The Term of Wushu

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Wushu literally means “martial art”. It is a more precise term than the widely used term kung fu, which can mean either martial art or “skill”: a craftsperson or artisan could be said to have good “kung fu” in the way in which they carry out their craft; in the same way, a wushu practitioner can also be said to have good “kung fu” in their wushu practice.

In the broadest sense, the word wushu may refer to any martial art in the world, though in practice it often refers to the modern sport named “wushu” (see wushu (sport); also known as “modern wushu” or “contemporary wushu”), or the various styles of Chinese martial arts.

Translation: The term wushu consists of two Chinese characters. æ­¦ (wÇ”), meaning “to stop war”, martial or military, and è¡“ (shù), which translates into art, skill or method. Together these form “wÇ”shù” meaning ‘Art of not fighting’ but translated as “martial art”.

The term appeared in a Southern Song Dynasty poem by Yán YánzhÄ« (384-456 CE): “偃閉武術,闡揚文令。庶士傾風,萬流仰鏡。” The text means “Abolish wushu, promote literature. Be respected and admired by the masses.”

In this context, wushu may refer to “military affairs”. The term later appeared in a poem by Lǐ Yú in the Ming Dynasty (1610-1680): “自幼好武術。” This translates to “Liking wushu since childhood.”

Contemporary Wushu: While the word wushu literally and traditionally refers to the martial arts in general, the recent times have seen a shift in its perceived meaning, due to the creation of the modern exhibition sport entitled “wushu”.

The sport, created by the People’s Republic of China, is derived from the various forms of traditional Chinese martial arts.

Traditional Wushu: The term “traditional wushu” may be used in contrast with sport or modern wushu, to refer to the multitude of Chinese martial arts which existed before the establishment of the People’s Republic of China. Many of these styles are rarely seen in modern wushu competitions. “Wu shu” also means “Flowering Hand” in ancient Chinese parlance. The shaolin temples propagated this term to mean ‘As soft as a flower while in motion, but strong upon impact’.