Chinese Martial Arts

One of the first references to melee combat in China was a battle about 3000 years ago between the legendary Yellow Emperor Huang Ti and a monster with horns. During archaeological excavations bronze weapons have been found such as axes and spears dated between 1200 and 800 BC and iron weapons dated from 800 BC
There have been no details about the martial arts of the time described in writings or chronicles, and in some cases the chronicles are known to have been written by historians without connection to the martial arts. They also know of writings that disappeared and we have no detailed knowledge of what they contained.

The practice of Jiao li in the Zhou Dynasty was recorded in the Classic of Rites (Classic of Rites. Chapter 6, Yuèlìng. Line 93.)

From the Chou dynasty (1122-255 BC) there is the Li Ki (Book of Rites; 禮記), which describes ritual duels and legends from ancient times.[1]

Chronicles from the Spring and Autumn period (722-481 BC) describes warfare with chariots (horse and carriage) instead of infantry (foot soldiers), and a defeated foe receives post-war assistance such as grants in the form of seed.
Literature of the Warring States period (403-221 BC) describes ritual wrestling matches, demonstration of archery, fencing and horsemanship. Martial Arts and warfare are described as precious knowledge and performed in the highest propertied society.
During the Qin and Han Dynasties (221 BC – 220 AD) Shuāi jiāo di (raw wrestling and dueling with fists; 摔角抵)[2] was popular. It was organized competitions and the winner is given employment in the Imperial Life Guards (it covered many benefits, such as tax exemptions, etc.).

The first description of Chinese boxing was in the “Han Books of Arts“. Its contents are unknown when the six chapters with description has been lost. This period marked the end of feudalism, which meant warfare and martial arts, moving from being a profession to only for the nobility.
It was decreed that the imperial army was to train Jiao Di during the winter months, as well as the lance and swords, but not archery.

During the Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD) martial arts was to be a must in the young men’s upbringing and they were put to practice horse riding, archery, lance, and sword in parallel with Confucian texts. Army officers were trained in the Tang Dynasty military institutions and regiments. Where one learned the “Eight elements of the battle formation“. It was a setup for the battle that was formed by eight units and named as Sky, Earth, Wind, Cloud, Dragon, Tiger, Bird and Orm. A form of tactical feng-shui in other words.  Sun Tzu’s “Art of War” was studied by everyone.

According to historians monks from the Shaolin Temple in Honan province have helped the second emperor of the Tang dynastyLi Shimin – to defeat the enemy Weng. This led to a fighting art that was spread further and above all to the Shaolin Temple and became famous for its boxing.
Sometime in the 530s, the monk Bodhidharma (japanese: Daruma) come to Shaolin and there founded what later became the famous Shaolin Wushu. Again, it is a myth and it is more likely that it was scarred war veterans who had “retired” in the monastery and developed it.

It is from this time that the roots of our  Kosshijutsu  and  Koppōjutsu originated. However, we can not currently find any kind of contemporary Chinese martial art that has some similarities with Kosshi- and Koppō methodology. Either the Chinese martial arts changed over the years or it is Kosshijutsu that has changed.


[1] “In this month there is the great festivity when they drink together, and each of the stands bears half its animal roasted. The son of Heaven prays for (a blessing on) the coming year to the Honoured ones of heaven; sacrifices with an ox, a ram, and a boar at the public altar to the spirits of the land, and at the gates of towns and villages; offers the sacrifice three days after the winter solstice with the spoils of the chase to all ancestors, and at the five (household) sacrifices; thus cheering the husbandmen and helping them to rest from their toils. The son of Heaven orders his leaders and commanders to give instruction on military operations, and to exercise (the soldiers) in archery and chariot-driving, and in trials of strength.” (Classic of Rites. Chapter 6, Yuèlìng. Line 93.)

[2] The word Shuāi,” , stands for “to throw onto the ground”, while jiāo may be one of two characters: the first and older, , stands for “horns” and the second and recent, 跤, stands for “wrestle or trip using the legs”. In modern Chinese Shuāi jiāo is always written using the more recent characters 跤, and should be translated as “to throw onto the ground through wrestling with legs”. The use of the character is because in the earliest form of Shuāi jiāo, players wore helmet with horns and head-butting was allowed. This form of Shuāi jiāois called ‘Ciyou Xi‘. (from Wikipedia)


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