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Chinese Martial Arts History

Chinese Martial Arts HistoryChinese Martial Arts History can be traced back more 4,000 years. As many early forms of martial arts from all over the world, China’s martial arts were developed for training soldiers when fighting on the battlefield.

Ancient legend states that weapons and hand-to-hand martial arts’ techniques were propagated by China’s Yellow Emperor. When the Yellow Emperor rose to power in 2698 BC, the legend states that he personally developed hand to hand martial arts, and weapon fighting as we as astrology, Chinese medicine. Chinese Martial Arts history also claims he developed a form of Chinese Wrestling called Jiao Di, which involves strapping horned helmets to your head and wrestling someone. During the Zhou Dynasty, 1122 BC – 256 AD, this Jiao Di Wrestling with the horned helmets later evolved into Jiao Li and was documented in the Classic of Rites.

During the Zhou Dynasty, the story in Chinese Martial Arts History ramps up a gear. The philosophical trends at the time were Confucianism and Taoism, and the martial arts developed in a way that reflected these. Confucianism states that martial arts should be practised as one of the six arts for ideal worldly living. Taoism on the other hand works with the balance on Yin and Yang, Hard and Soft.

Now for one of the most famous sorties in Chinese Martial Arts history. Around 600AD, an Indian Buddhist monk arrived at the Shaolin Temple, the Chinese Martial Arts history does get a bit vague, but what seems clear is that Buddhism had already come to China and was being practiced at the Shaolin Temple. Over a time, the practice turned to Bodhidarma’s style of Buddhism and he also taught some physical exercises, probably an early form of Yoga to keep the monks physically healthy.

During the sixth century AD This area of China was riddled with bandits and Kung Fu was developed with force. Arguably for defence of the temple and for the wandering monks. The Shaolin Monks became infamous fighters and were asked to joined many military operations across China. Many monks and lay people travelled long distances to learn from the Shaolin Monks. This part of Chinese Martial Arts history continued on well into the 17th century.

Chinese Kung Fu History

Chinese Kung Fu HistoryAround a similar time, Tai Chi was also making waves in the Chinese Martial Arts history books. Wudang Mountain was the centre of this, being the main Taoist centre of China. Wudang Mountain had a Golden era during the Ming Dynasty but flourished in many others too. Tia Chi today is still practiced everywhere in China

Up until the early 20th century, Kung Fu was rally only practiced within the confines of a family, military elite and monks. After the invasions and subsequent negative effect of the British and French invasions, the Chinese government was keen for the Martial Arts schools to open their doors to the general public Chinese communities. Many of the myths and legend about the Chinese Martial Arts History, was created during this time and many books and movies were all helped along by the schools selling their secrets skills.

Chinese Martial Arts History takes a battering

During the Cultural Revolution, Martial Arts in china were outlawed and many of the texts and building were destroyed. Martial Arts practitioners either stopped practice or fled the country. The communist party centralised Chinese Martial Arts and created approved forms of Kung Fu and Tai Chi. These still exist today in the form of WuShu and 1994 saw a relaxation on ‘Traditional Chinese Kung Fu”. Trouble it most of it was destroyed and only very slowly are the traditions and knowledge coming back into the country and being developed.

References and sources for this Chinese Martial Arts History article


Liu He Ba Fa

Translating literally as ‘Six Harmonies Eight Methods‘, Liu He Ba Fa is an internally-focussed martial art and is also referred to as ‘Water Boxing’. One of its intentions is for the practitioner to move as smoothly as water flows – embodying the very nature of water: soft one second and thunderously powerful the next. It Read more

Tong Bei Quan

Originating in the 17th century Tong Bei Quan, meaning ‘Spreading Power from the Back Boxing’, as Tong means ‘through’, Bei means ‘back’ and Quan means ‘fist’, is a school of martial arts popular in northern China. Many of it’s power and techniques come from the back, through the shoulders, through the arms, and finally from Read more


Piguaquan meaning “chop-hanging fist” in Mandarin, uses a number of sweeping actions to generate speed through the hips and arms to produce powerful strikes. Also known as Piguazhang “chop-hanging palm” due to its emphasis on palm techniques, is often taught alongside Bajiquan, “eight extremes fist” which is a style of Wushu that features explosive, long-range Read more

Nam Pai Chuan

Nam Pai Chuan is a hybrid Shaolin Kung Fu style that combines elements of Judo, Wado Ryu and Tae Kwon Do. The name translates as “northern southern Fist” in Cantonese, because of its combination of northern and southern Chinese hand techniques, with its origin in the central Chinese style called “Fat Gar Kuen”. This style Read more

Nan Quan

Nan Quan, meaning “Southern Fist” in Cantonese, is a popular modern style created during the 1960’s in China’s Guangdong and Fujian provinces. Contemporary Nan Quan features dynamic, athletic movements with very stable, low stances, extensive hand techniques and a vocal articulation called “Fasheng” (“release shout”) which is the predecessor of the Japanese “Kiai” and Korean Read more

Mei Huaquan

Mei Huaquan, meaning “Plum Flower Fist” in Mandarin is thought to have originated in the 17th century in northern China. Practitioners learn fist, hand and foot techniques, which are based around five static training stances. They are also taught eighteen traditional weapons such as the Qiang (Spear), Shuangdao (Double Sabre), Dadao (Alebard) and the Liuxingchui Read more

Luohan Quan

It is believed that monks in the Shaolin Temple created Luohan Quan by copying the facial expressions of the statues of “Arhats” (saints or sages) and developed 18 movements based on those expressions. Arhats, is a general name for all the styles of Chinese martial arts that are named after the Arhats. Luohan style is Read more

Lai Tung Pai

Originally known as “Poon Kuen” or “Encircling Fist”, Lai Tung Pai (sometimes spelled Lai Tong Pai, also known as Panquan), is a martial art of 17th century Chinese origin, coming from the Sil Lum (Mandarin Shaolin) tradition in the Guangdong providence of China. The art was developed, it is thought, by a monk named Chi Read more

Hung Fut

A Buddhist monk named Lei Jo Fune, created this southern Shaolin-based Kung Fu system during the 17th century in the Fujian province of China. Hung Fut is considered to be a hybrid system; its philosophies are a mixture of two martial art systems, the powerful hard style of Hung Gar with the flowing soft style Read more


Huaquan, also know as China-style boxing system, is a style of Long Fist Kung Fu (Changquan). It is believed to have originated in the Former Song Dynasty (420?479 AD) around the Hua Shan (Hua Mountain) area of Shaanxi Province. There are written legends from the Kaiyuan reign (713?741 AD) of the Tang Dynasty (618?906 AD) Read more

Gou Quan

Gou Quan (Dishuquan) meaning ‘Dog Fist’ in Cantonese is a martial arts style indigenous to Fujian province, China. While sharing many similar features to styles like Wuzuquan, Huzunquan, and many others from the same region, this southern style of Chinese boxing has the distinctive feature of specializing in takedowns and grappling while often taking advantage Read more

Fut Gar

Fut Gar or Buddhist Style is a relatively modern Southern style of Kung Fu devised primarily from the combination of Hung Gar and Choi Gar kung fu. This style of kung fu is characterised by its evasive footwork, low kicks, punches, palm strikes, circular blocks and using the opponent’s force against him/her. The words “Fut Read more

Fu Jow Pai

Fu Jow Pai meaning “Tiger Claw System” in Cantonese (Mandarin pinyin: Huzhuapai, literally “Tiger Claw School” or “Tiger Claw Style”) was founded by Wong Bil Hong in the Shaolin Temple in Henan province during 1934. The system was originally named “Hark Fu Moon” (Mandarin pinyin: Heihumen, literally “Black Tiger School”, also “Black Tiger System”), but Read more

Five Animals

The Five Animals style is a prevalent form of martial art that is commonly found in southern China. The style includes elements of Tiger, Crane, Leopard, Snake and Dragon. An alternate selection that is also widely used is the crane, the tiger, the monkey, the snake, and the mantis. According to legend the Five Animal Read more

Five Ancestors Fist

During the 13th century a Shaolin monk named Bai Yufeng, combined the five Shaolin styles into one syllabus to develop his own system, known as “Five Ancestors Fist” (Wuzuquan or Ngo-cho Kun). This Southern Chinese martial art uses: the breathing techniques of Iron body of Bodhidharma the agility and footwork of Monkey the hand techniques Read more

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