Can You Learn Kung Fu From A Book? [12 Must-Reads]

Can you learn Kung Fu from a book? -

Thinking about learning Kung Fu but not sure if you want to join a dojo without a little practice? Or maybe there’s no good dojo near you? Or perhaps you just want to learn from home?

Can you learn Kung Fu from a book? You can learn the basics of kung fu from a book, as long as it’s the right book. You can learn from a book as long as you have enough room to practice and the space is safe.

It’s not the ideal scenario by any means but as you’ll see in this article, you very much can learn Kung Fu from a book. Here are 12 great books for you to learn from!

How Can You Learn Kung Fu From A Book?

The MMA superstar, Ken Shamrock, was mainly self-taught. Yes, that’s right, one of the best MMA fighters of all time was self-taught from books. If he can do it, so can anyone, right?

If you can find a dojo, it’s always easier and safer to learn with an instructor and it’s usually more fun too. There’s a superb social side to learning Kung Fu or, indeed, any martial art.

However, if you can’t find a dojo that you want to learn in, then there is nothing wrong with buying some books and working on your martial arts skills at home.

You must prepare yourself appropriately though. This means:

  • Make sure you have enough room. You may want to go outside and throw down some mats if there’s not enough space in your home. You need enough room to execute your moves and to follow them through.
  • Make sure the space is safe. No sharp edges ought to be present. Padding put around walls is a good idea. Move any objects out of the space before you start practicing. In short, think about the fact that landing on stuff is a bad idea for your health.
  • Get some books or YouTube video instruction. You need guidance to learn Kung Fu, you can’t just watch martial arts movies and hope you pick it up through osmosis.

The 12 Best Kung Fu Books You Must Read

There are an incredible number of Kung Fu books but these are 12 of the best. These are the books that are most likely to bring benefits to students of Kung Fu, and in particular, to those who want to study at home.

Authentic Shaolin Heritage: Training Methods of 72 Arts Of Shaolin by Jin Jing Zhong

This is a true Kung Fu classic, and it was originally published back in 1934! Reverend Miao Xing a genuine abbot of the Shaolin Monastery, was involved in developing the text and he was known as the “Golden Arhat” a nickname which denoted his status as one of the best Kung Fu fighters of all time.

His objective was to teach the 72 Shaolin Arts which are used in conjunction with training in balance and posture as well as training in combat to give a Shaolin monk their complete range of skills. At the point of writing these arts were not well-known by the public and this may have been the first ever time they were communicated in writing.

This version is translated from the original Chinese by Andrew Timofeevich and it’s a surprisingly readable text as well as offering genuine insight into Kung Fu teachings throughout this century.

Bubishi: The Classic Manual Of Combat by Patrick McCarthy

While Bubishi is more properly known as the “bible of karate” amongst well-educated martial artists, at least, it’s worth remembering that Kung Fu and Karate have much in common due to their common development in China before karate was “forked” from Kung Fu in Japan in the 1920s.

Bubishi is a Chinese manual which teaches the philosophies, strategies and other applications required to use martial arts as a tool in war. It was once a secret text and only passed from one master martial artist to another but, as with many things, the 20th century enabled the knowledge once closely guarded to be offered up to anyone who wants it.

Not only is this an excellent way to better understand the martial art, it’s simply a better way to understand how martial arts can be a complete way of life. For us, Bubishi is simply indispensable.

Kung Fu: History, Philosophy and Technique by David Chow and Richard Spangler

David Chow’s extraordinary history of Kung Fu begins by thoroughly examining how the martial art has been treated in the present day through the mediums of books, films, etc. and then goes onto explore how this diverges from the essence of what Kung Fu is really all about.

His approach is great as it means you can work through your misconceptions, which are common and completely understandable thanks to popular culture, and begin to piece together an image of Kung Fu as a noble art which can help practitioners transcend the everyday and become something more.

You also learn something even more fascinating: where the origins of Chinese names for fighting styles come from. All in all, an excellent book!

Instant Health: The Shaolin Qigong Workout For Longevity by Shifu Yan Lei

It’s great when a top martial artist puts their knowledge to paper and tries to illuminate their martial art. After all, who better to learn from than someone who makes it their bread and butter? Shifu Yan Lei is a Kung Fu master who has mastered Shaolin Kung Fu and now he wants to share his knowledge with you (and us).

What’s really good about this manual most of all is that Shifu Yan Lei puts health at the forefront while offering an insightful approach to learning Kung Fu by yourself. Sure, you’d still benefit from working with an instructor if possible but there’s very little in Instant Health that you couldn’t put into practice in your own living room.

The advice also acknowledges that some of us may be at different stages of life from others and it offers tailored programs for any circumstances. It also fully acknowledges the need to train the mind as well as the body and there is much Buddhist and Zen wisdom to be found on its pages.

Thank You Kung Fu by David V Wenzel

What do you do if you learn you have an inoperable form of brain cancer? This is not a rhetorical question but rather the dilemma that David Wenzel found himself facing when, at the age of 27, he was told that he had five years, maybe seven at the most to live, thanks to the Grade II Oligodendroglioma tumor in his head.

Not surprisingly, David did not have an easy time of this at first, and he soon found himself hitting rock bottom, but little did he know that he was about to change his life for the better. He discovered two things at the bottom: the love of god and the ineffability of Kung Fu and he embraced both with passion.

It has been 10 years since David’s diagnosis and he’s still alive. Maybe Kung Fu saved his life? Whether or not it did, this is an inspiring and exciting account that everyone will enjoy reading even if they are not a hardcore martial artist.

The Art of Shaolin Kung Fu: The Secrets of Kung Fu For Self-Defense, Health & Enlightenment by Wong Kiew Kit

Wong Kiew Kit is one of the best known grand masters of the Kung Fu school of Shaolin and he has devoted the parts of his life that aren’t practicing Kung Fu to studying the martial art and trying to explain it to other people in a way that is both accessible and valuable.

The Art of Shaolin Kung Fu is aimed at people who want to learn Kung Fu with no previous experience of the martial art. It is firmly entrenched in the Shaolin teachings and it is full of illustrated examples of how Shaolin theory and the practice of Kung Fu meet perfectly to deliver impressive results for the student.

There is also a healthy amount of time spent on cultivating spiritual joy which more martial arts texts ought to tackle. You don’t need to be a grand master to feel much better in yourself and your life for taking part in martial arts. So, you should read The Art of Shaolin Kung Fu even if all you want in life is to be a little happier.

The Complete Book Of Shaolin: A Comprehensive Programme for Physical, Emotional, Mental and Spiritual Development by Wong Kiew Kit

If you want to take your learning a step further than the basics of Kung Fu, then Wong Kiet Kit, the Grandmaster who features on this list twice, is ready to help you prepare to develop your Kung Fu mastery as a Shaolin Warrior.

This text is not aimed at the beginner and you’d be better off with his The Art of Shaolin Kung Fu if you’re just starting out but if you’re looking to really get to the next level and there are no Shaolin instructors in your area – this might be exactly what you’ve been looking for.

You get an in depth treatment not just of Kung Fu, but also Zen Buddhism and the Chi Kung which are the other two major parts of Shaolin practices. This is a beast of a book and is an essential text for the experienced Kung Fu practitioner.

The Complete Guide To Northern Praying Mantis Kung Fu by Stuart Alve Olson

This is not quite a “Complete Guide” to this style of Kung Fu, but it really doesn’t matter. What you have here is a great introductory text to the Northern Praying Mantis Kung Fu style and it’s fully illustrated.

It’s a book of “two halves”, as the author says, and the first half is very much concerned with the spiritual aspects of this discipline and you may find the emphasis on tactics in the early parts of this a little hard to follow. The second half, however, is totally focused on the specific moves in the discipline and is very easy to follow.

The Tao of Wing Chun by Danny Xuan and John Little

This is a fascinating little book which looks at the reasons that underpin the practice of Chinese Kung Fu. Danny Xuan and John Little aren’t interested in the explanations of the teachers of Kung Fu, they’ve been prying into the physics, psychology and biomechanics that Kung Fu seems to build on effortlessly.

They note that Kung Fu isn’t about becoming stronger or more acrobatic as with some martial arts, it’s all about making the best use of what you already have – your body. They show how you can use the techniques of Kung Fu to produce physical benefits such as better stamina and increased coordination. Whilst also improving your mind.

They show that your character, your determination, your self-confidence, and your inner strength can all blossom while you can still retain both humility and modesty. This may be the most entertaining read on our list and it’s fully accessible to anyone, even someone with no skill in the art but it won’t be wasted on grandmasters either.

The Shaolin Workout: 28 Days To Transforming Your Body And Soul The Warrior’s Way by Shifu Shi Yan Ming

The Shaolin tradition is steeped in Shifu Shi Yan Ming’s way of life. He is a 34th generation warrior monk from the Shaolin Temple and now he runs the USA branch of the Shaolin Temple in Greenwich Village!

This is a sumptuously illustrated work which allows absolutely anyone to apply Shaolin principles into a workout that can be done at home and help you improve both your personal levels of fitness, your Kung Fu skills and your spiritual health. It also offers handy advice on how to make these changes meaningful to the people that you love, at work and with your family too.

All you need is 15 minutes a day and the commitment to work through the program for just 28 days to see the transformation that it brings about. That seems like a fair deal to us and the program was well-balanced and fun too.

Wing Chun Kung Fu by J. Yimm Lee

If you asked anyone, who would you like to teach you Kung Fu if you could have your choice of anyone living or dead? You’d expect the answer to be overwhelmingly “Bruce Lee”, right?

Well, Bruce Lee may not be around today to teach you in person, but this excellent book written by the Jeet Kune Do superstar, Ted Wong, was edited by Bruce Lee and maybe that it makes it nearly as good.

This is considered, among professionals, to be one of the most concise and valuable instructions for Kung Fu ever given. You learn all the basics needed to take care of yourself and to walk tall while enjoying the benefits of Kung Fu.

Wing Chun Kung Fu: Traditional Chinese Kung-Fu For Self-Defense and Health by Grandmaster Ip Chun

If you want to learn Kung Fu at home, then look no further than the excellent Wing Chun Kung Fu by Grandmaster Ip Chun this is the most practical instruction manual for self-taught Kung Fu.

There are more than 100 step-by-step diagrams and photographs that walk you through each part of the most useful moves in Wing Chun Kung Fu. On top of this there’s plenty of space devoted to meditation and how you can use these techniques to turn an opponent’s strength against themselves.

Grandmaster Ip Chun offers more than an introduction to fighting with Kung Fu, he teaches it as a way of life and a way of life that brings real benefits to those that live it. A truly essential work.


Can you learn kung fu from a book? You can, though it’s not the perfect way to learn by any means and joining a dojo would be a good idea when possible. However, the books shared here are a treasure trove of kung fu knowledge written by great masters. That is definitely an impressive start to your kung fu journey.

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