This is China Series

The Secrets of Wudang Wushu. Chinese Monks Perfect a Chinese Martial Art

  • Wushu is a Chinese martial art comprised of “external” and “internal” styles.
  • Wudang Wushu is the oldest of the “internal” styles, closely connected to Daoism
  • An ancient legend describes how animal movements inspired its origin
  • While Wudang Wushu is practiced around the world today, its original, authentic form is best preserved by the Daoist monks of the Wudang Mountains

Chinese martial arts, known as wushu, combine hundreds of different styles that belong to one of two categories. The so-called “external” styles focus on improving muscle and honing battle skills, as famously practiced by Shaolin monks for example. “Internal” styles concentrate on manipulating “qi” or life energy, which is also the basis for most Chinese medicine.

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In the misty Wudang Mountains, followers of Wushu’s legendary founder, Daoist monk, Zhang Sanfeng, practice the oldest of the “internal” Wushu styles - Taijiquan or Wudang Wushu. Legend has it that Zhang Sanfeng was inspired by watching a fight between a sparrow and a snake.

The style he created reflects the creatures’ fluid and precise movements. It’s said to build inner strength while practitioners remain calm and composed. In combat, the emphasis is on avoiding attacks and using the enemy’s own strength against them. Many believe that practicing Wudang Wushu also improves health, Zhang Sanfeng is said to have lived to his 300th birthday.

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Wudang Wushu is still closely connected to Daoism but today, it is exported around the world in a simplified form without a specific religious and philosophical context. Its authentic form is preserved by the monks of the Wudang Mountains. For centuries they have passed the art on from teacher to student, saving it for future generations. Today they don’t just share the skill with trainee monks but anybody else willing to commit to using this ancient martial art to perfect themselves in body and spirit.

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