In America today, however, it is more commonly referred to as kung fu. The term "kung fu" is misleading, however, as it refers to any great skill gained through hard work and not Chinese martial arts exclusively. A master martial artist has kung fu (great skill) but so does a master chef, painter, or chess player. In fact anyone who demonstrates great skill in anything can be said to have kung fu in that thing. Wushu also does not refer to a particular style of martial arts, Chinese or otherwise. It's simply the generic Chinese term for all marital arts. When talking about Japanese wushu you could be referring to Karate, Judo, or Aikido; Korean wushu could be Hapkido or Tae Kwon Do; Chinese wushu could be Shaolin, Long Fist, Eagle Claw, Tai Chi Chuan or any of the hundreds other styles of Chinese wushu that exist.
Now, "wushu" is a Chinese word, so it is usually safe to assume when you hear it used that the user is referring to Chinese martial arts in particular, and for our purposes that is how we use it.
Wushu (Martial Arts) is basically a skilled fighting/combat system in which a series of movements using striking techniques with feet, hands, knees, elbows, head and dozens of different weapons are used in conjunction in order to physically fight in the most effective and deadly manner. This is regardless of whether the purpose of the fight is to defend oneself or to attack another. Elements of a combat system range from the most base - such as developing the physical requirements; to the highly mental - learning how to develop and initiate complex strategies; to the metaphysical - learning to manipulate energy. It is called an art because it uses the science of the body and mind to push the envelope of what should be physically possible.
Distinct combat techniques developed based upon what the need for being able to fight was. Techniques developed for fighting between large armies are distinctly different then those developed for fighting one on one or even three on one. Today, modern combat techniques have almost developed beyond the body's capabilities, and most combat that exists is assisted by machines (computers, guns, tanks) against which traditional martial arts/combat techniques are not as effective. With this development, the intention behind studying traditional martial arts has changed. People now study primarily for the fringe benefits of wushu, such as health, self defense, focus or any of the other myriad reasons. Despite this, the core of wushu will always be it's inherent power as a fighting system..