Shuai Chiao (pronounced shwai-jyau) is one of the oldest Chinese martial arts. It originated more than two thousand years ago, though some commentators claim its origin as early as 2000 B.C. Although the art itself has been practiced for a Jong time, it has been known by many names. It is only as recently as 1928 that it was agreed that all Chinese would call the art Shuai Chiao. Prior to 1928 the name varied according to the dynasty or area.
The central government of the Republic of China established the Central Kuo Shu Institute at Nanking in 1928. The Institute served as a coordinating body for the teaching, governing and propagation of the martial arts. It was at this time that there was agreement about the unification of the art as Shuai Chiao. The Institute required all students to study Shuai Chiao.
The definition of Shuai Chiao has varied according to the translator. The principal of the Taiwan Provincial Physical Education Institute, Professor Hu Shen-wu, defined the art thusly: Shuai Chiao is a kind of self-defense art, which is based on the natural, physical laws of force. Its purpose is to keep your own balance and to make your opponent lose his balance and to take him down. The methods and techniques of Shuai Chiao can be categorized as attacking, defending and responding to attack (countering).
The words "Shuai" and "Chiao" literally mean "throwing" and "horns." This is so because the art consists of many throws; and because of the visual illusion created by the early Shuai Chiao practitioners when they grappled. Legend relates that the duelers would wear helmets constructed so that it appeared as though the fighters had horns. Also, since in the early days the martial techniques were relatively unrefined, when the two opponents would grab each other and grapple it appeared as two animals locking horns.
Before the Ch'in Dynasty (221 B.C.), China was not a unified country. In this period the various tribes were constantly fighting eact other. According to legend it was more than 2000 years before this time (2697 B.C.) that Shuai Chiao, then known as "Chiao Ti" was first used in battles between the Emperor Hwang-ti and the rebel Chih-yu, who was a powerful wrestler.
Known as Chiao Ti in the Chou Dynasty and as Chiao Ti in the Ch'in Dynasty, this art was adopted by the government as a fighting and training method for the military. Thereafter it became known as "Hsian Pu," "Kwang Chiao," "Liao Chiao," etc.; and too many names to mention here until 1928 when the name was standardized to Shuai Chaio.
Ming Dynasty illustration of Chiao Ti as it was done during the Han period.
Since the Ch'in Dynasty the art had other uses besides military. It was during this era that Shuai Chiao was first practiced in tournaments and demonstrated in shows, festivals and gatherings. Because of its entertaining and crowd-pleasing nature Shuai Chiao became and has remained to this day a regular feature of festive gatherings and banquets (see fig. 1).
In the Ch'in Dynasty the art was also known as "Hsian Pu." The Chinese characters pronounced "Hsian Pu" are the same characters the Japanese used to denote "sumo," which is traditional Japanese wrestling. It has also been proven that Judo, although invented by the Japanese, actually was influenced very much by the Chinese martial artist Ch'en Yuan-pin. During the Ming Dynasty Ch'en fled China to Japan and later taught there at a temple in Tokyo. The Japanese honor Ch'en Yuan-pin with a monument citing his contributions to the teaching of the martial arts.
It was between the Ch'ing Dynasty and the Ming Dynasty that Shuai Chiao achieved its highest level. There was general acceptance of a proverb which stated that the moment one was touched, was the moment one had lost, or was thrown. In other words the level of skill of the artists was so great and refined that if your opponent was able to touch you, there was nothing you could do to prevent being defeated. This is similar to the view held by the fist styles that if one is able to strike the opponent, the opponent is finished. The art at this time, its zenith, was primarily known as "Kuai Chiao." The character "Kuai" means "fast." There is a style that is practiced today that derived directly from this known as "Pao-ting-kuai-chiao." Pao-ting is the name of a famous place near Peking in Ho-pei Province.
Chinese Shuai Chiao tournaments gained the height of their popularity during the Ch'ing Dynasty (1644-1911). In those days the Emperor sponsored may regular Shuai Chiao matches. The contestants would gather from all corners of the nation. The victors from the matches would comprise the national Shuai Chiao team. These were the greatest Shuai Chiao masters in the world. The official team members were called "Puhu," meaning fierce, strong, attacking tigers.
At this time the government sponsored a special camp, called "Shan-pu-ying," meaning "Camp of the Great Warriors" (see photo 1). There were always more than two hundred participants, all professional Shuai Chiao experts supported by the government. There were three categories of rank for these professional warriors.
As part of keeping good diplomatic relations, the Emperor would invite the allies from outside the Great Wall for the supreme Shuai Chiao meets. These matches were held to increase the bond of friendship among them. The Emperor himself would journey to the games to greet and welcome the allies. The official team would compete with the Mongolian wrestlers, and the victor would be the one who could drop his opponent to the ground first.
Mongolian Shuai Chiao—Two wrestlers stalk each other, (photo 2)
Art work from the late Ch'ing Dynasty describing a scene from Shan-pu-ying (the Professional Shuai-Chiao Camp). Ju-i-kuan Peiking Palace, (photo 1)
The Mongolians were among the greatest Shuai Chiao artists. On the fifteenth day of the sixth month, or the thirteenth day of the seventh month after the lunar new year, the Mongolian tribes would hold their religious festivals. After the religious ceremonies the Shuai Chiao games would begin (see photo 2). The competitors would salute each other and then start the combat. If you touched the ground above your kne6 you would lose. And in those days just one fall would constitute the match. After the Republic of China was established, Shuai Chiao tournaments became a regular sanctioned sport. The officials decided to determine the victor by whoever won two falls out of three. This procedure was formally adopted at the annual Shuai Chiao games at Shanghai in 1935. The last national tournament that the Republic of China held on the mainland was in 1948 also at Shanghai. The annual Shuai Chiao games are still held in this manner in Taiwan.
In the late Ch'ing Dynasty official Shuai Chiao camp was discontinued and the professional Shuai Chiao artists were no longer supported by the government. So the former government fighters dispersed to their respective areas and opened their own private schools, introducing and teaching this art to the general population. Previously, this effective fighting art was available only to the military elite. Since this was the first time the true knowledge of Shuai Chiao was disseminated among the general populace, the Shuai Chiao techniques mixed with those of otl. " fighting styles. Therefore, Shuai Chiao thus became broadened, not so specialized as before.
At this time the best and most renowned Shuai Chiao masters were from Mongolia, Pao-ting, Peking and T'ientsin. It was not until the Republic of China established the Central Kuo Shu Institute and taught Shuai Chiao there that the art was introduced on a genral scale to southern China. From the late Ch'ing dynasty until the Republic of China there were many great and famous Shuai Chiao masters. In Pao-ting the most famous were Ping Ching-i and his student Chang Fong-yen.
In 1919, in Shan-tung Province, General Ma Liang attempted to compose a team specializing in different Kung Fu styles. He also developed a textbook on the Chinese martial arts. For the book the arts were divided into three categories: Shuai Chiao, empty-fist techniques, and techniques with weapons. General Ma learned Shuai Chiao from the Master Ping Ching-i. Thus, General Ma was a classmate and fraternity brother of the revered master Chang Fong-yen. Chang Fong-yen was the best student of Ping Ching-i. Chang along with the other renowned Shuai Chiao masters Li Yu-min, Ma Ch'ing-yun and Wang Weih-han wrote the first textbook on Shuai Chiao in China.
In 1928 the Central Kuo Shu Institute of the Republic of China divided the fighting arts into four main categories; they were Shuai Chiao, empty-fist techniques, weapon systems, and archery. Through this organization the government attempted to train and develop the most complete and efficient martial arts experts possible. It was at this time that Shuai Chiao experienced a renaissance, with tremendous renewed interest by the populace. This was the first time since the official Shuai Chiao team was dismissed by the government during the Ch'ing Dynasty that there were government sponsored Shuai Chiao experts and teams.
Between 1928 and 1933 the Central Kuo Shu Institute sponsored five nationwide Kung Fu tests. The participants were divided into weight classes. They were tested in writing, on six different subjects and tested on their performance of six different Kung Fu categories. They also worked on the training of referees and the unification and codification of the rules. This was when Kung Fu became a spe cialized and standardized entity for the whole nation.
In 1933 at the national Kung Fu examination, Shuai Chiao was one of the main items. Among the champions was Master Ch'ang Tung-sheng, the teacher of the author. Master Ch'ang received worldwide fame and presently at the age of seventy-seven has never been defeated in even one single match. Master Ch'ang began the study of Kung Fu at the age of seven. He had many teachers, but the teacher who influenced him the most was Master Chang Fong-yen (mentioned above). After years of diligent and strenuous work and study, Master Ch'ang became the favorite student of Master Chang Fong-yen and eventually married his daughter. Master Ch'ang Tung-sheng became famous at the age of nineteen. He was then invited to attend the Central Kuo Shu Institute as a student of all styles and as an instructor of Shuai Chiao. Master Ch'ang became known as the "Flying Butterfly." He received his name because he moved so quickly and in varied directions, just as a butterfly flying among the flowers. Master Ch'ang coached at the Taiwan Central Police College for twenty-six years before retiring in 1976.
Master Ch'ang has three brothers and all are famous experts in Shuai Chiao. Both Master Ch'ang and one of his younger brothers, Ch'ang Tung-ch'i, were champions in different weight classes at the last national Shuai Chiao tournament sponsored on the mainland in 1948. At that time Master Ch'ang was already forty years old but still emerged victorious. Master Ch'ang also remains as the chief referee of the Taiwan national Shuai Chiao games.
Master Ch'ang approved and encouraged his student Weng Chi-hsiu (Daniel) to promote the art of Shuai Chiao in America (1978). This is the reason that the International/American Shuai Chiao Association was organized and is promoting and teaching this traditional Chinese martial art throughout North America and the world.
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