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Wushu (Template:Zh-stp Template:Audio2) literally means "martial art". It is the correct term for the more commonly known but misused term kung fu, which roughly translates to "skill" and refers specifically to the energy, feeling and effort expended in doing or making something. A craftsman or artisan could be said to have good "kung fu" in the way in which they carry out their craft. In the same way, a wushu practitioner can also be said to have good "kung fu" with their Wushu practice. All categories of Chinese martial arts, traditional, contemporary, hard and soft, can be called Wushu. Today, the terms "modern wushu" or "contemporary wushu" refer to forms that are practiced for health, exhibition and competition. Common "hard" or external styles of contemporary Wushu are southern fist, Nanquan and long fist, Changquan. Common "soft" or internal styles are Taijiquan, Baguazhang and Xingyiquan.

Wushu is practiced in forms (taolu in Chinese), which are comprised of basic movements, (stances, kicks, punches, balances, jumps and sweeps), particular to each style and can be changed for competitions to highlight ones strengths. Competitive forms can vary in length from 1 minute, 30 seconds for the hard styles to over 5 minutes for internal styles.



The oldest evidence of Wu Shu, or Chinese martial arts, goes back to the Zhou dynasty (1111-255 BC). There are passages in the Zhuang Zi (AKA Chuang Tzu) that clearly pertain to the psychology and practice of martial arts. The Dao De Jing by Lao Zi contains many principles that are applicable to martial arts, and is similar in point of view to the Sun Zi Bing Fa (Sun Zi's Art of War) which deals directly with martial arts. History says that Zhuang Zi lived during the reign of King Hui of Liang and King Xuan of Qi, which means that he must have lived within the span from 370 B.C. to 301 B.C. The dates of the author of the Dao De Jing are less clear. Tradition assigns him to a time earlier than Zhuang Zi, but the evidence indicates that the book itself was written down later than the time of Zhuang Zi.

In legend, Wu Shu traces its origins thousands of years into antiquity. The Wushu that is practiced today developed over the centuries and many of the later additions of Wushu, such as the Shaolin Wushu style, later animal forms, and the drunken style were incorporated from various other martial arts forms that came into existence later.

In regards to the Shaolin style of Wushu that is currently popular, historical records suggest that a Buddhist monk, named Bodhidharma (Pu Tai Ta Mo in Chinese or Daruma Daishi in Japanese)from either Central Asia or South Asia (his origins are lost in history) might have taught the Shaolin monks meditation exercises around the 6th century AD that was incorporated into Shaolin Kung fu. Historical evidence has shown that the Shaolin monks during this time and before this time (the Shaolin temple predates Bodhidharma) harbored retired soldiers who taught the monks self defense that they had learned during military training. Around 500 AD the Shaolin monks, in order to protect themselves from bandits and criminals, began to codify what they learned into a "Shaolin" Kung-Fu style; however, the development of Wushu(or general martial arts in China) goes back centuries before this.


The word wushu consists of two Chinese characters. 武 (wǔ), meaning martial or military, and 術 (shù), which translates into art, skill or method. Together these form "wǔshù" or "martial art".

Styles of Wushu

Literally hundreds of different styles and schools of Wushu still exist in China, but generally they can be divided into a few distinct branches. Geographically, Wushu can be divided into Northern Shaolin-style Wushu and Southern Shaolin-style Wushu, mainly corresponding to either the Northern Shaolin temple or the Southern Shaolin temple, although nowadays the terms cover all kinds of styles originating either from the north or the south. The main difference about these two are that the Northern styles tend to emphazise kicks, jumps and generally fluid and rapid movement, as the Southern styles focus more on strong arm and hand techniques, and stable, immovable stances and 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.

Methodistically, Wushu can be divided into either the External styles, which include most of the Wushu styles in existence, and the Internal styles, which number only a few, Taijiquan being the most famous one. External styles are more traditional fighting arts, with emphasis on strength, speed, explosive power and stamina. Internal styles focus in the precise control of movements, the balance of bodily energies and the concept of Qi (same as the Japanese Ki), the life energy supposedly flowing through every human being. As said above, External styles include all other types of Wushu, except for Taijiquan, Xingyiquan and Baguazhang.

There is also a third division in styles, that being the division to either Contemporary Wushu or Traditional Wushu, which are discussed in more detail below.

Contemporary Wushu

Wushu, modern wushu, and contemporary wushu often refer to the modern recompilations of traditional wushu forms created in the People's Republic of China. These are practiced as a demonstration sport, much like gymnastics, and judged and given points according to specific rules. Originally practiced just in the PRC, the contemporary wushu forms have now spread all over the world through the International Wushu Federation, which holds the World Championships of Wushu every two years; the first World Championships were held in 1991 in Beijing.

Similar to gymnastics, there are separate events, the main ones being:

  • Short Weapons
    • Dao (Broadsword)
    • Jian (Straightsword)
    • 太極劍 Taijijian (Taiji Straightsword)
    • 南刀 Nandao (Southern Broadsword)
  • Long Weapons
    • Gun (Staff)
    • 槍 Qiang (Spear)
    • 南棍 Nangun (Southern Staff)

Most events were first set up in 1958.

Changquan refers to long-range extended wushu styles like Chaquan (查拳), Huaquan (華拳), Hongquan (洪拳), and Shaolinquan (少林拳), but this wushu form is a modernized style derived from movements of these and other traditional styles. Changquan is the most widely-seen of the wushu forms, and includes whirling, running, leaping, and acrobatics. Changquan is difficult to perform, requiring great flexibility and athleticism, and is often practiced from a young age.

Nanquan refers to wushu styles originating in south China (i.e., south of the Yangtze River, including Hongjiaquan (洪家拳), Cailifoquan (蔡李佛拳), and Yongchunquan (詠春拳). Many are known for vigorous, athletic movements with very stable, low stances and intricate hand movements. This wushu form is a modern style derived from movements of these and other traditional southern styles. Nanquan typically requires less flexibility and has fewer acrobatics than Changquan, but it also requires greater leg stability and power generation through leg and hip coordination. This event was created in 1960.

Taijiquan is a wushu style famous for slow, relaxed movements, and often seen as an exercise method for old people. This wushu form is a modern recompilization based on the Yang (楊) style of Taijiquan, but also including movements of the Chen (陳), Wu (吳), Wu (武), and Sun (孫) styles.

Dao refers to any curved, one-sided sword/blade, but this wushu form is a Changquan method of using a medium-sized willow-leaf-shaped dao (柳葉刀).

Jian refers to any double-edged straight sword/blade, but this wushu form is a Changquan method of using the jian.

Gun refers to a long staff slightly less tall than the user with his arms stretched up, but this wushu form is a Changquan method of using the gun.

Qiang refers to a flexible spear with red hair attached to the spearhead, but this wushu form is a Changquan method of using the qiang.

Taijijian is an event using the jian based on traditional Taijiquan jian methods.

Nandao is a weapon that appears to be based on the butterfly swords of Yongchunquan, but has been lengthened and changed so that only one is used (as opposed to a pair). This event is a Nanquan method, and was created in 1992.

Nangun is a Nanquan method of using the gun. This event was created in 1992.

These events are performed using compulsory or individual routines in competition. Compulsory routines are those routines that have been already created for the athlete, resulting in each athlete performing basically the same set. Individual routines are routines that an athlete creates with the aid of his/her coach, while following certain rules for difficulty, number of acrobatics, etc.

Previously international wushu competitions most often used compulsory routines, while high-level competitions in China most often used individual routines. However, after the 2003 Wushu World Games in Macau it was decided to opt for individual routines in international competition with nandu (difficulty movements) added for additional point bonuses.

There is some controversey concerning the inclusion of nandu in wushu because many of the movements created for the specific events are not originally movements used in those styles. In addition the number of injuries which have resulted from the inclusion of these nandu have caused many people to question their inclusion.

Those who support the new difficulty requirements follow the assertion that they help to progress the sport and improve the overall physical quality of the athletes.

Another modern form of wushu is called sanda (sometimes called sanshou), which is a modern fighting method and sport influenced by both traditional Chinese boxing and wrestling methods and methods of other countries. Sanda appears much like kickboxing or Muay Thai, but includes many more throwing techniques. Sanda fighting competitions are often held alongside taolu or form competitions.

The IWuF's bid to have wushu included in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing has not met with success, however it is still the hope of wushu practitioners around the world to see it included in the Olympic games at some point in the future.

Traditional Wushu

The term "Traditional Wushu" refers to every other style and school of Wushu not included in the Contemporary Wushu list above. Traditional routines are also used in competition in events separate from the compulsory and individual routine events, especially in China. The routines used are usually new, modernized recompilations of traditional styles. Some of the more commonly seen styles include:

Similarly, there is also a traditional weapons category, which often includes the following:

Many more weapons and styles exist apart from those mentioned above; in total, the whole of traditional Wushu contains probably over one hundred different minor or major styles. However, in general, they are rarely seen in competitions, where traditional forms often do not garner as much points as the modern recompilations.

Famous Wushu Practicioners

Probably the two most famous Wushu practicioners in the world are Jet Li (李連杰) and Jackie Chan. Jet Li started Wushu as a competition sport, and gained fame as a five-time national champion of China; he is now a famous movie star who uses his wushu skills onscreen. Many of his old teammates have also appeared onscreen with him, especially in his older movies. Jackie Chan never practiced modern wushu, but learned similar skills at the Beijing opera as a child, along with Sammo Hung, Yuen Biao, Yuan Wha, Yuan Qiu, and others. Beijing Opera martial arts are in many ways similar to modern wushu, as both are performance-oriented; however, Beijing Opera also includes singing.

External Links

International Wushu Federation (http://www.iwuf.org) IOC-recognised International Federation for competetive Wushude:Wushu es:Wushu et:Wushu fr:Wushu id:Wushu nl:wushu pl:wushu sv:wushu zh-cn:武术 pt:wushu


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