Top 8 Most Popular Martial Arts in China

Top 8 Most Popular Martial Arts in China

China, the hub of the universe of martial arts, is home to some of the best martial arts in the world.

While some of these arts are no longer widely practiced, some are still very well known in the country so much so that it forms part of the daily life of the people.

As you would soon learn in this article, not all martial arts in China are focused on physical fighting; some are focused on the exercise, meditation, and spiritual benefits of the art.

So here is my list of the most popular martial arts in China.

#1. Shaolin Kung Fu

Shaolin Kung Fu is one of the most popular martial art not only in China but worldwide.

Developed by monks at the Shaolin Temple in Henan Province, Shaolin Kung Fu is considered an “external style” of Chinese martial art.

Shaolin Kung Fu is known for its quick, forceful movements and the use of weapons such as spears and staffs.

Buddhist monks from central Asia are believed to have started the Shaolin style over 1,500 years ago.

Bodhidharma, one of these monks, is credited for founding the Chan school of Buddhism, the precursor to modern Zen Buddhism.

As a result of the exploits of the Shaolin Temple’s “soldier monks,” Shaolin Kung Fu gained semi-mythic status in China.

The founding members of the Tang imperial family were supported by the Shaolin monks during their successful armed struggle for the throne.

A multinational gang of pirates constantly raided China’s coastal areas during the Ming dynasty, so the government enlisted Shaolin monks to combat them.

The Shaolin monks did not always enjoy government support, however.

Their monastery was even destroyed during the Qing dynasty for anti-Qing activities, only to be rebuilt later.

Over 1,000 different sub-styles of Shaolin Kung Fu exist today, and in other countries, such as Japan, some martial arts schools claim Shaolin origins.

#2. Taijiquan (Tai Chi)

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Tai Chi is undoubtedly the most popular internal style of Chinese martial art in China.

Tai chi, being an internal martial art is more concerned with breathing and meditation than with physical fighting.

Today, many students now choose this art for its health benefits rather than its fighting benefit.

The Tai Chi concept is focused on the idea of balance, emphasizing slow and graceful movements.

This is done with a high level of precision in combination with meditation to ensure the “full presence” of a practitioner during the movements.

Tai Chi provides 2 benefits;

  • Physical benefits
  • Mental benefits

Tai Chi does not need to be practiced as a martial art. This makes it easily accessible to people of all ages and fitness levels to partake.

These have made Tai Chi very popular not only in China but throughout the world.

#3. Sanda

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Sanda also known as Sanshou is a full-contact Chinese martial art, and is considered the most popular combat sport in China.

This art is referred to as “Chinese Boxing” or “Chinese Kickboxing.”

It is a fighting system that combines modern combat methods with traditional Kung Fu.

The sport is compared to Muay Thai in Thailand, but it has its complicated history.

Sanda is believed to have originated in ancient Chinese arena fights called Lei Tai.

‘Lei Tai’s’ were raised platforms where martial arts bouts were contested, either with weapons or bare knuckles.

There would be referees and judges present in ‘sanctioned’ bouts.

Those who surrendered were pushed off the raised podium, and they lose the fight.

And until another fighter challenged the winner, the podium would belong to the winner.

The ‘owner’ was declared champion if no other challengers came forward.

Lei Tai also held private duels which may be fought to the death.

The brutal nature of the fights remained up until the 1900s.

Before the outlawing of traditional martial arts during the cultural revolution, the Chinese government gathered masters of the Sanda to develop a standardized style.

Modern Sanda fighters adopt the use of a wide variety of striking techniques such as punches, elbows, knees, and kicks.

It also includes takedowns and throws, although chokes and joint locks are not permitted.

The highest modern Sanda competition is the World Championship which is held every two years, where the best practitioners compete.

Sanda practitioners have a history of competing in other disciplines to determine which styles are most effective.

And several famous Sanda practitioners have gone on to achieve success in other sports.

For example, UFC Champions Zhang Weili, Cung Lee, Zabit Magomedsharipov, and Pat Barry all have a background in Sanda.

#4. Tae Kwon Do

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Although Taekwondo is a Korean martial art, it is however extremely popular in China with hundreds of schools present in the country.

The Chinese Taekwondo Association belongs to the All-China Sports Federation and is a national mass sports organization.

The CTA National Committee is the highest organ of power, and the Standing Committee is responsible for administration.

In 1994, China’s State Physical Culture and Sports Commission officially adopted Taekwondo as a new addition to China’s Olympic and ASIAD sports programs.

In the Olympic program, taekwondo is made one of two Asian martial arts.

At the 1988 Seoul Games, taekwondo was introduced as a demonstration sport, and at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, it became an official medal sport.

Tag team competitions of up to 5 on 5 are now popular in China in addition to the Olympic program.

#5. Bajiquan

Another popular Chinese martial art is Bajiquan which emerged in the 18th century.

It was originally called Baziquan or “rake fist” due to its trademark use of swift downward strikes using partially opened hands.

Its current full name is kāimén bājíquán, which roughly translates to “open-door fist of the eight extremes.”

“Open-door” or “Open-gate” comes from forcing one’s opponent’s arms apart in order to strike their body.

As a short-range combat style, Bajiquan uses rapid, explosive movements including elbow and fist strikes.

Bajiquan, an iconic Chinese martial art, has influenced pop culture around the world.

It is often featured in Japanese video games, manga, and anime.

Bajiquan even appeared in Mortal Kombat and The Matrix: Deadly Alliance. 

#6. Baguazhang

Similar to Tai Chi, Baguazhang is considered a martial art of the internal style.

Its philosophy is heavily influenced by Taoist concepts like yin and yang and even takes its name from the Taoist trigrams or Bagua.

In the first half of the 19th century, Dong Haichuan founded this style by synthesizing the martial arts techniques he learned from Taoist and Buddhist practitioners who he had met during his visit to rural China.

A distinctive feature of Baguazhang is the use of circle walking.

In this style, practitioners move in a circular pattern while performing various strikes, throws, kicks, and grappling moves, which are quite diverse.

Baguazhang is also known for its use of a diverse array of weapons, including large broadswords.

This art is known to be particularly effective when fighting multiple opponents.

#7. Qigong 

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Millions of people in China and around the world practice qigong.

Although Qigong is a form of martial art, it is mainly popular in China for exercise, recreation, relaxation, preventative medicine, and physical and mental healing.

Qigong which literarily means ‘life-energy cultivation’ is a system of coordinated movement and body posture, breathing, and meditation used for health, spirituality, and martial arts training purposes.

This art has its root in martial arts, philosophy, and medicine, and is traditionally viewed throughout china and the rest of Asia as a practice to cultivate and balance qi (“chi” or “chee”) meaning “life energy”.

The practice of Qigong typically involves coordinating slow-flowing movement, moving meditation, deep rhythmic breathing, and a calm meditative state of mind.

#8. Wing Chun

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Wing Chun is a Chinese martial art and a form of self-defense that uses striking, “sticking” or controlling. 

It is a concept-based art specialized in close-range combat.

Most historians agree that Wing Chun was developed in southern China approximately 300 years ago, so it is a relatively young martial art.

This art, according to legend was founded by the Buddhist nun Ng Mui, who was a Shaolin Kung Fu master.

Using her personal experience and martial training, she synthesized a compact form of Kung Fu to exploit the inherent weaknesses in the other combat styles of her time giving an advantage to smaller fighters like her.

As Wing Chun was adopted by various groups, it quietly began to spread throughout southern China.

Grandmaster Ip Man started giving open classes in China and Hong Kong, which increased the popularity of the art.

His students carried on the development and promoted Wing Chun throughout the rest of the world.

Many people today first became aware of Wing Chun through the late martial arts legend Bruce Lee or the popular Ip Man film series.

The main reasons why this art has grown in popularity are that;

  • It can be learned in a relatively short period
  • It is practical in the modern world
  • It can be practiced by people of all shapes, sizes, and levels of athletic ability


These are the 8 most popular martial arts in China. Kindly comment below if you think I left out a particular Art.

By the way, check out the TOP 11 MOST POPULAR MARTIAL ARTS IN JAPAN.

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