Northern vs Southern Classifications

Robin Wu

Panda Cub
Are there generalizations that could be made between Northern Chinese martial arts and Southern Chinese martial arts?

On the internet, I would often hear stuff like "Northern Kick- Southern Fist", that Northern styles are more dynamic, known for high kicks, legwork, and acrobatics whereas Southern styles have "low stable stances and short powerful movements". Is there any truth to that?

Adam Liu

I watched this video the other day, here's a summary of what I remember for those that don't really want to watch all of it.

Northern gongfu developed from military tactics and from weapon forms to hand forms. They were designed for the open flat lands of the north, and emphasize strong rooting and concerted movement between lower body and upper body. If I understood it correctly, the "legs" does not refer to kicks as much as an emphasis on strong rooting. Each move in the form represented an entire "idea," so that each move is complete on its own. This point wasn't that apparent to me, but I guess it meant that each move developed a more holistic jin rather than a very small and specific one.

Southern gongfu developed in the common people (peasants?), so they developed fist forms first before weapon forms. They also had weapons forms for nontraditional weapons that were actually just farmer tools. Due to the mountainous terrain and rice fields, there is less emphasis on strong rooting as there is in the north, and the legs and hands did not always inform each other. I believe he mentioned that in the north the hands and legs move together while in the south they move, root, and then strike (probably due to the terrain?). The forms are shorter and more compartmentalized, and there is greater emphasis on taking apart moves and drilling them in a more analytical way such that skills were obtained during partner practice rather than form (at least I think that was what he said). In other words, while in the north techniques and concepts and relationships were inherent in the one-person form, in the south the forms were split up in a way that partner practice was necessary to further flesh out the application. Application and partner practice is probably necessary regardless of north or south, but southern styles may need partner practice to develop certain aspects that northern styles develop in form.

The idea that different forms developed differently due to difference in landscape and origins is pretty cool to me, and sort of makes sense.

I also wouldn't be surprised if the stereotype of northern kick was just a misunderstanding of the saying, as I have heard people say that it is not always safe to throw around kicks willy nilly in a fight to the death no rules situation. If the military history of northern arts is true, then I especially don't buy it since I assume battlefield arts would have as little high exertion movements as throwing out kicks and doing dynamic acrobatics. Xu Haofeng, a Chinese director that makes pretty non-flashy psuedo-realistic wuxia films, has also mentioned that northern arts developed from battlefield arts, and that the efficient use of leverage was a necessity as it ensured that a soldier wouldn't get too tired after fighting one person. That makes a lot of sense to me.