Unless you’re really into your different wrestling styles you’ve probably not heard of Shuai Jiao. The modern usage of the term refers to any Chinese style of wrestling. But originally it meant jacket wrestling – kind of like an old school equivalent of the modern Russian sport of Sambo.
The translation of the name is broken down into two parts. Shaui means ‘to throw onto the ground’. Jiao used to mean ‘horns’ but in more modern use means ‘wrestle or trip using the legs’.
It’s believed that Shuai Jiao has existed for more than six thousand years. Early accounts of wrestling mention jǐao dǐ (horn butting) – a military kung fu style where headbutts and throws were used to defeat an opponent, while both fighters wore horned helmets. Imperial Chinese records from 2697BCE recorded soldiers in a rebel army using jǐao dǐ during fights with the Yellow Emperor’s army. The techniques eventually spread to civilian populations. Young people would play a similar game mimicking fights between domestic cattle (without the headgear).
During the Zhou Dynasty (1050-771BCE) we find reference to ‘Jiao li’, a new wrestling style. This saw throwing techniques swapped out for strikes, blocks, joint locks and pressure point attacks. Soldiers would train these techniques during the winter months, along with archery and strategy. Again, it developed into a public sport with competitions being held to find the greatest fighters. The very best fighters were recruited as instructors for the military or even as bodyguards for the emperor. The techniques were taught to soldiers for centuries, with its popularity ensuring it influenced other Chinese martial arts styles until the end of the Qing Dynasty (which ruled China from 1636-1912).
Under the Qing Dynasty wrestling was popular with the ruling class. During the rule of the Kangxi Emperor (1661-1722) a wrestling school, the Shanpuying, was established. The school contained two hundred wrestlers (alongside some archers and horsemen) and was divided into two ‘wings’. It’s believed this was to create an internal rivalry and drive the students to new levels as they competed. The wrestlers were expected to fulfil a variety of duties, including guarding the emperor and representing China by wrestling competitors from other Central-Asian countries when they delivered tributes.
When the Qing Dynasty ended with the Chinese revolution the former members of the Shanpuying struggled to get by, and many found jobs as wrestling instructors. Various schools with differing styles began to emerge based in different locations. The first wrestling manual in China was written by Ma Liang. This manual was published in 1917 and in 1928 wrestling was brought into the Central Goshu Academy. The academy was created by the government to promote and teach Chinese martial arts, and they chose the name Shuai Jiao as the catch all name for wrestling.
Competitions started to be held in 1935, and the techniques were adopted and taught to new recruits in the police and military. This adoption has kept the techniques popular and ensured the style had continued to be utilised to this day.
Have you ever practiced Shaui Jiao? Did you know much about the history? Let us know in the comments!