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An interesting and important aspect of Chinese Martial Arts is the contribution of women to its evolution and development. Despite being a predominately male activity, the martial arts have attracted some remarkable female contributors. Their involvement re-emphasizes the point that the practice of traditional Chinese Martial Arts depends on the mind, the will, and the spirit. Physical strength is less important and aggression is definitely discouraged. The ideal role of woman in Chinese society can best be captured in the phrase:

毛泽东 (1968)

This slogan, that “Women hold up half the sky”, was used by Chairman Mao Zedong to mobilize the energy and dynamics of the Chinese population. He explicitly recognized the important contribution of woman in society. 

Thorough out history, in both deeds and fictions, woman played a vital role. From Yui Nui to Giu Jin to the current female martial arts enthusiasts, they are all continuing the true Chinese martial arts tradition.

 1.  Heroine
 2.  Ancient Times
 B. Yu Niu
 C. Baogu
 D. Mulan
 E. Wu Zhao
 3.  Past
 4.  Art and Fiction
 5.  Real Heroines
 6.  Female Teachers
 7.  Actresses
 8.  Atheletes

Training for women martial artists in Ottawa

The Ottawa Chinese Martial Arts Association provides a training system and programs that specialized in women’s self defense. Many traditional Chinese Kung Fu styles such as Wudang and Taiji rely on developing internal power rather then reliance on brute strength. We can use those systems as a basis for training in order to provide the student with the confidence to face any potential adversity. In Chinese martial arts, the history and tradition suggests that women contributed and played an important role in the development of this art.  The training serves as a means of developing self control and as a process of self cultivation.

Our thirty years of experience has provided our students with a customize curriculum designed for females to improve their health and wellness. 

Ancient Times

There are many famous heroines in ancient times.  Each myth and legend was retold to illustrate or emphasize a particular aspect of Chinese culture or philosophy.  Each heroine posses the same common characteristic - an indomitable spirit and unsurpassed skills in the martial arts.  Their training and dedication allowed them to overcome any adversity and set back in order to achieve their full potential.


Buddha and Bodhidharma (菩提達摩) are well known in the West but the person known as Guanyin is comparible to their importance in the East.  Guanyin (Chinese: 觀音; pinyin: guān yīn; Wade-Giles: kuan-yin, Japanese: Kannon, Korean: Gwan-eum) is the bodhisattva associated with compassion.  In Chinese art, Guan Yin is often depicted either alone, standing atop a dragon, accompanied by a white parrot, flanked by two children or flanked by two warriors. The two children are her acolytes: a girl called Long Nü (Chinese: 龍女; pinyin: Lóngnǚ) and a boy named Sudhana (Chinese: 善財; pinyin: Shàncái; Wade-Giles: Shan3Tsai2)

Guanyin is revered among Chinese Buddhists for her principle of compassion, mercy and love. She is generally seen as a source of unconditional love and more importantly as a savior. In her bodhisattva vows, Guan Yin promises to answer the cries and pleas of all beings and to liberate all beings from their own karmic woes.

In the general population, outside the Buddhist community, she is regarded as the protector of women and children. By this association she is also seen as a fertility goddess capable of granting children. She is also seen as the champion of the unfortunate, the sick, the disabled, the poor, and those in trouble. Some coastal and river areas of China regard her as the protector of fishermen, sailors, and generally people who are out at sea,  She represents the ideal role model for all heroines.

Yu Niu (770 BC - 221AD)

In Zhao Ye’s (趙曄) Spring and Autumn Annals of the Kingdoms of Wu and Yue (《吴越春秋•勾践阴谋外传》, Wu Yue chunqui; First century BC), the character known as the “Maiden of Yue” (越女; Yue Nui) was the best swordsman of her period. In the ancient text, the King of the Zhou kingdom organized a sword contest. Yu Niu was chosen as the victor over three thousand swordsmen in the seven-day contest. When the King Zhou asked her the reason for her success, she replied:


This passage described her Taoist approach to fighting – by avoiding direct confrontation and maintains the element of surprise. This approach can be translated as follows:

When fencing, though highly alert The appearance is as calm as a fair lady's
But when in action, a vicious Tiger emerges
Weak and exposed in appearance;
But powerful when unleashed.
One's reactions may start afterwards,
But the response arrives there first.
One person can fight One hundred,
An army of one hundred can fight an army of one thousand.

Her sword methods and philosophies are still recognized today.  She is a popular subject in both story, theater and film.  The most popular fiction is the short story, Sword of the Yue Maiden (越女剑), written by Jin Yong (Chinese: 金庸; pinyin: Jīn Yōng; Cantonese Yale: Gām Yùhng) and was published in 1970.  This heroine of the story is named A Qing (阿青) who learns her swordplay skills from playing sword-fights with a white ape.  She fell in love with Fan Li (范蠡) which brought her into conflict with Xi Shi (西施, Pinyin: Xī Shī, c. 506 BC – ?) who was one of the renowned Four Beauties of ancient China. 


Baogu (317-420 AD)

Baogu (鲍姑), named Qianguang, lived during the Eastern lin Dynasty (AD 317-420). Her father, Bao Qian (鲍玄), was a commander in southern Guangdong province and a Taoist who studied the Qi Huang Plan (a famous medical treatise). When she was twenty years old, her father arranged for her to marry his close friend and fellow Taoist, the famous chemist and doctor, Ge Hong (葛洪). She traveled with her husband through southern Yue (Guangdong province), "plucking and testing one hundred herbs, finding cures for strange diseases, saving countless lives". Baogu's medical skills were superb, especially in the field of moxibustion (灸). Acupuncture and moxibustion are the traditional Chinese methods of treating illnesses. Baogu and Ge Hong worked together on their first treatise to emphasize the theories of moxibustion; the Zhouhou Beiji Fang (肘後備急方; Handy therapies for Emergencies).

Mulan (589-618 AD)

Mulan (木蘭) is a well-known heroine in Chinese history and now in the West thanks to the Disney movie "Mulan". The real story of Mulan is lost in time, but she is remembered in a well-known Chinese poem, written during the Northern Dynasties (AD 420-589), and later turned into a novel, during the late Ming Dynasty (AD 1368-1644), and then into a play, during the Qing Dynasty. To this day, her real name is not known. According to the Annals of the Ming, her surname was Zhu, while the Annals of the Qing say it was Wei. A play by Xu Wei gives her the surname Hua (Flower), but that could be literary license. Others, using The Ballad of Mulan as their guide, have attributed the surname Mu to her. The legend, the novel and the play all describe the plight of a young girl, Mulan, who lived in Northern China. In one of the many wars against foreign invaders, Mulan disguised herself as a man to serve in the army in her father's place. She was an able and courageous warrior, and won many battles. The emperor recognized her for her accomplishments and offered her many rewards including a government position. She turned down all her rewards in favour of going home and living a peaceful life with her family. After she returned home, she changed back into her old clothes. When she reappeared as a girl, not one of her friends recognized her even though they had fought side by side for many years.

The story of Mulan inspired many generations of Chinese woman because of its Confucius morality (honouring the father, protecting the country) and elements of Taoist thinking (inaction, leaving government office for the family). Its influence can still be felt today. Disney's 1998 animated movie Mulan popularized the legend of the girl that took her father's place in the army. The legend stems from a Chinese poem, written during the Northern Wei dynasty (386-534), a time where northern china was ruled by nomadic invaders. This is reflected in the fact that the poem refers to the ruler as the Khan rather than as the Emperor. As is common with Chinese stories, it was further elaborated on as a novel during the Ming dynasty (1368-1644) and as a play during the Qing dynasty (1644-1911). Her surname has been variously given as Zhu, Wei, or Hua in various sources but in fact no independent contemporary records exist to confirm her existence. In her 1976 bestseller The Woman Warrior, acclaimed writer Maxine Hong Kingston  described Mulan as a source of inspiration for Chinese women. Vicki Zhao Wei (趙薇) was cast as the lead in the latest re-telling of the Mulan tale. This film was directed by Jingle Ma Cho Shing (马楚成) and was released in 2009.

Recently, Ying Meifeng (應美鳳) from Shanghai created Mulan Quan (木蘭拳) as a tribute to the ideals of this character. Her system is based on hua jia quan - an ancient martial art featuring dance moves. Mulan quan consist of six sets with 52 to 82 moves in each set. Some of the sets involve the use of a single sword, single fan, double swords or double fans. Because of its health benefits, this exercise has attracted tens of thousands of followers all over China, in Japan, Southeast Asia, Europe and America.

The poem itself is written in the form of a singing ballad called a "yue fu".  The following is the entire Mulan poem and its translation:

唧唧復唧唧 Ji-ji, again ji-ji,
木蘭當戶織 Mulan faces the door, weaving;
不聞機杼聲 The loom's shuttle falls silent,
唯聞女嘆息 You can hear the Daughter's sighs.
問女何所思 They ask her "What is she thinking?"
問女何所憶 They ask her "What is on her mind?"
女亦無所思 She answers "I am not thinking about anything!"
女亦無所憶 "Nothing is on my mind!"
昨夜見軍帖 Last night I saw the Army notice,
可汗大點兵 The Khan is organizing his armies,
軍書十二卷 There is a twelve page army register,
卷卷有爺名 and each page has my Father's name!
阿爺無大兒 My father does not have a oldest son,
木蘭無長兄 Mulan does not have any older brothers,
愿為市鞍馬 I wish to buy a saddle and horse,
從此替爺征 and serve in Father's place
東市買駿馬 In the East Market she buys a steed,
西市買鞍韉 In the West Market she buys a saddle and blanket,
南市買轡頭 In the South Market she buys a bridle,
北市買長鞭 In the North Market she buys a long whip.
朝辭爺娘去 At dawn she bids farewell to her parents,
暮宿黃河邊 In the evening she camps on the bank of the Yellow River.
不聞爺娘喚女聲 She does not hear the cries of her parents,
但聞黃河流水鳴濺濺 She only hears the Yellow River's call.
旦辭黃河去 At dawn she bids farewell to the Yellow River,
暮至黑山頭 In the evening she arrives at the summit of Black Mountain.
不聞爺娘喚女聲 She does not hear the cries of her parents,
但聞燕山胡騎聲啾啾 She only hears Mount Yan's wild horses' calls.
萬里赴戎機 The Battle rages for ten thousand miles,
關山度若飛 Flying past mountain and valleys.
朔氣傳金柝 The Northern winds carries the battle cries,
寒光照鐵衣 A cold light shines from the iron armor.
將軍百戰死 Generals die in a hundred battles,
壯士十年歸 Strong warriors return after ten years.
歸來見天子 On her return she sees the Son of Heaven,
天子坐明堂 The Emperor sits in his ceremonial hall.
策勛十二轉 Merits are recorded in twelve ranks
賞賜百千強 And grants a hundred thousand strong.
可汗問所欲 The Khan asks her what she desires.
“木蘭不用尚書郎 "I have no use for any important position,
愿借明駝千里足 I wish to borrow a dependable camel.
送兒還故鄉” To take me back to my home."
爺娘聞女來 The parents hear that their Daughter is coming back
出郭相扶將 They huddle over to the City Walls.
阿姊聞妹來 Her older sister heard she is coming back,
當戶理紅妝 She hurry and puts on rouge.
小弟聞姊來 When Little Brother hears his Sister is coming
磨刀霍霍向豬羊 He sharpens the butcher knife with glee.
"開我東閣門 "I open the door to my east room,
坐我西閣床 I sit on my bed in the west room.
脫我戰時袍 I take off my military uniform
著我舊時裳." And put on my regular clothes.".
當窗理云鬢 Facing the window, she fixes she combs her silky hair,
對鏡貼花黃 Facing a mirror she touch up her face.
出門看火伴 She goes out the door and meet her troops
火伴皆驚惶 They were shocked to see the sight.
同行十二年 Even though they had traveled for twelve years,
不知木蘭是女郎 They never suspected that Mulan was a girl.
  Mulan laughed and explained,
“雄兔腳扑朔 "When the male rabbit's feet kick up and down,
雌兔眼迷離 The female rabbit's eyes are bewildered.
兩兔傍地, Two rabbits running close to the ground,
安能辨我是雄雌?” How can they tell if I am male or female?"

Wu Zhao (625-705 AD)

Wu Zhao (武曌) was the daughter of a general.  As Wu Zetian (simplified Chinese: 武则天; traditional Chinese: 武則天; pinyin: Wǔ Zétiān),  she ruled China from 605 to 650. For the first 15 years she was the de facto power behind her Emperor husband, She then broke all precedents when she founded her own dynasty in 690, the Zhou (周) (interrupting the Tang Dynasty), and ruled personally under the name Sacred and Divine Empress Regnant (聖神皇帝) from 690 to 705.  Her major accomplishments during her reign included victory over Korea and pacification of the population.  Her methods of suppression was considered to be harsh and cruel, leading to numerous insurrections and several assassination attempts. She was considered by historians to be a ruthless but extremely effective leader who insured decades of peace and prosperity but at a great personal cost.