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Shuai jiao (Chinese: ?? or ??; pinyin: Shuaijiao; Wade-Giles: Shuai-chiao) is a Chinese martial art which combines grappling and striking. It was originally only a style of sport wrestling, but later striking and blocking were added to make it the first Chinese martial art. It sometimes also refers to modern Chinese and Mongolian wrestling.
The earliest Chinese term for wrestling, “jiao di” (horn butting), refers to an ancient sport in which contestants wore horned headgear with which they attempted to butt their opponents. Legend states that “jiao di” was used in 2697 BC by the Yellow Emperor’s army to gore the soldiers of a rebel army led by Chi You. In later times, young people would play a similar game, emulating the contests of domestic cattle, without the headgear. Jiao di has been described as an originating source of wrestling and latter forms of martial arts in China.
“Jiao li” (??) was a grappling martial art that was developed in the Zhou Dynasty (between the twelfth and third century BCE). An official part of Zhou military’s training program under the order of the king, jiao li is generally considered to be the oldest existing Chinese martial art and is among the oldest systematic martial arts in the world. Jiao li supplemented throwing techniques with strikes, blocks, joint locks and attacks on pressure points. These exercises were practiced in the winter by soldiers who also practiced archery and studied military strategy.
Jiao li eventually became a public sport in the Qin Dynasty (221-207 BCE), held for court amusement as well as for recruiting the best fighters. Competitors wrestled each other on a raised platform called a “leitai” for the potential reward of being hired as a bodyguard to the emperor or a martial arts instructor for the Imperial Military. Some contests would last a week or so, with over a thousand participants. Jiao li was taught to soldiers in China over many centuries and its popularity among the Manchu military guaranteed its influence on later Chinese martial arts through the end of the Qing dynasty.
The term “shuai jiao” was chosen by the Central Guoshu Academy (Zhong Yang Guo Shu Guan ?????) of Nanjing in 1928 when competition rules were standardized . Today, shuai jiao is popular with the Mongols, where it is called “böhke,” who hold competitions regularly during cultural events. The art continues to be taught in the police and military academies of China.
The word “shuai,” ?, stands for “to throw onto the ground”, while “jiao” may be one of two characters: the first and older, ?, stands for “horns” and the second and recent, ?, stands for “wrestle or trip using the legs”. In modern Chinese Shuai Jiao is always written using the more recent characters ?, and should be translated as “to throw onto the ground through wrestling with legs”. The use of the character ? is due to the fact that in the earliest form of Shuaijiao, players wore helmet with horns and head-butting was allowed. This form of Shuaijiao is called ‘Ciyou Xi’.
Shuaijiao can be divided into the following styles:
Beijing Style – This is in essence the lineage from the Manchu Buku style that was practised by the Imperial Palace Guard, Shan Pu Ying (???, literally the Expert in Wrestling Unit). The main characteristic is the use of the legs to kick and off-balance opponents. It is considered a gentler style than the Tianjin Style.
Tianjin Style – This is the lineage of Ming Dynasty Shuaijiao mixed with Manchu Buku. The main characteristic is the use of legs to kick and off-balance. It is considered a harder and rougher style than the Beijing Style.
Baoding Style – This is the lineage that is called Kuai Jiao (Fast Wrestling). The main characteristic is the fast application of technique. Another characteristic is the adaptation of Shaolin Quan from Ping Jingyi, a famous teacher of Shuaijiao who learned Shaolin style from the Meng family of Nanguan County even though he was a Muslim Hui.
The above three styles are sometimes called Hebei Style Shuaijiao or simply Shuaijiao. Wrestlers wear a jacket called Dalian.
Shanxi Style – This is the lineage of Song Dynasty Shuaijiao. It is mainly practised in the counties between the mining city of Datong in northern Shanxi and the provinvial capital Taiyuan in central Shanxi. The main characteristic is leg catching techniques, as traditonally wrestlers wear only tight knee-length pants.
Mongol Style – This is the lineage from Mongol Boke.