Chinese Martial Arts

You certainly knew several martial arts originating from China through the cinema and your personal researches. Indeed, cinema has played a great role in the popularization of both Japanese and Chinese martial arts. However, you are far from imagining the complexity of establishing an exact list of Chinese martial arts.

For good reason, they are composed of more than 100 different schools and styles often referred to as “wushu”, “guoshu”, “quanfa” or “Chinese boxes”. Their classification takes into account several specificities that it would be interesting to discover. Through this article, enter the exciting world of martial arts from China such as Tai-chi, Kung-fu, etc..


In China, Tai-chi is practiced by everyone, regardless of age. It is an internal martial art, taijiquan in Chinese, which means “shadow boxing”. It is indeed thanks to the popularity of martial arts originating from China that the whole world knows more about tai-chi, which is a physical aspect of it.

This art is often compared to the yin-yang symbol by some practitioners who are interested in Taoism. Indeed, the yin, which is dark and cold, intertwines with the yang, which is warm and bright, as the symbol itself shows.

Origin of Tai-chi

Going back to the origins of this martial art, historians estimate that it was first practiced between the 12th and 17th centuries. According to the legend, an immortal Taoist called San-Feng Chang, would be at the origin of the development of the discipline, after witnessing a fight or duel between an eagle and a snake.

Today, tai-chi is gaining in popularity and we notice the emergence of many styles and interpretations, both in China and around the world. Its health benefits are undeniable.

These are factors that motivate many people to take an interest in it. According to clinical studies, tai chi improves cardiovascular, respiratory and digestive function.

Kung Fu/Gong Fu

Kung fu is used in Chinese to talk about the effort or time in an exercise or work, skill, virtuosity, quality exercise, competence, etc.. A panoply of films from Hong Kong have participated in the popularization of this martial art. Thus, many people want to practice it.

Learning Kung fu requires perseverance and a strong will. Schools are available to help you, you just have to train regularly.

Nowadays, this name is more and more used in the field of Chinese boxing. From now on, in popular china, the name wushu is more used because it is more precise than the term Gong fu. What does this term express?

Whu Shu

It is a term that has been formalized in the People’s Republic of China. It appeared around the 5th century and represents all the martial arts originating in China. However, in Taiwan, the term Guoshu is still used and means “national arts”. The quanfa, quanshu and jiji are names that are also used.

It is important to point out that wu shu includes schools such as Wudang, Emei, shaolin, north, south and more than 300 different styles with weapons and bare hands. Indeed, China has 56 different ethnic groups. Each people has developed very interesting fighting systems. Among these peoples, the Hui and the Hakkas stand out.

Characteristics of the Hui and Hakkas peoples

The Hakkas are a nomadic people. Thus, their wu shu is characterized by tight leg postures, allowing them to remain stable on the ground. They have also created boxes such as the Lon Ying, Jook Lam long tong, etc.

The Hui, on the other hand, are a people from the provinces of Gansu and Ningxia. They are Han people who have been converted to Islam. They are the creators of boxes such as Cha Quan, Hua Quan, Hong Quan or Xin Yi Liu He Quan.

Styles of wu shu

The styles of wu shu differ greatly from one another. Some fight at long distance, others project the enemy by seizure, and still others prefer close combat. There are also several strategies and various distances.

On that note, here are some styles of northern wu shu:

  • Chang quan: long fist;
  • Hong quan: red boxing;
  • Mizong quan: boxing of the lost track;
  • Tang lang quan: boxing of the praying mantis;
  • Ying zhao: eagle’s claw;
  • Baji quan : boxing of the 8 extremes;
  • Hua Jia Men; the door of the Fa family;
  • Fanzi quan: revolving boxing;
  • Cha quan: Muslim boxing of the Hui ethnic group.

Here are some styles from the south:

  • Long ying: dragon boxing;
  • Pak mei: white eyebrow monk’s boxing;
  • Hung gar: boxing of the hung family;
  • Wing chun: wing chun boxing;
  • Chow gar: praying mantis;
  • Ark fu moon: tiger boxing;
  • Um ying kune: boxing of the five animals;
  • Ngo, cho kuen: boxing of the five ancestors;
  • Pak nok kune: White crane boxing;
  • Fu zhao pai: boxing of the claws of the tiger.

Discover some of the internal styles:

  • Bagua Zhang: the palm of the eight trigrams;
  • Taiji Quan: the boxing of the supreme peak;
  • Neijia Quan: internal boxing of Siming Shan;
  • Liu He Ba Fa: 6 principles, 8 coordinations.

Chinese boxes

The multitude of styles does not allow a certain uniformity in Chinese boxing. As you will have understood above, many boxes are from family circles. Knowledge was transferred from masters to disciples. Today, ancient and modern styles are mixed. They are for the majority designated by ‘quan’ which means fist or boxing, ‘pai’ which means school or current and ‘men’ which means style or school.

Chinese boxing

These boxes are classified according to several specificities. First, there is a geographical classification. These are the boxes of the north and the boxes of the south, respectively Bei quan and nan quan.

In the north, the styles use fists or hands. They are characterized by non-rigid movements and slackening of the body. In the south, the styles rely on kicking. Their movements are short and rigid.

Internal and external classification

In the 19th century, another classification surfaced. These are the internal and external boxes. The internal boxes or neijia include the xing yi quan, the bagua zhang, the liuhebafa and the taiji quan. The external boxes or waijia include shaolin boxing and other boxes.

According to a legend, the internal boxes were born on Mount Wudang and use the internal force which is the ‘qi’. The external boxes are said to have originated in the shaolin monastery and use muscular strength.

However, today, these beliefs are no longer valid, because the inner boxes use both muscular and internal strength and were not born on Mount Wudang. The same is true for the external boxes which did not originate in the Shaolin Temple.

A third classification is made:

  • Modern sports boxes;
  • The traditional ancient boxes.

Indeed, since the end of 1948, martial arts originating from China have been modernized along two different lines such as sports and health exercises. Some martial arts like taiji quan have undergone a mutation to be a soft gymnastics of health. The modern nanquan has become a demonstration boxing like many other styles.

Today, learning Chinese martial arts is more and more in vogue, which has led to the creation of many training centers, schools and clubs.