The Chinese Arts Explained



Hopefully the thread title lured a few in here who may have a response to the question. I want to get back into martial arts and I am trying to find the art that may best suit me. I once was a student of TKD, but thought to inquire about some of the other arts out there. Of the chinese arts I am seeing many different names and styles and was wondering if someone might be able to help explain some of these. First what exactly is Chuan Fa, as I am seeing the name used in different ways. I have thought of learning the style of Wing Chun, yet there seems to be a few different variants of the style. Chinese Boxing, would that not just be chinese arts used in the context of self defense? Northern and Southerm what are the major differences regarding styles?


thats a big question you are asking. the world of chinese martial arts is so broad that attempts to categorize them into larger "orders" never really works to well. northern and southern is a good example. those terms allude to the fact that there is a southern and a northern shaolin temple and different styles emerged from there. is you generalize, southern stles use more compact and direct movements do to space constraints in places like hong kong or due to the nature of the southern terrain. northern styles often use more kicks and medium range attacks there's more open areas, fields and harder ground to stand on. another division that loosely categorizes chinese boxing( same as chuan fa, or kung fu, or wushu) is internal and external styles. external or hard styles focus on hard muscle to deliver their power, while internal, or soft styles utilize energy or chi, to generate power. but as you might expect, it's not very simple to categorize many systems as just soft or hard, because many include some of both.

my suggestion would be that you talk to some CMA instructors in your area and ask them some of these questions:

is the system a hard style (wei jia)
or soft style (nei jia)?
and do you teach any aspects of the other?

what weapons do you practice?

are you forms oriented, or more sparring ?

do you teach qin na(bone manipulation) in the system or cavity strikes?

are there animal techniques or forms(some systems are devoted entirely to one animal or to many or none)?

what is the history of your specific school and where does it come from(china is not enough)?

do you focus on hard fitness or more technique?

do you do a lot of stretching?what kind of conditioning?

this will help you paint the picture, and if you have any questions about specifics, go ahead and post them, ill be glad to try and answer them.


Sr. Grandmaster
MTS Alumni
Aug 28, 2001
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Terre Haute, IN
In addition to what's been said above by theneuhauser, look at the Wing Chun forum here which has a lot of info. on that art and its divisions, and many links.


Ch'uan Fa (Quan Fa), literally means Fist Method.

Kung Fu (Gong Fu), literally means Skill gained over a period of time.

Both are used in the US to refer to Chinese martial arts, or Chinese boxing.

Wing Chun was unified, at one time, under Yip Man...however, after the master's passing, the seniors in the system split...there are at least three organizations (probably more now) that teach Wing Chun. William Cheung, Leung Ting, and Yip Chun all claim the system as their own...William Cheung was Bruce Lee's senior and actually helped train Bruce...Yip Chun is Yip Man's son...I don't know much about Leung Ting.

I trained (traded information about our systems and sparred some, I never learned the system) with a gentleman who learned his Wing Chun from his uncle...his uncle learned from Yip Man. So there are some teaching privately in some of the China towns, too. John was very skilled, his defense was impenetrable and he stuck to me like glue once our arms touched...Philosophy??? Wasn't there...

You would do well to start learning the philosophical aspect on your own...start readiing some of the translations of LaoTze & ChuangTze; once you're through those, some of the more esoteric texts can be tackled...then, you can start asking questions of your Sifu...pick his mind about his thoughts on the different philosophies and HOW they are applied or apparent (or not) within the system you are learning...many schools have a "code of ethics" but what underlies that code? Some just have it because their teacher had it, or they borrowed from another kwoon or dojo...But, that code IS built on the underlying philosophy of someone, somewhere, sometime...and it is worth the effort to find out what that is. Good hunting !!!