What is Whusu?

Wushu means Martial Arts in Mandarin Chinese and was developed in China over 1,000 years ago. Known in the West as Gongfu (meaning “high level of skill”), Wushu comprises many different styles, including Taiji Quan, from empty hand and weapon routines to free-fighting techniques. Wushu also represents a way of life as it is based on ancient Chinese philosophies, ethical and moral principles, mental and physical disciplines.

The word Wushu in Chinese is made up of two “characters” or words. The first, “wu” meaning “martial” (pronounced wu in Chinese; bu as in “budo” in Japanese and moo in Korean); and the second, “shu” meaning “art”.   To get a better understanding of the original meaning of Wushu, we should analyse the character Wu and what it reveals of the principles behind it.  The character for Wu is made up of two different radicals (elements):

  • zhi - translates as prohibited or forbidden but comes even earlier from the radical for a foot;
  • ge – is the name for an ancient, long Chinese weapon used in chariot fighting.

These two elements taken together give not only the literal meaning of “Martial” but can be read as the idea of “taking up the weapon” (from the foot radical), or “no violence” (from the prohibited radical).

In martial arts circles we talk about Wushu referring precisely to “Chinese” Martial Arts. However, people often think of Wushu only as a sport.

The branch of Wushu that is considered “Sport Wushu” has been practised and developed only over the last 80 years from the China National competitions beginning in the early 20th century where efforts were made to standardise judging and practising systems for competition. One of the main reasons for this was to build a strong sense of national pride and unified focus on which to build the profile and research of Wushu. A goal which still remains. The movies “Fist of Fury” (Chin Woo Men) with Bruce Lee, “New Fist of Fury” with Jackie Chan and “Fist of Legend” with Jet Li all tell about these first efforts to standardise systems (under Chin Woo) to build a stronger, healthier Chinese populace.

Today’s Wushu is moving forward in three clear streams; Physical Education (health and fitness); Self-defence (fighting skills); and Olympic Wushu (elite level competition).

These three streams are in no way mutually exclusive, but interact with each other and overlap following the same ethics, protocols and philosophical principles to form the single river that is Wushu.  A martial art with a long tradition and a very strong future in which everyone, from very young to very old, can participate.

We can talk about the classification of Wushu in different ways. We can talk about the families of Shaolin and Wudang refering to Buddhist and Taoist philosophies or Internal and Externalrefering to the develpment of Mind, Qi (Vital Energy) Spirit, and muscle, bone and skin. Whichever way you choose to classify, however, a person with a high level of skill will have both internal and external aspects developed regardless of the style. Two other ways of classifying Wushu are geographically North and South, or according to the range of action short andlong.

In Chinese Martial Arts a fighting system to be considered a style it is necesary to cover the three main aspects: Gong Fa (martial skill methods), Taolu (Forms) and Ge Dou (combat techniques)

According to the Chinese Wushu Research Institute there are 129 recognised distinct styles of Wushu. To read a lot more about Wushu, definitions of different styles, clasification and functions click here.

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  • Taiji Quan Taiji Quan Traditional and standardised forms, weapons, pushing hands.
  • Traditional Wushu Traditional Wushu Following the styles of Northern China.

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