kung fu has become a regular action staple, and makes appearances in many films that would not generally be considered "Martial Arts" films. These films include but are not limited to The Matrix Trilogy, Kill Bill, and The Transporter.
Notable practitioners of kung fu are Yip Man (Wing Chun), Bruce Lee (Jeet Kune Do/ Wing Chun) , Jackie Chan and Jet Li (Wushu)
Also See, Culture Legends and Jeet Kune Do, Wushu and Wing Chun in Styles