Yu Da You's battle formations

Although Yu Da You (俞大猷) was not as well-known as the legendary Qi Ji Guang (戚繼光), especially to modern audience, during his time he was a renowned general and celebrated hero, and every bit as capable as Qi Ji Guang, if not moreso. Yu Da You's tactics and formations had profound influence over generals and tacticians that came after him, including Qi Ji Guang and Xu Guang Qi (徐光啟).

Basic Tactic
Unlike Qi Ji Guang, who had a relatively smooth rise to prominence, Yu Da You's military career was nothing short of miserable. He frequently faced obstacles and hostilities from within and without the Ming court, his contributions intentionally downplayed or stolen by others, and his achievements rewarded with punishments. As such, Yu Da You did not have the luxury of raising, equipping and training a fresh army like what Qi Ji Guang did with Qi Jia Jun (戚家軍), and had to make do with whatever troops assigned to him at the time. Such was the charisma and capacity of the legendary general that he was always able to turn a ragtag bunch of misfits into formidable warriors and disciplined soldiers.

It was also due to this circumstance that Yu Da You did not go into detail about equipment for his formations. Any and every kinds of weapons could be used, although Yu Da You seems to preferred shorter polearms such as Hu Cha (虎叉, tiger fork), Tang Pa (钂鈀) and Gou Lian Dao (鈎鐮刀), probably because he himself was a quarterstaff master of legendary calibre. The smallest tactical unit in Yu Da You's battle formations was Dui (隊) of five troops. A basic formation consisted of five Dui working together, although it could be upscaled or downscaled as needed.

Die Zhen (疊陣, lit. 'Stacked formation')
Yu Dayou Leapfrogging formation
A Die Zhen, from 'Zheng Qi Tang Ji (《正氣堂集》)'.
Also known as San Die Zhen (三疊陣, three stack formation), this formation allowed troops from the back rank to move to the front, and vice versa, via empty space between two Dui. It was essentially a very primitive form of bounding overwatch and centre peel tactic practiced by modern military.

This tactic was also used by Yu Da You in his war cart formation.

Duo Qian Jiao Zhen (奪前蛟陣, lit. 'Seizing front Jiao formation')
Yu Dayou firing by introduction
A Duo Qian Jiao Zhen, from 'Zhen Qi Tang Ji (《正氣堂集》)'.
This formation was exactly the same as "firing by introduction" used by European musketeers, except the troops moved forward in groups of five (a Dui) instead of individually.

Man Tian Xing Zhen (滿天星陣, lit. 'Starry sky formation')
Ming Dynasty Line Formation
Man Tian Xing Zhen, from 'Zheng Qi Tang Ji (《正氣堂集》)'.
Unlike the previous two formations, which were designed with combating small bands of enemy (namely Wokou) in mind, Man Tian Xing Zhen was designed for larger battle. It was a simple two-line formation that maximise the frontage and firepower of the unit while maintaining the sustaining power of a deeper formation thanks to its second supporting line. Troops of the second line were forbidden from joining the first line unless the battle went really sour. It did not utilise unit rotation.

A modified version of this formation (with an additional third line guarding the rear) was used by Yu Da You in his war cart formation.

Yu Da You's battle formations were simple yet flexible systems, equally applicable to close combat troops, ranged troops as well as combined arms unit. These formations allowed organised unit rotation similar to the Romans, as well as firing by rotation for ranged troops.

One of the formations (Die Zhen) was incorporated into Mandarin Duck Formation for larger scale battle, albeit with Mandarin Duck Squad replacing normal Dui unit. Late Ming scholar Xu Guang Qi also adopted Yu Da You's formations wholesale in his (failed) attempts to raise a new army.


  1. Hello!
    I've come across a citation attribuited to Yu Da You which deal about European soldiers and their weapons; the English version is something like this:

    "these people's only weapon is a soft sword, their naval (melee) combat ability is inferior to our soldiers, and on the ground, long spears would have subdued them...only their muskets are sophisticated and their large cannons are powerful..."

    Is this accurate?
    Also, do you know any similar citation involving Japanese wokou or Japanese military? Thank you!

    1. Yes, Yu Da You did say that.

      Any specifics that you need about citation regarding Japanese/Wokou military? I will need to look it up.

    2. It would be nice if you could find anything related to Samurai combat ability or about their arms and armors is welcomed! Same for pirates. Thank you so much for your time!

    3. There are plenty of contemporary opinions regarding Japanese combat capabilities and arms, ranging from high praise to derision to debunking myth. The spotlight generally focused on Japanese swords, guns, ambush tactics.

      (I doubt they could distinguish a Samurai and average Japanese though)