Styles of Chinese Martial Arts


Chinese martial arts are as old as the Chinese culture itself. Given the age of Chinese culture, there have evolved literally hundreds of different styles of Chinese martial arts. These styles are grouped typically by region of origination, religion/philosophy that founded or is associated to a style, and the focus/methodology (internal versus external).

For a list of many of the Chinese martial arts, click here.

Northern Styles (北拳, Běi quán)

Northern styles emphasize low, extended stances, kicks, and acrobatics. Movements are fluid and transitions are quick, shifting the body quickly to the direction of attack. Some of the styles that illustrate features of běi quán include:

  • Bāguà Zhǎng (八卦掌, "8 trigram palm")
  • Bājíquán (八極拳, "8 extremities fist")
  • Chāquán (查拳, "Cha fist")
  • Chuōjiǎo  (戳腳, "Poking foot")
  • Yīng Zhǎo Pài (鷹爪派, "Eagle Claw")
  • Tánglángquán (螳螂拳, "Northern Praying Mantis")
  • Tàijíquán (太極拳, "Supreme Ultimate Fist")

Chángquán (長拳, "long fist") is often identified as the representative of Northern styles.

Southern Styles (南拳, Nán quán)

Unlike Northern styles, nán quán focuses more on using the arms and full body rather than the legs and acrobatics. These styles make prominent use of low, stable stances and short, powerful movements that often incorporate simultaneous striking and blocking.

  • Choy Gar (Cài jiā quán, 蔡家拳, "Choy family fist")
  • Hung Ga (Hóng jiā quán, 洪家拳, "Hung family fist")
  • Choy Li Fut (Càilǐfú, 蔡李佛)
  • Li Gar (Lǐ jiā, 李家, "Li family")
  • Fújiàn Báihè quán (福建 白鶴拳, "Fújiàn White Crane")
  • Wǔ jiā quán (五家拳, "Five Family Fist", also called "Five Animals")
  • Lóng xíng mó qiáo (龍形摩橋, Dragon, Southern Dragon, lit. "dragon shape rubbing bridges")

Nán quán has become a distinct branch of modern wushu training, designed to incorporate the key elements of each major Southern style.

External Styles (外家, Wài jiā)

Wài jiā - literally meaning "external family" - are styles often associated with physical strength, explosive speed, and agility. Training for most external styles begins by speed, power, and application, and later incorporates the concepts of qìgōng (氣功, breathing and energy control). Shàolínquán (少林拳) is a good example of an external style, combining explosive attacks and acrobatic techniques.

Internal Styles (內家, Nèi jiā)

Nèi jiā - literally "internal family" - are styles that incorporate the concepts of Qìgōng (氣功) - the practice of aligning body, breath, and mind - as well as relaxed leverage rather than muscular strength. Forms are often practiced slowly to improve coordination, balance, and concentration of minute body movements and positioning. Bāguà zhǎng (八卦) and tàijíquán (太極拳) are examples of internal styles.