Located in central China, Wudang mountain is revered in the martial arts community and is seen by many as the spiritual and historical home of the internal martial arts. The Chinese say that “China has five sacred mountains, but Wudang surpasses them all”. A distinguished pilgrimage site, Wudang has attracted many prolific martial artists and philosophers throughout history. There are more than 2,000 palaces and temples, making this complex the world’s largest Daoist center. Daoism is the study of the Dao; the Natural Way of the Universe.
Wudang Mountain is a mountain range with 27 peaks, covering over 321 square kilometers. In the years between the 8th and 5th centuries BC, (the “Spring and Autumn Period” 春秋時代), the Chu Kingdom used the Wudang Mountains to fend off the invading Qin army. The mountain’s current name originates from a quote attributed to the Daoist deity named Zhen Wu that describes the defensive role that the mountain served. The quote reads, “fei zhen wu bu zu dang zhi” meaning “only true martial arts can provide resistance.” The words “Wu” and “Dang” were extracted from this quote. Wu means “martial” and Dang “resistance”.
Every Imperial Dynasty recognized the sacred site in its own way. The oldest building on Wudang Mountain, the Five Dragon Temple was built under Emperor Li Shimin in the 7th century Tang Dynasty. However, most of the construction happened later, during the Ming Dynasty (14th – 17th centuries). During the Ming Dynasty, Wudang became the imperial temple, and (with over 20,000 Daoist monks on the mountain) it was officially recognized as the heart of Daoism in China. Work on the Forbidden City in Beijing had just been completed, and legend tells that the 300,000 laborers marched on the Emperor’s command from Beijing to Wudang, where they worked over the next ten years. They constructed 33 building complexes and over 70 kilometers of roads connecting them. The area of the buildings combines to over 248 miles, double the size of the Forbidden City.
While Wudang Mountain flourished in ancient China, it has not moved through history unscathed. The past hundred years have brought about major changes in China, and taken Wudang Mountain through many major transformations. During the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) Daoism and martial arts were considered subversive, many martial artists left Wudang Mountain, and had to practice in secret or face imprisonment and re-education. In more recent times, China has become a more progressive market-driven society, and the government is supporting the traditional martial arts, and working hard to preserve cultural resources.
In 1984, the Wudang Taoist Association was formally established. In order to recover the Wudang Martial Arts, the Association tracked down the old Wudang martial masters who had scattered during the Cultural Revolution, and invited them back to teach, bringing about a martial arts renaissance. There are now about a dozen martial arts schools on the mountain and in the surrounding town. Now is the time for the outside world to learn about the Wudang arts.