the popularity of those styles is a result of the dramatic changes occurring within the Chinese society.
The present view of Chinese martial arts are strongly influenced by the events of the Republican Period (1912–1949). In the transition period between the fall of the Qing Dynasty as well as the turmoils of the Japanese invasion and the Chinese Civil War, Chinese martial arts became more accessible to the general public as many martial artists were encouraged to openly teach their art. At that time, some considered martial arts as a means to promote national pride and build a strong nation. As a result, many training manuals (拳谱) were published, a training academy was created, two national examinations were organized as well as demonstration teams travelled overseas, and numerous martial arts associations were formed throughout China and in various overseas Chinese communities. The Central Guoshu Academy (Zhongyang Guoshuguan, 中央國術館/中央国术馆) established by the National Government in 1928 and the Jing Wu Athletic Association (精武體育會/精武体育会) founded by Huo Yuanjia in 1910 are examples of organizations that promoted a systematic approach for training in Chinese martial arts. A series of provincial and national competitions were organized by the Republican government starting in 1932 to promote Chinese martial arts. In 1936, at the 11th Olympic Games in Berlin, a group of Chinese martial artists demonstrated their art to an international audience for the first time. Eventually, those events lead to the popular view of martial arts as a sport.
Chinese martial arts experienced rapid international dissemination with the end of the Chinese Civil War and the founding of the People's Republic of China on October 1, 1949. Many well known martial artists chose to escape from the PRC's rule and migrate to Taiwan, Hong Kong, and other parts of the world. Those masters started to teach within the overseas Chinese communities but eventually they expanded their teachings to include people from other ethnic groups.
Within China, the practice of traditional martial arts was discouraged during the turbulent years of the Chinese Cultural Revolution (1969–1976). Like many other aspects of traditional Chinese life, martial arts were subjected to a radical transformation by the People's Republic of China in order to align them with Maoist revolutionary doctrine. The PRC promoted the committee-regulated sport of Wushu as a replacement to independent schools of martial arts. This new competition sport was disassociated from what was seen as the potentially subversive self-defense aspects and family lineages of Chinese martial arts. Rhetorically, they also encouraged the use of the term Kuoshu (or Guoshu meaning "the arts of the nation"), rather than the colloquial term gongfu, in an effort to more closely associate Chinese martial arts with national pride rather than individual accomplishment.
In 1958, the government established the All-China Wushu Association as an umbrella organization to regulate martial arts training. The Chinese State Commission for Physical Culture and Sports took the lead in creating standardized forms for most of the major arts. During this period, a national Wushu system that included standard forms, teaching curriculum, and instructor grading was established. Wushu was introduced at both the high school and university level. The suppression of traditional teaching was relaxed during the Era of Reconstruction (1976–1989), as Communist ideology became more accommodating to alternative viewpoints. In 1979, the State Commission for Physical Culture and Sports created a special task force to reevaluate the teaching and practice of Wushu. In 1986, the Chinese National Research Institute of Wushu was established as the central authority for the research and administration of Wushu activities in the People's Republic of China. Changing government policies and attitudes towards sports in general lead to the closing of the State Sports Commission (the central sports authority) in 1998. This closure is viewed as an attempt to partially de-politicize organized sports and move Chinese sport policies towards a more market-driven approach. As a result of these changing sociological factors within China, both traditional styles and modern Wushu approaches are being promoted by the Chinese government. Chinese martial arts are now an integral element of Chinese culture.
The ideas associated with Chinese martial arts changed with the evolution of Chinese society and over time acquired some philosophical bases: Passages in the Zhuangzi (庄子), a Daoist text, pertain to the psychology and practice of martial arts. Zhuangzi, its eponymous author, is believed to have lived in the 4th century BCE. The Tao Te Ching, often credited to Lao Zi, is another Daoist text that contains principles applicable to martial arts. According to one of the classic texts of Confucianism, Zhou Li (周禮/周礼), Archery and charioteering were part of the "six arts" (simplified Chinese: 六艺; traditional Chinese: 六藝; pinyin: liu yi, including rites, music, calligraphy and mathematics) of the Zhou Dynasty (1122–256 BCE). The Art of War (孫子兵法), written during the 6th century BCE by Sun Tzu (孫子), deals directly with military warfare but contains ideas that are used in the Chinese martial arts.
Daoist practitioners have been practicing Tao Yin, physical exercises similar to Qigong that was one of the progenitors to Tai Chi Chuan, from at least as early as 500 BCE. In 39–92 CE, "Six Chapters of Hand Fighting", were included in the Han Shu (history of the Former Han Dynasty) written by Pan Ku. Also, the noted physician, Hua Tuo, composed the "Five Animals Play"—tiger, deer, monkey, bear, and bird, around 220 BCE. Daoist philosophy and their approach to health and exercise have influenced the Chinese martial arts to a certain extent. Direct reference to Daoist concepts can be found in such styles as the "Eight Immortals" which uses fighting techniques that are attributed to the characteristics of each immortal
Styles of Chinese martial arts
Hundreds of different styles of Chinese martial arts have developed over the past two thousand years, many distinctive styles with their own sets of techniques and ideas. There are themes common which allows them to be group according to generalized "families" (家, jiā), "sects" (派, pai), "class" (門, men), or "schools" (教, jiao) of martial art styles. There are styles that mimic movements from animals and others that gather inspiration from various Chinese philosophies or mythologies. Some styles put most of their focus into the belief of the harnessing of qi energy, while others concentrate solely on competition or exhibition. This rich variety of styles has led to the creation of numerous classification schemes.
Geographical location such as regional affiliation is one well known example. A particular Chinese martial arts style can be referred to as either a northern fist (北拳) or a southern fist (南拳) depending on its point of origin. Additional details such as province or city can further identify the particular style. Other classification schemes include the concept of external (外家拳) and internal (内家拳). This criterion concerns the training focus of a particular style. Religious affiliation of the group that found the style can also be used as a classification. The three great religions of Taoism, Buddhism and Islam have associated martial arts styles. There are also many other criteria used to group Chinese martial arts; for example, imitative-styles (像形拳) and legendary styles; historical styles and family styles. Another more recent approach is to describe a style according to their combat focus.
The traditional dividing line between the northern and southern Chinese martial arts is the Yangtze River. A well known adage concerning Chinese martial arts is the term "Southern fists and Northern kicks" (「南拳北腿」). This saying emphasizes the difference between the two groups of Chinese martial arts. However, such differences are not absolute and there are many Northern styles that excel in hand techniques and conversely, there are many different type of kicks in some Southern styles. A style can also be more clearly classified according to regional landmarks, province, city and even to a specific village.
Manchu banner soldier, a caste of professional martial artists active in Chinese society as recently as a hundred years ago
Northern styles/Běi pài (北派) feature deeply extended postures — such as the horse, bow, drop, and dragon stances — connected by quick fluid transitions, able to quickly change the direction in which force is issued.
In general, the training characteristics of northern styles put more focus on legwork, kicking and acrobatics. Some say this is because the northern Chinese were generally taller than those living in southern China, and such training takes advantage of their greater range of motion, especially in their legs. Others claim that the terrain of northern China is more suitable to kicking techniques, or that the cold of the northern Chinese winter caused the practitioner to emphasize leg techniques rather than hand skills. Still others suggest that jump kicking techniques were developed to fight Mongolian horseman who used "very short stirrups". Regardless of the reason, Northern styles exhibit a distinctively different flavour from the martial arts practised in the South. The influence of Northern styles can be found in traditional Korean martial arts and their emphasis on high-level kicks.
The group of Northern martial arts includes many illustrious styles such as Baguazhang, Bajiquan, Chāquán, Chuojiao, Eagle Claw, Northern Praying Mantis and Taijiquan. Chángquán is often identified as the representative Northern style and forms a separate division in modern Wushu curriculum.
Southern Chinese martial arts (南派) feature low stable stances and short powerful movements that combine both attack and defense. In practice, Nan Quan focus more on the use of the arm and full body techniques than high kicks or acrobatic moves. There are various explanations for those characteristics. Some suggest that the physical stature of the Southern Chinese is responsible. The Southern Chinese are generally shorter in contrast to the Northern population and as a result the Southern styles are generally short, direct and powerful. Similarly, it is speculated that the dense urban population and its humid climate made focusing on close-quarter hand techniques more practical than the kicking techniques of the North. Still others suggest that the Southern styles focus on practical fighting techniques that can be mastered in a short time because Southern styles were founded and used by Chinese rebels. The influence of Southern styles can be found in Goju Ryu, a karate style from Okinawa.
The term Southern styles typically applies to the five family styles of Southern China: Choy Gar (蔡家), Hung Ga (洪家), Lau Gar (刘家), Li (Lee) Family (李家) and Mok Gar (莫家). Other styles include:Choy Li Fut, Fujian White Crane, Ng Ga Kuen (Five Families/Five Animals style), Dog Style Kungfu, Five Ancestors, Wing Chun, Hakka, Southern Praying Mantis Bak Mei and Dragon. There are sub-divisions to Southern styles due to their similar characteristics and common heritage. For example, the Fujian and Hakka martial arts can be considered to be one such sub-division. This groups share the following characteristics that "during fights, pugilists of these systems prefer short steps and close fighting, with their arms placed close to the chest, their elbows lowered and kept close to the flanks to offer them protection". Nanquan (Southern Fist) became a separate and distinct component of the current Wushu training. It was designed to incorporate the key elements of each major Southern style.
Other geographical classifications
Chinese martial arts can also be identified by the regional landmarks, province, city or even village. Generally, this identification indicates the region of origin but could also describe the place where the style has established a reputation. Well-known landmarks used to characterize Chinese martial arts include the famous mountains of China. The Eight Great Schools of Martial Arts (八大門派), a grouping of martial arts schools used in many wuxia novels, is based on this type of geographical classifications. This group of schools includes: Hua Shan (華山), Éméi Shān (峨嵋山), Wudang Shan (武当山), Mt._Kongtong (崆峒山), Kunlun Mountains (崑崙山), Cangshan (蒼山), Mount Qingcheng (青城山) and Mount Song Shaolin (嵩山少林).
Historically, there are 18 provinces (省)in China. Each province has its own styles of martial arts. For example, in Xingyi, there are currently three main branches: Shanxi, Hebei and Henan. Each branch has unique characteristics but they can all be traced to the original art developed by Li Luoneng and the Dai family. A particular style can also be identified by the city where the art was practised. For example, in the North, the cities of Beijing or Tianjin have created different martial arts branches for many styles. Similarly, in the South, the cities of Shanghai, Canton and Futshan all represented centers of martial arts development. Older martial art styles can be described by their village affiliation. For example, Zhaobao style tai chi (趙堡忽靈架太極拳) is a branch of Chen Tai Chi originating from Zhaobao village.
External and Internal
The distinction between external and internal (外内) martial arts comes from Huang Zongxi's 1669 Epitaph for Wang Zhengnan. Stanley Henning proposes that the Epitaph's identification of the internal martial arts with the Taoism indigenous to China and its identification of the external martial arts with the foreign Buddhism of Shaolin—and the Manchu Qing Dynasty to which Huang Zongxi was opposed—may have been an act of political defiance rather than one of technical classification. Kennedy and Guo suggests that external and internal classifications only became popular during the Republican period. It was used to differentiate between two competing groups within The Central Guoshu Academy. Regardless of the origin of this classification scheme, the distinction becomes less meaningful since all complete Chinese martial art styles have external and internal components. This classification scheme is only a reminder of the initial emphasis of a particular style and should not be considered an absolute division.
External style (外家; pinyin: wàijiā; literally "external family") are often associated with Chinese martial arts. They are characterized by fast and explosive movements and a focus on physical strength and agility. External styles includes both the traditional styles focusing on application and fighting, as well as the modern styles adapted for competition and exercise. Examples of external styles are Shaolinquan, with its direct explosive attacks and many Wushu forms that have spectacular aerial techniques. External styles begin with a training focus on muscular power, speed and application, and generally integrate their qigong aspects in advanced training, after their desired "hard" physical level has been reached. Most Chinese martial art styles are classified as external styles.
Internal styles (內家; pinyin: nèijiā; literally "internal family") focus on the practice of such elements as awareness of the spirit, mind, qi (breath, or energy flow) and the use of relaxed leverage rather than unrefined muscular tension, tension that soft stylists call "brute force". While the principles that distinguish internal styles from the external were described at least as early as the 18th century by Chang Nai-chou, the modern terms distinguishing external and internal styles were first recorded by Sun Lutang; who wrote that Taijiquan, Baguazhang, and Xingyiquan were internal arts. Later on, others began to include their style under this definition; for example, Liuhebafa, Zi Ran Men, and Yiquan.
Components of internal training includes stance training (zhan zhuang), stretching and strengthening of muscles, as well as on empty hand and weapon forms which can contain quite demanding coordination from posture to posture. Many internal styles have basic two-person training, such as pushing hands. A prominent characteristic of internal styles is that the forms are generally performed at a slow pace. This is thought to improve coordination and balance by increasing the work load, and to require the student to pay minute attention to their whole body and its weight as they perform a technique. In some styles, for example in Chen style of Taijiquan, there are forms that include sudden outbursts of explosive movements. At an advanced level, and in actual fighting, internal styles are performed quickly, but the goal is to learn to involve the entire body in every motion, to stay relaxed, with deep, controlled breathing, and to coordinate the motions of the body and the breathing accurately according to the dictates of the forms while maintaining perfect balance. Internal styles have been associated in legend and in much popular fiction with the Taoist monasteries of Wudangshan in central China.
Chinese martial arts being an important component of Chinese culture are also influence by the various religions in China. Many styles were founded by groups that were influenced by one of the three great religions: Buddhism, Taoism and Islam.
Buddhist (佛教, Fojiao) styles include Chinese martial arts that originated or practised within Buddhist temples and later spread to lay community. These styles often include Buddhist philosophy, imagery and principles. The most famous of these are the Shaolin (and related) styles, e.g. Shaolinquan, Choy Li Fut, Luohanquan, Hung Gar, Wing Chun, Dragon style and White Crane.
Shaolin Kung Fu
The term "Shaolin" is used to refer to those styles that trace their origins to Shaolin, be it the Shaolin Monastery in Henan Province, another temple associated with Shaolin such as the Southern Shaolin Temple in Fujian Province, or even wandering Shaolin monks. More restrictive definitions include only those styles that were conceived on temple grounds or even just the original Henan temple proper. The broadest definition includes just about all external Chinese martial arts, though this has much to do with the attractiveness of the Shaolin "brand name". One common theme for this group is the association with the philosophy of Chán (Zen) Buddhism.
Taoist (道教; taojiao) styles are popularly associated with Taoism. They include Chinese martial arts that were created or trained mostly within Taoist Temples or by Taoist ascetics, which often later spread out to laymen. These styles include those trained in the Wudang temple, and often include Taoist principles, philosophy, and imagery. Some of these arts include Taijiquan, Wudangquan, Baguazhang and Liuhebafa
Islamic (回教; Huíjiào) styles are those that were practiced traditionally solely or mainly by the Muslim Hui minority in China. These styles often include Islamic principles or imagery. Example of these styles include: Chāquán, Tan Tui, some branches of Xingyiquan, and Qishiquan.
Imitative-styles are styles that were developed based on the characteristics of a particular creature such as a bird or an insect. An entire system of fighting were developed based on the observations of their movement, fighting abilities and spirit. Examples of the most well known styles are white crane, tiger, monkey (Houquan), dog and mantis. In some systems, a variety of animals are used to represent the style of the system. For example, the Five Animals of Shaolin Boxing includes the imagery of the Tiger, Crane, Leopard, Snake and Dragon. Similarly, there are twelve animals in most Xing yi practise. Another type of imitative styles concerns the state of the practitioner.
Legendary and historical styles
Many Chinese martial arts styles are based or named after legends or historical figures. Examples of such styles based on legends and myths are the Eight Immortals and Dragon styles. Example of styles attributed to historical figures include Xing yi and its relationship to Yue Fei and Tai Chi which trace its origins to a Taoist Zhang Sanfeng.
Family affiliations are also an important means of identifying a Chinese martial arts system. Heavily influenced by the Confucian tradition, many styles are named in honor of the founder of the system. The five family (Choi, Hung, Lau, Lei, Mok) of Southern Chinese martial arts are representative of family styles. A style can also be named in reference to its composite roots. For example, Ng Ga Kuen incorporates the techniques of Five Family styles: Hung Gar, Fut Gar, Mok Gar, Li Gar and Fut Gar. Family styles can also denote branches of a system. For example, the families of Chen, Yang, Wu and Sun represents different training approaches to the art of Tai Chi Chuan.
The variety of classification schemes, like the subject of Chinese martial arts, are endless. Some styles are named after well known Chinese philosophies. For example, Baguazhang is based on the Taoist philosophy of the eight trigrams (Bagua). Some styles are named after the key insight suggested by the training. For example, Liuhebafa is a system based on the ideas of six combinations and eight methods.
Another popular method to describe a particular style of Chinese martial arts is to describe the style's emphasis in terms of the four major applications. The four major applications are: kicking (踢), hitting (打), wrestling (摔) and grabbing (拿). A complete system will necessary include all four types of applications but each style will differ in their training focus. For example, most Northern styles are said to emphasize kicking, Southern styles have a reputation for their intricate hand techniques, Shuai jiao practitioners train predominately in full-body close-range techniques, and Eagle claw fighters are noted for their Chin na expertise.
Chinese martial arts training consists of the following components: basics, forms, applications and weapons; different styles place varying emphasis on each component. 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 (基本功) are a vital part of any martial training, as a student cannot progress to the more advanced stages without them; Basics are usually made up of rudimentary techniques, conditioning exercises, including stances. Basic training may involve simple movements that are performed repeatedly; other examples of basic training are stretching, meditation, striking, throwing, or jumping. Without strong and flexible muscles, management of Qi or breath, and proper body mechanics, it is impossible for a student to progress in the Chinese martial arts. A common saying concerning basic training in Chinese martial arts is as follows: 内外相合，外重手眼身法步，内修心神意氣力.
Which can be translated as: Train both Internal and External.
External training includes the hands, the eyes, the body and stances. Internal training includes the heart, the spirit, the mind, breathing and strength.
Stances (steps or 步法) are structural postures employed in Chinese martial arts training. They represent the foundation and the form of a fighter's base. Each style has different names and variations for each stance. Stances may be differentiated by foot position, weight distribution, body alignment, etc. Stance training can be practiced statically, the goal of which is to maintain the structure of the stance through a set time period, or dynamically, in which case a series of movements is performed repeatedly. The horse-riding stance (骑马步/马步 qí mǎ bù/mǎ bù) and the bow stance are examples of stances found in many styles of Chinese martial arts.
In many Chinese martial arts, meditation is considered to be an important component of basic training. Meditation can be used to develop focus, mental clarity and can act as a basis for qigong training.
Use of qi
The concept of qì or ch'i (氣/气) is encountered in a number of Chinese martial arts. Qi is variously defined as an inner energy or "life force" that is said to animate living beings; as a term for proper skeletal alignment and efficient use of musculature (sometimes also known as fa jin or jin); or as a shorthand for concepts that the martial arts student might not yet be ready to understand in full. These meanings are not necessarily mutually exclusive.
One's qi can be improved and strengthened through the regular practice of various physical and mental exercises known as qigong. Though qigong is not a martial art itself, it is often incorporated in Chinese martial arts and, thus, practiced as an integral part to strengthen one's internal abilities.
There are many ideas regarding the control of one's qi energy to such an extent that it can be used for healing oneself or others: the goal of medical qigong. Some styles believe in focusing qi into a single point when attacking and aim at specific areas of the human body. Such techniques are known as dim mak and have principles that are similar to acupressure.
Most Chinese styles also make use of training in the broad arsenal of Chinese weapons for conditioning the body as well as coordination and strategy drills. Weapons training (qìxiè 器械) are generally carried out after the student is proficient in the basics, forms and applications training. The basic theory for weapons training is to consider the weapon as an extension of the body. It has the same requirements for footwork and body coordination as the basics. The process of weapon training proceeds with forms, forms with partners and then applications. Most systems have training methods for each of the Eighteen Arms of Wushu (shíbābānbīngqì 十八般兵器) in addition to specialized instruments specific to the system.
Application refers to the practical use of combative techniques. Chinese martial arts techniques are ideally based on efficiency and effectiveness. Application includes non-compliant drills, such as Pushing Hands in many internal martial arts, and sparring, which occurs within a variety of contact levels and rule sets.
When and how applications are taught varies from style to style. Today, many styles begin to teach new students by focusing on exercises in which each student knows a prescribed range of combat and technique to be drilled; these drills are often semi-compliant, meaning one student does not offer active resistance to a technique in order to allow its demonstrative, clean execution. In more resisting drills, fewer rules are applied and students practice how to react and respond. 'Sparring' refers to the most important aspect of application training, which simulates a combat situation while including rules and regulations in order to reduce the chance of serious injury to the students.
Competitive sparring disciplines include Chinese kickboxing Sǎnshǒu(散手) and Chinese folk wrestling Shuāijiāo(摔跤), which were traditionally contested on a raised platform arena Lèitái(擂台). Lèitái represents public challenge matches that first appeared in the Song Dynasty. The objective for those contests was to knock the opponent from a raised platform by any means necessary. San Shou represents the modern development of Lei Tai contests, but with rules in place to reduce the chance of serious injury. Many Chinese martial art schools teach or work within the rule sets of Sanshou, working to incorporate the movements, characteristics, and theory of their style. Chinese martial artists also compete in non-Chinese or mixed Combat sport, including boxing, kickboxing and Mixed martial arts.
Forms or taolu (Chinese: 套路; pinyin: tào lù) in Chinese are series of predetermined movements combined so they can be practiced as one linear set of movements. Forms were originally intended to preserve the lineage of a particular style branch, and were often taught to advanced students who were selected to preserve the art's lineage. Forms were designed to contain both literal, representative and exercise-oriented forms of applicable techniques which would be extracted, tested and trained by students through sparring sessions.
Today, many consider forms to be one of the most important practices in Chinese martial arts. Traditionally, they played a smaller role in training combat application, and were eclipsed by sparring, drilling and conditioning. Forms gradually build up a practitioner's flexibility, internal and external strength, speed and stamina, and teach balance and coordination. Many styles contain forms using a wide range of weapons of various length and type, utilizing one or two hands. There are also styles which focus on a certain type of weapon. Forms are meant to be both practical, usable, and applicable as well as promoting flow, meditation, flexibility, balance and coordination. Teachers are often heard to say "train your form as if you were sparring and spar as if it were a form."
There are two general types of forms in Chinese martial arts. Most common are "solo forms" which are performed by a single student. There are also "sparring" forms, which are choreographed fighting sets performed by two or more people. Sparring forms were designed both to acquaint beginning fighters with basic measures and concepts of combat, and to serve as performance pieces for the school. Sparring forms which utilize weapons are especially useful for teaching students the extension, range and technique required to manage a weapon.
Forms in Traditional Chinese Martial Arts
The term “taolu (套路)” is a shorten version of “Tao Lu Yun Dong (套路运动)”; an expression that was introduced only recently with the popularity modern wushu. This expression refers to “exercise sets” and is used in the context of athletics or sport.
In contrast, in traditional Chinese martial arts alternative terminologies for the training (練) of 'sets or forms are:
lian quan tao (練拳套)- practicing sequence of fist;
lian quan jiao (練拳腳) - practicing fists and feet;
lian bing qi (練兵器) - practicing weapons;
dui da (對打) and dui lian (對練) - fighting sets.
Traditional "sparring" sets, called dui da, 對打 or, dui lian, 對練, were an important part of Chinese martial arts for centuries. Dui lian (對練), literally means, to train by a pair of combatants opposing each other (the character l練, means to practice; to train; to perfect one's skill; to drill). As well, often one of these terms are also included in the name of fighting sets: 雙演, shuang yan, 'paired practice'; 掙勝, zheng sheng, 'to struggle with strength for victory'; 敵, di, ' match – the character suggests to strike an enemy; and 破, po, 'to break'.
Generally there are 21, 18, 12, 9 or 5 drills or 'exchanges/groupings' of attacks and counter attacks, in each dui lian, 對 練 set. These drills were considered only generic patterns and never meant to be considered inflexible 'tricks'. Students practiced smaller parts/exchanges, individually with opponents switching sides in a continuous flow. Basically, dui lian were not only a sophisticated and effective methods of passing on the fighting knowledge of the older generation, they were important and effective training methods. The relationship between single sets and contact sets is quite complicated in that in many cases there are skills which simply can not be developed with single sets, and, conversely, with dui lian. Unfortunately, it appears that most traditional combat oriented dui lian and their training methodology have disappeared, especially those concerning weapons. There are a number of reasons for this. In modern Chinese martial arts most of the dui lian are recent inventions designed for light props resembling weapons, with safety and drama in mind. The role of this kind of training has degenerated to the point of being useless in a practical sense, and, at best, is just performance.
By the early Song period, sets were not so much "individual isolated technique strung together" but rather were composed of techniques and counter technique groupings. It is quite clear that "sets" and "fighting (2 person) sets" have been instrumental in Traditional Chinese martial arts for many hundreds of years - even before the Song Dynasty. There are images of two person weapon training in Chinese stone painting going back at least to the Eastern Han Dynasty.
According to what has been passed on by the older generations, the approximate ratio of contact sets to single sets was approximately 1:3. In other words, about 30% of the sets practiced at Shaolin were contact sets, dui lian, 對 練, and two person drill training. This is, in part, evidenced by the Qing Dynasty mural at Shaolin.
Ancient literature from the Tang and Northern Song Dynasties suggests that some sets, including those which required two or more participants, became very elaborate, "flowery", and mainly concerned with aesthetics. During this time, some martial arts systems devolved to the point that they became popular forms of martial art storytelling entertainment shows. This created an entire new category of martial arts known as Hua Fa Wuyi , 花法武藝, or "fancy patterns for developing military skill". During the Northern Song period it was noted by historians that this phenomenon had a negative influence on training in the military.
For most of its history, Shaolin martial arts was largely weapon-focused: staves were used to defend the monastery, not bare hands. Even the more recent military exploits of Shaolin during the Ming and Qing Dynasties involved weapons. According to some traditions, monks first studied basics for one year and were then taught staff fighting so that they could protect the monastery. Although wrestling has been as sport in China for centuries, weapons have been the most important part of Chinese wushu since ancient times. If one wants to talk about recent or 'modern' developments in Chinese martial arts (including Shaolin for that matter), it is the over-emphasis on bare hand fighting. During the Northern Song Dynasty (976- 997 A.D) when platform fighting known as Da Laitai (Title Fights Challenge on Platform) first appeared, these fights were with only swords and staves. Although later, when bare hand fights appeared as well, it was the weapons events that became the most famous. These open-ring competitions had regulations and were organized by government organizations; some were also organized by the public. The government competitions resulted in appointments to military posts for winners and were held in the capital as well as in the prefectures.
Even though forms in Chinese martial arts are intended to depict realistic martial techniques, the movements are not always identical to how techniques would be applied in combat. Many forms have been elaborated upon, on the one hand to provide better combat preparedness, and on the other hand to look more aesthetically pleasing. One manifestation of this tendency toward elaboration which goes beyond combat application is the use of lower stances and higher, stretching kicks. These two maneuvers are unrealistic in combat and are utilized in forms for exercise purposes. Many modern schools have replaced practical defense or offense movements with acrobatic feats that are more spectacular to watch, thereby gaining favor during exhibitions and competitions. This has led to criticisms by traditionalists of the endorsement of the more acrobatic, show-oriented Wushu competition. Even though appearance has always been important in many traditional forms as well, all patterns exist for their combat functionality.
Historically forms were often performed for entertainment purposes long before the advent of modern Wushu as practitioners have looked for supplementary income by performing on the streets or in theaters. As documented in ancient literature during the Tang Dynasty (618–907) and the Song Dynasty (960–1279) suggest some sets, (including two + person sets: dui da, 對打 also called dui lian, 對 練) became very elaborate and 'flowery', many mainly concerned with esthetics. During this time, some martial arts systems de-evolved to the point that they became popular forms of martial art storytelling entertainment shows. This created an entire category of martial arts known as Hua Fa Wuyi , 花法武藝 - fancy patterns for developing military skill. During the Northern Song period, it was noted by historians this type of training had a negative influence on training in the military.
Many traditional Chinese martial artists, as well as practitioners of modern sport combat, have become critical of the perception that forms work is more relevant to the art than sparring and drill application, while most continue to see traditional forms practice within the traditional context—as vital to both proper combat execution, the Shaolin aesthetic as art form, as well as upholding the meditative function of the physical art form.
Another reason why techniques often appear different in forms when contrasted with sparring application is thought by some to come from the concealment of the actual functions of the techniques from outsiders.
“‘Wu’ 武” is translated as ‘martial’ in English, however in terms of etymology, this word has a slightly different meaning. In Chinese, “wu 武” is made up of two parts, the first meaning “stop”(zhi 止) and the second meaning “invaders lance” (je 戈). This implies that “wu’ 武,” is a defensive use of combat. The term “wushu 武術”, goes back to the 梁朝 Liang Dynasty (502-557). Both "wushu 武術" and “wugong 寺武”, are ancient military terms. The oldest extant document that used the term "wushu 武術" was an anthology compiled by Xiao Tong 蕭通, (Prince Zhaoming 昭明太子 d. 531), during the 梁朝 Liang Dynasty (502-557) titled Wenxuan 文選 "Selected Literature". The term can be found in the second verse of a poem titled: 皇太子釋奠會作詩 "Huang Taizi Shidian Hui Zuoshi". The definition of wushu 武術 was intentionally changed by People's Republic of China during the early 1950s, from 'military training', to mean 'the exhibition sport'.
As forms have grown in complexity and quantity over the years, and many forms alone could be practiced for a lifetime, modern styles of Chinese martial arts have developed that concentrate solely on forms, and do not practice application at all. These styles are primarily aimed at exhibition and competition, and often include more acrobatic jumps and movements added for enhanced visual effect compared to the traditional styles. Those who generally prefer to practice traditional styles, focused less on exhibition, are often referred to as traditionalists. Some traditionalists consider the competition forms of today's Chinese martial arts as too commercialized and losing much of its original values.
Traditional Chinese schools of martial arts, such as the famed Shaolin monks, often dealt with the study of martial arts not just as a means of self-defense or mental training, but as a system of ethics. Wude (武 德) can be translated as "martial morality" and is constructed from the words "wu" (武), which means martial, and "de" (德), which means morality. Wude (武德) deals with two aspects; "morality of deed" and "morality of mind". Morality of deed concerns social relations; morality of mind is meant to cultivate the inner harmony between the emotional mind (Xin, 心) and the wisdom mind (Hui, 慧). The ultimate goal is reaching "no extremity" (Wuji, 無 極) (closely related to the Taoist concept of wu wei), where both wisdom and emotions are in harmony with each other.
~ Virtues ~
Humility (qiān) 謙
Sincerity (chéng) 誠
Politeness (lǐ) 禮
Loyalty (yì) 義
Trust (xìn) 信
Courage (yǒng) 勇
Patience (rěn) 忍
Endurance (héng) 恒
Perseverance (yì) 毅
Will (zhì) 志
Examples of well-known practitioners (武术名师) throughout history:
Yue Fei (1103–1142 CE) was a famous Chinese general and patriot of the Song Dynasty. Styles such as Eagle Claw and Xingyi attribute their creation to Yue. However, there is no historical evidence to support the claim he created these styles.
Ng Mui (late 17th century) was the legendary female founder of many Southern martial arts such as Wing Chun Kuen, Dragon style and Fujian White Crane. She is often considered one of the legendary Five Elders who survived the destruction of the Shaolin Temple during the Qing Dynasty.
Yang Luchan (1799–1872) was an important teacher of the internal martial art known as tai chi chuan in Beijing during the second half of the 19th century. Yang is known as the founder of Yang style tai chi chuan, as well as transmitting the art to the Wu/Hao, Wu and Sun tai chi families.
Ten Tigers of Canton (late 19th century) was a group of ten of the top Chinese martial arts masters in Guangdong (Canton) towards the end of the Qing Dynasty (1644–1912). Wong Kei-Ying, Wong Fei Hung's father, was a member of this group.
Wong Fei Hung (1847–1924) was considered a Chinese folk hero during the Republican period. More than one hundred Hong Kong movies were made about his life. Sammo Hung, Jackie Chan, and Jet Li have all portrayed his character in blockbuster pictures.
Huo Yuanjia (1867–1910) was the founder of Chin Woo Athletic Association who was known for his highly publicized matches with foreigners. His biography was recently portrayed in the movie Fearless (2006).
Yip Man (1893–1972) was a master of the Wing Chun and the first to teach this style openly. Yip Man was the teacher of Bruce Lee. Most major branches of Wing Chun that exist today were developed and promoted by students of Yip Man.
Bruce Lee (1940–1973) was a Chinese American martial artist and actor who was considered an important icon in the 20th century. He practiced Wing Chun and made it famous. Using Wing Chun as his base and learning from the influences of other martial arts his experience exposed him to, he later developed his own martial arts philosophy which evolved into what is now known as Jeet Kune Do.
Jackie Chan (b. 1954) is a Chinese martial artist and actor widely known for injecting physical comedy into his martial arts performances, and for performing complex stunts in many of his films.
Jet Li (b. 1963) is the five-time sport wushu champion of China, later demonstrating his skills in cinema.
References to the concepts and use of Chinese martial arts can be found in popular culture. Historically, the influence of Chinese martial arts can be found in books and in the performance arts specific to Asia. Recently, those influences have extended to the movies and television that targets a much wider audience. As a result, Chinese martial arts have spread beyond its ethnic roots and have a global appeal.
Martial arts play a prominent role in the literature genre known as wuxia (武侠小说). This type of fiction is based on Chinese concepts of chivalry, a separate martial arts society (Wulin, 武林) and a central theme involving martial arts. Wuxia stories can be traced as far back as 2nd and 3rd century BCE, becoming popular by the Tang Dynasty and evolving into novel form by the Ming Dynasty. This genre is still extremely popular in much of Asia and provides a major influence for the public perception of the martial arts.
Martial arts influences can also be found in Chinese opera of which Beijing opera is one of the best-known examples. This popular form of drama dates back to the Tang Dynasty and continues to be an example of Chinese culture. Some martial arts movements can be found in Chinese opera and some martial artists can be found as performers in Chinese operas.
In modern times, Chinese martial arts have spawned the genre of cinema known as the martial arts film. The films of Bruce Lee were instrumental in the initial burst of Chinese martial arts' popularity in the West in the 1970s.
Martial artists and actors such as Jet Li and Jackie Chan have continued the appeal of movies of this genre. Martial arts films from China are often referred to as "kungfu movies" (功夫片), or "wire-fu" if extensive wire work is performed for special effects, and are still best known as part of the tradition of kungfu theater. (see also: wuxia, Hong Kong action cinema).
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.
Martial arts themes can also be found on television networks. A U.S. network TV western series of the early 1970s called Kung Fu also served to popularize the Chinese martial arts on television. With 60 episodes over a three-year span, it was one of the first North American TV shows that tried to convey the philosophy and practice in Chinese martial arts. The use of Chinese martial arts techniques can now be found in most TV action series, although the philosophy of Chinese martial arts is seldom portrayed in depth.