TAN Hua 谭华

The Chinese regard martial arts (wushu) 武术 as the essence of traditional Chinese sport. Wushu originated in the fighting skills that were part of military training in ancient China. These fighting skills were divided into two categories during the late Song dynasty 宋 (960–1279). The first category was entertainment: Books in the Song dynasty recorded martial arts performances such as wrestling, fighting among two or more opponents, fighting with sticks, and archery in cities and temples. The second category was self-defense: People practiced martial arts skills in secret societies for self-defense or military purposes.

During the Ming dynasty 明 (1368–1644), the techniques and postures of martial arts developed. The basic element of martial arts in this period consisted of movements concentrated on different body and foot techniques. Movements such as jumping, rolling, and rotation were organized into series. These series were applied in -physical training, attacking, and defending.

During the Qing dynasty 清 (1644–1912) martial arts were sometimes discouraged by the Manchu rulers. Wushu nonetheless remained popular and continued to develop: more than sixty kinds of fist positions were developed. Each fist position feature was a series and each series consisted of several movements. That’s not all. During the centuries under Qing rule there were more than twenty kinds of Chinese boxing and over ten kinds of broadswordplay, such as long-handle broadsword, short-hilted broadsword, and Shaolin double swords. Wushu had a revival, too, in the middle of the nineteenth century as nationalistic feelings were roused by the Chinese defeat in the Opium War of 1842.

Modern Western sport had a tremendous impact on martial arts. At the end of the nineteenth century, some gymnastics specialists introduced European gymnastics to the marital arts. The establishment of the Jingwu Association (1910) and the Chinese Martial Arts Academy (1927) grew out of this transformation of Chinese martial arts. The “new martial arts” were a combination of traditional martial arts and modern gymnastics.

During the early 1950s, martial arts became a formal event in China’s National Games. In addition martial arts tournaments were held periodically in both urban and suburban areas in China.

International Martial Arts

Since the beginning of the twentieth century, martial arts have been internationally acknowledged as a sport —even though many martial arts do not meet certain Western criteria for a sport, such as rules of play that allow a winner to be determined and a primary goal of victory— and they have become more and more popular around the world. International martial arts competitions have been frequently held since that time and some martial arts have developed new forms that are easier to judge in competition and are more closely aligned with Western conventions about what a sport is.

At the Eleventh Asian Games in 1990, martial arts became a formal event. One year later, the International Wushu (Martial Arts) Federation (IWUF) was established. The IWUF was accepted as a full member of the General Association of International Sports Federations in 1994 and was recognized by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in 1999.

Table 1: World Martial Arts Championships (1991–2005)

Date Place Countries/Regions
1991 (10/12–18) Beijing, China 41
1993 (11/21-27) Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia 53
1995 (8/17–22) Baltimore, MD, United States 56
1997 (11/3–8) Rome, Italy 52
1999 (11/3–7) Hong Kong, China 61
2001 (10/31–11/4) Yerevan, Armenia 30
2003 (11/3–7) Macao, China 58
2005 (12/9–14) Hanoi, Vietnam 65

To date, the World Wushu Championships consist of the following categories: long-fist boxing, southern-style fist boxing, Taijiquan 太极拳, swordplay, spearplay, broadswordplay, staffplay, southern-style broadsword, southern-style staff Taiji swordplay, and duel. The categories of free fighting for men and women are 48 kilograms, 52 kilograms, 56 kilograms, 60 kilograms, 65 kilograms, 70 kilograms, 75 kilograms, 80 kilograms, 85 kilograms, and 90 kilograms. The World Martial Arts Championships have been held eight times between 1991 and 2005 (see table 1). The World Martial Arts and Free Combat Games have been held three times. In addition Europe and America have also organized a number of international martial arts championships.

Wushu Styles and Genres

Martial arts had developed a large number of different techniques, characteristics, styles, and genres by the end of the sixteenth century. However, there were no uniform criteria for different genres. Generally, the genres were sorted by category, section, religion, and tactical features.

The differences between Neijia boxing and Waijia boxing are their tactical features and drilling styles. The characteristics of Neijia boxing are staying still, attacking while defending, and taking advantage of the opponent’s strength. The characteristics of Waijia boxing are bravery, promptness, exerting strength, attacking forward, and with anticipatory strategy. Each genre consists of several categories, named after its style or founder.

The Shaolin 少林 genre was named after its origin place— Shaolin Temple in Henan Province, the holy land of Buddhism. The characteristics of Shaolin are rigid attack, fast break, and moving back and forth flexibly. It features exercises for one person as well as combat between two or more fighters. Nowadays, Shaolin is the most influential genre in China. Hundreds of martial arts schools are named after it. Each year, many martial arts fans from foreign counties travel to Shaolin to study martial arts.

Tai Chi

Tai chi is a Chinese martial art that is linked to the Daoist meditative, philosophical, and medical tradition. In China invalids and the elderly often perform the soft, slow movements of the popular Yang style of tai chi to strengthen the constitution and to promote longevity. Advocates say that disciplined daily practice enhances the quality and circulation of chi (vital energy) within the body, improves bodily functions, tones muscles, and engenders a relaxed mental attitude. The majority of the millions of people who practice tai chi in China and elsewhere do so for these benefits, but tai chi also is a premier martial art that can be practiced even late in life.

Chinese legendary history attributes tai chi’s origin to Zhang Sanfeng, a Daoist expert who was canonized in 1459, but tai chi entered recorded history centuries later as a martial art practiced esoterically by the people of Chenjiagou in Henan Province. A form of the art was first demonstrated and taught in public in Beijing by Yang Luchan (1799–1872), who had learned it in Chenjiagou. Scholars say Yang accepted all challenges from the many Beijing martial arts masters, never to be defeated and never to seriously injure an opponent. He became known as “Yang the Invincible” and was appointed martial arts instructor to the imperial court. Yang Luchan publicly taught the slow and soft performance of a lengthy sequence of patterns, but he transmitted a much larger and more varied body of lore to his private students, a practice in keeping with martial arts tradition. Popular conceptions of tai chi as an only vaguely martial exercise, although beneficial to health and longevity, are drawn from Yang’s and his successors’ publicly taught form. This process of simplifying and softening has made tai chi accessible to many more people than would otherwise be the case. However, the more obviously martial and physically strenuous Chen style continues to be practiced, as do the derivative Sun, Wu, and Hao styles.

Michael G. DAVIS

Wudang 武当 boxing originated in the Wudang Mountains in Hubei Province, and includes Taijiquan and Taiji swordplay. Taijiquan has existed since the Ming dynasty (1368–1683). There are five styles of Taijiquan: Chen 陈, Yang 杨, Wu (Jiquan) 吴, Wu (Yu-hsiang) 武, and Sun 孙 style. Chen style and Yang style are the most popular styles among martial arts fans. They originated in Wen County in Henan Province. Taijiquan demands a relaxed mind and relaxed abdominal respiration. It can improve respiration, increase the metabolic rate, and help people keep fit. Because of its slow and soft motion, it can be applied as a healing exercise, especially for elders and people with illness.

Southern-style fist boxing was popular in southern China. It includes Shaolinqiaoshou 少林桥手, Wuzuquan 五祖拳, Hequan 鹤拳, and Luohanquan 罗汉拳 in Fujian Province; Zhoujiaquan 周家拳, Tulongquan 屠龙拳, and Ciaoceda 小策打 in Guangxi Province; Hongjiaquan 洪家拳, Heihuquan 黑虎拳, and Jinggangquan 金刚拳 in Zhejiang Province; Hongmenquan 洪门拳, Yumenquan 鱼门拳, and Kongmenquan 孔门拳 in Hubei Province; and Wujiaquan 巫家拳, Hongjiaquan 洪家拳, and Xuejiaquan 薛家拳 in Hunan Province.

Among all the styles of Southern-style fist boxing, Hongquan 洪拳 is the most popular. Hongquan originated in simulation: It generally simulates animals’ movements and combines attack and defense tactics with an artistic technique. It includes mantis-style boxing, monkey-style boxing, eagle-claw boxing, duck-style boxing, snake-style boxing, drunkard boxing, and eagle boxing.

Martial Arts and the Olympic Games

In 1936 China’s martial arts team performed at the Berlin Olympics, receiving an ovation from the audience. This was the first time that the Chinese martial arts were demonstrated at the Olympic Games.

When Beijing successfully bid for the 2008 Olympic Games, there was a strong intention to include the martial arts in the 2008 Games. Things did not develop, however, as China intended. Denis Oswald, executive commissioner and president of the ASOIF (Association of Summer Olympic International Federations) indicated that the main consideration in determining whether martial arts would become an Olympic event was its popularity around the world, and it was determined that the martial arts were not as popular as other modern sports.

After several negotiations between the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and Beijing Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games (BOCOG), it was agreed that a special event entitled the “Beijing Olympic Wushu Competition” would be held during the 2008 Olympic Games. Fifteen sets of medals would be awarded with three categories for men’s events —56 kilograms, 70 kilograms, and 85 kilograms —and two categories for women’s events— 52 kilograms and 60 kilograms.

The Chinese national martial arts team was established in 2006 specifically to compete in the Beijing Olympic Games. The team consists of forty-eight athletes specializing in martial arts routines and fifty athletes competing in the free-fighting events, including famous fighters such as LIU Hailong 柳海龙 and CHEN Long 陈龙.

In international competitions, Malaysia, Vietnam, Japan, Hong Kong, and Macao are strong competitors. For free fighting, Russia, France, Italy, Iran, and Philippines challenge the dominance of China. European athletes are capable in heavyweight categories.

Source: Tan hua. (2008). Martial arts. In Fan Hong, Duncan Mackay & Karen Christensen (Eds.), China Gold, China’s Quest for Global Power and Olympic Glory, pp. 55–58. Great Barrington, MA: Berkshire Publishing.

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