In the Tang Dynasty, descriptions of sword dances were immortalized in poems by Li Bai. In the Song and Yuan dynasties, xiangpu (the earliest form of sumo) contests were sponsored by the imperial courts. The modern concepts of wushu were fully developed by the Ming and Qing dynasties.
Martial arts are also mentioned in Chinese philosophy. Passages in the Zhuangzi (庄子), a Daoist text, pertain to the psychology and practice of martial arts. Zhuangzi, its eponymous author, is believed to have lived in the 4th century BCE. The Tao Te Ching, often credited to Lao Zi, is another Daoist text that contains principles applicable to martial arts. According to one of the classic texts of Confucianism, Zhou Li (周礼), Archery and charioteering were part of the "six arts" (六艺, including rites, music, calligraphy and mathematics) of the Zhou Dynasty (1122–256 BCE). The Art of War ( 孙子兵法), written during the 6th century BCE by Sun Tzu ( 孙子), deals directly with military warfare but contains ideas that are used in the Chinese martial arts. Those examples shows the ideas associated with Chinese martial arts changed with the evolving Chinese society and over time acquired a philosophical basis.
Daoist practitioners have been practicing Tao Yin, physical exercises similar to Qigong that was one of the progenitors to Tai Chi Chuan, at least since as early as 500 BCE. In 39–92 CE, "Six Chapters of Hand Fighting", were included in the Han Shu (history of the Former Han Dynasty) written by Pan Ku. Also, the noted physician, Hua Tuo, composed the "Five Animals Play"—tiger, deer, monkey, bear, and bird, around 220 BCE. Daoist philosophy and their approach to health and exercise might have influenced to certain extent the Chinese martial arts.
With regards to the Shaolin style of martial arts, the oldest evidence of Shaolin participation in combat is a stele from 728 CE that attests to two occasions: a defense of the Shaolin Monastery from bandits around 610 CE, and their subsequent role in the defeat of Wang Shichong at the Battle of Hulao in 621 CE From the 8th to the 15th centuries, there are no extant documents that provide evidence of Shaolin participation in combat. However, between the 16th and 17th centuries there are at least forty extant sources which provided evidence that, not only did monks of Shaolin practice martial arts, but martial practice had become such an integral element of Shaolin monastic life that the monks felt the need to justify it by creating new Buddhist lore. References of martial arts practice in Shaolin appear in various literary genres of the late Ming: the epitaphs of Shaolin warrior monks, martial-arts manuals, military encyclopedias, historical writings, travelogues, fiction, and even poetry. However these sources do not point out to any specific style originated in Shaolin. These sources, in contrast to those from the Tang period, refer to Shaolin methods of armed combat. This include the forte of Shaolin monks and for which they had become famous — the staff (Gun, pronounced as juen).The Ming General Qi Jiguang included description of Shaolin Quan fa (Pinyin quánfǎ or Wade-Giles ch'üan2 fa3, 拳法 "fist principles") and staff techniques in his book, Ji Xiao Xin Shu (纪效新书) that title can be translated as "New Book Recording Effective Techniques". When this book spread to East Asia, it had a great influence on the development of martial arts in regions such as Okinawa and Korea.
The fighting styles that are practiced today were developed over the centuries, after having incorporated forms that came into existence later. Some of these include Bagua, Drunken Boxing, Eagle Claw, Five Animals, Hsing I, Hung Gar, Lau Gar, Monkey, Bak Mei Pai, Praying Mantis, Fujian White Crane, Wing Chun and Tai Chi Chuan.