A Brief History of Shuaijiao

Brief Introduction:
Shuai Jiao (Chinese: 摔跤 or 摔角; pinyin: Shuāijiāo or Shuāijiăo; Wade-Giles: Shuai-Chiao) is the modern Chinese term for wrestling with its origins dating back to ancient China. It is also the the term that specifically refers to Chinese and Mongolian styles of wrestling. Both styles have long histories and have undergone modernization through its name, form and sport. The most well known “Grandfather” and promoter of modern Shuaijiao throughout the world is Grand Master Chang Dong Sheng (常東昇) also known as the “Iron Butterfly.” He is known for his perfect tournament records and for the style of Bao Ding Kuai Jiao (保定快跤) that he religiously practiced to perfect his quick and powerful throws.

Chinese wrestling and was not always called the modern term, Shuaijiao. The earliest Chinese term used for competitive wrestling was 角抵 (pinyin: Jiăodĭ), literally meaning “butting horns,” which later took on many different names before it transformed into its modern term. The origin of Shuaijiao traces back for over 4000 years of history and is arguably the oldest known form of martial art and competitive fighting sport in the world.

Yellow EmperorThe Yellow Emperor:
The perceived origins of Shuaijiao come from China during the rule of the Legendary Emperor, Huang Di, () from 2697 BC to 2598BC.It was during his time in rule where an epic battle took place between him and Chi-You (), the mythological leader of the Hmong.The two most powerful and fierce tribes along with their allies battled over territory along China’s Yellow River for days without rest until a sudden fog and heavy storm that took over battlefield.With Chi-You’s army wearing their signature horned helmets, Huang Di and his men fought bravely until the storm blew away and defeated Chi You’s forces once and for all.

Throughout the years during Huang Di’s rule, there would be festivals where the reenactment of the legendary battle would be part of the main festivities.It is said that these were the first ever demonstrations of hand to hand combat, where one person wearing a horned helmet representing the enemy, would attack a soldier while the soldier would try to unbalance the attacker using his cunning abilities to dodge, deceive and knock down his opponent.This fighting demonstration eventually became recognized as the fighting sport Jiaodi (角抵) which would be practiced for a long time coming.“Because of its entertaining and crowd-pleasing nature, Jiaodi became and has remained to this day a regular feature of festive gatherings and banquets.”

The Birth of Kung Fu:

During the Zhou (周) Dynasty (1046BC-221BC) the sport takes on a new name, Jiaoli1 (角力) and becomes the official combat form used by armies throughout the country. Jiaoli is now considered to be the oldest Chinese and systematic martial art in the world. Jiaoli was taught supplementing grappling techniques with strikes, blocks, joint-locks and attacks on pressure-points.The fighting sport which became a systematic martial art form would soon become a popular and highly competitive sport again in the coming dynasty.Some details note that these exercises were practiced in the winter by soldiers who also practiced archery and studied military strategy.

Although the Qin () Dynasty (221BC-206BC) only lasted during the reign of a single monarch, Jiaoli was deeply trained to keep the military strong and ready against invading forces.This training was used to entertain the imperial court as well as recruit the best fighters as the emperor’s bodyguards and instructors for the imperial army.Since this was the first recorded time that a mandate was made so every adult male in the country had serve at least one year in the imperial army, Jiaoli became a widespread technique that even peasants and farmers would understand; the basics of Jiaoli along with its applications.leitaiDuring this time, it was also known as “Hsian Pu2 (相撲),” “Kwang Chiao (慣跤),” “Liao Chiao (撩跤),” and other countless names.This moment would also be the time of the introduction of one of the first competition platforms, the Leitai (), which is simple raised platform or stage where people compete or perform.It is said that these competitions would last for weeks with thousands of competitors traveling from all corners of the empire.This is especially true during the Han3 () Dynasty (206BC-220AD) where the sport was proclaimed an official and permanent royal recreation and the named changed to Jiaodi (角抵).With the sport’s rise in popularity, the basis of Jiaodi would become the foundation for many, if not all, different forms and styles of Chinese martial arts.

The Sui () Dynasty (581AD-618AD) proved well to be another major time for the development of Jiaodi as competitions where held on a regular basis.It is said that in the sixth year of Emperor Young’s ruling4 that a nation-wide contest was to be held on Tuan-mon Street which lasted for 30 days as the Emperor himself stood ringside in peasant clothes.During these times, the emperors were infatuated with the sport especially during the Tang () Dynasty5 where it was recorded that some governors would compete and gamble away territory and even cities over the competitions.

bronze plaqueArriving into the Song () Dynasty (960AD-1279AD), many writings and works of art were dedicated to the art of Jiaodi in the forms of mostly books, songs, poems, and paintings, which also taught and handed down much of Jiaodi’s original techniques and theories.These teachings would pass on through many generations and eventually hit a milestone coming into the Yuan () Dynasty (1271AD-1368AD) where cross border influences would come into the evolution of the sport.

The Evolution of Shuaijiao:
One of the main distinctions of the Yuan Dynasty from all the other dynasties is that it was Mongol ruled.The Mongolians were fierce warriors that lived like nomads and loved their tribal games.These games included horsemanship, archery, and combat wrestling.The premise of Mongolian wrestling, known as Böhke, is to force the opponent to touch any part of their body to the ground other than their feet, placing them in a position of inferiority.These skills the Mongols developed proved well and efficient in their epic conquest across Asia, earning them the reputation as the most fierce and powerful warriors during this time. These powerful moves and techniques are said to have influenced the more known power techniques in the evolution of Chinese wrestling.

From the painting “Banquets at a Frontier Fortress” - (The painting is currently housed in Beijing Forbidden City Museum.)As Chinese sovereignty was being re-established during the Ming () Dynasty (1368AD-1644AD), China’s martial arts began to flourish abroad at an increasing rate into foreign territories.This is the time which one of Shuaijiao’s oldest known masters, Chen Yuan-Ping, brought Chinese wrestling the neighboring island of Japan. It is recognized that Chen’s intimate knowledge of Shuaijiao’s joint-locks, throws, control, and takedowns formed the basis of what became Jiu-jitsu which later evolved into Judo and Aikido6.

The last dynasty, the Qing () Dynasty (1644-1911AD) fell into the hands of the Manchu and the hope for Chinese sovereignty slowly began to fade.The Manchu were mostly responsible for the fall of China by partitioning its territories to foreign influences.Although the times may have seemed gloomy, Shuaijiao still enjoyed another era of progress and development and its popularity among the Manchu military which guaranteed its influence on later Chinese martial arts through the end of the Qing dynasty.This was when the emperor of this time set up Shan Pu
shuaichiao_pic3Ying (
善扑营), translated as “a camp of great wrestlers” dedicated to the art of Shuaijiao.There were always more than 200 fighters at the camp and arguably up to 300 at some points.The advancement of Shuaijiao was so astonishing that it was stated that once you were touched, you basically lost because the level of skill of the artists was so refined that if your opponent was able to touch you there was nothing you could do to prevent being defeated.This style practiced and mastered is primarily known as “Kuai Jiao (快角)” which means “fast wrestling.”The later known style derived from this is called “Bao Ding Kuai Jiao.” Bao Ding (保定) refers to a famous city in Hebei () province right outside China’s capital, Beijing.

In order to keep good relations beyond the Great Wall, the Emperor would invite allies for the utmost Shuaijiao meets.The emperor himself would journey to the games to greet and welcome the allies because he was such a fan and a practitioner himself.During the fall of the Qing Dynasty, the Shan Pu Ying camp was no longer supported by the government so the professional Shuaijiao artists dispersed throughout the country to their respective areas and opened their own Shuaijiao schools.The consequences of these events led to the growing population of Shuaijiao students but also diluted the concentration of skills that the Shan Pu Ying camp once provided for the greatest warriors.

The greatest fighters known at this time came from four major areas, Mongolia, Bao Ding, Beijing, and Tienjing. It took the Republic of China to establish the Central Kuo Shu Institute to finally introduce Shuaijiao on a general level to Southern China, which was around the 1930’s.The great masters and most famous that arose during these times in turmoil were Ping Ching Yi and his student Chang Fong Yen.

The Birth of Contemporary Shuaijiao:
In 1919, in Shan-tung Province, General Ma Liang attempted to compose a team of concentrated Kungfu styles and developed a text book on Chinese martial arts.One of the three categories in his textbook was Shuaijiao.Ma Liang learned Shuaijiao from Ping Ching Yi thus was a classmate of their revered master Chang Fong Yen, the best student of Ping Ching Yi.It was at this time that Chang Fong Yen along with other renowned Shuaijiao masters of that time, Li Yu-min, Ma Ching-yun and Wang Weih-han wrote the first textbook on Shuaijiao in China.

Peng-KyleThrowsmIn 1928 the Central Kuo Shu Institute (CKSI) created by the government of the Republic of China in Nanjing (
), China, divided the fighting arts into four main categories; they were Shuaijiao, 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 Shuaijiao experienced a renaissance, with tremendous renewed interest by the populace.This was the first time since the official Shuaijiao team, which was dismissed by the government during the Qing Dynasty, that there were government sponsored Shuaijiao experts and teams.This was also the time for the formal formation of the official name “Shuaijiao” for the traditional Chinese wrestling sport.

Between 1928 and 1933 the CKSI sponsored five nationwide Kung Fu test.The participants were divided into weight classes.They were tested in writing, on six different subjects and tested on their performance of six different martial arts categories.They also worked on the training of referees and the unification and codification of the rules.This was when martial arts became a specialized and standardized entity for the whole nation.

“The central government of the Republic of china established the Central Kuo Shu Institute at Nanjing 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 [Shuaijiao].The Institute required all students to study [Shuaijiao].”


changpunchShuaijiao has seen many ups and downs since the early testing days because of erupting conflicts, dire economic times and political strife; those especially between the Republic of China and the People’s Republic of China over China. Although many major world events hindered greater development of Shuaijiao during the mid 1900’s, the original masters of the art did not seem to be phased by the occurrences. Schools were still being created and the spread was viral worldwide.As we can see today Shuaijiao still lives as a primary training exercise for the central military and police in China and Taiwan. One of the major reasons why modern Shuajiao spread worldwide in the later 1970’s and 1980’s was because of the highly influential and remarkable person better known as Grand Master Chang Tung Sheng.

1The practice of Jiaoli in the Zhou Dynasty was recorded in the Classic of Rites which is one of the five Classics of the Confucian canon. It described the social forms, ancient rites, and court ceremonies of the Zhou Dynasty.

2The Chinese characters of “Hsiang Pu” are the same characters the Japanese use to denote “sumo,” which is the traditional Japanese wrestling. This coincidence is the influence that Chinese martial artists had on the Japanese during those times when many parts of culture and vocabulary were shared.

3These developments of Jiaodi were strongly influenced by Emperor Wu’s infatuation with the sport and who lived around 140BC. It is said that during his reign, he built such great publicity that travelers from as far as five hundred miles away horded to watch the competitions.

4This was around 610AD and the competitions were in the winter which was the 15th day of the first calendar month, which would be the Chinese Lunar calendar.

5Emperor Gaozu (618 AD) preferred warmer weather so he changed the tournament date to the 15th day of the 7th calendar month.

6At the end of the Ming Dynasty (1644 AD), while the Manchurian invaders were overwhelming, Chen traveled to Japan and taught at a Buddhist Temple in Tokyo, where he taught three Samurai students; Fukunoshiehile-Wuemon, Mirulayosi Wuemen, and Isomizile Saemon.

Note: The content on history is mostly derived from the book “Fundamentals of Shuai Chiao” by Chi-hsiu Daniel Weng and added on by resources from all over the internet. Many facts have been double checked through encyclopedias but may not be fully accurate, but it makes for great story telling.

Added: June 2nd, 2008
Note: The portion on “Contemporary Shuai Jiao” is mostly on the topic of Baoding Shuaijiao.  The other main styles of Tienjin, Mongolian Bohke, and Beijing are not mentioned because not enough is known at this moment for a comprehensive history storyline.