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History of Chinese Kung Fu

The genesis of Chinese martial arts has been attributed to the need for self-defense, hunting techniques and military training in ancient China. Hand-to-hand combat and weapons practice were important in training ancient Chinese soldiers.[4][5]

Detailed knowledge about the state and development of Chinese martial arts becomes available from the Nanjing decade (1928–1937), as the Central Guoshu Institute established by the Kuomintang regime made an effort to compile an encyclopedic survey of martial arts schools. Since the 1950s, the People's Republic of China has organized Chinese martial arts as an exhibition and full-contact sport under the heading of Wushu.

Legendary origins[edit]

According to legend, Chinese martial arts originated during the semi-mythical Xia Dynasty (夏朝) more than 4,000 years ago.[6] It is said the Yellow EmperorHuangdi (legendary date of ascension 2698 BCE) introduced the earliest fighting systems to China.[7] The Yellow Emperor is described as a famous general who, before becoming China’s leader, wrote lengthy treatises on medicine, astrology and the martial arts. One of his main opponents was Chi You (蚩尤) who was credited as the creator of jiao di, a forerunner to the modern art of Chinese Wrestling.[8]

Early history[edit]

The earliest references to Chinese martial arts are found in the Spring and Autumn Annals (5th century BCE),[9] where a hand-to-hand combat theory, including the integration of notions of "hard" and "soft" techniques, is mentioned.[10] A combat wrestling system called juélì or jiǎolì (角力) is mentioned in the Classic of Rites.[11] This combat system included techniques such as strikes, throws, joint manipulation, and pressure point attacks. Jiao Di became a sport during the Qin Dynasty (221–207 BCE). The Han History Bibliographies record that, by the Former Han (206 BCE – 8 CE), there was a distinction between no-holds-barred weaponless fighting, which it calls shǒubó (手搏), for which training manuals had already been written, and sportive wrestling, then known as juélì (角力). Wrestling is also documented in the Shǐ Jì, Records of the Grand Historian, written by Sima Qian (ca. 100 BCE).[12]

In the Tang Dynasty, descriptions of sword dances were immortalized in poems by Li Bai. In the Song and Yuan dynasties, xiangpu contests were sponsored by the imperial courts. The modern concepts of wushu were fully developed by the Ming and Qing dynasties.[13]

Philosophical influences[edit]

The ideas associated with Chinese martial arts changed with the evolution of Chinese society and over time acquired some philosophical bases: Passages in theZhuangzi (庄子), a Daoist text, pertain to the psychology and practice of martial arts. Zhuangzi, its eponymous author, is believed to have lived in the 4th century BCE. The Dao De Jing, often credited to Lao Zi, is another Taoist text that contains principles applicable to martial arts. According to one of the classic texts of Confucianism, Zhou Li (周禮/周礼), Archery and charioteering were part of the "six arts" (simplified Chinese: 六艺; traditional Chinese: 六藝; pinyin: liu yi, including rites, music, calligraphy and mathematics) of the Zhou Dynasty (1122–256 BCE). The Art of War (孫子兵法), written during the 6th century BCE by Sun Tzu (孫子), deals directly with military warfare but contains ideas that are used in the Chinese martial arts.

Daoist practitioners have been practicing Tao Yin (physical exercises similar to Qigong that was one of the progenitors to T'ai chi ch'uan) from as early as 500 BCE.[14] In 39–92 CE, "Six Chapters of Hand Fighting", were included in the Han Shu (history of the Former Han Dynasty) written by Pan Ku. Also, the noted physician, Hua Tuo, composed the "Five Animals Play"—tiger, deer, monkey, bear, and bird, around 220 CE.[15] Daoist philosophy and their approach to health and exercise have influenced the Chinese martial arts to a certain extent. Direct reference to Daoist concepts can be found in such styles as the "Eight Immortals," which uses fighting techniques attributed to the characteristics of each immortal.[16]

Shaolin and temple-based martial arts[edit]

Main article: Shaolin Monastery

The Shaolin style of kung fu is regarded as one of the first institutionalized Chinese martial arts.[17] The oldest evidence of Shaolin participation in combat is a stele from 728 CE that attests to two occasions: a defense of the Shaolin Monastery from bandits around 610 CE, and their subsequent role in the defeat ofWang Shichong at the Battle of Hulao in 621 CE. From the 8th to the 15th centuries, there are no extant documents that provide evidence of Shaolin participation in combat.

Between the 16th and 17th centuries, at least forty sources[citation needed] exist to provide evidence both that monks of Shaolin practiced martial arts, and that martial practice became an integral element of Shaolin monastic life. For monks to justify it by creating new Buddhist lore, the earliest appearance of the frequently cited legend concerns Bodhidharma's supposed foundation of Shaolin Kung Fu dates to this period.[18] The origin of this legend has been traced to theMing period's Yijin Jing or "Muscle Change Classic", a text written in 1624 attributed to Bodhidharma.

Depiction of fighting monks demonstrating their skills to visiting dignitaries (early 19th-century mural in the Shaolin Monastery).

References of martial arts practice in Shaolin appear in various literary genres of the late Ming: the epitaphs of Shaolin warrior monks, martial-arts manuals, military encyclopedias, historical writings, travelogues, fiction and poetry. However these sources do not point out to any specific style originated in Shaolin.[19] These sources, in contrast to those from the Tang period, refer to Shaolin methods of armed combat. These include a skill for which Shaolin monks became famous: the staff(gùn, Cantonese gwan). The Ming General Qi Jiguang included description of Shaolin Quan Fa (Chinese: 少林拳法; Wade–Giles:Shao Lin Ch'üan Fa; literally: "Shaolin fist technique"; Japanese: Shorin Kempo) and staff techniques in his book, Ji Xiao Xin Shu (紀效新書), which can translate as New Book Recording Effective Techniques. When this book spread to East Asia, it had a great influence on the development of martial arts in regions such as Okinawa[20] and Korea.[21]

Modern history[edit]

Further information: Modern history of East Asian martial arts

Republican period[edit]

Most fighting styles that are being practiced as traditional Chinese martial arts today reached their popularity within the 20th century. Some of these include Baguazhang, Drunken Boxing, Eagle Claw, Five Animals, Xingyi, Hung Gar, Monkey, Bak Mei Pai, Praying Mantis, Fujian White Crane, Jow Ga, Wing Chun and Taijiquan. The increase in the popularity of those styles is a result of the dramatic changes occurring within the Chinese society.

In 1900–01, the Righteous and Harmonious Fists rose against foreign occupiers and Christian missionaries in China. This uprising is known in the West as theBoxer Rebellion due to the martial arts and calisthenics practiced by the rebels. Though it originally opposed the Manchu Qing Dynasty, the Empress Dowager Cixigained control of the rebellion and tried to use it against the foreign powers. The failure of the rebellion led ten years later to the fall of the Qing Dynastyand the creation of the Chinese Republic.

The present view of Chinese martial arts are strongly influenced by the events of the Republican Period (1912–1949). In the transition period between the fall of the Qing Dynasty as well as the turmoils of the Japanese invasion and the Chinese Civil War, Chinese martial arts became more accessible to the general public as many martial artists were encouraged to openly teach their art. At that time, some considered martial arts as a means to promote national pride and build a strong nation. As a result, many training manuals (拳谱) were published, a training academy was created, two national examinations were organized as well as demonstration teams travelled overseas,[22] and numerous martial arts associations were formed throughout China and in various overseas Chinese communities. The Central Guoshu Academy (Zhongyang Guoshuguan, 中央國術館/中央国术馆) established by the National Government in 1928[23] and the Jing Wu Athletic Association (精武體育會/精武体育会) founded by Huo Yuanjia in 1910 are examples of organizations that promoted a systematic approach for training in Chinese martial arts.[24][25][26] A series of provincial and national competitions were organized by the Republican government starting in 1932 to promote Chinese martial arts. In 1936, at the 11th Olympic Games in Berlin, a group of Chinese martial artists demonstrated their art to an international audience for the first time.

The term Kuoshu (or Guoshu, 國術 meaning "national art"), rather than the colloquial term gongfu was introduced by the Kuomintang in an effort to more closely associate Chinese martial arts with national pride rather than individual accomplishment.

People's Republic[edit]

Further information: Wushu (sport) and International Wushu Federation

Chinese martial arts experienced rapid international dissemination with the end of the Chinese Civil War and the founding of the People's Republic of China on October 1, 1949. Many well known martial artists chose to escape from the PRC's rule and migrate to Taiwan, Hong Kong,[27] and other parts of the world. Thosemasters started to teach within the overseas Chinese communities but eventually they expanded their teachings to include people from other ethnic groups.

Within China, the practice of traditional martial arts was discouraged during the turbulent years of the Chinese Cultural Revolution (1969–1976).[3] Like many other aspects of traditional Chinese life, martial arts were subjected to a radical transformation by the People's Republic of China to align them with Maoistrevolutionary doctrine.[3] The PRC promoted the committee-regulated sport of Wushu as a replacement for independent schools of martial arts. This new competition sport was disassociated from what was seen as the potentially subversive self-defense aspects and family lineages of Chinese martial arts.[3]

In 1958, the government established the All-China Wushu Association as an umbrella organization to regulate martial arts training. The Chinese State Commission for Physical Culture and Sports took the lead in creating standardized forms for most of the major arts. During this period, a national Wushu system that included standard forms, teaching curriculum, and instructor grading was established. Wushu was introduced at both the high school and university level. The suppression of traditional teaching was relaxed during the Era of Reconstruction (1976–1989), as Communist ideology became more accommodating to alternative viewpoints.[28] In 1979, the State Commission for Physical Culture and Sports created a special task force to reevaluate the teaching and practice of Wushu. In 1986, the Chinese National Research Institute of Wushu was established as the central authority for the research and administration of Wushu activities in the People's Republic of China.[29]

Changing government policies and attitudes towards sports in general led to the closing of the State Sports Commission (the central sports authority) in 1998. This closure is viewed as an attempt to partially de-politicize organized sports and move Chinese sport policies towards a more market-driven approach.[30] As a result of these changing sociological factors within China, both traditional styles and modern Wushu approaches are being promoted by the Chinese government.[31]

Chinese martial arts are an integral element of 20th-century Chinese popular culture.[32] Wuxia or "martial arts fiction" is a popular genre that emerged in the early 20th century and peaked in popularity during the 1960s to 1980s. Wuxia films were produced from the 1920s. The Kuomintang suppressed wuxia, accusing it of promoting superstition and violent anarchy. Because of this, wuxia came to flourish in British Hong Kong, and the genre of kung fu movie in Hong Kong action cinema became wildly popular, coming to international attention from the 1970s. The genre declined somewhat during the 1980s, and in the late 1980s the Hong Kong film industry underwent a drastic decline, even before Hong Kong was handed to the People's Republic in 1997. In the wake of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon(2000), there has been somewhat of a revival of Chinese-produced wuxia films aimed at an international audience, including Hero (2002), House of Flying Daggers(2004) and Reign of Assassins (2010).


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