30 Greatest Chinese Martial Arts Styles

Chinese Martial Arts Styles

With styles, sub-styles, inspired styles, and unofficial styles, it’s more or less impossible to say exactly how many Chinese martial arts styles are out there. There are likely to be hundreds of different styles, which can be very confusing if you’re new to the world of martial arts.

Thankfully, I’m here to help. To make it simpler, I wanted to look at the 30 greatest and most popular Chinese martial arts styles and have a brief glimpse into their philosophy and techniques. There is a hugely diverse range of martial arts to look at, so let’s get started!

30 Most Popular Chinese Martial Arts Styles

Here is my list of martial arts that are a great introduction to kung fu. There are many different martial arts here, and they all have their advantages and disadvantages. I don’t think there is one standout greatest form of Chinese kung fu, and there this list is in no particular order.

1. Baguazhang

There are three main styles of the Wudang school, with Baguazhang being one of them. The style predominantly practices circle walking or “turning the circle,” a stance and movement training method. Students move around a circle in low to mid stances, facing the middle, and execute forms as they change directions. 

The circle is six to twelve feet in diameter and allows the students to learn flexibility and body alignment through the initial movements, gradually evolving into complex forms and internal power mechanics.

2. Bajiquan

Characterized by explosive, short-range elbow and shoulder strikes, bajiquan is a style that is popular with bodyguards. Bajiquan utilizes the opponent’s stance by opening the arms forcibly while aiming strikes at the body’s high, mid, and low levels.

Due to the short-range power of the style, it is most useful at close quarters, focusing on elbow, knee, shoulder, and hip strikes. When blocking or closing the gap, its techniques focus on striking major weaknesses in an opponent, mainly the thorax, legs, and neck.

3. Bak Mei

Bak Mei, or “White Eyebrows Kung-fu,” was invented by one of the famous Five Elders, who survived the decimation of the Shaolin Monastery by the Qing dynasty. It emphasizes powerful bursts of close-range hand strikes.

Bak Mei stands on the four principles of Fou (to float), Chum (to sink), Tun (to swallow), and Tou (to spit), which is similar to Japanese Karate. Bak Mei is a counterattacking style usually executed by intercepting and blocking the opponent’s move.

4. Chang Quan

Chang Quan or Long Fist is a long-range style focusing on full-extension kicks and strikes. The idea is to launch a pre-emptive attack so vicious that the opponent does not have the opportunity to attack.

Chang Quan uses large, extended, circular motion to improve overall mobility in the muscles, tendons, and joints. It employs “gin na” joint locking and “shuai jiao” throws. It is a good balance of upper and lower body techniques but is mostly famous for its acrobatic kicks.

5. Chin Na

Chin Na (Qin Na) is a neutralizing technique that focuses on joint locks to control an opponent’s mobility by taking out their muscles/tendons. Chin Na exists in almost all martial arts, with reportedly 700 traditional Chin Na techniques found in various art forms.

Chin means to capture, and Na means to hold, and in this style, the techniques are executed in that order. The actions are performed in a sequence of trap and lock, but a lock doesn’t always follow a trap, and a lock is not necessarily followed up with a trap.

6. Choy Li Fut

Choy Li Fut is a style founded in 1836 by Chan Heung. It was widely practiced by Bruce Lee as a method of fighting groups. The style combines techniques from various Northern and Southern Chinese Kung-fu styles. Most notably, Shaolin animal styles from the South and the Northern styles’ circular, sweeping movements and quick feet.

The school is considered an external style, combining soft and hard techniques integrated with weapons. It is an extensive style, including long and short jabs, kicks, sweeps and takedowns, pressure point locks, joint locks, and close-quarter grappling.

7. Chuo Jiao

Chuo Jiao, or ‘Poking Foot,’ is a style that utilizes jumps, kicks, and quick jabs. The hand-eye coordination is a top priority in this style, moving in unison to strike forward continuously, like “falling meteorites.” This is done to keep the opponent off balance at all times.

The style is a combination of powerful moves, but accuracy and subtle foot movements are also a part of the style. The time to strike is often short and fatal. The training routine comprises nine interconnected twin feet routines, either trained independently or in sequence.

8. Choy Gar

This self-defense style utilizes low stances and swift footwork, with quick snapping strikes resembling the rapid attacks of a snake. Choy Gar was developed in contrast to the Northern style, which is prone to having wider and open techniques, while Choy Gar has short, swift stances that are more suited to urban combat due to the crowded alleys and streets of Southern China.

Lower body strength is imperative in Choy Gar as it employs a low stance (Chapma) to develop explosive power outwards and upwards.

9. Ditangquan

Ditangquan is a style characterized by tumbles, falls, quick turns, precise leg movement, somersaults, and aerial moves, and it is used for both offense and defense. This style has persevered and been integrated into various other styles.

Traditional Ditangquan techniques can be found in Chou Jiao or even as a separate new style altogether. In the traditional style, there is less focus on somersaults and tumbles, but on maintaining a low center of gravity and attacking and defending while falling on the ground.

10. Drunken Boxing

Also called Zui Quan or Drunken Fist, it is a school of styles that mimics the movement of a drunk person. This is done to keep the opponent guessing. The style incorporates striking, grappling, locking, dodging, faking, and ground fighting in a movement pattern while maintaining an unpredictable rhythm.

Zui Quan intentionally ultimizes unusual body movements among all styles of Chinese martial arts. It is a style with a deep history and lore, and its origins are rooted in the Buddhist and Daoist religious communities.

11. Duanquan

Translated to short-range boxing, this is a combat style that evolved more than 400 years ago. Intense, dynamic, and combat-oriented, Duanquan focuses on short-range and compact strikes, low stances, and quick darting movements.

Low stances and small, subtle movements are the hallmarks of this style. The movement does not incorporate jumping, but rather, the fighter moves around to avoid the opponent’s attack and counters by moving in closer to hit with multiple strikes.

12. Emeiquan

Emeiquan is a style associated with female practitioners from Mount Emei in Sichuan Province. Known for its swiftness and flexibility, it encompasses a wide range of styles, particularly focused on animal-based fighting styles.

It is a very grounded style with minimal jumping. Light and quick movements characterize the style, and most of its effective techniques stem from using the wrist.

13. Five Ancestors

Five Ancestors Boxing or Wuzuquan is a Southern style that has combined principles and techniques from five styles. The breathing rhythm of Taoist Kung-fu, the stance and power of Luohan, the efficiency and precision of Emperor Taizu, the hand techniques of the Fujian White Crane, and the quickness of the feet of Monkey style.

The primary pillar of the style is based on the Sam Chien, meaning Three Battles. The “three battles” relate to combat preparation, combat tactics, and combat strategy. Mastery in all three aspects is necessary to be good at this style.

14. Fujian White Crane

This style is an effective close combat style. It is easily recognizable due to how the fighter moves in this style, mimicking a bird’s pecking or flapping of its wings. Some schools of this style utilize weapons, others don’t.

The system was developed by observing the crane’s motion, ways of attacking, and its “spirit.” This is common in the Southern Shaolin animal styles.

15. Fu Jow Pai

Fu Jow Pai (Tiger Claw style) was developed in Hoy Hong Temple and is a subset of the Five Animal Kung Fu style. It is said to be modeled after an attacking tiger’s spirit and fighting strategy. The techniques used in this style are ripping, tearing, clawing, and grappling.

16. Heihuquan

The Black Tiger style developed at the Shaolin Temple in Henan is known for its intricate footwork and high acrobatic kick shots from low and wide stances. It has a unique fist position, where the thumb is curled like the other fingers rather than forming a closed fist.

Shaolin grandmasters agree that it is the most explosive style in all Shaolin schools, capable of generating great power behind its strikes.

17. Huaquan

Hua Quan is an ancient style with a huge arsenal of techniques and stances. It is a complete system utilizing both hand-to-hand and weapon combat forms. There are 48 handsets to learn with the system.

These comprise of 18 primary forms (for combat), 18 secondary forms (for training), and 12 advanced forms, called Roads. It is a smooth and connected style, as it is said the techniques are “like a fast burst of wind” built on stances “as rooted as the pine tree.”

18. Hung Ga

Hung Ga is a southern Shaolin style. It is characterized by strong stances, notably the horse stance, and strong hand techniques, notably the bridge hand. For striking, the style has adopted the versatile tiger claw. The style utilizes four empty-hand routines known as Five Animal Fist, Iron Wire Fist, Taming the Tiger Fist, and also Tiger Crane Paired Form Fist.

These routines develop endurance, force, form, internal focus, and internal power. People sometimes think Hung Ga is only about using physical strength rather than developing internal energy (Qi). However, students focus more on internal aspects as they progress in their training.

19. Jow Ga Kung Fu

Jow Ga Kung fu is a style combining Hung Ga and Choy Ga, as well as tiger and leopard patterns. The style incorporates techniques that are akin to the muscular and powerful movements of Hung Ga and the fast and nimble footwork and kicking of Choy Ga, making it an all-around form of self-defense and simultaneous attack.

20. Luohanquan

Luohanquan means “Arhat Fist” and is an overarching name for all styles named after Arhats, the holy Buddhist figures. Luohan is considered to be the first Shaolin Kung-fu style.

Shaolin Luohan’s 18 hands and Luohanquan are considered the basis for all Shaolin Kung Fu styles and many other non-Shaolin styles created. The 18 hands style has 18 different methods including six of the first, one of the elbows, two of the palms, four of the legs and five of locking joints.

21. Southern Dragon Kung Fu

This style is a Shaolin boxing based on the mythical Chinese Dragon. It is essentially an internal qi cultivation method, but the training itself is a hard, external style compared to other softer styles such as Tai Chi. The student learns how to strike hard, block hard, and move into each position quickly, with the idea that each movement follows the other.

Eventually, this power transfer becomes innate since the strengthened body has developed muscle memory to transition into the fluid motions of the style. This movement is disguised by a dragon-like smoothness, with the conceit that it makes it hard for the opponent to counter the style.

22. Wing Chun

This is a concept-based art which is a close-quarters system of self-defense. The focus is on hand-to-hand combat, quick punches, and efficient movement. The philosophy focuses on capturing and adhering to attacks at the opponent’s centreline.

This is done by continuous attack and defense, tactile sensitivity, and countering an opponent by using their force against them. Wing Chun is one of the most popular Chinese martial arts and was famously used in the Ip Man movie series.

23. Northern Praying Mantis

This style was named after the praying mantis, an insect, and combines hard and soft methods, long and short attacks, and internal and external principles. It’s most famous move is the “Praying Mantis hook,” which involves curling your fingers and using them the strike in a whipping motion. This is used to block, grapple an opponent’s limb, or attack critical spots.

24. Northern Shaolin Kung Fu

When it comes to martial arts names, few are more recognizable than that of Shaolin. The Northern styles have deep, exaggerated postures, such as the horse, bow, drop, and dragon stances. These are used to quickly transition from form to form, quickly changing direction based on force application.

They generally emphasize long-range moves, quick skirmishes, wide stances, kicking and jumping, rounding blocks, and quick, agile, and aggressive attacks.

25. Snake Kung Fu

This animal-inspired style imitates the movements of snakes. The philosophy claims that adopting a snake’s sinewy and fluid movement allows them to trap opponents in defense and strike at them from irregular angles.

Snake style is great to use with a Chinese straight sword as the whipping or rattling power that travels up the fighter’s spine to the fingers effectively transfers to the weapon. The style generally aims for the weak points in the human body, such as the eyes, groin, and joints.

26. Mok Gar

This is one of the five major family styles of Southern Chinese martial arts. It emphasizes clinch fighting and low kicking techniques, getting so close it’s nearly chest to chest. The main kicks in this style are the pass-the-gate, direct side, hurling, and absorbing kicks.

27. Tai Chi

Tai Chi is an internal art practiced for self-defense and its health benefits. It has slow, measured movements and is popular worldwide as a method of exercise and meditation.

Tai Chi practices involving weapons also exist, particularly involving the jian (a straight, double-edged sword), the dao (a heavier curved saber), the tieshan (a folding fan), the gun (a 2 m long wooden staff), and the qiang (a long spear).

28. Piguaquan

Translated to “Chop Hanging Fist,” this style is focused on palm techniques and is often practiced along with Bajiquan, which focuses on explosive and long-range power.

The power is generated by the acceleration force of the arms, which are in rotation in most stances. The hip motion is subtle compared to other styles because you need slight shifts in weight to guide the big chops.

29. Ziranmen

Ziranmen (Natural Boxing) is taught as a complementary style to Qigong breathing techniques. It combines physical training, breathing techniques, meditation, and combat techniques.

Ziranmen’s idea is to overwhelm the opponent by rapidly attacking using the whole body to strike. The four fundamental techniques that are used for this are Tun (Contraction), Tu (Expansion), Fu (Floating), and Chen (sinking).

30. Mizongyi

Mizongyi or Lost Track Skill is a style based on deceptiveness and movement. It draws from many of the external Northern Shaolin Kung fu styles and the internal styles of Tai Chi and Baguazhang. It utilizes deceptive hand movement, intricate feet movement, diverse kicks, and high jumps.

The style shifts quickly when needed, leading to the versatility of its attacks. There are many sub-branches of Mizongyi, such as Mizong Luohan, which combines Mizongyi with Luohanquan.


How many styles of Chinese martial arts are there?

Too many to count! There are styles, sub-styles, and Chinese-inspired styles. The number can vary widely based on the parameters you are using, and therefore, it’s almost impossible to give an accurate number, but it’s safe to say there are hundreds of different styles.

These styles can often be grouped into different types of martial arts, such as Northern and Southern, but even doing this is extremely difficult. I’ve looked at the 30 most popular here, but many others don’t have the same recognition.

How many Chinese kung fu styles are there?

This is very similar to the question above, and due to this, there are also countless different styles. Knowing the exact number isn’t possible as there are not only regional styles but there can even be family-specific styles.

That being said, some styles are much more famous than others. There are probably seven styles that are more famous than the rest, and they are Shaolin Kung Fu, Wing Chun, Tai Chi, The Northern Praying Mantis, Bajiquan, Baguazhang, and Xingyiquan.

What are Chinese martial arts called?

Chinese martial arts are commonly known as “kung fu” or “wushu.”  The term kung fu can be roughly translated as “skill through hard work” and is often used to refer to Chinese martial arts in general. Wushu is a lesser-known term but has a much more direct meaning, as it translates to “martial arts.” Even though these two terms have two different translations, they are generally used interchangeably to refer to Chinese martial arts.

What is the best Chinese martial art?

The best Chinese martial art is subjective, as it can depend on your individual preferences and interests. That being said, the most famous and probably most effective Chinese martial art is Shaolin kung fu. Dynamic and acrobatic techniques have given it worldwide acclaim, but there is also a practical effectiveness to this martial art.

How many Japanese martial arts are there in total?

Unfortunately, I have to give the same answer as with Chinese martial arts: there are too many to count. However, some are a lot more famous than others, and the most popular Japanese martial arts are aikido, judo, jujutsu, karate, kempo, kendo, and ninjutsu. Even these martial arts can have many sub-styles, with Karate being a great example.

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Span Chen
Span Chen
I have been practicing karate for more than 6 years, and now at the sixth level (green belt) of the Okinawa Goju-Ryu Karatedo Kugekai. Though I haven’t earned my Black Belt yet, I am deeply passionate about my training.