…In 1949 the Chinese Communist party came into power, also with help from various secret societies and their members. The Chinese communist party were clever, seeing the history of their own country and how at many times groups of people managed to overthrow the rulers with the help of the secret societies and their Chinese martial arts exponents (including how they had also done so to a degree) they set up the all China sports Federation to control the teaching of martial arts, and in 1951 they ordered all private martial arts schools closed, and labeled them feudalistic.
The next year the state physical culture and sports commission introduced new practices whereby the teachers could not be called shi fu as this was an allegiance to someone other than the state, instead they were to called coaches (the teaching kind, not the wheeled variety).
The communist party realized it was not possible to completely eradicate the study of Chinese martial arts/Wu shu as it had become so much a part of Chinese culture, so in 1959 the state created a martial arts program which according to them supposedly contained all the best parts of Chinese kung fu/Wu shu, and said they no longer recognized different styles or systems.
There were five categories in the new syllubus, Long Fist (empty hand forms, said to be closely related to the style chang chuan from the north of China), broadsword, straight sword, staff and spear, after some protests some southern style kung fu was also admitted called ‘nan quan’ (literally southern fist). The problem was most practical techniques were deliberately removed in favor of acrobatic or eye pleasing movements, actual sparring and technique application was actively discouraged by the Communist party.
Only with previous knowledge of Chinese Martial arts could you tell what the original technique was supposed to be or do, and because the government had cracked down on actual real Gong fu, most people became ignorant of what Gong fu really was or looked like. This is what became modern Wushu, and what is frequently touted as ‘Shaolin Gong fu’. Many of the Gong fu masters left China and went to various countries including Taiwan, Hong Kong (then a British colony), the U.K and America to continue teaching.
In very few years China managed to bastardize an art which was a part of it’s heritage for thousands of years. If you want to learn real `Gong fu’ then you’ll have better luck outside of China… how sad is that.
More recently in Modern Wushu, compulsory forms have eliminated excessive acrobatics and also introduced some free fighting called San shou/free hand or sometimes Sanda, used for point competition with punches, kicks and take downs but no locks or holds.
Modern Wushu has taken a hold on the west with many people learning it without knowledge of it’s roots, and to be honest, despite what I’ve previously said I quite like it; what I’m against is people not knowing it’s real roots and effectiveness.
I went to a weekend seminar some years ago with a `Shaolin monk` but sadly when it was question time and someone brought up the difference between what we would call Gong fu and modern Wushu he sidestepped the question like a true politician would and just answered that Wushu meant ‘Martial technique’ so therefore there was no difference and went on to another person, but by the look on his face he knew exactly what was being asked. This was the Chinese game of semantics at its best.
Nowadays you can always tell if what your learning is the Modern Chinese government Wushu syllabus by the fact that it will include Shaolin Quan (fist, in other words chang chuan), Sanda/Sanshou, Qi Gong, Ba gua , Xing yi, Tai Chi Chuan, the latter being internal martial arts in their own right; although some people may be of the opinion that Tai Chi Chuan is only for health purposes, this is not the case when the art is taught correctly. Many middle-class ex Jane Fonda workout routine women took to Tai Chi like ducks to water, but sadly people who really know how to teach it as a martial art are thin on the ground.
The only thing I have against modern Wushu is that it purports to be something it’s not, which is to the detriment of other styles of Chinese martial arts with real combat application.
That you can take a kick from modern Wushu and kick someone in the gonads and have some practical impact is obvious, but it lacks the intricacy and practicality of the various other styles developed over sometimes centuries. Of course there is a place for modern Wushu, it’s just a shame that it feels a need to tout itself as ‘Shaolin Kung Fu’ as practiced hundreds of years ago by the Shaolin monks of yore.