|Large number of Ming infantrymen, from 'Wakō-zukan (《倭寇図巻》)'.|
"Fighting in large formation, against great enemies, is different from fighting in rings or arresting few bandits. In great formation, thousands of men are advancing in order. The braves are not allowed to advance (further than the rest of the army), and the cowardly are not allowed to withdraw. (If our enemy) thrusts with a forest of spearheads, (then we can only) thrust back with a forest of spearheads. (If our enemy) slashes with a storm of blades, (then we can only) strike back to return the favour. (Everyone) can only advance together, there's hardly any room to flip one's hand, let alone dodging left and right! If even one man looks behind, everyone will be left in doubt. If even one man is distracted and missed one step, everyone will lose morale. There's no way one can advance and withdraw freely (when fighting in formation)."
— General Qi Ji Guang
The writings of general Qi Ji Guang (戚繼光) give us some insight into how a large formation battle would look like in Chinese warfare. Qi Ji Guang described thousands of soldiers fighting with pikes and sabres in a formation so dense that "there's hardly any room to flip one's hand" (note that he was speaking in hyperbole), and discipline was of utmost importance.
"Japanese experienced and say that Chinese spear technique, Joseon Pyeonjeon and Japanese arquebus are the best in the world."
— Korean scholar Yi Su-gwang (이수광 or 李睟光), in his book Jibong yuseol (《지봉유설》 or 《芝峰類說》).
|Left: A practitioner of Chen Family Taiji Spear (陳氏太極槍). Right: A practitioner of Saigō-ha Daitō-ryū Aiki-Sōjutsu (西郷派大東流合気槍術). The difference between Chinese and Japanese spear handling is still evident today, but there are always exceptions.|
|Left: A spear thrust (known as slip-thrust) from a practitioner of Shaolin Liuhe Great Spear (少林六合大槍). Right: A spear thrust from a practitioner of Hōzōin-ryū Sōjutsu (宝蔵院流槍術).|
Chinese did not use their pikes to perform smashing or slashing attack in the same manner as Japanese pikemen, although some experienced Chinese pikemen could smash their pikes to the ground and use the bouncing effect to guide the pikes into the abdomens of their enemy.
During an engagement with other pikemen, Ming shieldmen (and other pikemen still on standby) were instructed to either catch enemy pikes with their bare hands, or hack off enemy pikes using their sabres.
Facing swordsmen and other shorter weapons
"Concerning the method of defeating sword, all kinds of rakes, quarterstaffs and short weapons has no use, (we) must use long spear of one zhang eight (chi) in length. As sword can wound, but cannot defend, only long spear can take advantage of the opening. So long spear is the best tool to defend against Japanese, followed by Lang Xian and other equipment."
— Chou Hai Tu Bian (《籌海圖編》)
|Most Ming period martial arts were designed with countering spear or pike in mind precisely because Chinese troops would face similar disadvantage should they had to go up against enemy pikemen. (Pictured: Master Scott M. Rodell teaching Dan Dao Fa Xuan (《單刀法選》). Source: Steel & Cotton)|
Nevertheless, deployment of large blocks of pikemen in South China was not always possible due to its treacherous terrains. Besides, pike formation could still fall victim to enemy swordsmen if it was disrupted or ambushed (which the Wokou excelled at). For this reason Ming Chinese deployed shorter polearms such as Tang Pa (钂鈀) alongside pikemen in order to protect them.
Fighting against cavalry
"This shieldman must rely on Lang Xian, as (his equipment) are all short weapons, and cannot resist enemy horse. Use Lang Xian to stop enemy horse, (then) use the shield from below Lang Xian and hack at the horse legs."
— Qi Ji Guang (戚繼光), in his military treatise Lian Bing Shi Ji (《練兵實紀》).
|It is totally like this, only more Chinese. Image taken from 'De arte athletica II' commisioned by Paulus Hector Mair.|
Qi Ji Guang's advise went against all conventional wisdom, but it was not as stupid as it seemed. He sought to aggressively engage and defeat enemy cavalry rather than passively repel the charge. Pikes, Lang Xian (狼筅), cheval de frise and field fortifications were still used to repulse cavalry charge normally. The countercharge would only begin when enemy horsemen were sufficiently slowed down by the pikes. Countercharge prevented enemy horsemen from regrouping and attempting another charge.
Qi Ji Guang was certainly not the one to invent this tactic, as Song armies already employed similar tactic centuries before him. This tactic was also used by Tie Ren (鐵人) to great effect, but they replaced Chang Dao with Zhan Ma Dao (斬馬刀), and did not employ Lang Xian.
Nevertheless, this tactic was probably not universal, as it required very high level of training and discipline.