Wushu is a magnificent sport


Please I want to know exactly what kind of style is going around the world with the famous monks of Shaolin Temple. Nobody who practices wushu now could tell me the difference or why they are the same style.

— Marangon, Italy


The modern Shaolin monks practice and teach modern wushu, which is different from traditional Shaolin Kungfu.

The term “wushu” is quite tricky. In the Chinese language, “wushu” means “martial art”. In the long history of Chinese martial arts, many terms have been used for “martial art”. In classical times, the popular Chinese term for martial art was “wuyi”. About 300 years ago during the Qing Dynasty it was “quanfa”, and then “quanshu”. The term “kungfu” was colloquial, commonly used in South China and by overseas Chinese, but seldom in written literature.

During the Kuomintang or Republican period, which replaced the Qing Dynasty, it was “guoshu”. In Taiwan today, Chinese martial art is still called “guoshu”, which means “national art”.

In the present Communist or Peoples' Republic period, which replaced the Kuomintang, the official Chinese term for martial art is “wushu”. Confusion arises because the present government of the Chinese Peoples' Republic promotes “wushu” not as a martial art, but as a sport.

In the Western world, the term “kungfu” is usually used to mean Chinese martial art, whereas “wushu” to mean a modern sport using kungfu movements. These terms are used in this way in my webpages.

Actually, except for a very short period when the Venerable Hai Deng taught traditional Shaolin Kungfu there, neither kungfu nor wushu has been taught in the modern Shaolin Temple. But wushu was widely taught in numerous wushu schools around the Temple, often by instructors wearing monk's robes. I do not know whether they were monks seconded from the modern Shaolin Temples, or were descended from Hai Deng.

At first the wushu taught by these modetrn Shaolin monks was the same as the wushu taught anywhere in China. The wushu sets they performed were modern standardized forms used in wushu competitions. But later, traditional forms, like Xiao Hung Quan, Da Hung Quan and Lian Bu Quan, were introduced.

It is worthy of note that these traditional forms were practiced as sport and not as martial art. There were no force training and no combat application — the two hallmarks of kungfu. It should also be noted that in the early years when the Chinese government introduced wushu as a sport, traditional sets were also found in wushu competitions. But as the traditional sets were many and varied, the Chinese government invented seven standardized sets to make it easy for umpires to avoid points in wushu competition solely based on elegant performance.

Reproduced from Question 9 June 2004 Part 1 of the Question-Answer Series


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