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Brief History of Gongfu

The origins of Chinese martial arts - gongfu - are traced to self-defense needs, hunting activities and military training in ancient China. Hand to hand combat and weapons practice were important components in the training of soldiers. From this beginning, gongfu proceeded to incorporate different philosophies and ideas into its practice — expanding its purpose from self-defense to health maintenance and finally as a method of self cultivation.

In 509 BC, Confucius suggested to Duke Ding of Lu that people practice the literary arts as well as the martial arts. A combat wrestling system called jiǎolì (角力) is mentioned in the Classic of Rites (1st century BC). This combat system included techniques such as strikes, throws, joint manipulation, and pressure point attacks. Jiao li became a sport during the Qin Dynasty (221–207 BCE). The Han History Bibliographies record that, by the Former Han (206 BC – 8 AD), there was a distinction between no-holds-barred weaponless fighting, which it calls shǒubó (手搏), for which "how-to" manuals had already been written, and sportive wrestling, then known as jiǎolì (角力). Wrestling is also documented in the Shǐ Jì, Records of the Grand Historian, written by Sima Qian (ca. 100 BC).

A hand-to-hand combat theory, including the integration of notions of "hard" and "soft" techniques, is expounded in the story of the Maiden of Yue in the Spring and Autumn Annals of Wu and Yue (5th c. BC).

In the Tang Dynasty, descriptions of sword dances were immortalized in poems by Li Bai. In the Song and Yuan dynasties, xiangpu contests were sponsored by the imperial courts. The modern concepts of wushu were fully developed by the Ming and Qing dynasties.

Martial arts are also mentioned in Chinese philosophy. Passages in Zhuangzi (庄子), a Daoist text, pertain to the psychology and practice of martial arts. Zhuangzi, its eponymous author, is believed to have lived in the 4th century BC. The Daodejing, often credited to Lao Zi, is another Daoist text that contains principles applicable to martial arts. According to one of the classic texts of Confucianism, Zhou Li (周禮/周礼), archery and charioteering were part of the "six arts" (Chinese: 六藝; simplified Chinese: 六艺; pinyin: liu yi), including rites, music, calligraphy and mathematics of the Zhou Dynasty (1122–256 BC). The Art of War ( 孫子兵法), written during the 6th century BC by Sun Zi ( 孫子), deals directly with military warfare but contains ideas that are used in the martial arts. Those examples shows the ideas associated with gongfu changed with the evolving society and over time acquired a philosophical basis.

Daoist practitioners have been practicing Dao Yin, physical exercises similar to Qigong that was one of the progenitors to taiji quan (tai chi chuan), at least as early as 500 BC. In 39–92, "Six Chapters of Hand Fighting", were included in the Han Shu (history of the Former Han Dynasty) written by Pan Ku. Also, the noted physician, Hua Tuo, composed the "Five Animals Play" — tiger, deer, monkey, bear, and bird, around 220 BC.

With regards to the Shaolin style of martial arts, the oldest evidence of Shaolin participation in combat is a style from 728 AD that attests to two occasions: a defense of the Shaolin Monastery from bandits around 610 AD, and their subsequent role in the defeat of Wang Shichong at the Battle of Hulao in 621 AD.

From the 8th to the 15th centuries, there are no extant documents that provide evidence of Shaolin participation in combat.

However, between the 16th and 17th centuries there are at least forty extant sources which provided evidence that, not only did monks of Shaolin practice martial arts, but martial practice had become such an integral element of Shaolin monastic life that the monks felt the need to justify it by creating new Buddhist lore. References of martial arts practice in Shaolin appear in various literary genres of the late Ming: the epitaphs of Shaolin warrior monks, martial-arts manuals, military encyclopedias, historical writings, travelogues, fiction, and even poetry. However these sources do not point out to any specific style originated in Shaolin. These sources, in contrast to those from the Tang period, refer to Shaolin methods of armed combat. This include the forte of Shaolin monks and for which they had become famous — the staff (Gun, pronounced as juen). General Qi Jiquan included these techniques in his book, Treatise of Effective Discipline.

The fighting styles that are practiced today were developed over the centuries, after having incorporated forms that came into existence later. Some of these include Bagua, Drunken Boxing, Eagle Claw, Five Animals, Xing Yi, Hung Gar, Lau Gar, Monkey, Tiger, Bak Mei Pai, Praying Mantis, Fujian White Crane, Wing Chun and Taiji Quan [Tai Chi Chuan].

Modern Times

Within China, the practice of traditional martial arts was discouraged by the communists. Like many other aspects of traditional Chinese life, martial arts was subjected to a radical transformation by communist China in order to align it with Maoist revolutionary doctrine.

The communist government promoted the committee-regulated sport of Wushu as a replacement to independent schools of gongfu. This new competition sport was disassociated from what was seen as the potentially subversive self-defense aspects and family lineages of gongfu. Rhetorically, they also encouraged the use of the term "Guoshu" (meaning "the arts of the nation"), rather than the colloquial term gongfu, in an effort to more closely associate gongfu with national pride rather than individual accomplishment.

In 1958, the government established the All-China Wushu Association as an umbrella organization to regulate martial arts training. The Chinese State Commission for Physical Culture and Sports took the lead in creating standardized forms for most of the major arts.

During this period, a national Wushu system that included standard forms, teaching curriculum, and instructor grading was established. Wushu was introduced at both the high school and university level. The suppression of traditional teaching was relaxed during the Era of Reconstruction (1976–1989), as communist ideology became more accommodating to alternative viewpoints.

Brief History of Taiji Quan [Tai Chi Chuan]

There is much myth about taiji quan's origins, however, historically proven is a form of exercise developed by Chen Wanting (1597-1664) for preparing his soldiers for real fights.

In the following centuries the art of taiji quan was handed down from generation to generation within families.

The Yang Style derived from the Chen tradition, and the Wu Style has its origins in the middle of the 19th century starting with Wu Quan You, a disciple of Yang Lutan and Yang Banhou, the main representatives of the Yang Style at that time.

Brief History of Wu Family Taiji Quan

In 1850, Wu Quanyou (吳全佑, 1834–1902) was a Manchurian military officer cadet in the Yellow Banner camp in the Forbidden City, Beijing, and also a hereditary officer of the Imperial Guards Brigade. At that time, Yang Luchan (楊露禪, 1799–1872) was the martial arts instructor in the Imperial Guards, teaching taiji quan.

In 1870, Wu Quanyou was asked to become the senior disciple of Yang Panhou (楊班侯, 1837-1890), Yang Luchan’s oldest adult son, and an instructor as well to the Manchu military.

Wu Quanyou's son, Wu Jianquan (吳鑑泉, 1870-1942), and grandchildren: grandsons Wu Gongyi, 吳公儀, 1900-1970 and Wu Gongzao, 吳公藻, 1902-1983 as well as granddaughter Wu Yinghua, 吳英華, 1906-1996 were well known teachers.

Wu Jianquan became the most widely known teacher in his family, and is therefore considered the co-founder of the Wu style by his family and their students. He taught large numbers of people and his refinements to the art more clearly distinguish Wu style from Yang style training. Wu Jianquan moved his family south from Beijing (where an important school founded by other students of his father is headquartered, popularly known as the Northern Wu style) to Shanghai in 1928, where he founded the Jianquan Taiji Quan Association (鑑泉太極拳社) in 1935.

Wu Gongyi then moved the family headquarters to Hong Kong in 1948, his younger sister Wu Yinghua and her husband, Ma Yueliang, 馬岳樑, 1901-1998, staying behind to manage the original Shanghai school. Between 1983 and her passing in 1996 Wu Yinghua was the highest ranked instructor in the Wu family system. Her sons continue teaching and today manage the Shanghai school as well as schools in Europe.

Wu Gongyi's children were also full time martial art teachers. Wu Dakui, 吳大揆, 1923-1972 was active in the resistance to the Japanese during the war, yet he later taught taiji quan in Japan after the war.

His younger brother, Wu Daqi, 吳大齊, 1926-1993, supervised the family's Hong Kong and southeast Asian schools for many years and opened the family's first western hemisphere school in Toronto, Canada in 1974.

Wu Gongyi's daughter, Wu Yanxia, 吳雁霞, 1930-2001, was known as an expert with the taiji jian (sword), while her cousin, Wu Daxin, 吳大新, 1933-2005, was also known as a weapons specialist, particularly with the taiji dao (sabre).




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