This is a post I've been meaning to write for a little over a year, which the obligations of the physical world have kept me from, but Razib's recent series on the Hui has finally given me an excuse.
Many of the Muslim immigrants to China were Central Asian mercenaries who settled in China rather than make the arduous journey home. In pre-modern China (and other pre-modern societies), men are expected to pursue the same line of work as their forebears. This, along with the Confucian Han disdain for military careers, meant that the descendants of these men found their niche in the Chinese economy as soldiers, mercenaries, and caravan guards.1 And in China, mercenary families, whether Han or Hui, were famous for their Kung Fu.
If its traditions are to be believed, the Cha Chüan (查拳; pinyin: Chāquán) style of Kung Fu has its origins in the Tang Dynasty (618–907) and the recuperation of Hua Zongqi, a young Hui general, in the county of Guanxian in Shandong Province.3 As thanks for their care, he stayed to teach the townspeople martial arts.
The same scenario figures in the origin story of Tan Tui (彈腿; pinyin: Tán Tuǐ): the invalid soldier, the kind townspeople, the reciprocation of hospitality by teaching Kung Fu, even Guanxian County, Shandong. The origin of Tan Tui is set towards the end of the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644) and attributed to a Hui from Xinjiang named Chashangyir. It is improbable that such a particular sequence of events repeat itself in the same location a thousand years after they first took place. However, a Han Dynasty (202 BCE–220 CE) vase in the collection of the Museum of Metropolitan art features the figure of a wolf-headed man, a totem of the non-Han peoples of Xinjiang, in an unmistakably Tan Tui posture as he fights a mounted Han archer. So the link to Xinjiang may have substance even if little else in the origin story does.
The people of Guanxian eventually taught Tan Tui to the Buddhist monks of the Longtan Temple, who expanded the original 10 routines of Tan Tui into 12.
Even though it is sometimes taught as a style on its own, both the 10- and 12-routine Tan Tui are best-known because their adoption into the curriculum of other styles, starting with Cha Chüan and especially through the widespread impact of the Jing Wu Men (of Fist of Fury fame) and the Nanjing Central National Martial Arts Institute.
In the neighboring province of Hebei is the village of Meng in the prefecture of Cangzhou. In Meng Village during the 18th century a Muslim named Wu Jong began teaching the martial arts he learned from a Taoist monk (or monks, depending on the account), which became known as Ba Ji Chüan (八極拳; pinyin: Bājíquán). In the 20th century, the bodyguards of Emperor Puyi (of Last Emperor fame), Mao Zedong, and Chiang Kai-Shek were all practitioners of Ba Ji.
In one of his posts, Razib linked to a Time magazine article about Han-Hui violence in Henan, which lies immediately south of Hebei, in the prefecture of Zhengzhou, where the Shaolin Monastery is located. 60 miles west of the Shaolin Monastery is the ancient city of Luoyang, home to a Muslim community known for a branch of the martial art Xing Yi Chüan (形意拳; pinyin: Xíngyìquán). The founder of this branch, Ma Xueli, is said to have learned the style from a wandering master in the 18th century. His family is rumored to have been involved in the martial arts for much longer. The teacher of the 13th century master Bai Yufeng is said to have been a man named Ma from Luoyang.
In the 20th century, Cangzhou was the home of the Hui master Wang Ziping (1883–1973); bio en español with lots of photos here, shorter bio in English here, photo of Wang Ziping as an old man doing a bent press with a lock weight here), a master of many styles but best known for Cha Chüan. Gender equity in the Chinese umma isn't limited to female imams; Wang Ziping passed the mantle to his daughter Wang Jurong, who passed it on to her daughters Helen and Grace Wu. (Wu Jong's lineage was also continued by his daughter, Wu Rong.)
Another celebrated Hui Kung Fu master from Hebei was Ch'ang Tung-Sheng, the 20th century master of Shuai Jiao, Chinese wrestling, specifically the style from Baoding in Hebei. He was famous for his ability to drop opponents with his first technique, which is the ideal espoused by the Baoding style, as well as the Hebei style of Xing Yi.
The border region between Shandong and Hebei has long been famous for the martial arts among both Han and Hui, especially Cangzhou. Cangzhou was a penal colony, a place of exile, a really rough part of China where knowledge of the martial arts were necessary for survival.
1Explaining the disproportionate representation of Hui in the Chinese military.
2The style takes its name from Cha Yuanyi, Hua Zongqi's student and teaching assistant, possibly because there are two other styles of Kung Fu named Hua Chuan (but written with different characters).