Training to Fight with Chinese Martial Arts in the Republican Era Part II

Security forces training

While the books used in our survey already discussed in part I were aimed to civilians a few had either the police or the army as target audience. One of the first comprehensive curriculums created in the early XXth Century was Ma Liang’s Zhonghua Xing Wushu (New Martial Arts of China) published in 1919. This curriculum included four volumes: Shuai Jiao Ke (Chinese Wrestling Studies), Quan Jiao Ke (Chinese Boxing Studies), Gun Shu Ke (Staff/Cudgel Studies) and Jian Shu Ke (Double Edge Sword Studies). The material dealing with weapons and Chinese boxing included illustrations and explanations of the techniques using hand drawings, but unlike the wrestling volume where it is easier to see the applications the remaining books only included single and partner taolu/routines exercises.  Ma’s original plan had a follow up series of manuals with applications and other special subjects but these were never published (Lin B. , 1996).

Quan Shu Ke
Ma Liang’s Quan Shu Ke volume, 1919. Author’s personal collection

The Japanese military would publish a series of fencing and bayonet manuals in 1889 following French methods; by 1894 several technical modifications including the creation of protective gear took place moving away from western influences. Chinese puppet troops under Japanese control started with Taiwan in 1895 and others in the decades that followed were exposed to Japanese close combat methods. In 1922 the Japanese Imperial army published a two volume combat manual, volume one included skills for bayonet (Jukenjutsu) and two handed saber (Kenjutsu). Volume two illustrates skills using the short sword/dismounted bayonet which is the first manual of its kind published outlining Takenjutsu techniques. The latter was translated to Taiwanese to teach this material to forces in the island sometime in 1933 with all of these manuals illustrating two person exercises. After the creation of the Whampoa/Huangpu Military Academy in 1924 combat training was geared towards the use of weapons such as the bayonet and the western style saber; it is unclear what the basis for these techniques was during the Academy’s tenure in Guangdong province. Photographs attributed to the Guangdong period show cadets donning protective gear based on Japanese models during sparring practice. The Academy translated a Japanese combat manual titled Pi Ci Jiao Fan Cao An (Chop and Stab Teaching Model Draft) in 1928 the same year that Huang Bo Nian published his manual (黄柏年) 形意拳械教範 /Xing yi quan xie jiao fan (Xingyi fist and weapon instruction) with the aim to be used for close military combat. Unfortunately Huang’s manual only included written descriptions (no two person illustrations) for bayonet fighting in the text and none for western saber (supplied to the cadets) and unarmed fighting skills  (Rovere & Chow, The Xingyi Quan of the Chinese Army, 2008). By 1937 Huang was invited by the Zhong Jing Military Academy to teach his combat methods. When the Central National Arts Academy opened its doors in 1928 a national examination was organized which included sparring events in empty hand, long and short weapons bouts where at least three of the first place winners were all Xingy Quan exponents (Acevedo, Mei, & Hood, The History of the Central National Arts Academy, 2009).

Translated Japanese manual depicting Tankenjutsu techniques, 1933. Author’s personal collection

Whether or not the results in the examination played a role on the Military Academy’s decision to choose Xingyi Quan for cadet’s combat training is unknown, nevertheless it became the system of choice after the Academy transferred to Nanjing in 1928. Its chief combat instructor was Colonel Chang Hsiang Wu (not to be confused with the general by the same name in pinyin but different Chinese characters), Col. Chang’s name appeared in the roster of the 3th graduation class of 1926. By 1929 the central government issued an order to include Guoshu, Pi Ci (chop and stab – knife and bayonet) practice and field sports as mandatory practices for military units nationwide (Lin B. , 1996). Several of such events became the norm like the one in Fujian in 1933 (Lin B. , 1996). During this period the Military Academy’s approach to training was also in flux after the expulsion of its Russian advisors in 1926 and by 1931 the Academy changed the Russo-Japanese training models to German inspired ones under the guidance of advisors from that country.

Da Dao Dui Routine 2 2
Still of Chinese soldiers drilling with the Da Dao, 1930s

A common misconception generally found online is that modern Sanshou/ Sanda was developed/began at Whampoa and that western boxing was used as combat method for the cadets. It is therefore necessary to historically place this terminology in the correct time line. Starting with Sanshou which traditionally refers to free practice in many styles of Chinese martial arts and not to a standard curriculum to teach how to fight as is the case of modern Wushu. Sanda on the other hand was not a term in common use during the Republican period (Ma, 2010). The statement about western boxing is at best inaccurate; even though it is correct that western sports were introduced as part of the physical training syllabus in military academies both in Japan and China. However, combat training in those countries was based or modified to make use of native martial skills to instill nationalism and to connect a proud warrior heritage with the modern soldier. In the case of the Central Military Academy at Nanjing recollections from Col. Chang about injuries sustained during empty hand combat training included, besides the normal bruises more serious ones such as broken or dislocated limbs (Rovere D. , Interview with Mr. Dennis Rovere, 2011), a difficult thing to have if western boxing was the combat method of choice. According to Col. Chang training was broken down into three stages: taolu/routines and basics; applications/pre arranged sparring and free fighting both empty hand and with weapons (Rovere D. , Military Hsing-Iand Its Uniform Theory of Training, 1999).

IMG_0526 2
Chinese cadet sparring against bayonet, notice the Japanese style gear, the use of one hand grip and the unusual guard that does not resemble Japanese or Western style fencing, Nanjing 1934. Source: University of South Carolina

Another training system taught to commando, guerrillas and women’s militia members at Baoding and Changsha was Lian Bu Quan (Continuous Step Boxing) beginning in the early 1930s among these combat instructors was Major Chang Yan Yin, Col. Chang Hsiang Wu’ spouse. Major Chang was an outstanding martial artist in her own right born into a martial arts family and disciple of martial artist Du Xinwu, teacher of Ziran Men boxing and bodyguard to Sun Yat Sen. Major Chang was selected to be part of a group of combat instructors to design the armed and unarmed curriculum for commando units of the Nationalist army prior and during the Sino Japanese conflict and civil war (Rovere D. , Lien Bu Ch’uan’s Close Combat Striking Blocks, 2000). Training in Lian Bu Quan included traditional conditioning exercises using a forging wooden post, taolu/routine practice in the early stage, technique drilling followed by free fighting were all part of the daily routine. In addition Major Chang also taught sentry removal techniques, knife, Da Dao and bayonet fighting skills. In all cases military combat training was done in a short time period lasting two to three gruelling months (Rovere D. , Lien Bu Ch’uan’s Close Combat Striking Blocks, 2000). The Lian Bu Quan method was first published in 1930 as Shao Lin Zheng Zong Lian Bu Quan by Wu Zhi Qing. Wu learnt the method from Liu Chong Jun who taught Wu a year earlier when working for the Central National Arts Academy. The routine illustrated in Wu’s book differs from the one taught at Changsha and Baoding and does not include any armed or unarmed applications (Rovere D. , 2006) (Acevedo & Cheung, 2009).

“This book describes Lian Bu Quan, a division of the Shao Lin five fists, the Long Quan (dragon form).  The old name was no longer being used nowadays, but the purpose of practicing this form, it is to strengthen the spirit and body. This form was first taught by the chairman of Chuan Ren Wu Shi Hui Club, Liu Chong Jun. Liu often visited famous martial artists and studied different styles and specialized in the five forms and Yue Men Duan Da after 30 years of practicing and studying martial arts, he decided to teach this style to the public without any reservations. Last spring, he came to me and demonstrated the form when I was working at the Zhong Yang Guo Shu Guan. This form was new to me and it is a combination of the use of body with strength and softness. It was a great timing as I started to write a book and I believed the form will make a difference. I stopped my initiative of writing my own book and started to think about this Shao Lin style and realized its importance. This spring, I acquired information and explanations from Liu and along with Yue Men style; I started to write this book. Hopefully this will help Liu to spread this great style to the public and not be kept secret in Shao Lin.” Wu Zi Qing, 1930

Throughout the Sino Japanese war, government support to Chinese commanders was in many cases based on the perceived loyalty to the central authority and for this reason not all troops saw the same influx of training and supplies. In addition the specific operational tasks different units had, influenced the type of combat training provided. Other martial arts were also used prior and during the war e.g. Liu Fa Meng a teacher of Ying Zhua (Eagle Claw) taught Podao skills to some units, Li Yao Chen is said to have taught Da Dao skills, members of the 29th Army were adept at the use of the Da Dao, bayonet and Shuai Jiao from teachers like Ma Yingtu, Wang Ziping and others, Lam Sai Wing is said to have taught martial arts to the army between 1917 to 1923 (Lam Sai & Timofeevich, 2002) to mention just a few. When the Military Academy was relocated to Chengdu, footage of Chinese troops show them practicing among other things bayonet fighting, Shuai Jiao and some routines attributed to the Central National Arts Academy e.g. Qing Nian Quan (Youth Fist Boxing). It was not uncommon to have many of the graduates from the National Arts Academy joining the army as hand to hand combat instructors. It is therefore safe to say that there was not a unique set curriculum followed by all the different units that made the Nationalist and Communist forces during the war.

Chinese soldiers at Chongqing practising Qing Nian Quan, 1943. Source: Critical Past

Other methods of training were geared towards police forces, two of such manuals are Qin Na Fa/Method of Capture and Seizing by Liu Jinsheng published on March 1936 and Bu Sheng Shu/Method to Catch with Rope, no author or date of publication were included for the latter (Kennedy & Guo, 2005). While the military methods were mostly geared towards exerting serious injury or killing the opponent, police training had the goal to capture without causing injury to the suspect.

Quin Na Fa by Liu Jinsheng, 1936

“The best of all is to use method CHIN NA in order to subdue people instead of inflicting body damages to them. A good effect can be obtained with proper explanation and training. Now those who are responsible for public order will get this book to study it and use the art of CHIN NA in society’s interests. It is for this purpose that we publish the book by Liu Xiansheng”Zhao Long Wen March, 25-th of the Chinese Republic (1936) (Sheng & Timofeevich, 1936, 2005)

Interest in foreign policing methods by the Chinese government had students visiting countries such as the USA, Germany, Japan, England and those lessons were then brought back to the country to be implemented. Western police forces training at the time included Jiu Jitsu as one of the skills for arrest and control, therefore this material was also learnt by the Chinese students overseas. Local experiences also included those in the Shanghai’s foreign concession district developed by British pioneer E.W.Fairbairn. In the XIX century a token police force in Shanghai was established as early as 1848 growing in size and complexity as social unrest, migration and crime pushed the capabilities of the force to extreme levels. Fairnbairn’s contribution encompassed training methodologies including shooting techniques, drilling, anti riot tactics, protective gear in the form of anti bullet vests, baton skills etc. Regarding empty hand arresting techniques Fairnbairn made use of Japanese methods such as Jiu Jitsu and Judo combined with other grappling skills from western systems. The Chinese personnel hired by the Shanghai police force were mainly from the Shangdong, Zhili, Anhui, Henan and Jiangsu areas. One of the main reasons for this decision was the well known fact these provinces were famous for their martial arts prowess; the Chinese recruits would enthusiastically learn the material in the police curriculum blending in their own martial skills (Robins & Child, 2004).

Chinese cadets at the Shanghai Municipal Police training in Jiu Jitsu, 1920s

Similarly at The National Police Institute of China in Hangzhou, first year students had to cover: Target practice, swimming, self-defense, military science, use of emergency equipment, political training, municipal government and administration, Chinese composition, police report writing, public speaking, foreign language (English, French, German, Japanese, or Russian), social problems, social investigation, criminology, criminal investigation. psychology, group psychology, public health, general laws, criminal law and procedure, city ordinance and police regulation, administrative law, police administration and organization, police methods and procedure, political police, physics, chemistry, economics, first aid, finger-prints. (Yee, 1935)

Method to Catch with Rope, 1930s?

The Central Police College at Nanjing established in 1936 included in its first term, military training (300 hrs), Chinese boxing (20 hrs), physical education (20 hrs) etc. On the second term physical education (20 hrs), Chinese boxing (20 hrs), military training (120 hrs) etc. third term physical education (20 hrs), military training (60hrs) and by the final fourth term Chinese boxing (20 hrs), physical education (20 hrs) and military training (80 hrs). It is interesting to note that military training occupied a large portion of the time the cadets spent might have included bayonet practice. The little time dedicated for Chinese boxing was perhaps, to give only a taste of it and to meet government requirements to include Chinese boxing in the curriculum and given the task police officers had it must have included Qin Na skills. The rest of the time was reserved to subjects associated to police work e.g. fingerprinting, service dogs training, communications, police science, languages, law, criminal investigation etc.

Chinese cadets from eight Chinese districts at the Shanghai Municipal Police, 1920s


The criticism on the lack of practical application of Chinese martial arts is partially correct especially around civilian practice. While a large number of publications were circulated during the 1930s the large majority of such works did not include information on how to apply the material in a self defense/combat scenario. The appearance of the Central National Arts Academy gave a boost to competitions that included at its core agonistic events both using unarmed and armed skills. As described before Chinese martial arts played different roles among the civilian population, from competition and self defense skills to physical education, leisure, self cultivation to name a few. On the other side of the spectrum Chinese martial arts had to meet a very practical combat role in the case of the armed forces at a time of conflict and social upheaval.  In the case of military training practical application of Chinese martial arts was a key requirement to be learnt in a short period of time, an approach still pretty much alive in modern Chinese military close combat training.


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