Chinese martial arts
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
- This article provides a general overview of Chinese martial arts. For a list of styles, see List of Chinese martial arts.
Chinese martial arts refers to the enormous variety of martial art styles native to China.
Kung fu (Chinese: 功夫 pinyin: Gōngfu) and wushu (Traditional Chinese: 武術) are popular Chinese terms that have become synonymous with Chinese martial arts. For more information about these specific terms, see Kung fu (term) and Wushu (term).
The development of Chinese martial arts can initially be traced to self-defense needs, hunting activities and military training. Hand to hand combat and weapons practise were important components in the training of Chinese soldiers.    Eventually, Chinese martial arts became an important element of Chinese culture.
According to legend, the reign of the Yellow Emperor (Huangdi, traditional date of ascension to the throne, 2698 B.C.E.) introduced the earliest forms of martial arts to China.  The Yellow Emperor is described as a famous general who, before becoming China’s leader, wrote lengthy treatises on medicine, astrology and the martial arts. He allegedly developed the practice of jiao di or horn-butting and utilized it in war. Regardless of these legends, jiao di evolved during the Zhou Dynasty (2nd Millenium B.C.E.) into a combat wrestling system called jiao li. The practice of jiao li in the Zhou Dynasty was recorded in the Classic of Rites. This combat system included techniques such as strikes, throws, joint manipulation, and pressure point attacks.. Jiao li eventually became known as shuai jiao, its modern form. During the Han Dynasty, martial arts known as shuobo and jiandao became common place. They can be considered the predecessors of the modern quanshu and jianshu (swordplay) found today. Jiao li became a sport during the Qin Dynasty (221 - 207 B.C.E). In the Tang Dynasty, description of sword dances were immortalized in poems by Li Bai. In the Song and Yuan dynasties, xiangpu (the earliest form of sumo) contests were sponsored by the imperial courts. The modern concepts of wushu were fully developed by the Ming and Qing dynasties. 
Reference to the martial arts can also be found in Chinese philosophy. There are passages in the Zhuangzi (庄子), a Daoist text, that pertain to the psychology and practice of martial arts. Zhuangzi, the author of the same name, is believed to have lived in the 4th century BC. 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" (Traditional Chinese: 六藝; Simplified Chinese: 六艺; pinyin: liu yi, including rites, music, calligraphy and mathematics) of the Zhou Dynasty (1122 - 256 B.C.E.). The Art of War ( 孫子兵法), written during the 6th century B.C.E. by Sun Tzu ( 孫子), deals directly with military warfare but contain ideas that are used in the Chinese martial arts. Over time, it changed with the evolving Chinese society acquiring philosophical bases.
Taoist practitioners have been practicing physical exercises that resemble Tai Chi Chuan at least as early as the 500 B.C.E. era. In 39-92 C.E., "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 T'uo, composed the "Five Animals Play" - tiger, deer, monkey, bear, and bird, around 220 B.C.E. . Taoist philosophy and their approach to health and exercise can still be seen in the Internal styles of Chinese martial arts.
With regards to the Shaolin style of martial arts, the oldest evidence of Shaolin participation in combat is a stele from 728 C.E. that attests to two occasions: a defense of the Shaolin monastery from bandits around 610 C.E., and their subsequent role in the defeat of Wang Shichong at the Battle of Hulao in 621 C.E. From the 8th to the 15th centuries, there are no extant documents that provide evidence of Shaolin participation in combat. However, between the 16th and 17th centuries there are at least forty extant sources which provided evidence that, not only did monks of Shaolin practice martial arts, but martial practice had become such an integral element of Shaolin monastic life that the monks felt the need to justify it by creating new Buddhist lore.  References to Shaolin martial arts appear in various literary genres of the late Ming: the epitaphs of Shaolin warrior monks, martial-arts manuals, military encyclopedias, historical writings, travelogues, fiction, and even poetry.  These sources, in contrast to those from the Tang period, refer to Shaolin methods of unarmed combat, as well as combat utilising various weapons. These include the spear (Qiang), and with the weapon that was the forte of Shaolin monks and for which they had become famous—the staff (Gun, pronounced as kun). By the mid-16th century, military experts from all over China were travelling to Shaolin to study its fighting techniques. The fighting styles that are practiced today were developed over the centuries, after having incorporated forms that came into existence later. Some of these include Bagua, Drunken Boxing, Eagle Claw, Five Animals, Hsing I, Hung Gar, Lau Gar, Monkey, Praying Mantis, Fujian White Crane, Wing Chun and Tai Chi Chuan.
- Further information: Bodhidharma, the martial arts, and the disputed India connection
- Further information: Foreign influence on Chinese martial arts
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 encourage to openly teach their art. At that time, some considered martial arts as a means to promote national pride and improve the health of the Nation. As a result, many martial arts training manuals (拳普) were published.  and numerous martial arts associations were formed throughout China and in various oversea Chinese communities. The Central Guoshu Academy (Zhongyang Guoshuguan, 中央國術館) established by the National Government in 1928  and the Jing Wu Athletic Association (精武体育会) founded by Huo Yuanjia in 1910 are examples of organization 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 leads to the popular view of martial arts as a sport.
Chinese martial arts started to spread internationally 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 art practitioners choose to escape from the Communist rule and migrate to Taiwan, Hong Kong and other parts of the world. Those masters started to teach within the oversea Chinese communities but eventually they expand their teachings to include people from other cultures.
Within China, the practice of traditional martial arts was discouraged during the turbulent years of the Chinese Cultural Revolution (1969-1976). The government instead promoted the concept of Wushu as a replacement. In 1958, the government establishd the All-China Wushu Association as an umbella organization to regulate martial arts training. The Chinese State Commission for Physical Culture and Sports took the lead in creating standized forms for tai chi chuan and other fists and weapon arts. During this period, a national Wushu system that include standard forms, teaching curriculums and instructor grading were 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 revaluate the teaching and practise of Wushu. In 1986, the Chinese National Research Institute of Wushu was establish as the central authority for the research and administration of Wushu activities in the People's Republic. . Presently, both traditional styles and modern Wushu approaches are being promoted by the Chinese government.
Chinese martial arts have now evolved from its Chinese heritage to become world-wide phenomenon. No longer restricted by ethnic origin, students of Chinese martial arts can now be found in every parts of the world, each student continuing a rich and ancient tradition of self discovery.
- For a list of styles, see list of Chinese martial arts.
China arguably has one of the longest histories of continuously recorded martial arts tradition with hundreds of different styles, perhaps the most of any society in the world. Of the hundreds of Chinese martial arts that have developed over the past two to four thousand years, there are many distinctive styles with their own sets of techniques and ideas. Also, there are many themes common to different styles that lead many to characterize them as belonging to generalized "families" (家, jiā), "sects" (派, pai) or "schools" (門, men) of martial art styles. There are styles that mimic movements from animals and others that gather inspiration from various Chinese philosophies, myths and legends. Some styles put most of their focus into the belief of the harnessing of qi energy, while others concentrate solely on competition and exhibition. Each style offers a different approach to the common problems of self-defense, health and self-cultivation.
Chinese martial arts can be split into various categories to differentiate them: For example, external (外家拳) and internal (内家拳). Chinese martial arts can also be categorized by location, as in northern (北拳) and southern (南拳) as well, referring to what part of China the styles originated from, separated by the Yangtze River (Chang Jiang); Chinese martial arts may even be classified according to their province or city. The main perceived difference about northern and southern styles is that the northern styles tend to emphasize fast and powerful kicks, high jumps and generally fluid and rapid movement, while the southern styles focus more on strong arm and hand techniques, and stable, immovable stances and fast footwork. Examples of the northern styles include Changquan and the sword and broadsword routines used in contemporary Wushu competitions, and examples of the southern styles include Nanquan, Houquan (monkey style) and Wing Chun. Chinese martial arts can also be divided according to religion, imitative-styles (象形拳), and more. There are distinctive differences in the training between different groups of Chinese martial arts regardless of the type of classification.
Chinese martial arts training consist of the following components: basics, forms, applications and weapons. Each style of Chinese martial arts have their own unique training system with varying emphasis on each of those components. Other aspects of Chinese martial arts training that are equally important but not explicitly included in many curriculums are philosophy and ethics. True Chinese martial arts training should provide an insight into an important aspect of Chinese attitudes and culture.
Basics (基本功) are a vital part of the training, as a student cannot progress to the more advanced stages without them; without strong and flexible muscles including the management of the "Chi" (an invisible power), many movements of Chinese martial arts are simply impossible to perform correctly. Basics are generally a simple series of simple movements that are performed repeatedly over a short interval. Basics include such things as stretching, stances, meditation and special techniques.
A common saying concerning basic training in Chinese martial arts is as follows:
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 mind, the spirit and strength.
Many Chinese martial arts pay considerable attention to stretching. Speed, power and reducing injuries can be achieved by increasing the range of motion. Common stretching exercises include general joint rotations, static stretching and dynamic stretching. These exercises are performed individually but also can be practised in pairs. Different styles have different approaches to increase the student's flexibility but those approaches should be consistent with the fundamentals of sports medicine.
Stances (steps or 步法) are special postures used in Chinese martial arts training. They represent the individual elements of a form. Each style will have different names and variations for each stance. Stances can be differentiated by such factors as feet position, body weighting and body alignment. Stance training can be practiced statically, in which case, the goal is to maintain the structure of the stance through a set time period. Stance training can also be practised dynamically, in which case, a series of movements is performed repeatedly. The horse stance (马步) is an representative example of a stance found in many styles of Chinese martial arts.
In many styles, meditation is considered to be an important component of basic martial arts training. Meditation can be used to develop focus, clarity of thought and as a basis for qigong training. Meditation when practised in this context does not require a religious component.
Special techniques are basic exercises that are unique to a particular martial arts style. Special techniques are developed based on the experience and understanding of a particular style. For example, many styles have training to increase the ability to withstand a direct hit. In Wing Chun, basic training includes the use of a wooden dummy ("Mook Jung" in Cantonese and "Moo Juang" in Mandarin) to develop striking power and some hand trapping techniques.
Forms or taolu (Chinese: 套路; pinyin: tào lù) in Chinese are series of techniques defined by their stances combined so they can be practiced as one whole set of movements. Some say that forms resemble a choreographed dance, though martial artists often argue that a general difference is the speed and explosiveness seen in most external styles, and that the movements are actual fighting techniques.
These forms sought to incorporate both the internal and external aspects of chinese martial arts. A kung fu form needs to be both practical, usable, and applicable as well as promoting flow, meditation, flexibility, balance and coordination. Often kung fu teachers are heard to say "train your form as if you were sparring and spar as if it were a form."
Types of forms
There are two types of forms in Chinese martial arts. Most common are the solo forms, performed alone by one person, but there are also "sparring" forms, which is a combined fighting sets performed by two or more people. It is another meditative component on kung-fu that is very useful to put the student on a imaginative real fight situation and also for litteraly "defeat" the fear factor. it also can increase skills such as speed, concentration, imagination, reflexes and cannon power.
Many styles consider forms as one of the most important practices, as they gradually build up the practitioner's strength and flexibility, Internal power, speed and stamina, and teach balance and coordination. They also function as a tool for both the students and the teacher to remember the many techniques taught by the style, and sort them into various groups.
A style can have many compartments, both empty-handed and with weapons. In most styles, empty-handed techniques are the most common, but many styles also contain forms using a wide range of weapons of various length and type, utilizing one or two hands. There are also styles that only practice a certain weapon, containing only forms with the specific weapon.
Forms are meant to work the body. Once a basic structure is able to be maintained in the body, forms are then used to work that structure. Forms develop a sensibility of moving from position to position. This teaches the body to react.
Some forms focus specifically on punching and kicking, while others focus on joint manipulation, grappling, jump kicking, or weapons. Still other forms focus on different styles of movement, or on using specific hand configurations. Often, forms will combine several of these attributes.
Appearance of forms
Even though forms in Chinese martial arts are based on martial techniques, the movements might not always be identical to how the techniques they symbolize would work when applied in actual combat. This is due to the way many forms have been elaborated: on the one hand to provide better combat preparedness, and on the other hand, to look more aesthetic. One easily understood manifestation of this tendency toward elaborations that go beyond what most often might be used in combat is the inclusion of lower stances and higher kicks. The regular practice of techniques while using lower stances both adds strength to the same techniques when used with higher stances, and also facilitates using the same techniques in the lower stances when the realities of combat make doing so the most appropriate choice.
In recent years, as the perceived need for self-defense has decreased, 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. The mainland Chinese government has especially been criticized by traditionalists for "watering down" the wushu competition training it promotes. Appearances have been important in many traditional forms as well, seen as a sign of balance, but may not be the most important requirements of successful training, from the martial perspective. Some martial artists have looked for supplementary income by performing on the streets or in theaters, although in the most traditional schools, such performance is forbidden.
Another reason why the martial techniques might look different in forms is thought by some to come from a need to "disguise" the actual functions of the techniques from outsiders, namely rival schools or the authorities, since China has been ruled by foreign powers in the past. The intention was to leave the forms in such a state that they could be performed in front of others without revealing their actual martial functions, while retaining their original functionality in a less obvious form. However some forms were created for reasons other than combat and martial application: some were created to help martial artists develop certain qualities. For example, in addition to aesthetic reasons, acrobatics blended into martial arts help martial practitioners develop strength, balance and flexibility.
- See also: Wushu (sport)
As forms have grown in complexity and quantity over the years, and many forms alone could be practiced for a lifetime, styles of modern 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. Many traditionalists consider the evolution of today's Chinese martial arts as undesirable, saying that much of its original value is lost.
Application training refers to the training of putting the martial techniques to use. Chinese martial arts usually contain a large arsenal of techniques and make use of the whole body, efficiency and effectiveness is what the techniques are based on. However many chinese martial arts appear to be flowery and 'fancier' than other arts but the movements are very meaningful in terms of application. When and how applications are taught varies from style to style, but in the beginning, most styles focus on certain drills where each person knows what technique is being practiced and what attack to expect. Gradually, fewer and fewer rules are applied, and the students learn how to react and feel what technique to use, depending on the situation and the type of opponent. Sparring refers to one aspect of application training that simulates fighting situations but still with rules and regulations to reduce the chance of serious injuries to the student.
The subject of application training is controversial and is part of larger debate between the practise of martial arts and sports based on the martial arts. In the traditionalist view, martial arts training should eventually lead to and proven by actual combat. In comparison, the sports view suggest that the training does not require such extreme methods. The traditionalist view is shaped by the history of Chinese martial arts where the techniques were developed as a means of self-perservation. Because of its importance, application training was kept secret and was given to those that are worthy. From the vantage point of martial arts as a sports, the issues of life and death is no longer decided by martial arts. As a result, the goal of the training should re-focus towards health and friendly competition.
Competitive sparring is one approach to satisfy the difference between the two viewpoints. In this approach, opponents can use their combat techniques but subject to a set of pre-defined rules and regulations which are designed to limit serious injuries. An example of this approach in the Chinese martial arts is the tradition of Lei tai (擂臺, raised plafform fighting) and Sanda (散打) or Sanshou (散手). Lei Tai represents public challenged matches that first appeared in the Song Dynasty. The objective for those contest is to knock the opponent from a raised platform by any means necessary. San Shou represents the modern development of Lei Tai contests but without the raised platform and having rules in place to reduce the chance of serious injuries. Many schools of Chinese martial arts schools teach sanshou and work to incorporate its movement, characteristics and theory into sanshou's modern context. It is popular as a competition event and allows martial practioners to both practise and put their skill to use in a friendly, non-hostile environment. It is similar to Muay Thai and is a type of sparring competition where the competitors wear protection and gloves, and get points when scoring a hit on the opponent or performing a successful throw. Sanshou involves both stand up striking and grappling, and as a modern competition rules are limited for safety reasons, in turn limiting technique and other components of the martial arts. However, many of these skills and techniques are still practised among many sanshou practioners, such as chin na and ground fighting.
Most Chinese styles also make use of training the broad arsenal of Chinese weapons for conditioning the body as well as coordination and strategy drills. Weapons training (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 your body. The same requirements for footwork and body coordination is required. The process of weapon training proceed 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) in addition to specialized instruments specific to the system.
Use of qi
The concept of qì or ch'i (氣), the inner energy or "life force" that is said to animate living beings, is encountered in almost all styles of Chinese martial arts. Internal styles are reputed to cultivate its use differently than external styles.
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 controlling 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 (similar to the study of acupressure), to cause maximum damage or disable certain functions of the body. Some go so far as to think that at an advanced level it is (or was, as some believe such abilities are now lost) possible to cause harm without even touching the opponent, a popular concept in Chinese martial arts movies.
Main article: Chinese Martial Artists
There are many China martial artists contributing to the popularization of Chinese martial arts. Example of well known practitioners (武术名师) in the modern era are:
- Ng Mui (late 1600s, Chinese: 五梅大師) - legendary female founder of many Southern martial arts such as Wing Chun Kuen, Dragon style and White Crane. She is often considered to be one of the legendary Five Elders who survived the destruction of the Shaolin Temple during the Qing Dynasty.
- Ten Tigers of Canton (late 1800s, Chinese: 廣東十虎) - a group of ten of the top Chinese martial arts masters in Guangdong (Canton) towards the end of the Qing Dynasty (1644–1912).
- Wong Fei Hung (1847-1924, Chinese: 黃飛鴻) - a martial artist who became a Chinese folk hero during the Republican period. More than one hundred Hong Kong movies were made about his life.
- Huo Yuanjia (1867-1910, Chinese: 霍元甲) - 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).
- Bruce Lee (1940 - 1973, Chinese: 李小龍) - Chinese American martial artist and martial arts actor widely regarded as one of the most influential martial artists of the 20th century.
- Jackie Chan (1954 - , Chinese: 成龍) - Hong Kong 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 (1963 - , Chinese: 李連杰) - Five-time sport wushu champion of China, later demonstrating his skills on the silver screen.
Martial arts plays a prominent role in the literature genre known as wuxia(武侠小说). This type of fiction is based on a 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 BC, becoming popular by the Tang Dynasty and evolving into novel form by the Ming Dynasty. This genre is still extremely popular throughout East Asia and provides a major influence for the public's perception of the martial arts.
Martial arts influences can also be found in Chinese opera of which Beijing opera is one of the most well known example. 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, and lately, martial artists and actors such as Jet Li and Jackie Chan have appeared in later films. 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).
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 try to convey the philosophy and practise of Chinese martial arts. The use of Chinese martial arts techniques can now be found in most TV action series, however, the philosopy of Chinese martial arts are seldom portrayed in depth.
Anime and manga
Chinese martial arts appear many times in Japanese anime and manga.
- The action manga Fist of the North Star uses the concept of internal and external fighting styles and various (probably fictional) "death points" (si xue) of a human body.
- The Dragon Ball Z series also uses many concepts from Wuxia and Chinese fantasy novels.
- In the anime and manga Naruto, the character Rock Lee is based on the movie star Bruce Lee. In the game, Rock studies [Taijutsu]] which uses many concepts and techniques from Chinese martial arts.
- In the Asian-influenced Avatar: The Last Airbender, the four "Bending" disciplines are each based on a style of Kung-fu. Waterbending is based on Tai Chi, firebending on Northern Shaolin, earthbending on Hung Gar, and airbending on Ba Gua. Toph, the earthbender, uses the rare Chu Gar Southern Praying Mantis style.
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- List of Chinese martial arts
- Wushu (term), Wushu (sport)
- San shou
- Wing Chun
- Choy Lee Fut
- Kung fu (disambiguation)
- Eighteen Arms of Wushu
- Hard and soft (martial arts)
- International Wushu Federation
- Kung Fu Magazine
- Lion Book Publisher (in chinese - 逸文出版)
- 'Chinese Martial Arts' by Miss Rose Li