“Would you like to wu with me?”
“That depends on what kind of wu you mean!”
For thousands of years of Chinese civilization, dance and martial arts have had almost the same name. That’s because the Chinese characters for dance (舞) and martial arts (武) are both pronounced wǔ.
The differences in how the characters are written spell out the differences in their meanings. When you take apart the character for the wǔ (武) that means martial arts, the right side resembles the character gē (戈), which represents a dagger axe, while the left is the component zhǐ (止) means to stop. Thus, this character may be interpreted as meaning stopping an opponent’s attack, or perhaps wielding the weapon (starting and stopping its motion) in the most effective and powerful way.
On the other hand, the intricate character for the wǔ (舞) that means dance started from a pictogram of a person with arms that, over time, evolved to have legs as well.
But the connection goes deeper than just the name. At some point you have probably seen legendary kung fu masters flashing fists of fury as they swoosh through the air, performing spectacular techniques with nature-themed names (“the butterfly,” “the lotus kick,” “the tornado”). Did you know that these movements are also found in Chinese dance?
Chinese dance and martial arts share overlapping stances and postures, and their techniques require flexibility, coordination, and agility. You also might see traditional weapons—staffs, spears, swords, and so on—used in both martial arts and Chinese dance.
When martial arts first appeared in China thousands of years ago, its flips and techniques greatly influenced other art forms, including Chinese opera and dance. These art forms took movements originally intended for battle and transformed them into a means of entertainment for various celebrations—from street festivities to imperial banquets. Over time, martial arts and Chinese dance grew into the comprehensive and separate art forms we know today. Martial arts favors speed, compactness, and utility, while classical Chinese dance favors beauty, grandeur, and expression.
Between the two wu, we see the breadth and diversity of ancient life in China. Now, you can celebrate this amazingly diverse yet connected culture with our Martial Arts and Dance Bag Charm and Key Holder, and our Martial Arts and Dance Cufflinks. They come in gold and silver.
By Evan Mantyk, Contributing Writer