I do not practice martial arts, but I do love to read about them. That being said, I am aware that researching martial arts based on scholarly texts alone is totally insufficient. There might be mistakes and oversights in this article that will be immediately noticeable by someone trained in HEMA or Chinese martial arts, but oblivious to someone that doesn't. If you happen to find one (or more), feel free to correct me in the comment section.
Recently I took a more in-depth look into Ming period martial arts, particularly swordsmanship, and found many interesting parallels between Chinese and European systems.
Recorded in seventeenth century military treatise Wu Bei Zhi (《武備志》), Chao Xian Shi Fa (朝鮮勢法, lit. 'Joseon stance techniques') is the only surviving Ming period martial arts that teaches two-handed jian techniques. Mao Yuan Yi (茅元儀), the author of Wu Bei Zhi, claimed that he acquired the manual from Korea, but later contradicted himself by stating that he acquired the manual "across the sea*".
*Note: China and Korea are connected by land.
Although Chao Xian Shi Fa was named after Korea, there's a high probability that it had a Chinese origin, based on the following evidences:
- Some of the terms in the manual show heavy trace of Song and Yuan period language practice.
- Korean martial arts manuals that predate Wu Bei Zhi, such as Muyejebo (《무예제보》 or 《武藝諸譜》), make no mention of this system. In fact, Muyejebo only records imported Chinese martial arts.
- The author of Muyejebo explicitly stated that Koreans had no other martial arts (or had lost all of their martial arts) other than archery.
- The author of Muyedobotongji (《무예도보통지》 or 《武藝圖譜通志》), an eighteenth century Korean martial arts manual that contains the system, denied both of Mao Yuan Yi's claims. He in turn suggested that Mao Yuan Yi wrote the manual himself and falsely attributed it to the Koreans.
A brief introduction to the stances of Chao Xian Shi Fa
The stances of Chao Xian Shi Fa can be categorised into Ji (擊, strike), Ci (刺, thrust), Ge (格, guard) and Xi (洗, wash) techniques. However, not all stances are categorised, some stances are recorded but not explained, and some stances are mentioned in the explanation of other stances but found nowhere else.
There is a total of twenty-four illustrated stances in Chao Xian Shi Fa, most of which I found equivalent stances in European swordsmanship. However, this does not necessary mean that Chinese swordsmanship is compatible or even comparable with European swordsmanship, as Chinese jian lacks the large crossguard found on European longsword which is integral to many binds, strikes and parries in longsword fencing.
Note that the while I use "stance" as the translation for Chinese term Shi (勢), it is not a perfect translation. In martial arts term, Chinese shi is different from the concept of "Guard" in European swordsmanship or "Kamae (構え)" in Japanese swordsmanship. A more literal (but still inaccurate in this context) translation for shi would be "momentum" or "form".
(Special thanks to zigzagmax for pointing out my error on Shi (勢). Although I can't read Japanese, several books quoted in his article are written in Chinese. Checking out those books is enough to make me realise my error.)
Stances that are exact or near exact match
You Jia Shi (右夾勢, lit. 'Right flanking stance') and right Pflug (Plow) guard
Zuo Jia Shi (左夾勢, lit. 'Left flanking stance') and left Pflug (Plow) guard
Feng Tou Shi (鳳頭勢, lit. 'Phoenix head stance') and Alber (Fool's) guard
Zhan Chi Shi (展翅勢, lit. 'Spreading wing stance') and Meyer's Schrankhut (Crossed guard)
Xian Ji Shi (掀擊勢 lit. 'Lift strike stance') and Schlüssel (Key) guard
Xian Ji Shi is a "strike" category stance. It transitions into Tan Fu Shi (坦腹勢).
Heng Chong Shi (橫沖勢) and Einhorn (Unicorn) guard
Heng Chong Shi is a "strike" category stance. It transitions into Liao Lue Shi (撩掠勢).
Zuo Yi Shi (左翼勢, lit. 'Left wing stance') and Posta di Donna (The Stance of the Woman)
You Yi Shi (右翼勢, lit. 'Right wing stance') and Posta di Donna la Sinestra (The Stance of the Woman on the left)
Ni Lin Shi (逆鱗勢, lit. 'Reverse scale stance') and Posta Breve (The Shortened Stance)
Liao Lue Shi (撩掠勢, lit. 'Raise sweep stance') and Posta di Dente di Cinghiale Mezzana (The Stance of the Boar's Tusk in the Middle)
Yin Mang Shi (銀蟒勢, lit. 'Silver python stance') and Posta di Fenestra (The Stance of the Window) or Ochs
Dian Jian Shi (點劍勢, lit. 'Pointing sword stance') and Porta di Ferro Mezzana (The Middle Iron Gate) or Alber (Fool's) guard
Kan Shou Shi (看守勢, lit. 'Guard stance' or 'Watch stance') and low Pflug (Plow) guard
Kua Zuo Shi (跨左勢, lit. 'Left stride stance') and left Mittelhut (Middle guard)
A stance in the "strike" category. It transitions into Shuang Jian Shi (雙剪勢, lit. 'Double scissors stance'), a stance that is not seen elsewhere.
Kua You Shi (跨右式, lit. 'Right stride stance') and right Mittelhut (Middle guard)
Basically a mirrored Kua Zuo Shi, this is also a "strike" category stance. It presumably transitions into Heng Chong Shi (橫沖勢).
Update: Johnathan in the comment section points out to me that this stance resemble a (left) Nebenhut (Near guard) or Wechsel (Changing) guard.
|Comparison between Korean Yedo version of the same stance and Meyer's Wechsel guard.|
Zuan Ji Shi (鑽擊勢, lit. 'Piercing strike stance') and Vom Tag (Roof) guard
Stances that resemble European stances but different on some key aspects
Bao Tou Shi (豹頭勢, lit. 'Leopard head stance') and Vom Tag (Roof) guard
A stance in "strike" category, Bao Tou Shi resemble a twisted Vom Tag (or possibly Ochs, the illustration isn't very clear on the direction he is facing or his foot position). It is a ready position to deliver a very powerful downward slash that quickly transition into an upward thrust (i.e. It somewhat resemble Zornhau-Ort).
Ju Ding Shi (舉鼎勢, lit. 'Cauldron lifting stance') and right Einhorn (Unicorn) guard
Update: Johnathan in the comment section points out to me that this stance also resemble a variant of Kron (Crown) guard or St. George's guard. Special thanks to Martin Greywolf in the comment section for the image of St. George's guard.
|Comparison between Ju Ding Shi and St. George's Guard in military sabre fencing.|
Zhan Qi Shi (展旗勢, lit. 'Unfolding banner stance') and "lazy" Vom Tag
Lian Chi Shi (斂翅勢, lit. 'Folding wing stance') and Nebenhut (Near guard)
Stances with no equivalent in European swordsmanship
Tan Fu Shi (坦腹勢, lit. 'Bare abdomen stance')
Update: Martin Greywolf in the comment section points out to me that this stance resemble the sixth ward from Tower Fechtbuch (MS I.33).
|Comparison between Tan Fu Shi and the sixth ward from MS I.33.|
Yu Che Shi (御車勢, lit. 'Chariot driving stance')
Jie Ji Shi (揭擊勢, lit. 'Exposing strike stance')
Difficulties in reconstruction
In my opinion, it is very difficult to reconstruct a working system of Chao Xian Shi Fa without involving a lot of guesstimate. The manual only provides the illustrations of all the stances, rudimentary (and often abstract) explanation on which stance is good for what, and one unexplained "transition move" for each of the stances that allows it to transition into another stance. The manual does not teach anything about the concept of distance, timing, balance or even "when enemy perform X, do Y". Besides, extensive prior knowledge in Chinese martial arts is required to even begin to understand some of the more obscure technical terms (i.e. What does "Wash" even mean). On the plus side, since the manual only provides the stances without explaining what one can do with it, one can (presumably) perform all the strikes and parries from any of the stances that feels the most natural or logical.
As a side note, a drastically altered (to the point it should be considered a different system altogether) interpretation of Chao Xian Shi Fa was published in 1931, with its name changed to Jun Zi Jian (君子劍, lit. 'Gentleman's sword'). Korean also preserved this system, calling it Chosun sebup (조선세법 or 朝鮮勢法, which is the Korean pronunciation of Chao Xian Shi Fa) or Yedo (예도 or 銳刀, sharp sabre), but use sabre instead of sword. Korean Bonguk geom (본국검 or 本國劍, lit. 'National sword') also features many techniques that have similar names to the "transition moves" of Chao Xian Shi Fa.
Captions seem to mess up my formating, so I am forced to set up a separate reference section. Images of this blog post are taken from:
- Wu Bei Zhi (《武備志》) by Mao Yuan Yi (茅元儀)
- Muyedobotongji (《 무예도보통지》 or 《武藝圖譜通志》) by Yi Duk Moo (이덕무 or 李德懋) and Park Je Ga (박제가 or 朴齊家)
- Walpurgis Fechtbuch/Tower Fechtbuch (MS I.33)
- Codex Danzig (Cod.44.A.8) by Pseudo-Danzig
- Talhoffer Fechtbuch (Cod.icon. 394a) by Hans Talhoffer
- Solothurner Fechtbuch (Cod.S.554) by Paulus Kal
- Gründtliche Beschreibung der Kunst des Fechtens by Joachim Meÿer
- Opus Amplissimum de Arte Athletica (MSS Dresd.C.93/C.94) by Paulus Hector Mair
- Flos Duellatorum (Pisani Dossi MS) by Fiore de'i Liberi
- Fior di Battaglia (MS Ludwig XV 13) by Fiore de'i Liberi
- Encyclopaedia Londinensis by John Wilkes et al.