Chinese Numbers in Martial Arts by Shonika


The chinese culture is well known for a spiritual and ritualistic way of life. These daily rituals can incorperate a combination of  Feng Shui,  the energy flow of qi, elements, animal guides, colours, plants, seasons, and of course numbers.

The chinese have developed many forms of martial arts with each having their own beauty and effectiveness, but the thing they do have in common is the special relationship they have to numbers.

Numbers considered lucky are 2,3,8,9.

A number considered unlucky is the number 4 as the word sounds similar to the word death in Chinese.

Numbers which could be considered lucky or unlucky are 5,6,7 depending on the context.

Lucky numbers which have significance in kung fu:


The number 2 (二 or 兩, Pinyin:èr or liăng) is most often considered lucky in chinese culture, like the saying goes “good things come in pairs” or if you have seen or heard of it before in restaurants or advertsing ” double happy”.

In kung fu there are a lot of the basic moves and techniques which are executed in two movements. An example of these are the double tai, stick sequences, leg throws and some advanced kicks. This is also seen when using two weapons at once like the butterfly swords, nunchucku, jian and more.

A funny thing to mention is in northern china the word number two when used as an adjective can also mean “stupid”.


The number 3 (三, Pinyin: sān, jyutping: saam1). This word sounds similar to the word birth in Chinese dialect. New beginnings or creation of life are universally seen as a great thing.

The number three also has a lot of spiritual meaning to many believers in religion and other faiths, this can be reflected in the holy trinity, past present and future, material, rational and spiritual,  earth, heaven and hell etc.

Examples of kung fu threes are 3 circle punch,  3 section staff, 3 zones.


The number 5 (五, Pinyin: wŭ) is associated with  five elements (Water, Fire, Earth, Wood, and Metal).

In kung fu we have 5 animals, 5 elements, and 5 internal orders which are linked as followed:

Please note there are many more than 5 animals from which techniques have been derived from, but here we are just going to touch on these ones.

Earth is associated with the spleen which helps with excretion and elimination of unwanted waste in the body. When looking at the body you can see the similarity of the intestines and the snake. You can imagine the snake biting you on the inside while trying to get out, this can be seen as the anger inside you that needs to be purged. Techniques in the snake form are fashioned from this concept of quick, biting attacks.

Metal is associated with the lungs which are similar as they are both high power to weight ratio. The Leopard also has this similar characteristic of being high power to weight. Leopard techniques usually involve the knees and elbows with mid range attacks. Where the element of metal is concerned you can see the relationship of concentrated power with a very strong striking point like the arrow or the blade of a axe.

Water is associated with the kidneys as they control a lot of what is absorbed into the blood stream. The job of the kidneys is to ensure that hormone secretions are balanced for a healthy body. The movement and fluidity of water corresponds to the crane which symbolises elegance and balance. Crane fighting styles mostly entail skilled defence and counter attacks.

Wood is the only living element of the 5 mentioned here. It is vital for the life of humans and most animals as it is the main source of food. Wood is associated with the liver as it filters substances that are consumed in an attempt to ensure only the good nutrients are absorbed by our body and spirit. Pulling and holding techniques are used, along with agility and flexibility, these characteristics can be seen in the wide variety of plant life we have on earth. Wood is closely associated with the Dragon, deeply breathing, sucking in an opponent, and spitting them out fiercely.

Fire is associated with the heart, which has the characteristics of courage and warmth. The techniques used are explosive. The tiger rarely uses defensive techniques and will charge forward with full force. Round sudden punches are common, direct kicks and palm heels with clawing are used when using the tiger fighting style. There is no retreating here and no giving up.

Unlucky number 5 in mandarin can also have negative connotations when combined with another word like saying “not” alive for example.


The number 6 (六, Pinyin: liù) represents wealth in the Chinese culture. The word six is similar to the word fluid in Cantonese and is therefore considered good for business.

In Qi Gong there is the form for the 6 healing sounds. This involves coordinating movements with various breathing techniques along with different noises that are made with the mouth.

”    噓 XU [pronounced like ‘she,’ with the lips rounded] – ‘deep sigh’ or ‘hiss’ – Level the Liver Qi

呵 HE [pronounced like ‘huh’] – ‘yawn’ or ‘laughing sound’ – Supplement the Heart Qi

呼 HU [pronounced like ‘who’] – ‘to sigh,’ ‘to exhale,’ or ‘to call’ – Cultivate [or Shore Up] the Spleen/Pancreas Qi

呬 SI [pronounced like ‘sir’] – ‘to rest’ – Supplement the Lung Qi

吹 CHUI [pronounced ‘chway’ or ‘chwee,’ depending on locale] – ‘to blow out,’ ‘to blast,’ or ‘to puff’ – Supplement the Kidney Qi

嘻 XI [pronounced like ‘she’ with tongue high, and well forward, in the mouth] – ‘mirthful’ – Regulate the Triple Burner Qi[1]”

All kung fu techniques and movements are based of 6 key elements which are broken down into 3 Internal and 3 External. These will be needed to execute the techniques of kung fu and will need to work in coordination.

External coordination:

Hands and feet

Elbows and knees

Shoulders and Hips

Internal coordination:

Heart and mind

Mind and breath

Breath and power

Unlucky point number 6 also has a similar pronunciation to a word that means drop or fall.


The number 7 (七, Pinyin: qī) in considered lucky in both the Chinese and the western culture.  It is lucky for relationships as it symbolises togetherness.

Unlucky number 7 can be considered ghostly, as in the 7th month of the year the ghost festival is held.


The word for “eight” (八 Pinyin: bā) sounds similar to a word in the Chinese language which means prosper or growth.

Number 8 is the most extensively used number in Brisbane Kung Fu in regards to sets of techniques and sequences. One of the first things learnt in the our school are the 8 stances, 8 strikes, and 8 kicks.

Stances: Horse, Bow, 4-6 , Unicorn, Crane, Snake, Scissor, Cat.

Kicks: Stomp, Groin, Thrust, High toe, Side, Crescent, High heel, Back.

Strikes: Straight punch, Palm heel, Knife hand, Ridge hand, Finger strike, Hammer fist, Double tai, Back fist.

There is the story of the eight immortals in Chinese mythology.  The power of each of the immortals can be transferred to a tool which has the ability to create or destroy.

“The 8 immortals are:

Immortal Woman He (He Xiangu),

Royal Uncle Cao (Cao Guojiu),

Iron-Crutch Li (Tieguai Li),

Lan Caihe,

Lü Dongbin, leader;

Philosopher Han Xiang (Han Xiang Zi),

Elder Zhang Guo (Zhang Guo Lao), and

Han Zhongli (Zhongli Quan).”

Please see the below reference:


During the performance of a form in Chinese martial art competitions, there are “Eight Qualities” which are looked for and judged:

1. Hands.

2. Eyes.

3. Body Technique.

4. Steps.

5. Spirit.

6. Breath.

7. Strength.

8. Ability.

In Shaolin Long Fist, the requirements for “Hands” are “fists like shooting stars,” which infers that the movements of arms, hands, wrists, and fingers be with a relaxed strength and speed. The motions in Long Fist will be from lightning fast to a sudden, stable halt, and conversely, from motionless to a sudden burst of power. The “Eyes” must be alert and alive, following the hands with lightning speed. One’s “Body” or torso, with its central point at the waist, must be agile and lively. The stated traditional requirement is that the “waist behaves like a crawling snake.” The “Steps” must be stable and, regardless of how rapid the movements are, the feet must stick to the ground. There is a pertinent traditional saying, “To punch is easier than to walk. ”

Using numbers aids the learning process and gives a reference point to come back to. It is interesting to learn that the Chinese have developed a culture where numbers influence a lot of decisions made in life, from the number of rooms in a house, number of goldfish in a pond to the numbers used in mobile phones. When looking back to the origins of teaching Kung fu forms and techniques it is apparent numbers are used as a strong foundation.



  1. Thank you Shonika for the above article.

    With regards to Number 8. In China, the prestige of having a icense plate or phone number full of 8’s is such that hundreds of thousands of dollars can be paid for the privelege. And the Beijing Olympics started at 8pm on 08/08/08 – not by chance.

    The number nine is associated with the emperor and the huge red doors leading to the Forbidden City are adorned with 9 x 9 gold studs. Rubbing these studs is said to bring good luck too. Sifu Jason

  2. Awesome article that gives a good overview of the numbers!

    I had no idea about all of this!

    I knew Chinese were superstitious but this is proving it even more. I like the concept though 🙂

Leave a Reply