The classic text "兵法" is usually translated as "The Art of War", but doesn't "武術" also literally mean "art of war"?

My (not very long) experience with chinese language makes me believe that if there are two characters with the same english translation then almost always there are nuances of their meaning or usage.

So are there more precise translations for "兵法" and "武術"?

My guess is that since "兵"'s first meaning is a "soldier" and "法" is more like a "rule", "兵法" relates to the way you should organize your troops, learn about your enemy to prepare for battle etc, more like a "management of the army"; while "武術" actually means "the art of battling", "the art of fighting on the battle field". So that when the "兵法" part is done, you can use your "武術" to beat the enemy.

  • You're correct. The art of battling is more precise for 武术. – songyuanyao Feb 3 '17 at 12:39
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    “武術” is “功夫 ” is the art of personal fighting skills;“兵法 ”is the art of strategy, tactics and management skills in the war – chsword Feb 4 '17 at 10:07
up vote 11 down vote accepted

兵法 Art of War

  1. 用兵作戰的策略和方法。
    strategies and methods of warfare.

  2. 兵書。
    military books, which discuss the strategies and methods of warfare.

武術 Martial Arts

  1. 軍事技術。
    military technology.

  2. 中國民族體育之一 (one of the Chinese traditional sports.)。
    如:太極拳 (tài-ji-quán, shadow-boxing)、劍術 (fencing)、刀術 (broadsword play)、槍術 (spear play, joust)、棍術 (stick/cudgel play)。

兵法 is usually related to the country. 武術 is more personal.


Some user posted the following comment.

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I found the following information on the Web.

《影響世界的中國元素--中國功夫》

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《中华青少年成长必读集萃——万事由来》

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《揭秘万物由来之谜》

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    武術 has nothing to do with 軍事技術 – Tang Ho Feb 4 '17 at 4:23
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    武术 does not mean 军事技术 anymore in modern Chinese as your examples suggest. – Aria Ax Feb 5 '17 at 12:22

兵法 is the method of how to win a war.武术 is the method of fighting with other person

法 - is more like "a law".

术 - comes from 術 which is a depiction of a street 行 and a hemp 术 weaving. Meaning a street where baskets and other stuff from plants (hemp for example) are sold as a merchandise. In modern days 术 just means skill (derived from the skill to weave a basket) or 术 has smth to do with surgery (weaving again). 令

So we have literate translations:

  • 武术 - "skill at arms" or "weaponcraft" like in 巫术 (witchcraft)
  • 兵法 - soldier's law/science.
  • Very nice explanation, thank you! – xaxa Feb 7 '17 at 14:51

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