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History of Chinese Martial Arts

Wushu is a collective term in Chinese meaning Martial Arts (Kungfu is a colloquialism meaning skills often referring to Wushu in the West). Traditional Wushu is a traditional Chinese sport, holistic healing as well as an art form, all of which emphasize both internal and external aspects of martial arts, with combat fighting movements as its main contents. It has two main categories: routine exercises and free combat fighting as its forms. Wushu, a time-honored sport in China, traces to as early as the clan community in primitive societies (before 2600 B.C.) At the early time, there appeared in Shang (1700-1100) dynasty the HXiF the sport of Jiaodi (Chinese wrestling) and the HWuF Ganqi served as martial exercise or dance of axe and shield, the earliest weapons in the ancient societies. The earliest embryos of Wushu served as a means to build up health fitness, cure disease, prolong life, temper the fighting skills and character and wills and train military skills for the members of the societies. During late Shang and Zhou dynasty, Wushu entered a new high point. It was not only used for military training but became part of the school education subjects. During Spring and Autumn War periods (770-221), wushu was mostly emphasized on combat in the battle field. There were two tournaments a year, in Spring and Autunm for selecting high level soldiers and officers. There were bare hands, wrestling fights and sword fights in the competition. It was recorded in the Achieves of Han ( Han Shu Wu Di Ben Ji), during Qin and Han dynasties (221 B.C.-188 A.D.), the sports-like swords, broadswords, double-hooksplay, dagger-axe play, double-halbertplay, Cudgel, Dance with Saber and spear, and other weaponry plays came into being. Bare hands combat fighting and wrestling as well as sword fight competition became popular. Wushu was emphasized in military applications and fighting strategies in the battle fields and in military training schools. There were well-known philosophers and doctors who were also known for their martial arts, such as Zhuangzi (369 B.C.-286 B.C.), for his Sword Fencing and Qigong. The famous surgeon Huatuo (~208 B.C.) was known for his Five Animal Frolics Qigong. Other well-known martial arts figures in late Qin were Chen Seng and Wu Guang, who rebelled (209 B.C.) using tree branches as cudgel fighting weapons. King of Chu Xiangyu fought all over China with his iron whip and sword. He is still noted for his swordplay today.

During the war periods, people of the states of Yian and Qi (two of the 12 states before the unification) migrated to Korea in tens of thousands. In 145 B.C., a military general Weiman from Yan of China, defeated the King of Korea and established his new kingdom. He afiliated his Korea to the Han dynasty. During the West Han dynasty, Korea was under the rule of Han. Traditional sports, such as swords, broadswords and bare hands combat fighting and wrestling were brought to Korea. During the three kingdom periods (220-265), martial arts in weaponary fighting in the battlefields were highly developed. Many today?s weapons are named after the famous martial arts generals of the three kingdoms such as Guan Gong Da Dao (Guangong?s giant broadsword). Zhaoyuen used his single spear to defeat the Chao?s big army. Guang Yuenchang (or Guangong) broke through five enemy lines and killed six generals of Chao?s army with his giant Broadsword. Lu Bu fought and defeated three warriors with his single halberd. Liu Bei?s double swords fought the world. In Nanbei (Southnorth) dynasty (420-589), Chinese Martial Arts developed and many fighting arts went to the civilians. Shaolin Temple was established in this period. The Temple was founded in 495 A. D., during the 19th Beiwei Dynasty, by Bada, a Buddhist Monk from India, who came to China in 464 to preach Buddhism. Bada?s sincerity persuaded the Buddhist Emperor, Xiaowen, to build a temple in the Shao mountain forest in the Song Mountains so that he would have a place to teach Hinyana Buddhism.When Bada opened his teachings, Hui Guang and Seng Chou were among his first group of disciples. Hui Guang was brought to the Temple by Bada on one occasion. One day Bada went to the city of Luoyang, which was then the capital of China. While passing by Tian Street, he saw a boy of about 12 years kicking a shuttlecock around a well for over 500 times without a pause. The boy's tremendous martial arts skills and physical endurance were beyond comprehension especially when nutrition was a problem at the time. Astounded, Bada took the boy to the Shaolin Temple as his, discerning his aptitude and talent for Gongfu and his finely tuned sensibilities honed by nature. Seng Chou, another famous martial arts monk, is well known in the history of Shaolin Temple. He was one of the most knowledgeable and respected monks and a great martial artist. He later became a great abbot traveling throughout the country spreading the scripture of Buddhism. He had thousands of disciples. Once, Seng Chou walked in the forests and saw two tigers were in fierce fights. He attacked the tigers with a cane. The tigers got angry with him. His great fighting sensibility, his light Qigong and his endurance finally wore the tigers out. He broke the tiger?s fights and gave the tigers a good lesson by defeating them both, though he broke his cane. Bodhidharma known as DaMo in Chinese came to the Temple in 527 A. D. the third year of Emperor Xiaochang. Bodhidharma, the 28th-Dharma successor in the direct line of patriarchs descending from the original founder of Buddhism, Shakyamuni Buddha, traveled to China in the old Liang dynasty?s capital of Nanjing (Luoyang was Beiwei?s capital in the north and Liang?s capital was Nanjing in the south). Given a poor reception by Emperor Liangwu, Bodhidharma moved across the Yangtze River to the Shaolin Temple. Instead of residing in the temple hall, he took up residence in a cave in the middle of the Five Breasts Peaks. There he stayed facing the cave wall, meditating and studying for nine years. It was said that during this period Bodhidharma reached enlightenment and from it developed a new sect of Buddhism known as Chan (Zen as in Japanese) Buddhism. The sixth Buddhist patriarch of China, Master Hui Neng, and others refined and documented Chan Buddhism so that it spread throughout China. Chan Buddhism eventually migrated to Japan and became known there as Zen Buddhism. Hewever, many Chan Buddhism scholars believe the founders of Chan Buddhism are Huineng (636-713) and Shenhui (668-760). Many legendary stories depicted Bodhidharma starting early Shaolin exercises. In the beginning, Shaolin disciples spent long hours meditating and did sitting Qigong without much physical exercise. Eventually, they realized that to keep blood and Qi from stagnating, they needed moving Qigong exercise and other vigorous martial arts exercises to balance Yin and Yang energies. Day by day, year after year, the disciples practiced simple Qigong exercises, and other martial arts that were brought to the temple by new monks and monks like Seng Chou. In time, these evolved into the early forms of Shaolin Gongfu, also known as Shaolin Quan. These early forms included Luohan 18 Postures, Soft Boxing, 8 Silk Brocades, Longevity Boxing, Shaolin Luohan and others.With the spread of Chan Buddhism, more and more Shaolin branch temples were built throughout China. Shaolin Temple was the first institution established to teach Chan philosophy, medicine, arts of Gongfu and the way of Chan living.

Moreover, Chan was popular with many emperors and aristocrats who worshipped in Shaolin Temples. When Wen-di ascended the throne during the Sui Dynasty, he granted the Shaolin Temple hundreds of Qings of rich land widely dispersed throughout China. However, Wen-di's generosity made many far-flung temples vulnerable to bandits and peasant armies marauding throughout the countryside. To defend the temples, Shaolin masters and monks organized the Monk Army, thereby introducing Shaolin Gongfu to the battlefield. In the late Sui Dynasty (589-618), the former General Wang Shizhong of Shui dubbed himself Zheng Emperor with his powerful army in Luoyang. The General occupied hundreds of Quings of land bestowed to the Shaolin Temple by Emperor Shui Wen-di. In 620, Tang Emperor Gaozhu ordered his son Li Shimin to put down Wang's army. Li Shimin could do no better than achieve a stalemate with Wang's army at Song Mountain, until thirteen Martial monks, led by masters Tan Zong, Zhi Cao, and Hui Yang, quietly infiltrated Wang's army. The monks managed to capture the most powerful general in Wang's army, Wang Renzhe, the nephew of General Wang Shizhong. The event was recorded on a tablet that can still be seen at the Temple today.

The Emperor Li ShiMin endowed the temple with the right to train a force of fighting monk-soldiers. The grateful Emperor attempted to persuade the 13 to accept official posts at Court, but they replied that their fighting arts were to protect the Temple and to keep the monks healthy: 'Since the world is now peaceful we will return to our monastery, but if society needs us we will go to battle again'. The Emperor then gave permission for the Temple to train 500 fighting monk-soldiers for protection. About 1,000 years later another Emperor asked for help. In 1674, 128 monks led by a former Ming partisan, Master Cheng went to the assistance of the Qing Emperor Guang Xu. Master Cheng had fought against the Manchu Emperors of the Qing Dynasty, but had retired to the Shaolin Temple to study the martial arts. His small army of monks gave great help to the Emperor to defeat the invaders from outside of China, but at the end of the fighting they too rejected the titles he offered and returned to the Temple. This time, modesty did not serve them well. The Emperor was persuaded that it was dangerous to tolerate the existence of a center of independent people with such exceptional fighting skills. He sent an army, which was assisted by a renegade Shaolin monk. They burned the temple. Many ran to the south of China.

Chinese culture, religion and arts were brought to Japan a long time before the Sui dynasty, mainly through Korea. During late Sui, Shende Prince sent Shaoyeimeizi with his first delegations to China study the culture and religion. At this time they first encountered Chinese martial arts.There were many groups of high level Japanese government officials and experts in culture and arts came to China for further studies. At this period, they also learned Chinese martial arts and brought them to Japan.At this time, Jin Famin of Shilla unified the three Kingdoms of Korea peninsula and affiliated his Kingdom with the Tang dynasty. The new King set up his government according to Tang government structure. Many people went to study in China. At the same time martial arts were also brought to Korea along with Chinese music, arts culture, science and social structure. In these early days, they called the martial arts Tang Soo Dao (Tang?s Open Hands). During the Tang dynasty (618-896), and especially during the Song dynasty (960-1279), there came about many martial arts organizations throughout China?s society. There were martial arts performances with paired weapons sparring, sword and spearplays on the street. Many weapons fighting arts came down from the military to the martial arts community and schools of performing arts, physical education and sports training. Madame Sun of Tang Kaiyuan (674-741) was most famous for her intriguing swordplay performance which inspired many poets and artists. Another famous martial artist of the Tang dynasty was Xu Xuanping. His 37 Changquan was similar to traditional Taijiquan. Lei Tai (stage) bare hands fights also came into existence. There were very simple rules with a referee on the Lei Tai and judges on the sides. Many martial arts systems were also developed. Cha Quan was developed from this period on in Shangdong province. Song Dynasty brought much prosperity to martial arts especially Shaolin styles due to the Song empeor. At this period, Song Taizhu, the Emperor of Song, not only studied and taught at Shaolin, but also appointed General Gao Huailiang to reside in the temple to teach and learn. Many of the early forms, such as 32 Changquan, Liubuquan, Monkey, Ape, Praying Mantis, Tongbai, Spades, Spear, and Dragon Sword, were developed by the Song Emperor Zhao Guangyao. Altogether he developed over 170 external forms and 130 weapons forms. At late Song dynasty 1110-1121, one of the most famous uprisings was Song Jiang with his 36 martial arts brothers at Liang Mountain by the Liang waters. This group defeated the Song government armies numerous times with a very limited number of highly trained martial artists such as Lin Chong, Yan

Qin, Lu Zhiseng and Wushong. Many forms later developed after their names such as Lin Chong?s Yuan Yang Kicks. Yan Qing Qinna and Lu Zhiseng?s Monk Spade. The Liang mountains martial arts later also became part of the collection of the Temple. One of the most famous styles practiced in the late century was Mizhongquan which was the result of styles from Shaolin and Liang mountain heros. Mizhoongquan was created in Tang dynasty at the temple. One of the 36 heros of Liang mountain learned it from Shaolin and taught it to Yanqin who modified and developed it into Yan frame. This Yan frame was re-collected back into the temple. Sun Tong from Shandong learned this art from the temple in early Qing dynasty and developed and taught it to other martial artists in Tianjing. One of the most famous martial arts masters in recent history, Huo Yuanjia, learned this style from one of Sun Tong?s best disciples. Another heroic martial art figure is General Yuefei (1103-1143) in south Song dynasty. He created the Yue family martial arts both in bare hands and weapons which not only had great influence on the Shaolin but also to the rest of the Chinese martial arts world in China. The Shaolin school absorbed the best martial art techniques from all schools throughout China. In early Song dynasty (961 AD), Fuju, a highly respected master and head of the Shaolin Temple, invited Gongfu masters of 18 schools to the temple to practice, teach, and write. Together they compiled the Encyclopedia of Shaolin Gongfu, a compendium of all the best techniques from the best schools throughout China.

Shaolin Temple monks had also gone out of the temple to learn from other great martial artists. Monk Juyuan (1224-1232) went with his master?s permission to Lianzhou three times to study Qigong, Luohan, Sanshou, and Qinna from the best northern martial artists, Li Shou-Danghui and Bai Yufeng-Quoyuei, who developed Luohan 18 into 170 forms and created the Best Five, reflecting the animal mimic styles learned form the dragon, tiger, leopard, snake, crane, praying mantis, monkey, and eagle. During the Yuan dynasty (1279-1368) the Shaolin Temple branched out into various places such as Luoyan, Changan, Taiyuan, Heling and other locations. Fuyu abbot was most responsible for expanding the Temple outside of Shong mountain. He sent various high level monks to reside in those temples teaching not only Chan but Shaolin Gongfu as well. He was very favored by the empeor of Yuan. In 1312 The emperor of Yuan granted him Dasitu (a high ranking position in court) and later lord of Jin when he died. During this period Shaolin began to spread widely overseas.During the reign of Emperor Taiding (1322-1327) in Yuan Dynasty, a Japanese monk named Dazhi came to study Chan Buddhism and Shaolin Gongfu at the Shaolin Temple. Dazhi studied at the temple for over thirteen years, and later taught Shaolin Gongfu to many in Japan after his return. In 1379, the Japanese monk Shaoyuan resided in the Temple, serving first as the temple?s secretary, and later as assistant to the master. When he returned to Japan, he taught Shaolin Gongfu to the Japanese and was regarded by his people as the soul of Japan. During the reign of Wanli of the Ming dynasty (1368-1644), Chen Yuanzhe, a disciple of the Shaolin Temple, sailed to Japan to teach Shaolin Gongfu. Yuanzhe taught in Japan for several decades, making hundreds of disciples who spread Shaolin Gongfu throughout Japan. These early HChina Hands,F as the Japanese called them, were the origin of Karate. In the Ming dynasty and Qing dynasty, there were hundreds of schools and systems of martial arts in every corner of the country. Many major school systems such as Taijiquan, Xingyiquan, Baguazhang came into being during this period There was much development in open hands fights (Shoubo). Shuaijao also became its own system.During the Ming dynasty, Shaolin Gongfu, especially Shaolin staff, combat fighting, Qigong and Sword, developed to the highest point. It was recorded in Shaolin archives that Shaolin had tens of thousands of martial arts monks. Shaolin formed one of the biggest monk army in history ready to fight for the country to protect Shaolin Temple. Jiaqing 32 year (1553), Shaolin martial arts fighters were called by the government to fight the invading Japanese. They defeated many large army of invaders.

Due to the incident of Shaolin Masters rejection of Qing Emperor's offer the Qing dynasty (1644-1911) opposed the practice of martial arts, especially Shaolin, by the Han people. Qing emperors, were afraid that Chinese of Han origins would overthrow the dynasty and suppressed and forbade any mass practice of the martial arts. Shaolin monks were forced to practice at night behind closed doors and in secrecy. Some of the great martial monks went to the southern parts of China, far away from Beijing. There they taught Shaolin Gongfu to the south. From this diaspora, southern styles were modified and many new forms were developed, such as Flying Whip, Iron Palm, Fire Cane, Tonaeto Whip, Xuan Hua Ax and others. The Shaolin southern migration eventually spread throughout South Asia and then to the rest of the world.Many popular southern styles like Hongquan (Hung Guar), Yongchunquan (Wing Chun), Shaolin Wuzhuquan were developed during this period. Hongquan was from Hong school, secretly organized by Shaolin disciples against Qing dynasty around 1647. There are two major branches, Hubei Hongquan and Guangdong. Hongquan, which is well known in the U.S., is named after animals or legendary creatures such as dragon, tiger, leopard, lion, horse or monkey. There are 20 open hand forms, 30 major weapon forms and several sparring forms.

Yong Chunquan (Wing Chun) was said to be created by Yan Si's daughter, Yan Yongchun from Fujian province, Lian county. Yongchun studied many years of Shaolin from his father and developed a style to fit her stature imitating the snake and crane fighting motions. Taijiquan (Tai Chi Chuan), Xingyiquan and Baguazhang were also developed during Qing dynasty and were largely influenced by Shaolin. Taijiquan (Tai Chi Chuan) today is known as soft martial arts or exercise of the mind. It is regarded as a stress releasing mental and physical exercise that provides some of the best benefits for human health and well-being. Taijiquan is also known for its effectiveness in self-defense by applying the opponent's power, observed in full contact fighting. Taijiquan was created on the basis of various styles of traditional martial arts such as Shaolin, Qijiguang Long Fist Thirteen Postures, Chinese Medicine theory and Taoist theory. According to Tangchen's reseach, Taijiquan was developed by Chen Wangting of Chen's village in late Ming and early Qing dynasty. But legend holds that Taijiquan was created by Zhang Sanfeng, a Taoist priest or philosopher a few centuries earlier. The most popular Taijiquan is Yang style which was redeveloped by Yang Luchan who studied with Chen Changxing from Chen?s village. Wu, Sun styles are all derived from Yang style.

Xingyiquan is also called Xinyiquan (mind boxing). The meaning of Xingyi is to mimic animal techniques of self-defense. Xingyi was created by Ji Jike (also called Ji Longfen) (1602-1683). The basics of Xingyi is Santishi (triangle ladder) and Wuxing (five elements) and 12 animal forms, among them are dragon, tiger, chicken, snake, horse, monkey, eagle bear and so on. The unique form of Xingyi is straight forward and backward. The heart must integrate with the motion. It is said that in Xingyi two elbows never leave the hands and two hands never leave the heart. The sources of Xingyi was also from the Shaolin Temple.

After all these hundreds of years? turmoil and disasters happened to the Shaolin, Shaolin still stands. Shaolin today has over 380 traditional forms and over 18 kinds of weapon forms preserved when the great master Yongqian copied most from the original 48 volumes of the Shaolin system before the warlord Shi Yousan burned the Shaolin Temple into ashes.During the Republic of China period, Jingwu Physical Education Association was established in Shanghai in 1910, followed by Chinese Martial Artists Association and Soft Hands Martial Arts Association and many more.In 1928, the Republic government of China established the Central Guoshu Institute in Nanjing. This was the first national level Chinese martial arts sports training center. Other provinces and cities began to set up their own Guoshu institutes. The Central Institute held two big national tournaments in 1928 and 1933. The biggest modern bare hand fighting Leitai in recent history was the 1929 Guoshu tournament in Hangzhou, Zhejian province. In 1936, Chinese martial arts team mostly from the Central Guoshu Institute demonstrated in the 1936 Olympics Games. Wushu was now formally demonstrated to the world as a great sport. From then on there were hundreds foreign students who came to China to study the arts and spread them to the world.

In the 1930's, Zhong Daochang of Japan went to the Shaolin Temple to study Shaolin Gongfu and returned to Japan after several years to establish the largest martial arts organization in Japan, known as Shaoringji Kenpo, with over one million members. There are hundreds martial arts organizations went to visit and study in China during last few decades. Today there are thousands of Shaolin schools and other Chinese martial arts school on five continents. There are thousands martial arts schools in the world derived from Chinese martial arts, especially Shaolin Gongfu.

Wushu today consists of Taolu and Sanshou (full contact free fights by allowing various styles of martial arts techniques). There are over 100 popular traditional styles of Wushu practiced today in China. All traditional Chinese schools of Martial Arts have their own particular styles of Taolu and Sanshou systems. Traditional Wushu is a complete system of philosophy, medicine, sports and arts. Traditional Wushu has over 100 major school systems in China. They are traditionally categorized into two major types of practice: external and internal. External focuses on external muscle power and strength, speed and agility such as Shaolin Changquan, while internal emphasizes internal power, strength, Yin/Yang Qi balance, Qi flow, Qi manipulation and body-mind control such as Taijiquan and Xingyiquan.

Geographically, there are southern and northern styles; based on major mountain locations. There are Shaolin schools, Wudang, schools and E-mei schools. Technically there are two types: Changquan (long range) and Duanda (short range).Contemporary Wushu was founded by a number of great martial artists. Wang Zhiping, the most well-known martial artist in recent Chinese martial arts history, was the number one person responsible for modern Wushu. Grand Master Wang defeated the so-called Hmost powerful fighters in the worldF from Russia in 1918. In 1929, in the biggest Guoshu Leitai bare hand fights, he again won the national weightless #1 in China. He led the first Wushu organization in China in early 1950s. Grand Master Wang?s students and students of old Central Guashu Institute reshaped Wushu in the modern era. Another leading figure in modern Wushu is Grand Master Zhang Wenguang who was the 1933 and 1935 national Shuaijiao champion and national martial arts champion in China. He led the Chinese martial arts team demonstration in the 1936 Olympics Games. He is currently living in the Physical Education & Sports University of Beijing. Those masters and grand masters were the most outstanding fighters and traditional martial artists in China.