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 "The History of China and Chinese Martial Arts »


"Daoyin" Mawangdui website


Thank you to Jean Terrière, friend, sinologist, interpreter and Federal Wushu Trainer FFWushu, without whom this article would not have seen the light of day.

Chinese civilisation is the oldest still existing civilisation on Earth and it is well alive since one person in five on the planet today is Chinese.

Remains of the past have often been destroyed by invaders or by the Chinese themselves, from one dynasty or one regime to another.
But thoughts and ideas have survived.

Pictorial traces of Chinese wresling have been found in the tombs of the Qing dynasty dating back to 3rd Century BC.
The techniques which we know today, through miliary records or writings by monks were evolved by the succeeding dynasties.
According to mythical legend the ‘strong’ Yellow Emperor Huangdi is said to have initroduced the ground rules for the original form of Chinese wrestling.
Huangdi, who was a famous General during the times of the warring Realms, before he became Emperor of China, was also credited with extensive writings on medecine, astrology and martial arts.




Three philosophies form the base of Chinese Martial Arts. .

Taoism, Confucianism and Chan Bouddhism.

Taoism in search of harmony with the Universe, Wu Wei the action of "non action" and immortality.
Lao Tse, Lao Tzu, 5th Century BC, represents this trend and was the author of the Tao Te Ching Tao Te King, the founding text of Taoism (see article "Two Martial Trends").
Unsatisfied with life at Court, Lao Tzu apparently went West to leave China on the back of a buffalo.
When he got to the frontier, a guard asked him to write down his thoughts and that is how the Tao Te Ching came to be.
You can listen to extracts of the Tai Te Ching being read hereunder, as well as a ‘France Culture’ programme "Tao Te Ching, the art of embracing the flow of life".

Confucianism is based on the respect of social order, of the family which is itself the reflection of cosmic order.
Nothing is acquired. Man becomes good by being virtuous, studying the 6 arts : music, calligraphy, the art of stamping, chariot driving and archery.
Confucius was the representative of confucianism, in 500 BC and he recommended the study of both literary and martial arts.
His ideas are found in the practice of Martial Arts, as to discipline, the respect of the Master, and submission to authority.
The name "Confucius" was given to him by Jesuits, and his name is Kong Fuzi, « Master Kong ».
His life was a failure and it was only at the end of his life that he trained disciples who spread his teachings thereafter.

Chan Buddhism practice aims at extinguishing passions and the infernal cycle of rebirths.
Buddhism started in India in the 5th Century BC, spread to China, where it placed itself in juxtaposition to Taoism and Confucianism, the already existing philosophical base.


Read extracts from Tao Te King (in French)

Hereuner, you can listen to a 59 minute France Culture programme with
Jean Levi, sinologist, translator and Director of Reserch at the CNRS (French National Centre for Scientific Research) et
Catherine Despeux Teacher at INALCO (French National Institute for Oriental Language and Civilisation studies).
"Tao Te Ching ; the art of embracing the flow of life":


Two schools of Martial Arts

There are two principle schools of traditional Martial Arts in China : the Internal School and the External School.

The External School develops muscular strength and speed, whereas the Internal School develops gentleness, preserves tranquility in movement and reinforces the Chi (see article on Chinese terminology).



The Internal School "Nei Jia Quan" encompasses Tai Chi Chuan, Xing Yi Quan et Ba Gua Zhang practices.
The traditional transfer of knowledge in these schools was from father to son and the teachings were kept secret.
Non-family members wishing to study and acquire the techniques, had to establish a private relationship ‘ Master to Student’ and they had to live with the family..



The External School encompasses boxing disciplines such as Shaolin Quan, Tang Lang Quan (The Praying Mantis), Luchan Quan (Boxing of disciples of Buddha)...
in order to learn these discliplines, students had to leave their families and go to live in temples or monasteries where these arts were being taught.



Northern Style Southern Style.

There is also a distinction made between the Northern Style leg techniques and the Southern Style which uses the upper part of the body..
In the Northern Style there is the Chuo Jiao (the Penetrating Foot), Cha and Hua boxing... and in the Southern Style, to the contrary, there is the Gou Quan (Dog Boxing) renowned for its kicks ...

José Carmona explains:
"The most significant difference between these two schools is the way the body is used and the mobilisation of energy.
Northern boxing (Beiquan) advocates loosening of the body, a fluid sequence of techniques and a search for extension by stretching the spinal axis and the shoulder girdle, whereas the Southern Boxing (Nanquan) is characterised by the contraction of the body, shorter movements and a jerky performance.


Tong Bei Quan


In view of the craze for Chinese Martial Arts, José Carmona, a specialist in the field, wrote :
"Nowadays, imitative boxing produces some breathtaking demonstrations which are often totally lacking in applications in terms of Martial Arts .
The extensive body movements Wushu (See article "Taichi Chuan Martial Art") makes real sense in the development of the internal and the external styles applied in combat".