What is Wushu?

Among China's well kept secrets, one caught the imagination of Americans - Chinese wushu. Wushu is an important component of the cultural heritage of China, with a rich content that has remained untarnished over the centuries. Literally translated, "wu" is military, "shu" is art. Wushu therefore means the art of fighting, or martial arts.

Previously, wushu figured significantly in the simple matter of survival through China's many wars and political upheaval. Today, wushu has been organized and systematized into a formal branch of study in the performance arts by the Chinese. It reigns as the most popular national sport in the country of 1.1 billion people, practiced by the young and old alike. Its emphasis has shifted from combat to performance, and it is practiced for its method of achieving heath, self-defense skills, mental discipline, recreational pursuit and competition.

To describe wushu, it is best to understand the philosophy of its teaching. Every movement must exhibit sensible combat application and aestheticism. The wealth of wushu's content, the beauty of wushu movents, the difficulty factor, and the scientific training methods are the song of the elements that set wushu apart from martial arts. Routines are performed solo, paired or in groups, either barehanded or armed with traditional Chinese weaponry. In short, wushu is the most exciting martial art to be seen, felt, and ultimately practiced.

How is wushu related to kung fu and taijiquan? "Wushu" is the correct term for all Chinese martial arts therefore kung fu and wushu were originally the same. During the last thirty years, wushu in Mainland China was modernized so that there could be a universal standard for training and competing. In essence, much emphasis has been placed on speed, difficulty, and presentation. Consequently, wushu has become an athletic and aesthetic performance and competitive sport, while "kung fu" or traditional wushu remains the traditional fighting practice. Taijiquan is a major division of wushu, utilizing the body's internal energy or "chi" and following the simple principle of "subduing the vigorous by the soft."

Although still in budding stages in many countries, wushu is an established international sport. In 1990, wushu was inducted as an official medal event in the Asian Games. Since then World Championships have taken place with 56 nations participating. Wushu is also vying for the Olympic games in the 21st century.

What to Bring to Your First Practice?

Make sure to wear loose, breathable clothes. A pair of light sweatpants and a t-shirt are what most people wear. Sweatpants are recommended because they'll help keep your legs warmed-up and limber. Wear shoes that are light and flexible and give you good traction on the floor. Badminton shoes, keds, and light sneakers work well. In China, they make shoes especially for wushu, and a number of club members sport them. You might want to consider getting a pair after attending enough practices. Bring a bottle of water so you won't get dehydrated.

The first part of class is spent mostly stretching and the second part is spent practicing kicks, jumps, and sets also known as taolu. If you're just beginning wushu, you'll learn a basic "beginner's set" that will teach you the fundamentals of stances, kicks, and movements. You'll practice this set while also working on the basic kicks and jumps. As you progress, you'll eventually learn other empty hand forms and weapons.

Wushu Taolu at Stanford


Contemporary Changquan, or Long Fist, has its source in Northern Chinese boxing styles and martial arts once taught in the Shaolin temples. It is characterized by fast, powerful movements that emphasize extension, sweeping circular strikes and kicks, and aerial techniques. The contemporary revisions not only preserve the essence of this style, but emphasize flexibility, strength, and aesthetic grace in the martial artist performing it. Changquan basics also provide the foundation for our learning and practices. The first style of Wushu which all of our students learn, Changquan is very exciting to watch and remains a favorite of many Wushu practitioners even as they learn the use of weapons and more traditional forms.

Nanquan is the Southern style counterpart to Changquan. While both are external martial arts, Nanquan's emphasis leans more toward strong stances and powerful punching strikes. Easily differentiated from Changquan even to the casual observer, Nanquan has its own distinct "flavor" and along with Changquan comprises Wushu's two most popular external empty-hand events. Some of our students begin learning Nanquan after obtaining intermediate-level Changquan instruction.

The Chinese broadsword, or Dao, is a weapon which historically saw use most often as the hand weapon of military foot soldiers. A single-edged blade with a distinctive curve, it was wielded in an aggressive, energetic fashion and modern broadsword forms reflect this tradition. While all wushu weapons work demands a good base in empty-hand techniques, the use of the broadsword heavily emphasizes speed and strength.

In contrast to the broadsword, the straightsword, or jian, is a weapon often associated with scholars or nobility. The straightsword is a slender, double-edged blade and its forms display quickness, precision, and grace of a sort different from but no less impressive than that of the broadsword.

Wushu's simplest weapon is also one of its most impressive. The staff is a long weapon and draws the greater bulk of its power from the sheer speed of its whirling strikes. Staff use relies heavily on properly mastered empty-hand basics for its stancework and jumping techniques.

The use of the staff is often compared with the use of the broadsword. Similarly, the use of the spear is often compared with the use of the straightsword. As would be expected, spear techniques rely on threading and thrusting maneuvers and swift footwork which take advantage of the spear's speed and long reach. One of the most challenging weapons that Wushu training has to offer, it quickly becomes clear that an accomplished spear practitioner knows much more than a few simple pokes and steps.

In our class we practice predominately Yang-style taiji (also spelled as "taichi"), excepting a scattering of non-Yang movements that are found in the 42 combined-style forms. The following forms are taught consecutively: Yang 24, Combined 42, Yang 32 sword, Combined 42 sword. The number associated with each form is the number of movements it contains. New students may spend 6 months to a year on each form before learning the next.

Club Fees

Club fees are usually due by second week of the Stanford quarter. This allows new students to practice with the team and to experience what wushu is like.

Class Stanford Student (New) Stanford Student (Returning) Stanford Affiliates Community Members
Wushu 90 81 145 180
Taichi 60 60 120 120

Our Instructors

Phillip Wong

Phillip Wong was a champion member of the US National Wushu Team, and one of the few Americans to compete and place in wushu competitions in China. He was nominated as Inside Kung Fu's competitor of the year in 1987 and has been featured in ESPN television specials. He also provided motion acting for the highly popular video games Tekken 2 & 3 and Mace: The Dark Age.

Wong Laoshi's events include changquan, broadsword, straighsword, and staff, and he is most known for his drunken fist and drunken sword. His present students include half of the members of the US Wushu Team.

Zhang Hong Mei

Zhang Hong Mei was a champion member of the Beijing Wushu Team and the first generation of Chinese wushu athletes to tour the United States in 1975. Her past teammates include Li Lian Jie (Jet Li). Before coming to the United States, she spent 3 years teaching taiji in Japan by invitation.

Zhang Laoshi's events include changquan, staff, straightsword, taiji, and she is most know for skill in double straight sword and bagua zhang.


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