Since its early birth, Wushu has steadily grown and attained perfection as an integral part of Chinese culture. More precisely, it is deeply influenced and conditioned by multiple forms of culture, first and foremost by philosophy, as well as art, literature, and religion. As one of the most traditional and popular national sports in China, Wushu has widely been accepted and practiced by the people either young or old.
Though the martial arts have been called different name in different historical periods, it became recognized as Wushu since about Qing Dynasty. During the spreading course to overseas, Wushu earned another title - Kung Fu, which was mainly used in the West, meaning skill and ability. It literally has nothing to do with martial arts, just like the word Tae Kwon Do in Korean merely means the Way of the Hand and Feet. The word Kung Fu was firstly used by a western Jesuit Missionary, Pere Amoit, after witnessing exercises and training regimen in China. It was not until the 1970s when Bruce Lee’s Kung Fu movie swept across the western that the word became a real influential name. During the period of the republic of China, the term “Kuo-Shu” was popular for Wushu, and thus it’s been popularized in Taiwan Area and still used today to describe Chinese Martial Arts. After the foundation of RPC, Wushu has again become the preferred word to describe Chinese Martial Arts, especially in China’s mainland.
Wushu has a close relationship with the art of dancing. When people became more skillful in hunting and warfare, they gradually developed various dance for entertainment and relaxation. Meanwhile, rudimentary sports appeared, such as Dance with Shield and Battle-Axe and Butting with Horns, both military exercises. The Dance with Shield and Axe, which was a martial dance depicting battle and training troops, demonstrate the early relationship between dance and fighting skill. Butting with Horns was competitive wrestling practiced by the soldiers. This sport was said to have been a training method before battle by the armies of the legendary Chiyou tribe of eastern China. The soldiers wore horns on their heads as a symbol of courage, and then butted each other during the contest.
It was a tradition that every feast should have a dance performance, which in Han Dynasty would often take the form of a sword dance. Unarmed combat contests were popular during that time too. The rapid development in cavalry warfare of this period led to further improvements in skill using bladed weapons.
Unarmed combat, according to the Book of Zhuang Zi, has already become a highly developed skill by the end of the Han period, with many methods of attack, defense, counter-attack and feints. Fencing was also fairly common at that time. It was especially popular among the people of the states of Wu, Yue and Zhao. Competitions were frequent, but injuries were also common due to the contestants’ inadequate protection.
Chinese Wushu can be classified into various styles according to regions, schools, families, or simply fighting techniques. Wushu is viewed in terms of two categories, that is, Taolu (Forms with or without weapons) and Sanshou (Free Sparring). Performances are shown in the form of solo, paired or in groups, either barehanded or armed with traditional Chinese weaponry.
Sanshou is a form consists of free style offensive and defensive movements for two or more practitioners in combat. There can be several types of Sanshou – Bear-handed vs. Bare-handed, Weapon(s) vs. Weapon, and Bare-handed vs. Weapon. Group Forms are usually for demonstrations only and performed with or without weapons by a group of six or more persons.
As the fading of the cold weapons, Wushu’s emphasis has shifted from combat to performance, and it is practiced for the sake of achieving health, self-defense skills, mental discipline, and recreational pursuit. Since 1990, Wushu has been adopted as an official medal event in the Asian Games, and it has gained more and more attention from both Eastern and Western people.
Shaolin Wushu perhaps is the most influential genre of Chinese martial art, named after the Shaolin Temple in Dengfeng County, Henan Province. The Shaolin Temple has a long tradition of learning the martial art – as early as the Southern and Northern Dynasties - and this tradition prevailed to its nearby areas during the Sui and Tang Dynasties
As a highly effective method of self-defense and health-building, Shaolin Wushu is famous both at home and abroad. It combines both external and internal, and “hard” and “soft” exercises; it also involves various methods of fighting techniques, consisting of barehanded boxing and weaponry combat. The movements are quick, powerful and flexible, compactly designed in various routines, being practical for both defense and attack.
One unique characteristic of Shaolin boxing which has to be mentioned is to always work on one straight line. It means that the practitioner’s movements of advancing, retreating, turning around, sideways, or jumping are all restrained on one line, except for his arms that are kept slightly bent, so that he can stretch out to attack or withdraw freely for self defense. Another characteristic of Shaolin Wushu is to maintain the body in perfect balance, as stable as a mountain. The practitioner should keep a tranquil mind but strike with great force and speed. He should be good at “borrowing” force from the opponent. That is, not meeting the opponent’s strikes directly, but taking advantage of the striker’s force and going along with it to bring it back or to ward off a force. The practitioner should know how to make feigned strikes and when striking, hit the vital parts of the opponent. The practitioner’s movements are required to bent as a cat, shake as a tiger, move as a dragon, bounce as lightning, and yell as thunder.
Taijiquan is another major division of Chinese martial art. In literal, Tai means “Supreme”, Ji means “Ultimate”, and Quan means “Fist”. So Taijiquan as a whole denotes “supreme ultimate fist”.
Diverse sayings about the origin of Taijiquan exist in Chinese history. The traditional legend goes that the wise man Zhang Sanfeng of the Song Dynasty created Taijiquan after he had witnessed a fight between a sparrow and a snake. Aside from that, most people would like to believe that the modern Taijiquan originated from Chen style Taijiquan, which first appeared during the 19th century in the Daoguang Reign of the Qing Dynasty.
Taijiquan is a very convenient sport, for the practice does not need a large space, not affected by weather, and has not requirement on weapons. Its style has philosophical roots in Taoism and is practiced with an internal martial art, utilizing Qi, the internal energy, and following the simple principle of “subduing the vigorous by the soft”. Taijiquan borrows the oldest philosophy of the Yin and Yang opposite forces in Taoism; practitioners are required to interact and balance with their insides to bring existence to the physical and metaphysical world.