The well-known Chinese martial arts originate from the Buddhist and Taoist cultivation methods. They can mainly be classified into two sects: Shaolin Damo and Wudang Zhang Sanfeng, which are popular in south and north China respectively.
The internal martial arts of the Wudang Sect, known as The Nejia, were founded by Zhang Sanfeng. Wudang stresses internal strength, with an emphasis on using softness to conquer strength, and calmness over hastiness. This is consistent with the philosophy of Taoism—quietness, softness, weakness, detachment, and inaction. Its comprehensive methods include Tai-Chi Chuan (“fist”) and Wuxing Chuan (“five elements”), among many others.
Zhang Sanfeng visited the Shaolin Temple in Henan Province during his early pursuit of the Tao. He was proficient in the essence of Shaolin martial arts, and some Tao cultivation methods of the Song and Yuan dynasties.
After attaining the Tao, he merged the internal cultivation methods, such as the qi-leading and breathing methods, into his martial arts. He transformed the traditional, external martial arts into internal styles that aim for health improvement and Tao cultivation, rather than self-defence or fighting—as one’s realm of cultivation was raised, one’s martial arts skills would improve correspondingly.
In the early Ming Dynasty, Zhang Sanfeng, together with his disciples, moved to the northwest of Hubei’s Wudang Mountains and built the Yuzhen Temple and the Huixian Hall. There were five old trees in front of the temple, and he often rested under the shade of the trees. But it was said: “The beasts do not bite him and the hawks stop snatching at him.” When going hiking in the mountains, he moved nimbly, as if flying. He also surprised people by often sleeping in the snow in winter.