Ancient Origins of Shuai Chiao
One of the earliest recorded accounts of wrestling in China happened in the year 2,697 BC when the Yellow Emperor’s armies defeated the rebel Chih Yiu and his army. It is here that soldiers used a primitive form of grappling in conjunction with employing horned helmets to damage their enemies. This type of fighting was known as Jiao Ti (butting with horns). Some historians like Gu Jiegang have questioned whether the Yellow Emperor was an actual historical figure. Whether he was a man or a collection of different men, is irrelevant for our purposes.(1, 6)
The Book of Rites dating from the Zhou Dynasty (1046-256 BC) describes Jiao Li (Strength and Endurance Skills), a military combat wrestling style. This style was taught to the Imperial Army and consisted of throws, strikes (both with the feet and hands), attacking pressure points, as well as joint seizing and breaking, in the context of throwing an opponent. It is known that the Emperor’s bodyguards were highly skilled at this martial art. Jiao Li is the ancient martial art that most closely describes modern Combat Shuai Chiao, which has similar concepts: Shuai (to throw, to wrestle), Ti (kicking), Da (striking) and Na (to hold).(2, 3, 4, 8, 9)
What we see described in Jiao Li on joint seizing and breaking is known today as Chin/Qin Na. Chin/Qin means to “seize or catch” and Na means “to hold and control”. Within Chin Na, we have concepts based on dividing the muscle/tendon (Fen Jin); misplacing the bone (Cuo Gu); sealing the breath (Bi Qi); blocking the vein/artery (Duan Mai or Dim Mak in Cantonese); cavity pressing (Dian Xue). Some think these concepts are of modern origins, but in fact, have been practiced in China for thousands of years.(8)
The military skill of wrestling was tweaked, adapted and practiced as a recreation and sport; these matches would often times take place over raised platforms called Lei Tai. Wrestling as a sport was immensely popular in ancient China. In 1997, an archeological discovery was unearthed in the Qinling Mountains in Jiangling, Hubei Province (East-Central part of China), that proves this point beyond a doubt. The tomb, dating back to the Qin Dynasty (221-206 BC) has murals depicting images of Chinese wrestler, with no shirts, wearing triangular loin cloths and a long belt around their waist. The wrestlers are surrounded by a crowd and are separated by a single figure, with his arms outstretched, and a curtain draped over his shoulders. This scene from 2,200 years ago, is not so different from a typical wrestling match today. We also know that wrestling matches were practiced at religious festivals in China just like the Greeks did, dedicating Olympic Games to Zeus.(3, 4, 11)
The founder of the Qin Dynasty was Qin/Chin Shi Huang. He was the first Emperor to unify China. Although his reign was short, he had a profound influence on history; the building of the Great Wall began with him. He was highly militaristic and combat training both armed and unarmed was emphasized during his reign.(9, 10)
The first use of the combined characters Wu (“Military”) Shu (“Skill”) occurred during the Liang Dynasty (557-502 BC).(2)
In the Spring and Autumn Annals from the 5th BC, a barehanded fighting system is discussed in the story of the Maiden of Yue.(5)
Jiji is an empty hand martial art based on striking that is mentioned by the philosopher Xunzi (313-238 BC) during the Zhou Dynasty. Furthermore, during the Han Dynasty (220-206 BC), Shou Bo or empty hand methods is differentiated from wrestling in the Han Dynasty Historical Bibliographies. Shou Bo was geared specifically for combat and included striking. It is here that the first clear distinction is made with pure wrestling. Shou Bo had entire training manuals during this time and is listed as one of the four military skills under the heading Military Writings. The other three skills were archery, fencing and an ancient game of football called Cu Ju.(2, 7)
As we can see, Shuai Chiao’s origins are as old as Chinese civilization itself and is one of the oldest martial arts in existence.
1.History of Bao Ding Shuai Jiao, http://www.kuoshu.co.uk/History%20-%20SJ.htm, Chinese Kuoshu Institiute, United Kingdom, accessed April 2020.
2.Ross, Chinese Martial Arts A Historical Outline, CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2017.
3. Timeline of Chinese History and Dynasties, http://afe.easia.columbia.edu/timelines/china_timeline.htm, East Asian Institute at Columbia University, accessed April 2020.
4.Gracefo, The Wrestler’s Dissertation Shanghai University of Sport PhD in Wushu Chinese and Western Wrestling, Mary Labita Press, Long Island, New York 2017.
5.History of Chinese Martial Arts, http://traditionalwingchun.com/twckf/history-chinese-martial-arts/, Traditional Wing Chun, accessed April 2020.
6.Yellow Emperor, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yellow_Emperor#Historicity, Wikipedia, accessed April 2020.
7.Henning, Academia Encounters the Chinese Martial Arts, https://web.archive.org/web/20121017234032/http://muse.jhu.edu/login?auth=0&type=summary&url=/journals/china_review_international/v006/6.2henning.pdf, China Review International, Volume 6, Number 2, Fall 1999.
8.Jwing-Ming, Analysis of Shaolin Chin Na the Art of Seize and Control, 2nd Edition, YMAA Publication Center, Wolfeboro, NH USA, 2004.
9.Official Combat Shuai Chiao Web Page, https://www.combatshuaichiao.com/history.html, American Combat Shuai Chiao Association, accessed April 2020.
10.Qin Shi Huang, https://www.britannica.com/biography/Qin-Shi-Huang, Encyclopedia Britannica, accessed April 2020.
11.Arsenault, Faulise, Chin Na in Ground Fighting Principles, Theory and Submission Holds for All Martial Styles, YMAA Publication Center, Boston, Mass. USA, 2003.