The Emei School of Martial Arts got its name from Mt. Emei. In a general sense, Emei is the name of Bashu (present Sichuan and Chongqing) in ancient times. Therefore, the Emei School of Martial Arts can be also called "Bashu Martial Arts". Emei Martial Arts, Shaolin Martial Arts and Wudang Martial Arts are the three major schools of Chinese martial arts with the longest history and widest influence.
Legend holds that the creator of Emei martial arts was the powerful female Daoist sage Jiu Tian Xuan Nu. Her exceptional skill was in wielding a straight sword typical to many Daoist martial art styles, which led to a local sword heritage called Xuan Nu Sword. Many researchers feel strongly that Emei martial arts were created by a woman because of this, and also because of another rare weapon style, the hairpin, which points to a female creator.
Yet the origin and development of Emei Martial Arts have got everything to do with the history of Buddhism and Taoism of Mt. Emei. According to Records of Mt. Emei, Buddhist temples were first constructed in Mt. Emei in as early as the Wei and Jin Dynasties. In the Tang and Song Dynasties, Buddhist temples began to increase in Mt. Emei with the rising of Buddhism. Till the Ming and Qing Dynasties, Buddhism reached its prime time in Mt. Emei, which boasted as the top four renowned Buddhist Mountains in China together with Mt. Wutai, Mt. Putuo and Mt. Jiuhua. As Buddhism and Taoism were spread into Mt. Emei, monks and Taoist priests often practiced some martial arts after meditation, reading sutras and worshiping Buddha so as to strengthen their bodies and protect the temples. Since they had deep inner gong through constant meditation; and the Buddhist and Taoist systems would exchange experience, learn advantages from each other and create respective new approaches during the practice of martial arts, the unique school of Emei Martial Arts was gradually formed in this way.
The Emei School of Martial Arts combined the advantages of both Buddhist and Taoist systems by absorbing the dynamic Taoist qigong and static qigong of Buddhist meditation to create a practicing way with both dynamic and static exercises. The practice has then been held together with various boxing, instruments, free sparring and qigong to form a huge martial arts system of Emei School. Many martial artists in Emei claim that there are well over 2500 'styles' in the Emei repertoire (the Chinese sometimes use the word 'style' as roughly equivalent to a 'pattern' or 'form' in English.), including free hand, weapons and techniques. Emei martial arts are said to feature movements suited for the small frames of the Sichuan people, incorporating deceptive movements and close range strikes appropriately.
Famous stylists from the area have included Si Tu Xuan Kong, who was better known under the name Bai Yuan Gong (White Ape Man). Credited with the invention of Tong Bei style, which mimics the movements of a monkey to flail the arms like whips, he was also famous for a sword style which was studied by the emperor's wife, Yue Nu. Another famous stylist was the semi-legendary Bai Mei Dao Ren (White Eyebrow Daoist), who lived during the Southern Song dynasty. Known as a powerful martial artist, he was called upon by the imperial court to put down martial artists who opposed the emperor, including some Shaolin stylists (which is why there are many legends that claim Bai Mei was responsible for the destruction of the Southern Shaolin Temple). Bai Mei martial arts became popular in Guangdong province and have subsequently travelled to the west, although not in large numbers.