In the history of human evolution, a culture exists and develops because it serves a purpose, fulfilling certain material and spiritual needs of the society. Chinese martial arts have survived the tests of time, being passed down from generation to generation over several thousand years, enduring during different historical periods and social changes. This clearly demonstrates the steadfast influence the arts exert and the relevance they hold toward the socialization and development of mankind.


As a general principle, physical activity improves health. Chinese martial arts are now becoming popular because they embrace physical exercise as well as techniques to improve health, with often remarkable results.

The unique characteristics of Chinese martial arts lie in the close relationship with traditional internal breathing methods of cultivating vital energy. Breathing, martial arts movements and techniques are interrelated. The principles and philosophy of traditional Chinese martial arts and those of health improvement and longevity training through the practice of qi gong 1 are very similar.

Both disciplines study the theory of yin and yang, organ-meridian theory and how specific breathing methods can influence the body’s physiology. Principles such as: ‘exhaling toxins and inhaling for good’ are common to both, and breathing techniques of “raise (inhale), sink (moving down), retain, and support” are fundamental. According to qigong theory, “Qi sinks to the dantian 2… move chi to generate power… the mind unites with the will, the will unites with chi, and chi unites with power”. These sayings point to the integral relationship of the mind, breath and movement.

When we breathe, we move and exercise our internal organs. Throughout history, Chinese people have believed in the value of physical exercise and healthy living. The ancient aphorism that “good men strive to improve and strengthen themselves in a never-ending fashion” expresses this philosophy exactly. Because of the Chinese way of internal breathing practice, Chinese martial art practitioners strengthen their entire being.

Physical Development

Increased physical power, stamina, speed and agility, alertness, flexibility, balance and coordination are facets of Chinese martial arts training that allows the body to flourish in balance and harmony.

Mental Emotional Balance

In Chinese civilization, Chinese martial art training plays a vital role in cultivating temperament. According to Chinese philosophy, the expression of inner feelings and emotions is of primary importance.


Chinese martial arts are highly entertaining. During its long history, the techniques were refined and became more sophisticated. That is why ‘Kung Fu’ is referred to as an art form – ‘martial arts’. Worldwide, Chinese martial arts have attracted a massive audience, especially during celebrations and festive occasions, and its influence in the media, both East and West, is growing.

Aesthetic Refinement

Through performance, the inner feelings of the martial artist are expressed as in other performing arts, but always in a subtle way. Martial philosophy such as ‘outward stillness of the body reflects the focused working of the mind, external motions of the body echo the internal tranquility of the mind,’ tells us how Chinese people have since ancient times understood the psychology of ‘physical appearance’ and its relation to the inner soul.

Chinese poets encourage the reader to ‘speak of the will’ and to ‘reflect on the feelings’, ‘whatever is within is seen as a reflection of that which is outside.’ Ancient proverbs include, ‘the painting resembles the painter; ‘the writing resembles the writer’ and ‘the boxing resembles the boxer’. Thus, the character, personality and spirit of the individual are manifest as a living entity through the art.

So in traditional Chinese martial arts, practitioners are inspired to cultivate the inner strength of their character, namely, the shen, yi, and xin, besides training diligently for an ideal physical xing. 3

Chinese martial arts are a form of personal fulfillment and satisfaction too. For many dedicated learners and masters, practice is a daily routine. It is greatly appreciated as a tool for building one’s own character.

Kung Fu Fighting

Traditional Chinese martial arts are a national athletic, physical strengthening discipline developed from a system of combat techniques.

Since ancient times, Chinese people trained themselves in short-range combat. Combat skills fulfilled the survival instinct of mankind. They were fundamental in warfare. This was the original function of Chinese martial arts. As Chinese martial arts evolved, techniques expanded from direct empty-hand combat to the development of solo patterns or forms. Rich and varied in cultural value, forms met the essential needs for memorization, teaching, and propagation.

Martial arts techniques never strayed far from the true purpose of combat. Chinese martial arts are built upon the realities of warfare, combat and confrontation. Over time, fighting skills were refined to accommodate cultural and intellectual advances, all the while retaining their connection to the battlefield.

Whenever a martial arts examination was devised, sparring was always used as the main criteria for passing. In ancient times when traditional weapons were still in use, combat and self-defence served the largest function. With the advent of firearms, traditional combat skills became secondary, and today martial arts skills no longer hold the mandate of ‘fighting to survive’. Not withstanding this change, Chinese martial arts techniques remain an excellent self-defence discipline.

Economic Importance

Chinese martial art training can help to build a stronger economy. Athletic and economic activities are interdependent–the growth of a prosperous economy calls for a healthy labour force. Athletics help preserve and train a labour force to become strong and healthy, alert and sharp, thereby improving the quality of a country’s most important asset, its people. With a strong, unified society, the economy will prosper.

In our current society, where over one third of our children are clinically obese and thus at greater risk of long-term health problems, it is crucial that we seek ways to make our young people healthier and stronger. They are our future.

The development of athletics requires the support of all sectors of society. With people as the most valuable renewable resource, the status and importance of athletics is indisputable.


Traditional Chinese martial arts are suitable for all ages, genders, and health conditions. Besides acquiring self-defence skills, training in Chinese martial arts will bring about a transformation in body, mind, and spirit.

Whether prosperous or struggling, all communities can benefit from the practice of Chinese martial arts. Learning and practicing does not require expensive or elaborate equipment in a specialized facility. Even where sports and preventative health care are lacking, the emergence and expansion of a Chinese martial art program can benefit the people.

Total Self-Development and Personal Excellence: Kung Fu

In ancient times, sages viewed the cultivation of ethical values, virtues, temperament and knowledge as essential steps towards the attainment of personal perfection.

Hence, kung fu masters strive to achieve a high state of moral refinement, as well as exceptional skills. The Chinese refer to the practice of martial arts as ‘kung fu’ because the words ‘kung fu’ really mean the completion of an arduous task requiring endless effort, time and energy.4 Kung fu might also be interpreted as skillful excellence and expertise, and the degree of one’s accomplishment. If one truly understands the meaning of the words ‘kung fu’, one understands the prestige and honour that Chinese martial arts represent in the mind of people worldwide. One gains a deeper appreciation of why a lifetime can be spent in the pursuit of kung fu.

Refinement of the human character is a deep and complex task. It is rational, moral, and intrinsically aesthetic. All these are aspects nurtured by one committed to kung fu practice. This self-cultivation requires the balance and restraint of two critical elements of human psyche: emotion and rationality.

When a kung fu practitioner gains insight into his true nature, he becomes enlightened, in control of his emotions, focused and reinforced in his beliefs and aspirations. In time he learns to live in harmony with the universe.


The benefits of learning traditional Chinese martial arts are many.

Extrinsic Benefits:

  • Develop a wide range of physical and mental skills, including specialized warm-up routine, stretching and flexibility training, fundamental hand and leg techniques, footwork, stances, and other training methods unique to Chinese martial arts.
  • Self-defense skills and environmental awareness.
  • Enhance ability and performance through Chinese martial art training. Movements strengthen the entire body, and develop coordination of mind and body to levels allowing for increased performance in any sport. Students of Chinese martial arts excel in other sports and performance arts, including music, baseball, football, basketball, hockey, gymnastics, swimming, diving, dancing and skating. Serious athletes may also adapt specific training to enhance their sport-specific skills.
  • Increased stamina, endurance and physical fitness in other daily activities.
  • Contemporary appreciation (popular media exposure, cultural relevance).
  • Foster interest within the Ontario curriculum to promote diversified learning.
  • Enhance working knowledge of the human body. The physical exercises of Chinese martial arts are based upon human anatomy and physiology.
  • Gain insight into Chinese culture. Asians make up the largest visible minority group in Canada today.
  • Gain insight into universal principles and relationships, as understood through such perspectives as Yin and Yang, Yi Jing (I Ching) and the Five Universal Elements.
  • The exercises promote optimal health in the individual. Moderate practice of Chinese martial arts is proven to reduce incidence of injury, and reduce recovery time from injury or illnesses. Long-term Chinese martial art study enhances longevity and prevents many common diseases.
  • Promotion of better health and lifestyle choices. This means a well-rounded, adaptable and productive individual. As a society, it means reduced health care costs, social funding dependency and incidence of crime.
  • The unique relationship of mind and body learning, Chinese martial arts promote both physical and mental self-discipline, thus serving as a positive model to change human behaviour.

Intrinsic Benefits

“Studies have shown that students who participate in physical activity each day exhibit improved memory, concentration, and communication, problem-solving and leadership abilities. Such students also display more positive attitudes towards themselves, improved interpersonal behaviour, and a willingness to meet and deal with the challenges of daily life.” (p.5, Ontario Health and Physical Education curriculum Grades 1-8).

Chinese martial arts are a positive mind-body activity that promotes and develops:

  • Self-respect, self-esteem,
  • Self-discipline, sense of responsibility
  • Refinement of moral character
  • Manners and consideration expressed towards others reinforces one’s moral fibre. Other manifestations include: respect for others and authority, cooperation, communication skills and teamwork

    Chinese martial arts training can inspire self-acceptance, respect and self-esteem. Humility, respect and consideration towards others increase. In developing positive interpersonal attitudes and manners, Chinese martial arts promote communication and respect between students and teachers, parents, classmates and family members.

  • Awareness and appreciation of oneself in relationship to one’s environment, as part of a local and global community. Develop ability and desire to contribute back to the community, society and people.
  • Respect for life, the environment and a greater understanding of how lifestyle choices and healthy living have positive affects within and beyond oneself.
  • Develop a lifelong love of learning, applying the principles of kung fu to all efforts.
  • Insight into basic human and spiritual values of life.
  • Spiritual fulfillment, sense of balance and focus.
  • Journey of self-discovery. Because the study of Chinese martial arts is holistic, there is mutual development of physical skills and personal character refinement. In this way, long-term training promotes excellence in the individual.
  • High moral codes become a way of life, helping one to reach one’s full potential.


1 pronounced ‘chi kung’. Qi, ‘vital energy’ and gong ‘work, effort or achievement’.
2 energy reservoir in the abdomen
3 soul, will, feelings, and form or shape ?,?,?,?
4 In many circumstances, ‘kung fu’ is synonymous with the study and practice of traditional Chinese martial arts and the scope of its development and philosophy.