In the past two millennia of the development of Chinese martial arts, hundreds of styles have been created and further developed by martial arts practitioners and enthusiasts to adapt to a changing world. Although complexity exists within the field, common themes of styles and ideas led to the formation of general categories within the subject. Recurring themes include:

  • styles which mimic the movements of animals.
  • martial arts that have sprung out of a philisophy or shcool of thought.
  • styles that were created to harness the power of qi.
  • martial arts that focus on developing a higher level of competition.

Chinese martial arts could be divided into different categories to differentiate them. They can be classified as "internal" or "external" styles, or based on the region from which a style originated, north or south of the Yangtze River. The former focuses on the forms and kinds of training that a practitioner exercises, the latter can be called categorization according to geography, namely the Northern and the Southern Styles.

The Northern and Southern StylesEdit

The main perceived difference between Northern and Southern styles is that the northern styles tend to emphasize kicks, jumps and generally fluid and rapid movement, while the Southern styles focus more on strong arm and hand techniques, and more stable stances and footwork.

The Internal and External stylesEdit

External styles focus on the use of muscle power, while internal styles emphasize the use of body mechanics and qi to generate power so that there is less emphasis on muscle power. An external style uses force against force for defense and strength and physical abilities for attack. In external styles, a block is used to deflect an incoming strike by meeting it either head on, or at a 90 degree angle. An internal style does not use force against force, but rather deflects the incoming blow away from its target and uses body mechanics and qi for offense.

The internal styles tend to emphasize skill over power. However, they should not be thought of as "soft" as in being less violent towards an enemy: most internal styles focus on striking, the same as most external styles. The three styles universally acknowledged as "internal" are Tai Chi Chuan, Baguazhang, and Xingyiquan. Other styles often considered "internal" include Bak Fu Pai, Feng Shou, Liu He Bafa, Yi Quan, and quite a few others as well.

Other ClassificationsEdit

The many styles of Chinese martial arts can be divided into "sects." Some sects imitate the fighting styles of animals, others focus on qi, while others are centered on a certain doctrine. For example, many of the internal styles are based on the native Chinese religion of Daoism.