Chinese Martial Arts
Fu > History
the history of China is an important part of studying kung fu. A rich
heritage and tradition are what make this martial art special. The
development of kung fu is intimately linked to the evolution of Chinese
culture. The following overview provides a glimpse of China's past
as well as a context that facilitates our understanding of the history
behind individual kung fu styles.
history of China can best be understood through its geography and its
- Xia, Shang and
Zhou Dynasty (2000 - 256 BC)
- Warring States
Period (475-221 BC)
- The Qin (221-206
BC) and the Han (206 BC - 220 AD)
- Tang Dynasty (618-907)
- Song Dynasty (960
- Ming Dynasty (1368
- Qing Dynasty (1644
- The Present
Central Plains (中原)
of China and Henan Province, in particular, are often referred to as
the cradle of Chinese civilization and also of the Chinese martial arts.
The surrounding regions of Henan, Hebei, Shandong and Shanxi provinces
also have a rich martial arts heritage. The origin of Shaolin (少林)
and Chen Family Taiji (陈式太极)
can be traced back to Henan. Baji (八极),
Pigua (劈挂) and Mizong (秘宗)
can be found in Hebei. Tanglang (Mantis,螳螂)
are well known in Shandong. Xinyi quan (心意)
are found in Henan, Shanxi and Hebei. Wudang (武当)
is developed at Mount Wudang in Hubei province. Bagua (八卦)
is strong in Anhui province. is strong in Anhui province. Eventually,
all martial arts found themselves competing in the Capital area of Beijing
and in the port city of Tienjin.
forms of kung fu also developed beyond the Central Plains. In the East,
there were the Tibetan forms (White Crane, White Ape). Various martial
styles also proliferated in the South, including well-known styles such
as Hung-kar (洪家), Choi-lay-fut
(蔡李佛), Wing-chun (永春)
and Bak-hok (白鹤). Most Southern
styles follow in the foot-steps of the original Southern Shaolin school
this period, life was cruel and merciless. People used crude tools made
from stone to defend themselves and to try to control their environment.
There were no formal systems of martial arts.
Yuan (轩辕黄帝), the Yellow Emperor, credited
as the Founder of the Chinese Nation, was known for his humanity, intelligence,
and wisdom, as well as his martial arts abilities. He is reported to
have constantly practiced with spears and halberds against his archenemy,
Chi You (蚩尤).
Shang and Zhou Dynasty (2000 BC - 770 BC)
this era, there emerged written descriptions of a type of wrestling
called jiaoli and other military sports such as archery and chariot
racing. Civilization was at its infancy, but various forms of exercise
were slowly developing.
States Period (475-221 BC)
concepts and ideas associated with the martial arts began to permeate
society. This was a pivotal period in ancient China, as various factions,
representing alternative philosophies, began to compete for the future
of China. Each competing fiefdom nurtured its own armies, and the martial
arts formed an integral part of society. During this period, Sun Zi,
in his "Art of War", commented on the importance of "Wrestling and thrusting
exercises to strengthen the warriors' physique." The development of
martial prowess was also extended to women. It was during this period,
for example, that Yuenu, a distinguished sword mistress, was honoured
by Emperor Goujian for her abilities.
Qin (221-206 BC) and the Han (206 BC - 220 AD)
from this period describes the fighting arts such as shoubo (wrestling),
jiaodi (contest of strength involving head butting with cattle horns)
and the inclusion of weapons in the performing arts (such as Peking
operas). The importance of the martial spirit was captured in the popular
novel, San Guo ("The Romance of the Three Kingdoms"), which describes
the struggles of Cao Cao and his battle to unify China: Jin (265-439
AD) and the Southern and Northern Dynasties (420 - 581). It is during
this period that the martial arts came under the influence of Buddhism
Hong (284-364), a famous physician and Taoist philosopher, is credited
with integrating the practice of martial arts to the study of qigong.
These theories of "external and internal work" are still applied in
kung fu today.
concept of a distinct Chinese nation began to evolve. China, the Middle
Kingdom, developed a unique culture that placed importance on training
and the practice of the martial arts.
Mo arrived in China in 527 A.D. and stayed at the Shaolin Temple. After
nine years, he produced two texts: Yi Jin Jing (Muscle/Tendon
Changing Classic) and Xi Sui Jin (Marrow/Brain Washing
Classic) to teach the Shaolin monks how to improve their physical
stamina and nourish their Chi. He also brought fresh insight into Buddhist
theory and created a new school of thought now known as Zen (Chan).
As a result, he is acknowledged as both the founder of Shaolin Kungfu
and the First Patriarch of Chan Buddhism.
this period, martial arts became part of the examination process for
the imperial courts. All officials and soldiers were required to pass
some sort of martial art test before being promoted.
Dynasty (960 - 1279)
martial arts permeated society, as agile performers displayed their
skills in the street. Many martial arts societies were formed so that
people could protect themselves against lawlessness and the unjust rule
of the central government.
essence of this period was romanticized in Shui hu chuan, ("Water
Margin Chronicles" also known as "Outlaws of the Marsh")
published 200 years later. This book describes the events that led 108
people (105 men and 3 women) to abandon lawful society and band together
as leaders of the outlaw fortress on Mt. Liang in the Liangshan Marsh.
Each of those characters had outstanding martial arts training. For
example, Wu Song was so skilful that he could fight and defeat a tiger
with his bare hands.
Dynasty (1368 -1644)
Ming dynasty rose up out of a peasant rebellion and ruled over the greatest
economic and social revolution in China before the modern period. Once
again, martial arts were an important part of society. Qi Jiguang, a
well-known general, compiled a book that presents 16 different styles
of bare-hand exercises and another 40 of spear- and cudgel-play, each
with detailed explanations and illustrations. This book also describes
various kung fu theories and training methods.
Dynasty (1644 - 1911)
martial arts societies flourished once again during this period, because
of the opposition to the foreign Qing rulers. In response, the Qing
rulers limited the practice of martial arts to the elite and nobility.
However, martial arts continued to be pervasive, and many of the current
kung fu styles can be traced to this era. The end of the Qing Empire
and the beginning of the Republic generated renewed interest in the
martial arts. Practicing kung fu was seen as being in the national interest
because it helped strengthen both the body and the mind.
1928, the Nationalist government, under President Chiang Kai-Shek, established
the Nanking Central Guoshu Institute in Nanking. Many famous masters
and practitioners were recruited for this institute. The traditional
name "Wushu" (martial techniques) was changed to "Zhong Guo Wushu"
(Chinese martial techniques) or simply "Guoshu" (country techniques).
This was the first time in Chinese history that a central government
was to combine all the different styles of Chinese martial arts under
one teaching institution. Unfortunately, when World War II broke out
in 1937, all training was discontinued.
culture and civilization suffered many setbacks due to colonialism,
the two world wars, the Japanese invasion, and a savage civil war. Martial
arts practitioners were instrumental in defending the country, but they
too were swept up by turmoil of the period.
the end of the civil war, China was effectively divided in two: Taiwan
and the People's Republic of China. Some martial artists escaped to
Taiwan or to other foreign countries, but many more stayed behind. More
tramatic to Chinese philosophy was the final realization that China
was no longer the centre of the Universe.
time, the culture and philosophy of the Far East spread to other areas
of the world. Initially, practice of the martial arts was limited to
the small immigrant populations that left their homeland. The large
movement of people that occurred during the Second World War, however,
as well as the subsequent conflicts of the Cold War introduced the West
to the martial arts tradition. The Japanese sport of Judo and Okinawan
martial art of karate were some of the first styles to gain acceptance.
During the 1950's, 1960's and 1970's, other styles from the Far East
spread to the West: Aikido and Jujitsu from Japan, Tang Soo Do and Tae
Kwon Do from Korea. Chinese martial arts did not reach the popular masses
until the advent of Bruce Lee. With three movies, Bruce Lee single-handedly
generated a huge interest in Chinese kung fu, although he never actually
trained extensively in any traditional style except Wing Chung. Still,
his athletic ability and charisma attracted the public to this ancient
tradition. Over time, this interest led to a deeper appreciation of
the variety of Chinese martial arts.
we live in a global village, where everyone has access to information
and quality instruction in the rich heritage of the Chinese martial
arts. This tradition first developed in China is now part of the cultural
fabric of the world.