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What is Wushu?

The Term WuShu refers to all styles of Chinese Martial Arts Literally:

  • Wu = War
  • Shu = Art

The term Kung Fu commonly heard in American means something along the lines of “high skill achieved through hard work”, it is not specific to Martial Arts. A master chef could be said to have cooking kung fu.

Martial Arts is basically skilled fighting in which a series of movements using striking techniques with feet, hands, knees, elbows, and dozens of different weapons are used in conjunction in an effective and potentially deadly manner

The Legend

The usual story about the development of wushu is that it started in the Shaolin Temple. A Buddhist temple started for an Indian monk named Ba Tuo in 497AD. Another Indian monk Bodhidharma introduces movement to Zen meditation around 539AD. Many Shaolin Monks were retired generals and the Zen exercises become adapted by them in Martial Arts drills. The Shaolin Monks become famous for their wushu causing their temple no end of trouble. Temple burned to the ground 3 times!

The Reality

China has an incredibly ancient culture with a history of warring tribes. Early “recorded” history begins around 2600 BC known as the “Age of 5 Rulers.” China not unified until around 221 BC when Emperor Chin manages to conquer the many warring tribes and creates the Qui Dynasty. Between these two millenniums war arts were developed and refined, developed and refined… Fighting was still fierce during the next two Dynasties but there was more leisure time (221 BC – 220 AD)

Wushu began to appear in dance and the focus began to shift towards its entertainment and exercise value. Shaolin Temple brings next big step in Wushu history. Experts disagree about the actual existence of Bodhidharma. However, Shaolin develops a reputation for Wushu and which causes its cycle of destruction and rebuilding as it was now considered a military threat. Introduction of Firearms between 960 AD – 1279 AD slowly erodes Wushu as a military tool. It’s continued development moves almost entirely into the civilian field

During the last 1000 years Wushu moved from a military system to a family system. Skills passed on from father to son, disciples taken were considered part of the family. Even the term for teacher - Shifu, meant Father. Wushu was outlawed for civilians, after the last of the dynasties (the Chi’ang) fell, through to the end of the Cultural Revolution.

After the Cultural Revolution the Chinese government saw the need to bring back its cultural heritage and reinstated Wushu as a National Sport which it supported through its universities.