This is the second guest post contributed by Sascha Matuszak to help keep things interesting here at Kung Fu Tea while I am in the UK attending the Martial Arts Studies conference at Cardiff University. Like the first post in this series, it draws from his writings at Fightland. This particular post also tackles a critical topic for anyone looking to build a basic understanding of what the traditional Chinese martial arts were actually like during the late imperial period. It is difficult to understate how important the contributions of General Qi Jiguang are for coming to terms with boxing during the late Ming dynasty. His writings open an invaluable window onto events during this period. Sascha’s essay helps to both situate him and his contributions to our understanding of the modern Chinese martial art. Enjoy!
“The Practical Isn’t Pretty”: General Qi Jiguang on Martial Arts for Soldiers by Sasca Matuszak
In a previous essay, I mentioned an old Ming general named Qi Jiguang, whose works on martial arts and military strategy had a large influence on later writings, including the Bubishi, Karate’s bible.
The story of Qi Jiguang is sadly familiar to anyone who has studied Chinese history. A scion of a loyal military family—his grandfather served with the first Ming Emperor—Qi was one of China’s greatest generals and tacticians, a brilliant reformer, and author of one of the most influential manuals on warfare and training in Chinese history. But he lived out the last years of his life in semi-exile, slandered by corrupt courtiers, with all of his patrons either dead or removed from their posts by political infighting.
China’s ingrained tendency to destroy its most talented people while they live and then immortalize them in verse posthumously is a topic that could fill a few tomes, but today we’ll stick to Qi Jiguang’s New Book on Military Efficiency.
The manual was first written in 1560, less than 100 years before the fall of the Ming Dynasty. Qi had already helped fight off the Mongol siege of Beijing while still a cadet, and had put a big dent in the piracy that plagued China’s coasts for generations. He was on his way north now, to shore up the Great Wall and begin training a new army. Meanwhile, the Emperor was frolicking about while the court enriched itself and foreign enemies were at the gates. The generals around him who weren’t corrupt princelings enjoying hereditary posts knew that the Ming Dynasty was teetering on the brink of collapse. Once-feared Ming armies were weak and demoralized, skilled generals were subject to court politics, and no one seemed to be able to turn the ship around.
Qi’s response was to write a no-nonsense manual for organizing farmers and miners into disciplined units capable of defending the realm. Interesting for us is his chapter on the martial arts and the practical application of boxing and martial art training methods to a regular army. The New Book on Military Efficiency consists of 18 chapters and the 14th is the “Chapter on the Fist Canon and the Essentials of Nimbleness.”