Chinese martial arts

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Which translates 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. [43] [44] [ self-published source? ] 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 stance (騎馬步/馬步; 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. [45] [46]

Use of qi

The concept of qi or ch'i () 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. [note 1] The existence of qi as a measurable form of energy as discussed in traditional Chinese medicine has no basis in the scientific understanding of physics, medicine, biology or human physiology. [47]

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. [48] 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. [49]

Weapons training

Kung fu sword Hrkht nfrdy khng fw, mHmd khbry Kung fu in iran (Qom) Mohammad Akbari 12.jpg
Kung fu sword
Martial arts fan Forom des langues 2014 - Ecole Shi Miaofeng - 0015.jpg
Martial arts fan

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. [50] Weapons training (器械; qìxiè) is generally carried out after the student becomes proficient with the basic 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. [51] 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(十八般兵器; shíbābānbīngqì) 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. [52] [53] 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 drill on. 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 apply, and students practice how to react and respond. 'Sparring' refers to a more advanced format, which simulates a combat situation while including rules that reduce the chance of serious injury.

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, or Lèitái (擂台). [54] Lèitái were used in public challenge matches 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. [55] Chinese martial artists also compete in non-Chinese or mixed Combat sport, including boxing, kickboxing and Mixed martial arts.

Forms (taolu)

Forms or taolu (Chinese:套路; pinyin:tàolù) in Chinese are series of predetermined movements combined so they can be practiced as a continuous set of movements. Forms were originally intended to preserve the lineage of a particular style branch, and were often taught to advanced students selected for that purpose. Forms contained both literal, representative and exercise-oriented forms of applicable techniques that students could extract, test, and train in through sparring sessions. [56]

Today, many consider taolu to be one of the most important practices in Chinese martial arts. Traditionally, they played a smaller role in training for combat application and took a back seat to sparring, drilling, and conditioning. Forms gradually build up a practitioner's flexibility, internal and external strength, speed and stamina, and they teach balance and coordination. Many styles contain forms that use weapons of various lengths and types, using one or two hands. Some styles focus on a certain type of weapon. Forms are meant to be both practical, usable, and applicable as well as to promote fluid motion, meditation, flexibility, balance, and coordination. Students are encouraged to visualize an attacker while training the form.

There are two general types of taolu in Chinese martial arts. Most common are solo forms performed by a single student. There are also sparring forms — 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. Weapons-based sparring forms are especially useful for teaching students the extension, range, and technique required to manage a weapon.

Forms in Traditional Chinese Martial Arts

Chinese martial arts
Traditional Chinese 武術
Simplified Chinese 武术
Literal meaning"Martial arts"

The term taolu (套路) is a shortened version of Tao Lu Yun Dong (套路運動), an expression introduced only recently with the popularity of modern wushu. This expression refers to "exercise sets" and 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:

Traditional "sparring" sets, called dui da (對打) or dui lian (對練), were an essential part of Chinese martial arts for centuries. Dui lian means, to train by a pair of combatants opposing each other—the character lian (練), refers 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 "to break" (破; po).

Generally, there are 21, 18, 12, 9 or 5 drills or 'exchanges/groupings' of attacks and counterattacks, in each dui lian 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. Dui lian were not only sophisticated and effective methods of passing on the fighting knowledge of the older generation, but they were also essential and effective training methods. The relationship between single sets and contact sets is complicated, in that some skills cannot be developed with solo '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 several 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 (two-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, and two-person drill training. This ratio is, in part, evidenced by the Qing Dynasty mural at Shaolin.

For most of its history, Shaolin martial arts was mostly 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 an essential 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 is 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; the public also organized some. The government competitions, held in the capital and prefectures, resulted in appointments for winners, to military posts.

Practice forms vs. kung fu in combat

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 beyond combat application is the use of lower stances and higher, stretching kicks. These two maneuvers are unrealistic in combat and are used in forms for exercise purposes. [57] 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. [note 2] This has led to criticisms by traditionalists of the endorsement of the more acrobatic, show-oriented Wushu competition. [58] 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. Documentation in ancient literature during the Tang Dynasty (618–907) and the Northern Song Dynasty (960–1279) suggests some sets, (including two + person sets: dui da also called dui lian) became very elaborate and 'flowery', many 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 category of martial arts known as Hua Fa Wuyi. 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 an art form, as well as upholding the meditative function of the physical art form. [59]

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. [60] [ self-published source? ]

Forms practice is mostly known for teaching combat techniques yet when practicing forms, the practitioner focuses on posture, breathing, and performing the techniques of both right and left sides of the body. [61]


Modern forms are used in the sport of wushu, as seen in this staff routine Gun2 10 all china games.jpg
Modern forms are used in the sport of wushu, as seen in this staff routine

The word wu (; ) means "martial". Its Chinese character is made of two parts; the first meaning "walk" or "stop" (; zhǐ) and the second meaning "lance" (; ). This implies that "wu 武" is a defensive use of combat.[ dubious ] The term "wushu 武術" meaning "martial arts" goes back as far as the Liang Dynasty (502–557) in an anthology compiled by Xiao Tong (蕭通), (Prince Zhaoming; 昭明太子 d. 531), called Selected Literature (文選; Wénxuǎn). The term is found in the second verse of a poem by Yan Yanzhi titled: 皇太子釋奠會作詩 "Huang Taizi Shidian Hui Zuoshi".

"The great man grows the many myriad things . . .

Breaking away from the military arts,

He promotes fully the cultural mandates."

(Translation from: Echoes of the Past by Yan Yanzhi (384–456))

The term wushu is also found in a poem by Cheng Shao (1626–1644) from the Ming Dynasty.

The earliest term for 'martial arts' can be found in the Han History (206BC-23AD) was "military fighting techniques" (兵技巧; bīng jìqiǎo). During the Song period (c.960) the name changed to "martial arts" (武藝; wǔyì). In 1928 the name was changed to "national arts" (國術; guóshù) when the National Martial Arts Academy was established in Nanjing. The term reverted to wǔshù under the People's Republic of China during the early 1950s.

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 [62] 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 their original values. [63] [64]

"Martial morality"

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. [39] [65] Wude ( ) can be translated as "martial morality" and is constructed from the words wu ( ), which means martial, and de ( ), which means morality. Wude deals with two aspects; "Virtue of deed" and "Virtue of mind". Virtue of deed concerns social relations; morality of mind is meant to cultivate the inner harmony between the emotional mind ( ; Xin) and the wisdom mind ( ; Hui). The ultimate goal is reaching "no extremity" ( ; Wuji) – closely related to the Taoist concept of wu wei – where both wisdom and emotions are in harmony with each other.


ConceptNameTraditional ChineseSimplified ChinesePinyin romanizationYale Cantonese Romanization
Humility Qianqiānhīm
Virtue Chengchéngsìhng
Respect Liláih
Morality Yiyih
Trust Xinxìnseun
ConceptNameChinesePinyin romanizationYale Cantonese Romanization
Courage Yongyǒngyúhng
Patience Renrěnyán
Endurance Henghénghàhng
Perseverance Yingaih
Will Zhizhìji

Notable practitioners

Examples of well-known practitioners (武術名師) throughout history:

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. [67] 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. [68] [69]

Martial arts play a prominent role in the literature genre known as wuxia (武俠小說). This type of fiction is based on Chinese concepts of chivalry, a separate martial arts society (武林; Wulin) and a central theme involving martial arts. [70] 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 [71] and provides a major influence for the public perception of the martial arts.

Martial arts influences can also be found in dance, theater [72] and especially 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. [73]

In modern times, Chinese martial arts have spawned the genre of cinema known as the Kung fu film. The films of Bruce Lee were instrumental in the initial burst of Chinese martial arts' popularity in the West in the 1970s. [74] Bruce Lee was the iconic international superstar that popularized Chinese martial arts in the West with his own variation of Chinese martial arts called Jeet Kune Do . It is a hybrid style of martial art that Bruce Lee practiced and mastered. Jeet Kune Do is his very own unique style of martial art that uses little to minimum movement but maximizes the effect to his opponents. The influence of Chinese martial art have been widely recognized and have a global appeal in Western cinemas starting off with Bruce Lee.

Martial artists and actors such as Jet Li and Jackie Chan have continued the appeal of movies of this genre. Jackie Chan successfully brought in a sense of humour in his fighting style in his movies. Martial arts films from China are often referred to as "kung fu 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 kung fu theater. (see also: wuxia, Hong Kong action cinema). The talent of these individuals have broadened Hong Kong's cinematography production and rose to popularity overseas, influencing Western cinemas.

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 franchise, 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. [75] [76] 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. In the 2006 music video of Knights of Cydonia by Muse, the protagonist can be seen training Chinese martial arts in the opening. In 2022, martial arts and action sequences inspired by Hong Kong cinema can be found in Everything Everywhere All at Once. [77]

The Kung Fu Diaries: The Life and Times of a Dragon Master (1920-2001) is a work of fiction, combining aspects of biography, historical fiction, and guide to instruction purportedly from a collection of diaries or papers left by a Kung-Fu Dragon Master. [78]

Influence on hip hop

In the 1970s, Bruce Lee was beginning to gain popularity in Hollywood for his martial arts movies. The fact that he was a non-white male who portrayed self-reliance and righteous self-discipline resonated with black audiences and made him an important figure in this community. [79] Around 1973, Kung Fu movies became a hit in America across all backgrounds; however, black audiences maintained the films’ popularity well after the general public lost interest. Black youth in New York City were still going from every borough to Times Square every night to watch the latest movies. [80] Amongst these individuals were those coming from the Bronx where, during this time, hip-hop was beginning to take form. One of the pioneers responsible for the development of the foundational aspects of hip-hop was DJ Kool Herc, who began creating this new form of music by taking rhythmic breakdowns of songs and looping them. From the new music came a new form of dance known as b-boying or breakdancing, a style of street dance consisting of improvised acrobatic moves. The pioneers of this dance credit kung fu as one of its influences. Moves such as the crouching low leg sweep and “up rocking” (standing combat moves) are influenced by choreographed kung-fu fights. [81] The dancers’ ability to improvise these moves led way to battles, which were dance competitions between two dancers or crews judged on their creativity, skills, and musicality. In a documentary, Crazy Legs, a member of breakdancing group Rock Steady Crew, described the breakdancing battle being like an old kung fu movie, “where the one kung fu master says something along the lines of ‘hun your kung fu is good, but mine is better,’ then a fight erupts.” [81]

See also


  1. Pages 26–33 [24]
  2. Pages 118–119 [56]

Related Research Articles

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In general, kung fu/kungfu refers to the Chinese martial arts also called wushu and quanfa. In China, it refers to any study, learning, or practice that requires patience, energy, and time to complete. In its original meaning, kung fu can refer to any discipline or skill achieved through hard work and practice, not necessarily martial arts. The Chinese literal equivalent of "Chinese martial art" would be 中國武術 zhōngguó wǔshù.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Tai chi</span> Chinese martial art

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Shaolin Kung Fu</span> Chinese martial art

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Hung Ga</span> Chinese martial arts style

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Bajiquan</span> Chinese martial art

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Changquan</span> Martial arts styles

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Northern Shaolin (martial art)</span> Chinese martial art discipline

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Nanquan (martial art)</span> Classification of Chinese martial arts

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Styles of Chinese martial arts</span> Overview of the fighting styles

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