What’s Wushu?

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AN INTRODUCTION TO CHINESE WUSHU

WUSHU IS A TRADITIONAL CHINESE SPORT, WHICH PAYS ATTENTION TO BOTH INTERNAL AND EXTERNAL ACTIVITIES, WITH FIGHTING MOVEMENTS AS ITS MAIN CONTENT AND WITH ROUTINE EXERCISES AND FREE COMBAT AS ITS FORMS.

THE FORMATION AND DEVELOPMENT OF WUSHU 

Wushu, a time-honoured sport in China, traces back to as early as the time of the clan communes in primitive societies. At that time, there appeared the “Xi” (sport) of Jiaodi (wrestling) and the “Wu” (dance or exercise) of Ganqi (axe and shield). These were the earliest embryos of wushu, which served as a menu to build up health, cure diseases, prolong life, temper the fighting will and train military skills for the members of these societies. During the Spring and Autumn and Warring States periods, the applications of fighting techniques in the battlefield were emphasized. During the Qin and Han dynasties dancing sports similar to routine exercise such as broadsword-play, dagger-axe-play, swordplay, and double-halberdplay appeared successively. Activities of bare-hand fighting, competitive wrestling and sword fighting were recorded in Annals of Arts/Han Book, Biography of Emperor Wu/Han Book and Preface: On Allusion. During the Tang and Sung dynasties many civil wushu organizations came into existence. There also appeared street performers called Luqi men, making a living by performing “Exercise of Fists”, “Kicking”, “Exercise of Cudgel”, “Play of Cudgel”, “Dance with Saber and Spear”, “Sword Dance”, “Spear vs Shield” and “Sword vs Shield” in the streets. As bare-hand fighting and sumo were popular, the kind of contest on Leitai (an open ring for challenge) appeared. The Ming and Qing dynasties were the flourishing era for wushu with various schools and different styles. During the Qing dynasty, with the development of pugilism and weapon-play, various schools, such as Taijiquan, Xingyiquan (form and will pugilism), Baguazhan (8 diagram palm) formed gradually. Wrestling systems came into being and bare-hand fighting was also developed. During the Republic of China, (1912-1949), many organizations appeared in forms of pugilistic societies such as the Martial Artists’ Society and Physical Culture Society. The Jingwu Sports Society was set up in Shanghai in 1910, and the Chinese Martial Artists’ Society and Zhirou Pugilistic Society were successively set up. These wushu parties played an important role in spreading and developing wushu. In 1928 the Central Wushu Institute was established in Nanjing by the Republic Government. After its establishment, local wushu institutes were established in provinces, cities and counties. Two National Wushu Meets were held by the Central Wushu Institute in 1928 and 1933 in Nanjing. In 1936 the Chinese Wushu Delegation was organized to visit Southeast Asia. In the same year the Chinese Wushu Team gave a demonstration in Berlin at the XI Olympic Games. Since the founding of the People’s Republic of China, wushu has become a component of the socialist culture and the people’s physical education and sports, and has developed spectacularly. In 1953 the Nation-wide Traditional Sports Demonstration and Competition was held in Tianjin, at which wushu was the major content. Wushu was listed as a formal course in local sports institutes and their physical education departments. In 1956 the Chinese Wushu Association was set up in Beijing, and wushu thus became an official competition event. The first draft of Wushu Competition Rules was compiled by the State Physical Culture and Sports Commission in 1958. Under the guidance of the Chinese State Physical Culture and Sports Commission and the Chinese Wushu Association, wushu associations, wushu schools, wushu societies, research societies, wushu teams of amateur sports schools and teaching centres were set up in many counties in all provinces, cities and autonomous regions, forming a vast network for wushu activities of the masses and a wide path for the development of wushu. All schools have made wushu part of the programme of physical education. Wushu societies and teams were set up in some colleges and universities. Wushu specialty has been established in some Physical Education Institutes and Normal Institutes to bring up undergraduates and postgraduates of wushu. A Wushu Master’s degree was set up by the State Council in 1984. Approved by the Chinese government, the Chinese Wushu Research Institute was set up in 1986 as a high standard body for conducting academic and technical research on wushu. To develop this precious cultural legacy, a nation wide investigation was carried out, which uncovered the situation of wushu in China. The work of collecting and collating this information has been fruitful. The experimental competition in free sparring started in 1979 and it became a competition event in 1989. Central and local governments sent wushu delegations, teams, instructors and experts abroad to give performances and lectures on many occasions. In 1987 the First Asian Wushu Championships was held in Yokohama, Japan. In 1988 the China International Wushu Festival, International Routine Competition and International Wushu Free Sparring Challenge Tournament were held in Hangzhou and Shenzhen. This ensured that sanshou formally stepped into the international wushu arena. At the 1990 XI Asian Games in Beijing wushu was introduced as an official competition event. The International Wushu Federation was formally established in the same year. New Zealand was a founding member. There are now 102 member countries and since 1991 there have been seven bi-annual World Wushu Championships, (modern wushu), the first being held in Beijing. This year the 8th World Wushu Championships will be held in Hanoi, Vietnam. In 2004 the First World Traditional Wushu Festival was celebrated in Zhengzhou, China. Wushu was born in China but now belongs to the world.

THE CONTENT AND CLASSIFICATION OF WUSHU 

Chinese wushu can be classified into two major categories in terms of form – routine exercise and free sparring. 1.       Routine exercises (Taolu) Wushu routines, practiced either bare-handed or with weapons, or in set combat, incorporate kicking, hitting, throwing, seizing and thrusting movements into set routine exercises according to certain rules and patterns involving various combinations of attack and defence, advance and retreat dynamic and static states, quickness and slowness, toughness and softness, solidity and emptiness, etc.

  1. Bare-handed wushu exercises: To this category belong all bare-handed combat arts, including changquan (Chaquan and Huaquan), taijiquan, nanquan, Xingyiquan, Baguazhang, tongbiquan, fanziquan, Piguaquan, shaolinquan, chuojiaoquan, ditangquan, Xiangxingquan, etc.
  • Changquan, including chaquan and huaquan, is a major school of wushu which uses all three hand forms of quan, zhang and gou, and the five stances of gongbu, mabu, pubu, xubu and xiebu. It is characterized by relaxed and unfolding postures, agile, quick and powerful movements, and clear rhythm. It employs the techniques of leaps, jumps, rolling and tumbling. Chaquan, huaquan and other forms of changquan each has its own unique styles and characteristic features.
  • Taijiquan is a soft, light and slow exercise, which features continuous circular and fluent movements. Different styles of Taijiquan stress different aspects.
  • Nanquan includes all the schools of wushu popular in South China. There have been a variety of schools and styles, such as the Hong, Lui, Cai, Li and Mo families in Guangdong province and the Yongchun and Wushu schools in Fujian province.

Each of these has its own features, yet with many things in common: powerful exertion of force, firm and steady footwork, clear-cut movements and good positioning of the body to be ready to react to attack from any direction. Nanquan performers often shout and have their muscles bulged when applying force.

  • Xingyiquan always starts from a stance with body weight mainly resting on the back leg (santishi). It employs the palm cut, the straight blow, the corkscrew, the oblique thrust and the swing as its basic fist techniques. This style of wushu features the imitation of the characteristic movements of certain animals, such as the dragon, tiger, monkey, horse, turtle, cock, hawk, swallow, snake, eagle and bear. Xingyiquan is characterized by simple and steady movements, straightforward and compact routines.
  • Baguazhang features special footwork and the turning of the body. It uses changing palm techniques of pushing, holding, carrying, leading. Thrusting, cutting, blocking, etc. The performer walks crisscross in all directions. It features swift body movements, flexible footwork and constant changes of direction.
  • Bajiquan is an infighting school of boxing, featuring short, sharp thrust, powerful approaching, shoulder striking, pressing and leaning techniques. The routines are usually short and well knit, executed with violent force. Heavy stamping and bold approaches are often used to aid the application of force.
  • Tongbeiquan features the five basic techniques of backhand blows, slapping, thrusting, palm backing and corkscrew blows – all closely interwoven with each other and supplemented by another eight techniques: circling, grasping, hooking, rubbing, cutting, scraping, poking and slapping. One special feature is that the hand strikes out with the palm, using the back of the hand as a fist. Shoulder swinging and wrist flapping are employed to make striking arms hit with sudden, quick and explosive force.
  • Fanziquan boasts short, swift, vigorous movements, compact and well-knit routines and swift force applications. Fanziquan is characterized by a quick succession of hand and foot movements and usually several techniques are applied at the same time in a furious manner.
  • Piguaquan is mainly a long-range striking combat art characterized by far reaching, powerful attacks that are coupled with infighting techniques. Violent extension and contraction, hacking and parrying mark its performance. The application of techniques require that the waist be twisted and hips drawn in, the arms relaxed and crossed and force be focused on the shoulders and arms.
  • Shaolinquan is a great system that embraces a great variety of different styles, including dahongquan, xiaohongquan, paoquan, qixingquan and luohanquan. Shaolinquan, as it is taught at Shaolin Monastery in Song Shan, Henan Province, features straightforward small, compact and very forceful postures and movements. One peculiarity is that the fist strikes out with the arm neither bent nor totally stretched out. The conclusion of a movement is often accompanied by snorting.
  • Chuojiaquan is characterized by leg-striking techniques. The basic leg techniques include stamping, heel kicking, entangling, pointing, juggling, treading and grinding. In training each step is followed by a foot kick with alternating hand and foot movements. This is a style that shines in leg techniques.
  • Ditangquan is a style that features tumbling, falling, rolling and looping. Since it involves a lot of acrobatic stunts, its techniques have a higher degree of difficulty.
  • Xiangxingquan is an imitation plus fighting art, which blends combat techniques with imitation of certain animals or birds or the appearance of certain persons. It consists of a great number of styles, such as eagle claw, preying mantis, monkey style, snake style and drunken style. Xiangxingquan emphasizes the imitation of the spirit of certain animals or persons. When practicing Xiangxingquan one should not only imitate the appearance of the object, but also fully display wushu characteristics of attack and defence.

  B.       Weapons:

  • Short weapons, including broadsword, sword and dagger.
  • Long weapons, including spear, cudgel, falchion and long-handed broadsword.
  • Double weapons, including double broadswords, double swords, double hooks, double halberds and double twin-head spears.
  • Soft weapons, including nine-section whip, double whips, single broadsword plus whip, three-section cudgel, meteoric hammer and rope dart.

C.       Set sparring:

  • Bare-hand sparring, such as fist sparring and grappling with a sparring partner.
  • Armed sparring, such as broadsword combat, sword combat, spear combat, cudgel combat, single broadsword against spear, double broadswords against spear, long-handled broadsword against spear, three-section cudgel against spear.
  • Bare-hand against weapons like broadsword, spear or double spears.

D.      Group exercises:

  • This category includes all the exercises practiced by six or more persons, with or without weapons, forming patterns, in synchronized movements. These exercises are sometimes performed to musical accompaniment.

2.       Free combat (Sanshou) This category includes all free combat between two fighters through the trials of intelligence and techniques under regulated conditions and according to fixed rules. The competition events are: sanshou, push hands and short weapon duels.

SOME CHARACTERISTICS OF WUSHU EXERCISE METHODS 

Chinese wushu has its own traditional training system. Following are the six basic characteristics of its training methods: 1)   Incorporation of toughness with softness: Chinese wushu stresses the integration of toughness and softness. All wushu schools stress the training method “with inner toughness and outer softness”, “softness in appearance and toughness in essence”, “incorporating softness into toughness and toughness into softness” and “coordination of toughness and softness brings about mental stability”, etc. 2)   Coordination of internal and external activities: Internal activities refer to functions of the mind, external activities refer to bodily movements of the eye, the hand, the foot, the trunk, etc. One requirement concerns correspondence of upper and lower body parts: the hands should coincide with the feet, the elbows with the knees, and the shoulders with hips. These correspondences are called “Wai-San-He (Three External Coordinations)”. Another requirement concerns complete coordination of bodily movements: there should be coordination amongst the hand, the eye, the torso, the foot, etc – when one of them moves, all the others move and when one of them is at rest, all the others tend to rest. However external activities should be coordinated with internal activities. When there is sincerity in your mind there is appropriateness in your bodily movements. So in wushu training, one should rid one’s mind of distractions, and this is of prime importance to a wushu practitioner. In addition, one’s awareness should be coordinated with one’s intention, one’s intention with one’s qi (intrinsic energy), and one’s qi with one’s active use of energy. These correspondences are called “Nei-San-He (Three Internal Coordinations)”. Only when attaining such coordination can a wushu practitioner get a deeper understanding of wushu, and the performance will attain a more advanced level. 3)   The generation and control of qi and breath: Qi means intrinsic energy flow – it denotes the psycho physiological power associated with blood circulation and breath. Chinese wushu attaches great importance to the training of qi and the control of breath. For example, the Taijiquan practitioner is required to “make the qi sink to the navel” and “be directed by the mind”. Shaolinquan stresses that “qi should be propelled from the navel” and that during exercise “the body and limbs become active through the controlled use of your qi and breath”. All of the other Chinese wushu schools and styles pay special attention to the control of qi and breath as well. 4)   Stressing inner energy: This means that the limbs and trunk should be filled with a kind of strenuousness or inner energy when a posture or movement is being performed, and there should be a natural feeling of strain in these body parts. Wushu techniques require perfect balance and exactness in one’s movements and postures. They also require adequate inner energy or strenuousness in one’s limbs and trunk, and, as a result, one’s movements and postures will be full of vigor and look more energetic. 5)   Continuous and uninterrupted movements: Chinese wushu requires that all movements in a routine should be linked and executed fluently in a smooth chain of actions. Under no circumstances should “qi” be blocked and flow impeded. This applies to all the other styles of wushu as well as to Taijiquan. The other styles of wushu, however, do not require the flowing characteristic of Taijiquan, but require that all movements, though broken or interrupted in form, should be connected in spirit, in “Qi” or “Yi (intention)”, so as to form a unified whole. A wushu practitioner can achieve this through his/her coordinated mental activities, or even through his/her eye movements. 6)   Correct and exact foot techniques: The four basic combat techniques in wushu are kicking, hitting, throwing and seizing, which constitute almost all of the attacking and defensive movements in wushu routines (as striking and thrusting in weapon routines). Each of these basic techniques has a number of methods. For example, in kicking there is the heel kick, stretching sidekick, toe kick, coiling, sweeping kick, swinging kick, etc. In hitting there is the jab, the hook, the uppercut, the downward punch, the chop, the reverse and spinning punches, etc. For each of these ways there is a specific method of execution. For example, the heel kick, stretching sidekick and sliding kick all involve leg bending and stretching movements. The stretching sidekick should be done with the toes pointing sideways, the sole leading, and the force applied to the centre of the sole. The sliding sidekick should be done with the toes pointing sideways, the sole down, and the force applied to the outer edge of the foot. There are strict quality specifications for each method of the basic wushu techniques of kicking, hitting, throwing and seizing. Care should be taken not to confuse one with another.

 THE FUNCTIONS AND EFFECTS OF WUSHU 

1)   Wushu in building up health: Wushu routines consist of very rich and diversified movements, including extension and contraction, wind milling, balancing, jumping and somersaulting, thus involving nearly all the parts of the body. Compared with other sports, wushu requires better coordination among the muscle group moving centres, and between these centres and the autonomic centres. Therefore, systematic training with wushu can greatly improve the coordination between them. Taijiquan is a particularly helpful treatment for the chronic diseases because it stresses that physical movements be guided by mental activities, thus helping enhance the process of inhibition and improve balance in the nervous system. Research shows that regular exercise with wushu can improve the functions of the cardiovascular system, enhance the aerobic and anaerobic metabolism, stimulate respiration, and increase vital capacity. It also has good effects in developing such physical qualities as strength, agility and flexibility. 2)   Wushu as a means of self defence: As mentioned above, wushu takes the form of either routine exercises or free combat, and both forms are made up of fighting techniques. A wushu practitioner benefits from his/her wushu training not only in terms of health building, but also in terms of gaining mastery of a system of attacking and defending techniques, which can be employed effectively for self-defence. 3)   Wushu’s ethical and spiritual functions: Through the millenniums of wushu’s history, decorum and ethics have been emphasized all along. “Learning decorum and ethics before learning wushu skills”, and “don’t learn from the wicked, never teach the mean” are just two examples of the numerous moral maxims that Chinese wushu practitioners have followed in their practice. It has been a Chinese wushu tradition to give first priority to ethics in wushu learning and instruction. Thus a wushu practitioner is required to follow certain moral rules while he is learning to master the combat techniques in order to benefit society and the mankind. Exercises of sparring and routines can build up bravery, tenacity and indomitable spirit. Therefore, wushu helps cultivate one’s moral character, and through practicing wushu, one’s temperament is better molded. 4)   Wushu’s entertaining and artistic functions: Wushu is of high aesthetic value. Both the routines, which express strength and skill through internal and external activities, and the free sparring, which express strong fighting form through the trials of bravery and intelligence between two practitioners, can bring much enjoyment to people. Wushu can enrich people’s cultural life and furthermore, can be a good way for people to exchange techniques and ideas, and to promote friendship.

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