House of China
Hundreds of Millions Can’t Be Wrong
It is said that Tai Chi is the most practiced martial art in the world with an estimated 200 plus million adherents. Of course China has a population of 1.3 billion and Tai Chi is practically a religion for many of them. Tai Chi Chuan (literally “Grand Ultimate Fist”) is just one of many systems of martial arts to develop in what many believe to be the birthplace of the martial arts.
But records are rare and legends abound. The most popular story about Chinese martial arts centers on an Indian Buddhist monk named Bodhidharma (Daruma in Japanese) who is said to have traveled to China around 525 AD and began teaching a system of physical and mental exercises at the Shaolin Monastery. Over the decades Kung Fu (a collective term for Chinese arts which literally only means “skilled”) developed into a refined but very diverse collection of styles. Traveling monks introduced their methods into other countries which further modified the arts into native systems. It must be noted that there were martial practices in China long before the 6th century however.
Today there are literally hundreds of systems of kung fu (or gung fu) practiced around the world. Some people make a division between “Northern” and “Southern” schools. Generally speaking, Northern China has rocky terrain and, in ancient times, was more rural. It is supposed that styles founded in this type of environment would make use of more flourish and have long range kicks. Southern China is more urban and flatter and so schools springing up in this environment would be aimed towards closer combat and would make use of more hand techniques and lower kicks.
Another, typical, classification of kung fu is external (more emphasis on physical technique) vs. internal (more emphasis on development of “qi” or “chi” internal power). In the China of today “Wushu” (literally martial arts) has become a popular national sport.