Chinese Martial Arts History

The never ending martial arts posts continues uninterrupted by the holidays.

Today we have something I read months ago, but provides a very different view of China than the current government of China has shown to the world.

The material is in research format and requires effort, time, and patience. Three qualities you will not find much on the internet, or in the current American socio-political climate. But for those who seek the truth as well as knowledge about many facets of human existence, they should take a look here.

Some specific sections I found worthy of note:

Sun Wu was from Qi (Shantung province), his original name was Tien Hun Tien. He escaped some political intrigue against his family in Qi by defecting to Wu, where he promised the Wu King that he could help him to overcome all of his neighboring enemies. Sun Wu`s military strategies were highly effective and the Wu troops totally baffled the Zhu and Yueh states with heretofore unorthodox assaults that caught them off guard, avoiding the Wu much bloodshed. Sun Wu`s strategy involved much yielding, segmenting, combining, changing, and transforming maneuvers as necessary (making much use of the Five Elements theory). To avoid headlong confrontation with the very powerful Chu, Sun Wu worked the Wu troops so as to use the terrain to its tactical advantage, to spread the energy out, to choose objectives carefully, and to suddenly concentrate its forces when and where it was unexpected. Many people studied Sun Wu`s ideas and his book became highly influential to the art of fighting, both in battle and later as people applied his ideas on a lesser scale, to hand-to-hand combat. Much use was made of the Five Elements idea of antagonistic and protagonistic forces, changing and transforming in mutual promotion and restraint.

Another great army general, Woo Zhi Shung, defected to Wu from the Zhou kingdom, because his father had been betrayed and killed. Both generals Woo and Sun advised King Wu Kwang (20th generation) and taught the king and his sons fighting skills. The 18th generation King, Wu Sou-Wan`s military advisor was General Seng Woo, who also defected from Chu and changed his family name to Wu. Sometime during the 500s BC, King Wu Sou Wan`s son, Wu Ji Zhe, achieved much renown for his sword fighting skills.

During the Spring and Autumn period, the Chu discovered the making of steel and soon after longer swords were able to be crafted. These longer swords were widely adopted in warfare. Many people became sword experts, especially in the Wu and Yue kingdoms. King Wu Kwang himself practiced sword fighting and many huge contests were given. He owned a pair of specially forged swords that are legendary to this day: a male sword called the Kan Jian and a female sword called the Muo Xie.

Around 496 BC, one of ancient China`s best sword fighters was a woman named Yue Nu. She practiced developing her idea and methods for years in her land. Her fighting theories and techniques became another major influence on Wu-Shu theory.

For King Gou Jian of Yue, she wrote her theories:

1) Combining position, breathing, and consciousness;
2) Balancing the internal and external states of the body in harmony;
3) Simultaneous offense and defense;
4) Using both static and moving states.

She also wrote much about: being calm and unassuming in appearance, but fighting as vicious as a tiger; reacting fast enough to reach the opponent first with a strike, even though the opponent started first; uniting spirit, form, and intent. She was acclaimed for her skills all over ancient China and much respected by all.

Learned people and military fighters soon saw that the concept of `Wu-Wei` – doing nothing out of harmony with the flow of things was at the heart of many skills. It was found as an idea in common to many ideas that were then currently developing: Taoism, Yue Nu`s sword fighting, the Five Elements battle strategy of Sun Wu, and the Dao Yin qi-gung practitioners. In their explorations on the ways of or the nature of the universe (`The Tao`), Taoists began uniting all these different expressions of Wu-Wei. The circular movements of sword fighting were seen as putting man in tune with the natural cycles of the universe (stars, seasons, water, birth, death, etc.). The effect was seen as even more pronounced if the actions were combined with qi-gung breathing exercises and the mental exercises of military strategy. Taoists of the war-torn time saw warfare as an element of all life, against mortal and immortal enemies both outside and within the human body. People who were learned in all these concepts were soon in high demand in all the Chinese courts of the various kingdoms, as they were sought as advisors to the kings and nobles (princes, lords, etc.).

Wait, there’s more.

As the chaos of the times increased, the countryside became full of groups of criminal gangs, robbers, thieves, and outlaws. Interstate trade was greatly increasing and the need for good bodyguards was great. Being able to fight in close quarters, small scale, combat became a necessity and bodyguards on long journeys with trade caravans occasionally exchanged ideas and techniques with other traveling bodyguards. They looked for the best techniques for attack, attack-defense, countering, controlling, feinting, evading, and more. Hand fighting skills became highly developed and the best fighters were known for their main technique of striking, kicking, joint-locking, throwing, and hitting vital points. People tried to distill what they knew and consolidate the various techniques into one or a few main moves that they could always count on and each great fighter was known for their main technique. People sought to develop their fighting into an art that transcended all that they know into a highly effective small set of moves, if not one main move.

According to Ssu Man Chen`s book `Records of the Great Historian`, a new class of roving people emerged during these times, called the `Knights Errant` (Yu Hsieh). These were professional ex-soldiers that roamed the countryside offering their services as mercenaries. They were skilled in the military arts, especially sword fighting. They had a code of conduct and tried to be honest and fair, helping even ordinary people in distress. The Knights helped to establish the idea of using martial arts for self defense and helping those who were weaker and in need. This idea was also a great influence on Wu-Shu theory and many people embraced the idea of using martial arts for good and only for fighting against wrong doers.

By the end of the Warring States period, all the groundwork had been laid for the theoretical aspects of Wu-Shu. People used self defense to stop a fight, improve their health and physique, and test their skills, rather than just for killing in war. As people combined these ideas and concepts with the most efficient and effective hand to hand combat techniques, Shaui Jiao (grappling and throwing) techniques, and sword fighting techniques, the practical side of Wu-Shu developed as well into an all encompassing way of life. Once these areas became further united with Taoist spirituality and health (Dao Yin/Qi Gung) theories, Wu Shu was turning into a complete martial arts system, covering all aspects of the martial arts that we see today, as early as 3000 – 2500 years ago.

Thus, in order of their appearance, during the entire Zhou dynasty era (covering about 800 years!), these concepts influenced the development of Wu-Shu and were combined to transform Wu-Shu into a self defense and health enhancing art:

Xiang Wu (war dances)
Wu Xing (5 Elements) theory
Jiao Ti (Shuai Jiao)
Sun Wu`s Battle Strategy
Quan Pu (hand combat)
Yue Nu`s Sword theory
Yin/ Yang theory
Sun Pin`s Battle Strategy
Ba Qua (8 Diagrams) theory
Zhung Zi`s Ingenuity theory
Dao Yin (Qi Gung) theory
Qi`s Chi Chi Boxing
Taoism & Wu Wei theory Knights Errants
code of conduct

EDIT1: I am currently studying some Japanese Sword Arts, known in Japan as kenjutsu or iaido. I can definitely see how someone could adopt moves from a sword perspective to an open hand format. After all, the aikibujutsu I train in is technically just the kenjutsu lines without the sword. The Japanese banned the samurai class and the sword during the Meiji Restoration so all the kenjutsu schools either had to close down or convert to open hand format only: aikijutsu.

Basically, JSA is swinging a wooden stick around until your forearm becomes as big as Popeyes. Absent that, at least as strong and 10 times faster. I have also picked up an idea, from myself who else, that aikido’s tendency to grab the enemy’s encroaching hand is based off the depth perception, hand to eye coordination, and hand speed of a sword user. A person trained in the sword would find it relatively easy to see and grab someone else’s hands, a necessary component in several aikido exercises.

One of the primary unification principles in Chinese martial arts, entering an opponent’s space and taking control of their momentum, is the same as “blending” in aikido, except the Chinese material explained it better.

Explore posts in the same categories: Culture, Philosophy, Spirituality, Traditional Martial Arts, War

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