Chinese Wrestling and The Internal Martial Arts: A Look at the Relationship to Shuai Jiao

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Recently, I had the opportunity to attend two different seminars on of Shuai Jiao or Chinese wrestling. The first was a Baoding style taught by James Lin, who’s father David Lin trained with Chang Dong Sheng. Chang was well-known for being one of the best fighters to come out of the Republican periods in China. Chang trained in Shuai Jiao, and fought and won in tournaments. He eventually ended up in Taiwan after the Communists took over the mainland, following Kuomintang government into exile. It is rare these days to find a Baoding SJ practitioner that does not come from Chang’s lineage.

The other branch I went to a seminar was on the Beijing Shuai Jiao, which is considered amongst practitioners today especially in China, to be the most popular. The seminar was with Sonny Mannon who spent several years in China learning the system. As anyone can attest, when you spend time wrestling and competing, the training tends to be extremely practical and also applicable across other systems of study.

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Much of the Baoding system which is commonly referred to as Combat Shuai Chiao in the U.S. still focuses on the striking set ups before completing a throw or takedown. During the seminar I attended in February 2019, we focused on a few of the single movements taught within SJ, belt cracking, rolls and falls, defense and attacks. Much of the material reminded me of training Sun Style Taijiquan. This should be an interesting and obvious connection since Sun Lu Tang was from Baoding. It would not be surprising that his martial arts would be influenced to some degree by Chinese wrestling coming out of that region.

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One particular example that should be of interest is the technique of “Repulse the Monkey” in Sun style Taijiquan. In the application of the technique, wrapping (guo) is used to set up a spiral hip throw that can be used to quickly toss even a large opponent that doesn’t require one to “lift” the opponent. Sun Jianyun writes her book on the technique, translated by Paul Brennan:

第二十三式 倒攆猴(左式)
Posture 23: DRIVE AWAY THE MONKEY (LEFT)
接前式,先將左手收回胸前,大指離胸部二三寸許,手心往下扣。同時右手手心向上,向右邊斜著下落。右足亦於兩手扣落時,將足尖翹起,足跟著地,如同擰螺絲一樣往裡扭轉。扭至足尖正直,或微往裡扣,並使足尖落地。接著將左手從胸前斜著往左邊摟一弧線,摟至大指離左胯一二寸許,同時左足亦斜著往左邊邁步,足跟著地。然後再右手手心向上,並往上抬到與右肩相平,同時手心向左,食指尖從右口角往前推出。兩手的屈直,都與摟膝拗步相同。右足亦於右手前推時,同時往前跟步,跟至左足後邊。相離二三寸許落下,並使足尖著地。兩手兩足動作,始終要一氣貫串,不可間斷(圖四十三、四十四)
Continuing from the previous posture, first your left hand withdraws in front of your chest, the thumb about two or three inches away from your chest, palm covering downward, and your right hand, palm facing upward, lowers diagonally to the right. While your hands cover and lower, your right foot, toes lifting, heel touching down, twists inward as though turning a screw, and once the toes are pointing straight or at least slightly covering inward, bring the toes down. Then your left hand goes from in front of your chest and brushes in an arc diagonally to the left until the thumb is about an inch or two away from your left hip, your left foot at the same time stepping diagonally to the left side, heel touching down, and your right hand, palm facing upward, lifts up until level with your right shoulder, the palm now facing to the left. With the forefinger passing the right corner of your mouth, your right hand pushes out forward. The bending and extending of your arms is the same as in BRUSH KNEE IN A CROSSED STANCE. As your right hand pushes forward, your right foot does a follow step forward to be behind your left foot, coming down about two or three inches away from it, toes touching down. The movements of your hands and feet from beginning to end should be continuous and must not be interrupted. See photos 43 & 44:
《太極拳》 孫劍雲 (1957) - photo 43
《太極拳》 孫劍雲 (1957) - photo 44
第二十四式 倒攆猴(右式)
Posture 24: DRIVE AWAY THE MONKEY (RIGHT)
接前式,先將左足尖翹起,足跟如擰螺絲一樣往裡扭轉,並將右手往右邊斜著摟一弧線。摟至大指離右胯一二寸許,再使左手手心向上,並往上抬到與右肩相平。接著手心向右,食指尖從左口角往前推出。兩足兩手以及周身的動作,均與右式相同。左右式循環練習,動作次數多少不拘,但須成雙數(圖四十五、四十六)。
Continuing from the previous posture, first your left toes lift, the heel twists inward like turning a screw, and your right hand brushes in an arc diagonally to the right side until the thumb is about an inch or two from your right hip. Your left hand meanwhile lifts up, palm facing upward, and once at shoulder level the palm is facing to the right, then with the tip of the forefinger passing the left corner of your mouth, pushes forward. The movements of your hands, feet, and body are all the same as on the other side. When practicing, the posture is to be repeated on each side, and though the number of repeats is not restricted, it must total an even number. See photos 45 & 46:
《太極拳》 孫劍雲 (1957) - photo 45
《太極拳》 孫劍雲 (1957) - photo 46

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The Beijing system had a strong “internal” flavor to it, however. During the seminar with Sonny Mannon, I early on noted the similarities to Baguazhang. The footwork, the body method, and the actual technical application was extremely close to baguazhang. This should come as no surprise given that Cheng Tinghua, one of Dong Hai Chuan’s famous students, was said to be one of Beijing’s best Shuai Jiao practitioners of his time. He was reported to have studied and trained in all branches of SJ, but was particularly well known for his Kuai Jiao or “Fast Wrestling” which included striking, as well as throwing or taking down an opponent on first touch (Pa Kua Chang Journal, Vol. 3, No. 2).

Sonny Mannon demonstrates with resistance the main throw we worked on during the seminar, Shou Bie 手别. The throw is common in Cheng style Baguazhang branches and is commonly referred to as the Snake Throw. In Xingyiquan, the throw is taught mostly within the Sparrowhawk animal shape primarily meant to end a clinch. The throw was made famous by Luo de Xiu as the Snake throw from Cheng School, Gao Style, Yizong branch Baguazhang. Here is a variation on the same technique:

When I asked Sonny about Beijing Shuai Jiao in comparison to other branches, he stated:

My teachers in Beijing would always say that people in Beijing were smaller and not as physically strong on those from Hebei or Tianjin so the set up, technique and power generation had to be better.
Plus all shuai jiao really came from Beijing after the fall of the Qing dynasty so it inevitably got mixed and watered down a bit when it left. Nowadays on the mainland the difference is minimal because of all the tournaments and sharing of knowledge but it is still there.

This obviously was not to knocked down the practicality of other SJ branches. However, it does point at the obvious fact that while Shuai Jiao does remain to be mostly similar rather than different, technicality does matter. Shuai Jiao is a sophisticated system of wrestling that can have a lot of carry over into other Chinese martial arts. Both seminars were excellent, and I hope to attend more from both branches in the future.

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