A Brief History of Chinese Martial Arts

October 19, 2003
Originally published in Kung Fu Fundamentals

The Chinese martial arts have a history of several thousand years. To render a proper version of their development is an arduous task. Even though we know Kung Fu probably existed as early as the Neolithic period, no recorded accounts made prior to the Shang Dynasty (1523 - 1027BC) can be found.

During this period, however, the martial techniques were rudimentary and governed by brute force. With the passing of the centuries, they were developed into an efficient fighting art, reaching a high level during the Tang Dynasty (AD 618 - 907). It was during this period that Kung Fu spread to other countries, thus affecting the development of empty-hand fighting styles in Okinawa, Korea, Japan, and other Asian countries.

Also during this period the Shaolin Temple and its fighting monks gained fame, and the main temple in Henan Province became the training ground of some of the most famous masters of the time. Hundreds of systems were created and hardly any young man was unskilled in some form of fighting. China's martial technique continued to prosper until the end of the Ming Dynasty (AD 1368 - 1644), when the Manchus came to power and teaching and training of martial arts became very secretive. Resentment for the Manchus and other foreign powers finally culminated in the Boxer Rebellion in the early 1900's.

Afterwards, the Jin Wu Association and the Guo Shu Institute did much to restore the martial spirit of China.