Wushu (term)

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Wushu (simplified Chinese: ??; traditional Chinese: ??; pinyin: wushù listen (help·info); Cantonese: móuh-seuht) 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.

The term wushu consists of two Chinese characters. ? (wu), meaning, martial or military, and ? (shù), which translates into discipline, skill or method. Together these form “wushù” meaning ‘Art of fighting’ but translated as “martial art”.

The term appeared in a Southern Song Dynasty poem by Yán Yánzhi (384-456 CE): “????,?????????,?????” 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 Li Yú in the Ming Dynasty (1610-1680): “??????” This translates to “Liking wushu since childhood.”

The word wushu literally and traditionally refers to the martial arts in general. However, there has been a recent shift in its meaning due to the creation of the modern exhibition sport entitled “wushu”. The sport was created by the People’s Republic of China and is derived from the various forms of traditional Chinese martial arts.

Traditional wushu refers to the multitude of Chinese martial arts which existed before the competitive forms of Wushu established in the modern era.

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