There is no doubt to many Chinese that the original source of martial arts is China, but the history of this art is highly controversial. In primitive times when tribes traveled throughout what is now known as China. They fought not for trophies or medals, but for survival against wild animals and other tribes or even within their own hierarchy.
The first time martial arts started it is widely thought it came in form of wrestling. Participants would intertwine their arms to mimic the interlocking horns of animals and the stronger would try and subdue the weaker. The only weapons that would have been available at this time were primitive clubs, sticks and small rocks.
When the tribes became more organized they started to develop their weapons and combat skills. They sharpened the ends of sticks to make spears. Also, they began to tie a shaped rock to a club, to produce a weapon that we call today as an ax.
Shang period (16—11 century BCE)
When Chinese tribal society developed as result their combat skills were developed. The most important change came during the Bronze Age in China between the (16th and 11th centuries BCE).
After discovering the bronze there was a significant advancement in the development of different weapons, such as ax, the halberd, spear, straight sword, bow and arrow and broad sword.
At that time the several Chinese tribal began to organize their armies by equipping their armies with horses, armor, and long-handled weapons such as the long-handled broadsword
Horsemanship skills were improved during that time in order to use the weapons more effectively.
Spring & autumn and warring states period (770-220 BCE)
During this period both armed and unarmed combat skills became highly improved by adding many methods of attack, self-defense as well as counter attack.
Also during this time martial art competitions and events became very popular throughout China and many people were seriously wounded or killed because of lack of protective and safety clothes and wraps. This did not lead stoppage of the enthusiasm for competing, however.
Fighting using swords became very popular during this time. Both female and male shared the love of sword fighting.
Qin dynasty (221-207 BCE)
Martial arts competitions became much stricter during this period, with more rules, the placement of referees and improve the use of the laitai (a raised open ring; pronounced lay tie).
During the periods previously mentioned, combat skills were used to develop the armies whose leaders were always struggling for supremacy. Many of the famous generals during that time were very skilled in armed and unarmed combat skills, and by this time the martial arts’ skills were continuously being refined or modified to keep up with the development of weapons. With the several weapons now being used, the most popular were known as the Eighteen Weapons (sword, longbow, crossbow, lance, battle-axe, staff, long-bladed spear, cudgel, dagger ax, fork, truncheon, mallet, jingal, joined bludgeon, chain, hooks, halberd, and shield).
Han dynasty (206 BCE—220 CE) to Sui Tang dynasty (518-907 CE)
During Han and Sui Tang Dynasties the development of martial arts within the army forces continued. Officers and generals had to take tests then ranked by their skills. These tests consisted of the both armed and unarmed combat skills, on foot or on horseback.
Now you can see how the Chinese martial arts developed through the military training. Many people in the West have only heard of the word of Kung Fu to refer Chinese martial arts, but in fact, the correct term that refers all Chinese martial arts is Wushu. The term Wushu covers all kinds and styles of the Chinese martial arts.
The Chinese character Wu 武means military and the Chinese character for Shu 术means art.
So merging the two characters together simply merges the military training and the arts together.
There is a direct translation of Wushu into English but is generally known as Chinese martial arts.
Song dynasty (960-1279 CE)
During the Song Dynasty, martial art associations had been organized and set up in the different provinces of China. And Kung Fu/Wushu was most popular art during this period.
A part of the civilian population was now demonstrated Kung Fu/Wushu performances at festivals.
While many street performers demonstrate their Kung Fu Skills by breaking large rocks with their bare hands and breaking spear shafts.
Ming dynasty (1368-1644 CE)
During the Ming Dynasty, Kung Fu/Wushu began to form many different schools.
Before this time martial artist and Masters kept their skills secret and lessons were passed from the master to the student through word of the month, there was very little written books or articles, therefore the student was not able to read and they only rely on watching and listening to their masters.
However, there are paintings that have been unearthed dating back to the primitive age and shows men wrestling in different combat stances.
Qing dynasty (1644-1911 CE)
During the Qing Dynasty, the martial arts became more defined in their several skills, every school developing its own approach to the many training methods. There was also a rise in secret societies that used Kung Fu/Wushu to great effect.
It reported that students practiced not only their art but also they were taught poems or songs and calligraphy, the words of which held the secret of their fighting skills.
During this period many of the styles that we know today were developed, such as Tan Tui, Xingyiquan, Taijiquan, Baghuaquan, Changquan, Bajiquan, and Tongbiquan.
the Jing Wu Sports Society (Shanghai) was formed In 1910 and that was considered the beginning of the Kung Fu/Wushu martial arts that we know today. In 1928 the now-famous Nanjing Academy (the Central Wushu Institute) was established by the Chinese Government to develop Kung Fu/Wushu as a structured training syllabus, not just for self-defense but for the obvious health purposes.
It was during the Qing Dynasty that many of the Kung Fu styles known today were developed including Taijiquan.
In 1936 Kung Fu delegates were sent out to visit Southeast Asia in order to spread and develop the many different styles of Kung Fu. In the same year, the Chinese Wushu Team present a show at the XI Olympic Games in Berlin.
Since the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949 Kung Fu/Wushu has become a significant part of the Chinese culture, and is on all physical education curricula. Kung Fu is listed in all existed sports institutes.
The Chinese Wushu Association was founded in 1956. The State Physical, Cultural & Sports Commission in 1958 presented the first draft of Kung Fu/Wushu Competition Rules, which was officially adopted during the same year. Throughout Wushu history from old times to today, the fundamental rationale for competitions was aimed to spread the culture, knowledge, and skills and to improve the development of Kung Fu/Wushu.
The term Kung Fu originated in Hong Kong and means any skill that requires an effort or “a skilled man” that works with his hands.
Kung Fu as were introduced to the west by the Bruce Lee in early 1970s.
Since then there has been an increasing interest in Kung Fu particularly Kung Fu Films. The first television series about Kung Fu was David Carradine’s (Kung Fu), Jackie Chan has made many successful films, Chow Yun Fat is a well known movie for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and Jet Li is now the new world Kung Fu star. All these famous films have been very good for the promotion of Chinese Kung Fu.
The International Wushu Federation and the Executive and Technical Committees supported by the Chinese Sports Ministry, are all working toward improving Kung Fu/Wushu and their efforts yielded entering of Kung Fu/Wushu into the 2008 Olympic Games, which hold in Beijing.