Kung Fu vs Wushu: What’s the Difference?

When we talk about the traditional Chinese martial arts, the two most common terms are “kung fu” and “wushu”. But what’s the difference between the two of them? Is there one?

Kung fu is derived from the Chinese gongfu (功夫) which can mean effort, skill, hard work, or the time required to do something. It’s not specific to the martial arts, but instead it was used to describe someone’s training IN martial arts. So masters were associated with gongfu because they had put in a lot of effort and time into acquiring their expertise.

Wushu (武術) is the generic Chinese word for martial arts (or more literally “military techniques”). It’s not specific or exclusive to China; any martial arts is a kind of wushu. However, since the 1950s the term has also referred to a specific competitive sport which is derived from the Chinese martial arts. China has unsuccessfully petitioned to make wushu an Olympic sport for years now, and during the 2008 games in Beijing it even ran a wushu tournament on the side with conspicuously similar branding.

In English both of these words are basically interchangeable. They both mean “Chinese martial arts.” If there’s a distinction at all then “kung fu” is more of a cultural term and “wushu” is more of a sporting term. But if you wanted to express that specific an idea in Chinese, you would literally have to say something to the effect of “Chinese wushu”.