Martial arts have been created and developed for self-defense and survival throughout human history. Chinese martial arts is generally called Wushu, where Wu means military and shu means art, thus Wushu means the art of fighting. Proper martial-arts training can improve physical ability, health, and willpower and mental discipline. The soul of the martial art is to increase a person’s inner quality, not setting fighting as the purpose. Martial arts have thousands of years’ history. Over the past two to four thousand years, many distinctive styles have been developed, each with its own set of techniques and ideas.
Since there are various styles, it is very difficult to classify Chinese martial arts. There are also common themes to the different styles , which are often classified by “families” or “schools” of martial art styles. Each style offers a different approach to the common problems of self-defense, health and self-cultivation. Traditionally, Chinese martial arts can be classified by the following three main methods:
(1) External and internal classification
(2) Geographical classification
(3) Religious classification
Internal and external classifications only became popular during the Republican period. It was used to differentiate between two completing groups within the Central Guoshu Academy. Regardless of the origin of this classification scheme, the distinction becomes less meaningful since all complete Chinese martial art styles have external and internal components. This classification scheme is only a reminder of the initial emphasis of a particular style and should not be considered an absolute division. Roughly speaking, the distinction between internal and external martial arts can refer to whether the strength is from the torso and legs (internal) or whether the strength is derived from training of the more specific arm and leg muscles (external). Internal styles focus on the practice of such elements as awareness of the spirit, mind, qi and the use of relaxed leverage rather than unrefined muscular tension, tension that soft stylists call “brute force”. External style is characterized by fast and explosive movements and a focus on physical strength and agility. External styles begin with a training focus on muscular power, speed and application, and generally integrate their qigong aspects in advanced training, after their desired “hard” physical level has been reached. Example of external styles is Shaolinquan.
According to geographical classification, the Chinese martial arts can be divided into northern and southern style, referring to which part of China the styles originated from, separated by the Yangtze River. The main perceived difference about northern and southern styles is that the northern styles tend to emphasize fast and powerful kicks, high jumps and generally fluid and rapid movement, while the southern styles focus more on strong arm and hand techniques, and stable, immovable stances and fast footwork. The group of Northern martial arts includes many illustrious styles such as Baguazhang, Bajiquan, Ch