Popular Chinese Martial Arts: A Comparative Guide

In this piece, we'll learn some martial arts styles in Chinese culture. We'll talk about Chinese martial arts styles like kung fu, tai chi, and wing chun.

Chinese martial arts are, without a doubt, some of China's most renowned and triumphant cultural exports. In spite of their widespread and enduring fame, it is also true that many people's understanding of these Chinese martial arts is limited. So, we prepared this piece. Hop on as we explore the history and culture behind these self-defense forms, Chinese style.

Chinese Martial Arts

What Are Chinese Martial Arts?

When discussing Chinese martial arts, they refer to a collection of hundreds of different fighting styles that developed over centuries across Chinese history. At the same time, many of these Chinese martial arts are known to incorporate philosophical concepts that are deeply rooted in, and intimately tied to Chinese religion and faith, and philosophy, such as Taoism.

In the Chinese language, the words "kung fu" and "wushu" are other terms for "martial arts." The term "kung fu" refers to a general term that can be used to pertain to any kind of skill. On the other hand, "wushu" is a more descriptive word that can literally be translated as "military arts" or "martial arts."

History Of Chinese Martial Arts And The Different Fighting Styles

Now that you've learned a quick overview of Chinese martial arts, let's delve deeper into its origins. This will be very interesting.

Chinese martial arts also pertain to ancient combat systems of hand-to-hand fighting techniques that have developed over countless years throughout Chinese history. As you have learned earlier, Chinese martial arts are also known as kung fu and wushu, and history shows that these martial arts have likely been present in Chinese culture since primeval times. We bet you thought they existed a little later, but no.

It is also interesting to note that historically, the practice of Chinese martial arts was greatly feared by the Chinese ruling dynasties and parties. Many ancient records and texts have been destroyed over time by the Chinese government. But regardless, martial arts have existed throughout world history, and in Asian countries, they are a foundation of social and cultural traditions.

An old practice that was often instructed in secret, martial arts today are experiencing a growth in popularity. There are hundreds of Chinese martial arts styles that embrace a combination of athletic, military, religious, philosophical, and even theatrical elements, mind you. They are taught, practiced, and respected across the globe today.

Some Of The World's Most Popular Chinese Martial Arts Styles: From Ancient Chinese Martial Arts To Chinese Kung Fu

Though there are literally several different styles of Chinese martial arts, you should know that some are more popular than others. Here is a list of some of the most common and influential styles.

1. Shaolin Kung Fu

Shaolin Kung Fu is regarded as among the most popular Chinese martial arts styles. Touted as an "external style," Shaolin Kung Fu is known to have been developed by monks at the Shaolin Temple in China's Henan province.

The Shaolin Kung Fu style is distinguished by quick and forceful movements. It also uses weapons such as spears and staffs.

This Shaolin style has a history of more than 1,500 years, believed to have been started by Buddhist monks who hail from central Asia. One of these monks, named Bodhidharma, is also credited with having founded the Chan school of Buddhism, the predecessor of modern Japanese Zen Buddhism.

Through the years, Shaolin Kung Fu is said to have gained a semi-mythic status in the East Asian country as a result of the exploits of the "soldier monks" in the Shaolin Temple. These Shaolin monks supported the founding members of the Tang ruling dynasty in their successful armed struggle for the throne. And, during the Ming dynasty, the government also enlisted Shaolin monks to battle the gangs of pirates that plagued China's coastal areas with frequent raids.

However, in history, these Shaolin monks were not always supported by the government. During the Qing dynasty, the monks' monastery was even accused of anti-Qing activities, so the authorities ordered the monastery to be destroyed, but it was rebuilt later on.

Right on this very day, there are thousands of various sub-styles of Shaolin Kung Fu. Different martial arts schools in other nations like Japan also claim their origins can be traced back to the Shaolin style.

2. Bajiquan

Another popular Chinese martial art is Bajiquan. It emerged during the 1700s and was originally known as "Baziquan" or "rake fist." This is because of its trademark use of fast downward strikes using partially opened fists.

This Chinese martial arts features quick, explosive movements including elbow and fist strikes, and is considered perfect for short-range combat.

As such an iconic Chinese martial art, Bajiquan has also influenced pop culture in both China and other nations. This martial arts has been featured in Japanese video games, manga, and anime. It has even made an appearance in hit pop culture pieces, "The Matrix" and "Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance."

3. Wing Chun

Third on our list is Wing Chun. On the other hand, this is a southern Chinese kung fu style that is said to have originated from Shaolin Kung Fu, which you learned about a while ago. However, this form of Chinese martial art has been founded by two women, Ng Mui and Yim Wing-chun.

The Wing Chu martial arts style is known for emphasizing technique over strength. This style also requires practitioners to keep themselves relaxed while fighting, allowing them to attain a kind of "softness" or flexibility. This relaxed flexibility gives Wing Chun practitioners and fighters a special kind of strength that lets them mimic bamboo -- breaking, but not bending.

Additionally, legend has it that one of the founders of Wing Chun, Ng Mui, was living at Shaolin Temple when it was attacked and ruined by the forces of the Qing dynasty. Surviving the attack, the legend continues saying she was able to escape to the border area between the Yunnan and Sichuan provinces. There, she met a young woman named Yim Wing-chun, a daughter of a tofu seller.

Upon learning that the latter was soon to be forced into marriage with a local warlord, Ng Mui is said to have taught her a modified version of Shaolin Kung Fu to help Yim Wing-chun defend herself against her soon-to-be husband's unwanted advances.

The style taught to her was later picked up by the members of a Cantonese opera troupe known as the Red Boat Opera Group, who helped lead a popular uprising against the Qing dynasty during its last years.

Wing Chun is also present in pop culture. For one, Ip Man, a martial artist featured in the eponymous movie of the same name, was a noteworthy practitioner of this martial arts style. He also taught the Wing Chun style to his student who is, believe it or not, Bruce Lee, who would later go on to act in the most beloved Hong Kong kung fu movies that also helped Chinese martial arts become popular worldwide.

4. Baguazhang

Baguazhang is a Chinese martial art comparable to Tai Chi (which you will learn about next). Baguazhang is considered an "internal martial art," as opposed to the "external style" present in martial arts like Shaolin Kung Fu.

Baguazhang's philosophy is heavily drawn on Taoist concepts such as yin and yang. It sounds familiar, right? This is because this Chinese martial arts also takes its name from the famous Taoist trigrams, the "bagua."

Martial artist Dong Haichuan is credited with founding this style during the first half of the 1800s by synthesizing martial arts techniques which he learned from the Buddhist and Taoist practitioners he met during his trips to rural China.

The most well-known feature of the Baguazhang style is the use of "circle walking." Here, practitioners move in a circular pattern while performing the different moves associated with this Chinese martial arts style. This is quite diverse, and includes a mixture of striking, throwing, grappling, and kicking moves.

When it comes to the weapons used in Baguazhang, it is quite diverse. Interestingly, this style is said to be very effective when combatting several opponents.

5. Tai Chi

Tai Chi is considered the most popular among the "internal" Chinese martial arts styles. Yes, it is true it is commonly practiced today as a meditative and gentle form of exercise, it also has its roots in the self-defense forms of martial arts.

You know that Tai Chi is also referred to as "shadow boxing." However, although many people think of Tai Chi as being made up of slow movements, there are also faster movements throughout this style.

Furthermore, like several other forms of Chinese martial arts, Tai Chi is connected intimately to traditional Chinese belief systems that include Confucianism, Buddhism, and Taoism.

The central philosophy of Tai Chi is deeply rooted in the Taoist concepts of yin and yang. In traditional Taoist metaphysics, yin refers to a dark, soft, female force, while yang is a hard, bright, male force. Together, these two forces make up the universe, and it is vital to find the balance between them.

Tai Chi practitioners must keep these two forces constantly in flux, so they never go against each other. The use of a hard force against also a hard force can only result in a deadlock. Therefore, in Tai Chi, hardness must be met with softness, and the other way around.

As for the origins of Tai Chi, they are unclear, but there are historians who argue it originated from a 12th-century Taoist monk, while others argue its origins are much more recent.

Today, Tai Chi is known both across China and across the globe for its many scientifically proven benefits for a person's health and well-being. Even Mayo Clinic recommends Tai Chi as an effective way to reduce stress and anxiety.

Chinese martial arts

Now That You've Learned About The Popular Martial Arts Types In China, Let's Answer Some Popular Questions From Google

Whether Shaolin martial arts, those that originate from what Chinese soldiers involve themselves into, or those that kung fu practitioners practice, China has a rich share of different types of Chinese martial arts, whether traditional Chinese martial arts or modern martial arts. Every Chinese martial artist will attest to this. But right now, let's learn more about these famous Chinese martial arts by answering some popular questions asked via Google.

What Is The Main Chinese Martial Art?

Chinese martial arts are classified as internal and external styles. The most popular Chinese martial arts of the internal style is Tai Chi, while the most popular style associated with the external style is Shaolin Kung Fu.

What Is The Strongest Chinese Fighting Style?

Wing Chun is the strongest. It originated in the 18th century at the Shaolin Temple, and is known to have widely spread by Ip Man, the Wing Chun teacher of Bruce Lee.

Is Kungfu And Wushu The Same Thing?

No, they are not. Merriam-Webster defines Wushu as Chinese martial arts. However, Wushu is different from Kung Fu when it comes to performance and aesthetics.

What Is The Best Martial Arts Style?

The best martial arts styles for self-defense are Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Muay Thai, Krav Maga, and mixed martial arts or MMA.

Is It Hard To Learn Kung Fu?

While learning Kung Fu is often a lifelong journey as it takes years, if not decades, to perfect this craft, it is possible to learn the basics of Kung Fu in a relatively shorter period of time. With patience, dedication, and foresight, you can master the basic moves fairly quickly.

A Window Into Chinese Culture: The Takeaway

Because of their strong connections with Chinese philosophy, faith, and history, these Chinese martial arts provide a fascinating window into traditional Chinese culture. One of the best ways to immerse yourself further into China, Chinese culture, and the Chinese martial arts is to experience these fighting styles yourself. Find martial arts schools around you and hop right in. Enroll.

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