Originally Posted by KuKulzA28
Then again, being skilled in fighting was a lot more prevalent then than now, and every village's leading Shifu/Sifu was likely to have quite a following, even if many of them are just local farmers looking to improve themselves and the village militia when they weren't out planting or harvesting. Still though, martial arts were generally not highly regarded, being the tool of the trade for bodyguards (protectors of the rich), thugs (harassers of the poor), and soldiers (rape & pillage & destruction).
I think the same can be said about other less "popular" weapons. The da-dao may have existed in many local variants as a sort of machete, But the Da-dao we know today as the weapon wasn't very common in official imperial armies. Similar weapons we used bu these were often the two-handed sabers of the Palace Guard or the Miao Dao of the Iron troops and northern arquebusiers.... not exactly the da-dao we know of, though certainly a DA dao (BIG blade). Others like the hook swords and wind and fire wheels would have been rarer still. On top of all this, consider that the Emperor rarely wanted his subjects armed... often very few Chinese had a weapon - the closest thing they had was their rice-knife or a walking stick. The fact that mercenary/bodyguard companies were very prosperous in the Ching dynasty reveals that crime was rampant and the countryside dangerous. Not only did the bodyguards have to be good hand-to-hand combatants, they had to be skilled in geography, language, and be able to smoothly deal with bandits when the bandit-groups were too large.
Actually, the farmer's martial arts were (and probably are) quite diverse in China, and most of them aren't practiced outside the country. As someone who practiced one pointed out, there's not a lot of difference between living in a temple and learning a martial art, and living in an isolated farming village and learning a martial art. Both are spartan conditions with lots of manual labor, and the relative lack of distractions (as would be found in a big city) means that the sifu can take up large blocks of time for training his better students, there being little else to do. He could also control their diet and other aspects of their lives to favor martial development.
Don't forget that Chen-style tai chi was a village martial art. The Chen village made its money growing and shipping medicinal herbs, and even before they developed tai chi, they had their own martial art for protecting their shipments from bandits.
As for weapons, we've all seen those village swords that Josh has. Beyond that, the village arts often use farm equipment (hoes, rakes, etc), along with staffs of varying lengths, and more conventional spears, jian, and dao.
Anyway, this is getting off topic, but it's worth remembering that in the last ~500 years before the Cultural Revolution, the state didn't do a lot for rural security. The peasants weren't all defenseless during that time, although the best martial artists were generally found in the big cities, where they could make more money.