Wushu. Encyclopedia of World Sport

Composed of two characters, wushu is the Chinese
term usually translated as “martial arts.”“Wu” is associated with military and warfare; “shu” with the skill,
way, or methods of doing an activity. As a classifying
term, wushu covers the Chinese martial traditions
from their origins in early Stone Age cultures to a wide
variety of martially inspired practices seen today.
Although primarily composed of fighting arts,
wushu has long been associated with physical conditioning, dance, drama, meditative exercise, and competitive exhibition. Wushu developed as a vital aspect
of China’s culture and came to influence the martial
traditions of neighboring countries and eventually the
rest of the world.
Rudimentary forms of Chinese martial arts took
root in the early Neolithic times, used to protect individuals, families, and clans. They also provided entertainment, as in games of “head butting” in which contestants donned animal horns. By the Zhou Dynasty
(1122?–256 B.C.E.), wushu had already reached a highly
advanced level. In the 5th century C.E., the crossbow
and iron weapons came into use, ushering in new
modes of fighting arts.
Long years of turmoil from internal or external
threats have taught the Chinese to rely on martial arts
as a security measure. Those who possessed the most
advanced systems felt that they had an advantage in protecting their empire, clan, or family. Therefore, the
fighting systems that evolved were highly secretive and
taught only to select individuals or groups.
Martial art styles were usually named for the people, places, or philosophic ideas associated with them.
There are a few hundred known Chinese styles, but
many more styles and substyles remain to be categorized. For simplicity, martial art styles are sometimes
placed into general categories, such as Northern/
Southern, Internal/External, or Daoist/Buddhist, and
sometimes they are categorized according to their
place of origin.
Of special importance in the evolution of some Chinese martial arts is their association with temples.
During times of turmoil, temples were often places of
refuge. Some temples, such as the Shaolin, became
“universities” where leading experts contributed to the
preservation and evolution of the martial arts.
Some martial traditions have become extinct due to
the rise of modern weaponry. Nonetheless, in China
many martial arts remain intact. The continued popularity of these arts is due, in part, to their pervasive
presence in Chinese culture. As moving art forms, the
martial arts are valued living expressions of their developers’ creativity and genius. Martial art forms are
also cherished for their therapeutic benefits, and in
China the majority of people practicing a martial art do
so primarily for this reason. However, the martial arts
can be found in theatrical productions, self-defense
classes, military training programs, entertainment industries, meditative practices, and sporting events.
In China today, where entertainment and health
care are in short supply, wushu, as a form of exercise
and sport, offers an attractive alternative. Martial art
exhibitions have a long-standing tradition in China.
Local competitions have been augmented by national
ones, and international teams have been formed.
Competitive martial art exhibitions have transformed traditional solo routines by incorporating
gymnastic elements for greater visual effects.
More than ever, individuals are attracted to the
study of wushu not simply as a physical activity, but as
a way of self-discovery. Therefore, despite its organizational disarray as a sport, wushu will certainly increase
in popularity.