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Traditional Chinese Martial Arts: Exploring Roots, Religion, Locations, and Origins

Updated: Mar 12



Traditional Chinese Martial Arts: Exploring Roots, Religion, Locations, and Origins

By Tom Lugo, Shifu


Traditional Chinese Martial Arts (TCMA) have a lot of different styles, each with its own special features. These styles come from old traditions and are shaped by different beliefs and ways of thinking. We'll explore where these martial arts come from, the ideas behind them, and how they've changed over time. We'll look at the differences between Northern and Southern styles and how religion and philosophy have influenced the development of these martial arts.


I. Northern and Southern Styles:


Geographical Distinctions:

a. The Yangtze River serves as the historical dividing line between Northern and Southern styles.

b. Hundreds of martial arts styles are practiced across China, falling into distinctive subcategories.


Characteristics of Northern and Southern Styles:

a. Northern Styles: Known for fluidity, quick directional changes, and wider range kicking. Examples include Tai Chi, Xingyiquan, Eagle Claw, and more.

b. Southern Styles: Emphasize lower, compact, close combat with short explosive movements, primarily focused on punching. Examples include Shaolin, Hung Ga, Wing Chun, and others.

c. Northern Styles are considered "soft," while Southern Styles are labeled as "hard."


Influences Beyond China:

a. Northern styles have left a lasting impact on Korean martial arts such as Taekwondo, Taekkyon, and Tang Soo Do.

b. Southern styles, like Fujian White Crane, have influenced Okinawan styles like Isshin Ryu, Shorin Ryu, Goju Ryu, and Uechi Ryu.


II. Regional Subdivisions:


Sacred Mountains:

a. Legendary schools are often associated with sacred mountains like Mount Hua, Mount Emei, Wudang Mountains, and others.

b. These geographical divisions contribute to the uniqueness of each style.


III. Philosophical and Religious Influences:


Buddhist Styles:

a. Shaolin Temple's influence on martial arts styles rooted in Buddhist philosophy.

b. Examples include Shaolin, Hung Ga, Dragon Styles, and others.


Taoist Styles:

a. Wudang Temple's association with Taoist philosophy.

b. Arts like Tai Chi, Xingyiquan, Bajiquan, and others are influenced by Taoism.


Islamic Styles:

a. Muslim Hui minority practices martial arts based on Islamic philosophy.

b. Styles such as Hakka Kuen, Lung Ying, Pakmei, and Chaquan fall into this category.


Tibetan Lama Styles:

a. Associated with Tibetan Buddhism philosophy.

b. Styles include White Crane (Bak Hok Pai), Lama Pai, and Hop Ga Kuen.


IV. External Influences:


Indian Martial Arts:

a. Influence of Indian martial arts like Niyuddha (empty hand), Kalaripayattu (empty hand/weapon), Mardani Khel (weapons martial art), Pehlwani (grappling), Varma Kalai (pressure point fighting), Gatka (sword fighting), Silambam (staff fighting), and more.


Egyptian/African Martial Arts:

a. Tracing roots to ancient Kemet (Egypt), with styles like Man Tu and Tahtib depicted in hieroglyphics at the Pyramid of Sahure (2500 BC).

b. African martial arts include Laamb (wrestling), Dambe (empty hand), Musangwe (empty hand), and others.


The martial arts of China weave together elements of geography, philosophy, and history. The interplay between Northern and Southern styles, the geographical areas that shape their development, and the religious and philosophical schools of thought contribute to the richness of Chinese martial arts. Which extends its roots beyond China to embrace a global legacy.


Kemet Wrestling/Hand to Hand Combat- Pyramid of Sahure, Egypt (2500 BC)


Hung Ga - Tiger-Crane Set


Vedic Period India (Vedas -1500 BCE - 1100 BCE)




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