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The Origins of Wushu

Posted by Guangxi Wang on 19th Apr 2015

Wushu was historically termed “quan yong” or martial arts. But fairly recently, the Chinese government changed the term to “guoshu” during the Republican Period (1912-1949) while foreigners call it “kung fu”. The Chinese martial art was rooted in the war between humans and animals among the tribes. An excerpt from The Book of Poetry traces the martial art back to the Spring and Autumn Period (770 BC – 476 BC). Further passages from Zhuangzi recorded over three thousand swordsmen of King Zhao (in the late Qin Dynasty) fought with each other day and night, and never grew tired of fighting. During the Han Dynasty (202 BC-AD 220), the practice martial arts made remarkable progress. Many a paintings on relief stone sculptures from the Han Dynasty, which were unearthed in Henan, describe the martial arts movements in varied forms, including similarities to fencing, painting, sword playing, snatching spears empty-handed, and bayonet practice using a sword and lance – all of which reflect the “solo” and “sparring” forms of martial arts.

Following the Spring and Autumn Period, Taoism was formed, and famous Chinese philosopher Laozi advocated for the “renewal of oneself while embracing perfect peace,” and for the “unity of body and mind while concentrating on breathing” while Zhuangzi essentially proposed the idea of “exhaling the old and inhaling the new.” The Xingqi Yupei Ming, or the Qi Circulation Inscription, from the Warring States Period (475-221 BC) recorded the qi-promoting method. Laozi and Zhuangzi’s theory of “cultivating qi” combined the theory of yin-and-yang with the five elements: metal, wood, water, fir and earth. This became the training basis for the internal exercise of Wushu. Some of Laozi’s philosophical theories, such as restricting action through silence, conquering the unyielding with the yielding and “cats hide their paws” were absorbed by various styles of Wushu and were considered the principles of internal styles of martial arts.

Note: The above introductions are excerpts from the book titled “Chinese Kungfu, Master, Schools and Combats” Guangxi Wang, translated by Huizhi Han, Wenliang Wang, Jian Kang.