Chinese Martial Arts Forms, Styles & Influential Schools

Man Performing Chinese Martial Arts

China is legendary for its range of martial arts, which are known collectively as kung fu, Gung fu, or wushu. These are today’s most popular fighting styles that have developed over centuries in China and have gained attention all over the world. Even in modern China, martial arts is regarded as a tradition and is even seen as being representative of Chinese culture. The most popular styles are Tai Chi, Qigong, and Shaolin, plus Chinese martial arts forms are practiced by millions of people worldwide.

The martial arts forms in China today actuallyadvocate peace, rather than aggression and are the common value upheld throughout generations of fighters. The original function of kung fu and other forms of Chinese martial arts is self defense and this is achieved with an impressive number of boxing styles, weapon skills, and movement sets.

Styles of Chinese Martial Arts

It is difficult to classify all Chinese martial arts, since there are hundreds of styles and varieties in an incredibly vast and diverse country. Typically, Chinese martial arts are classified as follows:

Internal/External Styles

Internal refers to martial arts forms where the strength is from the torso or legs, while external refers to training of the more specific arm and leg muscles. T’ai chi ch’uan would be one of the best known internal forms of Chinese martial arts and it is practiced for its health benefits as much as the self defense techniques students learn. Wing Chun is the other well known Chinese martial art and it is both internal and external.

Southern/Northern Styles

This refers to the origin of the martial art, though there are differences in styles between techniques in Northern and Southern schools.


Again, these are forms of Chinese martial arts that refer to a region. For example, Shaolin boxing is practiced at the Shaolin Temple in the Henan Province, the Taoists in Hubei province use a mountain called Wudang, and Emei is a religious mountain in the Sichuan province.

Influential Martial Arts Schools in China

Here are some of the most influential schools of Chinese martial arts:


This is deemed to be the premier style in China and is commonly practiced globally. Buddhist philosophy is used in the physical and mental preparation of students.


This is almost as famous as Shaolin and uses Taoist theories with Intention Boxing and Eight-Diagram Palm among the main tenets.


This is a moderate school and actually blends the styles of Shaolin and Wudang.

Tai Chi

This is a slow and elegant style that originated from Taoism, physical exercise, traditional medicine and dialectic philosophy. Its aim is to beat action with inaction or in other words, to use an attacker’s momentum against him.

Intention Boxing

It is known for the straightforward, but rapid and powerful fist attack with routines including Twelve Animals Boxing.

Southern Fist

This is a school that is 400 years old and is located in South China. It features short and tight movements and vigorous attacks.

In Closing

As you can see, the topic of Chinese martial arts forms is a complicated one, but we hope this article has helped to expand your knowledge.

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