The pivotal moments in the history of Chinese martial arts

Perhaps one of the greatest ironies of Chinese martial arts is that perhaps the most pivotal moments in its history and development are not to be found in the thousands of years of Chinese history but rather in the rather short period of less than three decades between the Boxer Rebellion and the War with Japan. The Chinese martial artist was almost univerally rejected by society, while confronted by foreign methods (Japanese Judo and western boxing) and modern approaches to physical training (the so called military gymnastics and the modern physical education movement).

Practical application was still a consideration; in urban areas, in the training of military and police, and ultimately on the battlefields of the War with Japan and the civil war. Of course, the context of application had changed. Some chose not to abandon practical application, while others exited the period having all but abandoned the idea.

Men such as Chang Dong Sheng (常東昇) and Chan Tai San (陳泰山) camed of age in this period, trained by those who had trained in a period before these considerations. They fought “for real”, pursued careers in branches of the military, and also embraced “sport” or “competition” which had been introduced by the Guoshu movement and it’s sponsored events. Chan Tai San certainly spent time in the modern sports apparatus of the Communist mainland, but he was a link to a period before it and largely disconnected from it. Chang Dong Sheng transplanted to Taiwan, which provided a different context for the development of his methods.

In my estimation, these are the “missing links”. They are the small cracks of light in the larger malaise of those who abandoned practical application, embraced the fantastical (ironically re-embracing the nonsese of the Yi He Quan!), or want to obscure.