The Development of Chinese Martial Arts


Chinese Martial Arts (Zhongguo Wu Shu: (中 國 武 術), also referred to by the Mandarin Chinese term “Wu Shu” (武 術) or, commonly known in the West as “Kung Fu” (功 夫); has hundreds of different styles of martial systems developed over the past 2000 years.

These distinctive fighting “styles” have been developed, each with its own set of techniques, are often classified by common characteristics, known or recognised as “family” (jia:家 ), “sect” (pai:派 ) or “school” (mern:門 ). The development of these diverse fighting “styles” or “systems” have been influenced or inspired from movements of animals, Chinese philosophies, religions, myths and legends.

It is widely recognised and accepted that Chinese martial arts can be differentiated by the following catergories:

Internal and External Systems:
Styles which focus on Qi or Chi are classified as Internal (Nei Jia Quan: 内家拳), whereas Styles that promote muscle and cardiovascular fitness are labelled as External (Wai Jia Quan: 外家拳)

Location: Northern and Southern systems
Generally accepted that the Northern styles tend to rely on strong kicks, high jumps and smooth and quick movements, whereas, the Southern styles tend to focus more on strong arm and hand techniques and stable and immovable stances and fast footwork.
Northern Systems: Examples – Changquan and Exingyiguan
Southern Systems: Examples – Pak Mei, Choy Lif Fut, Wing Chun

Imitative Styles (Animal): Examples – Tiger, Crane, Snake, Monkey, Eagle Claw, Leopard

Family Styles: Examples – Hung Gar, Yang Style of Tai Chi.

Wu Shu and Kung Fu are terms used in the West to refer to Chinese martial arts. However, the Chinese terms for Wu Shu and Kung Fu have different and distinctive meanings. Wu Shu literally means “martial art”: Wu (武) meaning “martial” or “military” and Shu (術) translates as “skill”, “discipline” or “method”. In Chinese, the word “Kung Fu” is used in a different context unrelated to martial arts: “skill” achieved through long and hard work. It is only in the late 1900s, that this term “Kung Fu” was used to represent Chinese martial arts.