The Secrets of the Oldest Existing Chinese Martial Art
Being a native of Beijing, China I am often asked: “Do you know Kung Fu or Tai Chi?” They are usually surprised to hear that I learned Taekwondo in Beijing and Hapkido after moving to the USA. Near our neighborhood in Beijing was also a school that taught Shuai Jiao. As a young girl I had no interest in being throw around by a group of boys, so I went to Taekwondo class with my cousin.
Shuai Jiao is a type of wrestling that is still popular with a great number of men and boys in Beijing. Shuai Jiao is probably the world’s oldest martial art. In modern Chinese, its name is used to refer to any wrestling sport. Outside of China, though, it means the ancient Chinese and Mongolian wrestling styles. Legend has it that Shuai Jiao is descended from a sport called Jiao Di, where the contestants wore helmets with horns on them and tried to head butt each other. I don’t know about you, but I bet getting hit by one of those hurt! In 2687 BC, the Yellow Emperor’s army even used Jiao Di to gore rebel soldiers.
Jiao Di didn’t keep its horns, though. In the Qin Dynasty, it combined with the grappling sport called Jiao Li turned into a public sport for amusing the Imperial Court and recruiting the best fighters for the Emperor’s bodyguards in the process. I bet you didn’t know that some contests could last a while week and have over a thousand wrestlers involved. Wrestling in some form or another was taught to soldiers for all of China’s history, but it wasn’t called Shuai Jiao until 1928 when the rules got standardized for competition. Now it’s popular among the Mongols and is taught to police and soldiers in China and Taiwan.
Now, when the emperors were using Shuai Jiao to pick out the best bodyguards, fighters did their competitions bare-chested. Now training is done in a heavy cotton jacket for better protection. However, it’s important to know that in Shuai Jiao, you don’t try to get a hold on your opponent’s clothes. Instead, you grab his muscles through the clothing and use that to throw him. The jacket you wear if you’re learning Shuai Jiao has another use, too. It helps you control and throw your opponent by being close fitting and having short sleeves. You generally wear Chinese martial arts pants when learning how to do Shuai Jiao. You can practice barefoot, but a lot of people wear wrestling boots.
Although Shuai Jiao is the oldest martial art, it’s split up into a bunch of different styles. In different regions of China, they practice Shuai Jiao with a little bit of a different flavor. So Beijing has its own style. Other major kinds of Shuai Jiao are Tian Jin, Mongolian or Boke, and Bao Ding, as well as a lot of minor variations in different provinces. You’ve got to expect that a martial art that’s been around for thousands of years would have a few different ways of doing things.
Since Shuai Jiao developed from combat techniques on the battlefield, it doesn’t beat around the bush. The grappling techniques it uses are no nonsense and practical, and they get your opponent on the ground as fast as possible. However, almost every martial art has some philosophy thrown in, and Shuai Jiao isn’t an exception. The advanced fighter uses the principles of Yin and Yang to balance and complement each other. Shuai Jiao has been around for a long time as a fighting discipline, and it looks like it’s here to stay. Besides being my hometown, Beijing is home to many martial arts schools of various styles. No matter what your interest you can find a suitable place to train in our city. Watch the events calendar for upcoming tours of China that are sure to be a highlight in your martial arts training career.
About the Author: Stephanie Ma is a 3rd Degree Black Belt in the Korean self-defense art of HaeMuKwan Hapkido and a 2nd Dan in Traditional Taekwondo with the US National Taekwondo Association. She is a professional sports and fitness model and full time Nursing student. She is the Language, Culture and Character development teacher for the World Martial Arts Congress. https://www.worldmartialartscongress.cn