The international development of the Chinese martial arts (‘wushu’)

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingMeeting abstract (Book)Research


Wushu, the collective noun for the Chinese martial arts, has a long and rich history and is characterised by a wide variety of offensive and defensive fighting techniques that are divided in numerous styles and schools. It is widely accepted that most Asian martial arts (e.g., Japanese judo, aikido and karate, Korean taekwondo) originated from wushu. Interestingly, while these other martial arts have gained an increased popularity outside Asia since the beginning of the 1960's, the international development of wushu started more than 20 years later. This development is often illustrated by a number of events and initiatives that took place over the last two decades, including (among others) the founding of the International Wushu Federation (IWUF) in 1990, the official recognition of IWUF by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in 2002 and, more recently, the decision made in 2005 by the IOC to organise a wushu competition during the Olympic Games in Beijing in 2008 and the fact that wushu will be an invitational event during the World Games in Chinese Taipei in 2009. As it becomes clear that these (and other) events have a distinct influence on wushu's present and future appearance, a study was set up to get a better insight in the characteristics of this international development.
Different data collection methods were used for the purpose of this study. Various international documents on wushu, as well as Chinese papers on its international development were content analysed. Also, views and information from 19 member countries of the International Wushu Federation obtained through a written questionnaire were collected and 15 in-depth interviews with wushu teachers and officials were conducted.
Findings, among other things, revealed that since the beginning of the 1990's, the International Wushu Federation (IWUF) has put great efforts in promoting wushu as a potential Olympic sport. As such, it has emphasized the development of competition wushu on an international level, resulting in distinct organisational as well as technical developments (e.g., the introduction of standardised routine competitions as well as 'sanda' of free fighting contests, more advanced competition formats). It is interesting to note that although many are in favour of this evolution, it is often indicated that these changes have been introduced too sudden, especially for those countries that have no or less professionally organised wushu federations. Several respondents have indicated that this can eventually lead into a situation where there are distinct differences in the pace of development between countries or regions. Various remarks have been made on the functioning of the IWUF in this matter.
Also, although there is a gradual increase of promotional initiatives regarding the traditional practice of wushu in more recent years (e.g., through the organisation of traditional wushu festivals), it has been criticised by others that the emphasis on the competitive forms of wushu will lead to a onesided image of the Chinese martial arts, thereby often neglecting the true essence of wushu.
Discussion / Conclusions
The results of this study are discussed in the light of different aspects of globalisation. In particular, comparisons are made with regard to the dissemination of other Asian martial arts (e.g., judo, taekwondo and karate). Next to this analysis, a number of recommendations are formulated for future research as, to date, studies on the globalisation of Chinese martial arts are almost non existing.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationProceedings of the International Convention on Science, Education and Medicine in Sport (ICSEMIS)
Place of PublicationGuangzhou (P.R. China)
Publication statusPublished - 2008
EventUnknown -
Duration: 1 Jan 2008 → …

Publication series

NameProceedings of the International Convention on Science, Education and Medicine in Sport (ICSEMIS)


Period1/01/08 → …


  • wushu
  • chinese martial arts
  • international development


Dive into the research topics of 'The international development of the Chinese martial arts (‘wushu’)'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this