When we started to call it “Wushu” (武术-martial arts)? A little journey through Chinese history

When we started to call it “Wushu” (武术-martial arts)? A little journey through Chinese history

Wushu (武术) originated from ancient hunting and warfare and is a summary of fighting skills and experience. In the early days, human beings, consciously or unconsciously, mastered some defense and attack skills in the struggle for survival in the nature, which laid the foundation for the formation of martial arts.

The use of the word and concept of "Wushu" is a modern event. In ancient records, we can find words like:

“拳勇” (拳quan - fist/boxing; 勇yong - brave) in the Shang Dynasty (商代16th - 11th century BC),

“技击“(技ji;击 ji) witch means “Art of attack and defense" in the Chunqiu Dynasty (春秋 770 -476 BC)and

"武艺"(武 wu; 艺 yi) in the Han Dynasty (汉代202 BC - 220 AC).

After the Han Dynasty , the term "Wuyi" was widely used. The meaning of "Wuyi" is explained in the encyclopedia "辞源"(ciyuan; 1908 - 1931 AC); it refers to military techniques such as riding, shooting, striking, and stabbing".

The term "Wushu" appeared for the first time in the “文选”(Wenxuan) written by Xiao Tong(潇统), the eldest son of Emperor LiangWu durring the Nan Dynasty (南朝420 -589 AD), but it does not have the same meaning of today's concept of martial arts. There are verses in the text as "偃闭武术,阐扬文令”(yan bi wu shu, chanyang wen ling) which means “to stop martial arts and promote cultural governance”, but this does not reflect the concept of today's martial arts.

Later generations used the word "wushu" as a special term for self-defense and strengthening of the body, whitch was widely used in the late Qing Dynasty (清代1644 - 1911 AC) and the early Republic of China.


In the "辞海"(Cihai), one of the most important chinese encyclopedia, we can find that the word "wu"(“武") has many meanings, the first two meanings are:

  • "generally called the matter of fighting against the military";
  • "Brave / full of valour and vigour".

In "Shuowen Jiezi"(“说文解字”), one of the oldest Chinese vocabulary written around 100 DC , the word "shu"(“术”) refers to "technical skills".

In the semi-feudal and semi-colonial modern China, facing the impact of Western culture, there was a trend of advocating the Chinese "national quintessence"(国粹guocui); in that time, wushu was known as "national art/ national martial art", besides "Chinese painting", "Chinese goods", "Chinese music" and "Chinese medicine".

After the founding of New China, wushu was officially established as a sports event.

From "技击jiji" to "武艺wuyi", from "武艺wuyi" to "武术wushu", there is always the essential characteristic of offense - defense.

 Following the development of the society, wushu is changing its methods and applications, is not only used in the army as a defense and attack method, we can also find it in the society, among the people, and even in the schools; at the same time, wushu has the functions of competition, entertainment and education.