Shuai Jiao (Chinese Wrestling) is the most ancient of all Chinese martial arts with a history of over 4,000 years. Its first recorded use, in a military engagement, was when the Yellow Emperor of China fought against the rebel Chih Yiu and his army, 2,697BC. They used horned helmets and gored their opponents while using a primitive form of grappling. This early style of recorded combat was first called Jiao Ti (butting with horns). Throughout the centuries, the hands and arms replaced the horns while the techniques increased and improved. The name Jiao Ti also changed and was referred to by many names popular at that time in history or by government decree.
The original Chinese Martial Arts, a combat wrestling system called Jiao Li (Strength and Endurance Skills), was systematised during the Zhou Dynasty (1122-256 BC). This military combat wrestling system, the first combination of fighting techniques historically employed by the Imperial Army, consisted of throws, hand and foot strikes, seizing joints, attacking vital parts and breaking joints in context of throwing. All of these elements of fighting skills were practised in training during the winter months and used in hundreds of battles in ancient China. It is the root and the foundation of Chinese martial arts. Used primarily in military engagements, Jiao Li gradually became a sport in the Qin Dynasty (221-207 BC) during the reign of the Emperor Shi Huangdi. Even as a sport practiced on the Lei Tai (Sparring Platform) exponents would aim to prove that their skills were superior to that of their opponent. Only the very best of Jiao Li exponents proven in battle and on the Lei Tai would be selected to become bodyguards to the Emperor. As the martial arts of choice for the Emperor’s bodyguard, Shuai Jiao was also considered to be the most effective of the Chinese fist styles. Over many centuries the art was taught to the Imperial Military. And in this century is taught in the police and military academies of China and Taiwan (ROC). Shuai Jiao embodies the principles of both Internal and External styles and the vast majority of martial arts have their roots in Shuai Jiao.
In ancient times, practitioners of Shuai Jiao competed against one another bare-chested, in modern times training is undertaken in a heavy quilted canvas cotton jacket. One important point is that Shuai Jiao does not depend on the opponent’s jacket or clothing in order to throw them. The priority is to grab the muscle and bone through the clothing in order to control and throw the opponent. The use of the competitor’s jacket, that has short sleeves above the elbows and the jacket itself wraps tightly around the torso with a canvas belt, adds variety of techniques in controlling and throwing the opponent. Fast footwork using sweeps, inner hooks and kicks to the opponent’s leg are combined with the controlling-striking arms that create a two directional action making a powerful throw. Chinese martial arts pants and wrestling boots are usually worn, but bare feet are acceptable for the novice.
There are many other major styles of Shuai Jiao: Beijing; Tian Jin; Mongolian (Boke); and Bao Ding which is also referred to as Kuai Shuai (Fast Wrestling). There are diverse types of wrestling indigenous to the minority groups in China such as the Uighurs in Sinkiang and Yis in Yunan province. Most of the Shuai Jiao practitioners in the late Qing Dynasty were based in the Northern China; until the establishment of the Republic of China 1911, when the art was then introduced to Southern China.
Famous masters of the late Qing early Republic of China are: Ping Qing-I, Chang Feng-Yen, Pai Chun-Feng, Ku Jui-Nien, Man Lao-Ming, Shih Lao-Chin, An Lao-Hua, Wu Szu, Shan Tien-Pao, Li Jui-Tung, Chu Kuo-Chen, Wang Tzu-Qing and Ma Liang. They followed by the well known figures of modern Shuai Jiao: Chang Tung-Sheng, Chang Tung-Ju, Chang Tung-Po, Chang Tung-Chi, Yen Shan-I and Ma Wen-Kuei of the Bao Ding style; and Shen San, Yang Chun-Hen, and Pao Shan of the Beijing style; and Mu Hsiang-Kuei, Lui Shao-Tseng and Pu En-Fu of the Tian Jin style.
When the Nationalist Government established itself on Taiwan (ROC) in 1949, a few champions of Shuai Jiao migrated to Taiwan (ROC) and introduced Shuai Jiao. The most famous Master was Chang Tung-Sheng, others recognised Shuai Jiao Masters are: Jeng Hsing-Ping, David Lin, Chi-Hsui Daniel Weng (USA), Li Wing-Kay (Brazil), Yuan Tzu-Mou (France), Hwang Ching-Zeng (Germany), and Luis Lin (Sweden). These Masters have been responsible for promoting Shuai Jiao overseas to Europe, the United States and South America. The next generation includes Masters: Chang Da-Wei (Taiwan ROC) – the grandson of Chang Tung-Sheng – Rob Simpson (United Kingdom), and Antonio Langiano (Italy).
Modern Shuai Jiao evolved from an ancient form of battlefield combat. Its techniques are the culmination of tested grappling experience in the best environment – the battlefield. This practical and devastatingly efficient method of combat has evolved into a sophisticated and effective – no nonsense – system of martial arts. Its philosophy shares the same principle of internal systems of Chinese martial arts: Yin and Yang. In fact, the advanced Shuai Jiao practitioner utilises both Internal and External principles and views these principles as two sides of the same coin meeting at a junction, and complimenting each other, but coming from totally different origins. In modern times Shuai Jiao Masters are employed by the police and military of a number of nations across the world including China and Taiwan (ROC). So even today, Shuai Jiao’s effectivness as a martial art is still being proven, in both close military combat and the street.