The History of Chinese Martial Arts

Ancient Chinese martial arts (or Wushu in Chinese) are different from model ones. The ancient martial arts were developed for military use. Not until after the Spring and Autumn Period did martial arts begin to incorporate sophisticated aspects of ancient Chinese culture. The precise origin of martial arts is too remote to identify. When the Qin Dynasty conquered contending states and united China, the ruler ordered all weapons be put in storage. Discouraged by the Qin government, Chinese martial arts developed very little during this period.

Martial art development picked up during the Hart Dynasty, a period noted for its advanced political, economic and cultural development. During the Western and ethnic groups such as the Hurts, Xianbei, Jie, Di and Qiang from northern China were constantly invading the Central Plains. The battlefield provided a good environment for the development of martial arts.

The Sui and Tang Dynasties were politically stable and economically strong and flourished with foreign trade and cultural exchanges. This period saw modifications of martial arts and improvement in the appearance of demonstrative exercises. The prevailing imperial examination system of the Tang Dynasty was also adapted for the selection of martial arts champions. Soldiers with outstanding martial arts skills were honored with commendation and titles. Martial arts were encouraged and promoted among ordinary people.

By the Song Dynasty, martial arts had become an art separate from military drills. Routine and apparatus exercises developed quickly, and many theoretical works were published. Practitioners studied both fighting skills and theory and introduced the theory of “yin” and “yang” into martial arts. During the Yuan Dynasty, the Mongol ruling class and soldiers practiced martial arts as well as horse riding, and wrestling. There martial arts skills were performed on stage and were gradually more artfully refined.

During the Ming Dynasty, different martial arts schools flourished. The Qing Dynasty outperformed the previous dynasties in developing martial arts skills. Many exercises that are still famous today, such as Taijiquan (Taiji Boxing) and Baguazhang (Eight-Trigram Palm Exercise), were created during the period.