Many people in the United States ask me the difference between Wudang style and Shaolin style.  Both Shaolin and Wudang are traditional Chinese martial arts, but they are different in many ways.


Shaolin style kung fu comes from Shaolin Temple, in Henan Province, Northern China.  Legend has it that around 500 CE, a Buddhist monk from India, came to Shaolin temple. Bodhidharma saw that the monks there were too weak to meditate for long periods of time.  He taught them martial arts based on the movement of eighteen animals including the tiger, deer, snake and leopard. In addition to these forms, Shaolin monks also practice many different weapons, and Shaolin is known for its excellent staff forms.  Shaolin Temple became famous after the release of the 1982 film Shaolin Temple, starring Jet Li.  Shaolin has many martial arts schools.  The largest one is the Tagou Martial Arts School, which has over 25,000 teachers and students.


Wudang kung fu comes from Wudang Mountain, in Hubei Province. Wudang and Shaolin are only a 6-hour drive apart, but Wudang Mountain is in Southern China, so Wudang kung fu is a Southern style.  Legend has it that Wudang Martial arts originated with Zhang San Feng (张三丰) a Daoist (Taoist) master who lived on Wudang Mountain the 1200s.  One day, Zhang saw a crane fighting with a snake.  Inspired by the snake’s fluid movements, he created a style of martial arts based on using softness to overcome hardness.  Wudang martial artists also train weapons, and Wudang is famous around the world for its sword forms.  Ang Lee paid tribute to Wudang Mountain in his 2000 film Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon.  When I trained of Wudang Mountain, there was only one martial arts school, the Wudang Daoist Association School (武当道教武馆).  Now that the style has grown in popularity, there are many more.


Many people divide martial arts into two categories, “external” or “hard” style, and “internal” or “soft” styles.  Difference between the types of martial arts are can be found in:

  • Generating power
  • Responding to an attack
  • The use of Qi


Shaolin kung fu is considered an “external” or “hard” style of martial arts. Other external arts are boxing, karate, muay thai and tae kwon do.  External martial arts focus on the body’s exterior, strengthening the muscles, skin and bone, and building speed and strength.External martial arts use force against force.  When facing an incoming attack they meet it head on, or with a counter strike.  Practitioners move in a linear, tense, and defined manner.  Some external martial artists use “hard Qi” practices, repetitively striking their body with the hands, bamboo sticks,or iron bars in order to train themselves to withstand strong blows.


Wudang martial arts are “internal” or “soft” martial arts.  Bagua, Xingyi, Tai Chi, Aikido, and Judo are also internal arts.  Internal martial arts focus on the martial artist’s inner skills, such as focus, timing, awareness, and precision. Instead of using your strength to overpower the opponent, internal martial arts teach how to transform and redirect an attack, using uses the attacker’s strength and momentum against them.  Movements are circular, relaxed, and fluid.The focus of Qi training for the internal martial arts is on inner strength or nei jin, the ability to use the body’s Qi (vital energy) in coordination with your movements.

Whichever style of martial art you study, it is important to know the principles of your art.  If you learn what makes your style different from other styles, you will find these principles, and be further along on your way.