Historical Martial Arts, Qi Jiguang, Translations, Wu Bei Zhi

Shield: Wubei Zhi 牌:武備志

In the massive military encyclopedia from China, the Wubei Zhi武備志, there are many contributions from other works and authors. Principle among these is Qi Jiguang. Mao Yuanyi included many sections from his works. Even taking works of authors Qi himself appropriated (copyright is not a concept that is valid in this discussion as it was wide custom to reproduce in whole or in part the work of other authors.). the work “jian Jing” by Yu Dayou, Qi’s fellow general, is taken not from Jian Jing its self, but from Qi’s JiXiao XinShu, as evidenced by an error in copying from Qi’s reproduction appearing the text of the Wubei Zhi.

The Dao style presented in the text is not one that modern kung fu practitioners would be familiar with. The dao is actually one of two side arms that support the shield, the second being the javelin. Qi Jiguang used shield bearers in very particular ways, and set down eight postures/techniques that all troops should training if they are to go into battle. Also are “songs” of shield tactics. The “song” structure should be familiar to anyone following this blog. Qi Jiguang was himself a published poet, and Mao Yuan Yi was from a well established literati family. This method was probably very familiar to them.

Bamboo shield Wubei Zhi武備志

As mentioned above, the weapons used are the dao and the javelin. The shield in question here is the “Teng Pai” 藤牌 or the bamboo shield. There are many different kinds of shield in the Chinese arsenal but here the focus in on the smaller more mobil varieties. The Teng pai was light, resilient, and inexpensive to make. It could defend from most any weapon save for firearms. Although there are those that claim it could in the days of power muskets and such, even Qi and Mao state plainly that that is not the case.

Rattan is an incredible substance. It is amazingly strong and resistant to all sort of stress. It is to this day used in Asia as scaffolding. The Teng Pai was tin strips of rattan wrapped tightly around themselves into a woven basket type of look. The rattan on the out side is of thin strips and it is fitted with rigid supports. Peter Dekker of Mandarin Mansion made one on his site to explore the process. These shields would have been very resistant to melee weapons and less powerful projectiles. Along with its strength, rattan offer a very light material and naturally water resistant. All good things for the terrain they were to be used in. 

Waist saber Wubei Zhi武備志

The saber used is a “Waist Saber” 腰刀 as it is slung from the waist normally. these dao are one handed sabers that can be used with a shield and another weapon like a javelin. These sabers were partially based on designed of japanese swords that were popular in the era. The Chinese variety having a few forms but being good for one handed wielding. The other variety the Qi recommend was the use of the long saber.

Javelin Wubei zhi武備志

The javelin 標槍 was a throwing spear only about two meters long and made from thin wood. This is the way shield bearers breached longer distances and closed in on troops. It could be used to assault the front line or attack spear men after entering their range. While they can be thrown, they could also be used simply as a spear and give the shield bearer a little more reach.

The Wolf Brush in the Wubei zhi武備志

Also, mentioned is the “Wolf Brush”. This is a long weapon made of essentially a tree or long stalk of bamboo with its rear branches cut off to be used as a weapon. At times blades would be attacked to branches and a spear tip would be affixed to the main shaft. This weapon is used to entangle and block the vision of the opposing force. Shield men can use the cover provided by the wolf brush for many types of attack. The wolf brush is the next weapon covered in both the Jixiao XinShu and the Wubei Zhi.

The Mandarin Duck Formation鴛鴦陣

Of Qi Jiguang’s accomplishments, the invention of the Mandarin Duck Formation 鴛鴦陣 is the main formation of Qi’s. A squad of 12 men, with a variety of cold weapons, each weapon paired on either side, hence the name.

These formations were to include: 

  • 4 men with long spears (twelve feet or longer) (長槍手)
  • 2 men with waist sabers and rattan shields, one on each side of the spearmen (盾牌手)
  • 2 men with Wolf Brushes (狼筅手)
  • 2 men with tridents or long sabers (短兵手)
  • 1 corporal (with the squad flag) ( 隊長)
  • 1 cook/porter (logistical personnel) (負責夥食的火兵)

The formation was used to be able to break off to the sides, flanking the enemy, or being more mobile in tight urban areas or in the mud and fields of the coastal region. Fields of rice and other crops were lined with narrow walk ways. Many confrontations happened with in these locations. This type of squad warfare was very effective also in the narrow streets and alleys of the cities. These methods proved to be extremely effective against the Coastal Pirates and are one of the principle reasons for Qi’s ability to solve the Jiajing Crisis where others had failed. 

Rice fields in Zhejiang. The local terrain was a large obstacle to Ming Forces.

The primary tactic of the formation was one related to an ancient technique used in the Song Dynasty. Troops using the famous “Zhan Ma Dao” 斬馬刀 would rely on pole weapons, shields and anti calvary forces to stop in coming charges allowing them to take their long sabers and attack the legs of the mounts. During the Ming in Zhejiang, it wasn’t superior calvary that was the main obstacle. It was firearms and the terrain that made traditional warfare difficult. General Qi used the Mandarin Duck formation to more effectively engage the enemy, often loosely organized and mobile units, after the volley of firearms and in the varied terrain. This tactic was dependent on the shield men and the Wolf Brush. The shield men would stop infantry and help shield from the spears of the pirates. The Wolf brush would be used to entangle the weapons of the enemy so the the shielded could enter in below and hack away at the enemy. With the long spears attacking between the shield men and the wolf brushes that can stop a forward attack, Qi was very successful and is credited with rooting out the Pirates and bringing and end to the crisis.

A charming, if violent, animated depiction of the Mandarin Duck Formation and its weapons.

Dao and shield Text

Both the introduction by Mao Yuanyi in the Wubei Zhi and the one provided by Qi Jiguang in Jixiao XinShu are presented below. While much of the same information is imparted it is always valuable to have another view point and explanation.

The introduction in the WuBei Zhi is essentially a paraphrase of the introduction JiXiao XinShu. Mao quotes the first few lines of Qi Jiguang before rephrasing the main concepts set forth by Qi. From this introduction we are told some of the most important concepts Qi Jiguang set out. One thing that becomes clear, and something the reader should keep in mind, is that this style of training is intended for military fighting. At the time that means a combination of large scale formation battles and smaller scale skirmishes utilizing squad warfare concepts like the Mandarin Duck Formation鴛鴦陣. First of all, the dao or saber is intended to be a side arm. Qi’s method requires a shield for the weapon to be effective. This is due to the battle field context, but more broadly, modern martial artists practitioners often forget that for the majority of Chinese military history, swords have been used along with shields. Dao, being the dominant military side arm, have been used by shield men and infantry as a close range back up weapon since the Han dynasty. Without the shield, a person with a dao is a sitting duck. 

This is why shield bearers are placed at the front of the formation. The shield can protect from long weapon thrusts, as the spear dominated the battlefield well into the Qing. The cover they can provide for those behind can enable long weapons to attack without being wounded in the process. A barrier of shield bearers in front of a line of spear men would be a difficult line to break, even similarly armed. The shield barrier also helps keep calvary at bay, presenting a wall for mounts that can stop them form advancing. 

Qi introduces the shield and the javelin before presenting the Eight postures of Sword and Shield. These posture are accompanied by the traditional explanations. Much of this language is difficult to interpret because it contains many traditional names and idioms common to the military of the day. These terms need no explanation to contemporary readers of the text, but leaves us modern readers at a loss of what exactly is meant. Phrases like “Riding Dragon騎龍” and “Uprooting Steps” 推步 are assumed to be common nomenclature for a technique of the time. At times these phrases can of course be descriptive, but exactly what they are describing is always a bit of a guess. Any where these traditional names appear they will be capitalized.

Qi ends his section o the shield with Songs of Tactics. These songs are of course a common way Chinese authors set down instructions. The idea being that these are easier to remember in this format. There is also the ever present idea that these techniques would be taught to conscripted soldiers with little or no background in martial art or military training. Check out the translation of Qi Jiguangs Fist method for a more detailed example.

Shield 牌

茅子曰-

Master Mao says,

紀效新書曰:”千古有圓長二色,其來尚矣,主衛而不主刺。國初,木加以革,重而不利步。以藤為牌,近出福建,銃子雖不能隔,而矢石槍刀皆可蔽,所以代甲胄之用”. 每兵執一牌要刀一把。閣刀手腕一手執鏢鎗一枝。彼長我短持定無隙將鏢擲去。毋論中否彼必應我。急取刀在手隨牌殺入。一入鎗身內則鎗為棄物。我必勝彼矣。但擲鏢後每每倉皇不及取刀。是一大病。

JiXiao Xin Shu states: “Through the ages, shields have been of two shapes, round and long, and were used to defend not to penetrate. In the early days of the nation, they used wood and animal hide, but they were too heavy to advance well. The use of rattan for shields is from Fujian, while it is ineffective against firearms, it can protect from arrows, stones, spears and knives. So, it is a good substitute for armor in the rain and mud of southern fields.” Every soldier carries a shield and a waist saber. One hand holds the saber and the other holds a javelin. Their weapon is long and mine is short, so I throw the javelin without hesitation. Hit them or not, they will react. I shall quickly draw my saber and lead with my shield for the kill. When one enters into the spear’s shaft distance, the spear is useless. I will surely be victorious. However, after throwing the javelin, it can be too late to draw your saber. This is a serious problem.  

此器禦短更易。南方田埂泥水間頗稱輕便。務便遮蔽一身附之以鏢者。所以奪人之目而為我之疑兵。賴以勝人者也。牌無鏢能禦而不能殺。將欲進步然後起鏢勿輕發。即岳武穆旁牌麻劄刀之制。令軍士低頭衹砍馬足。以敗兀朮拐子馬是也。

This weapon can defend short (weapons) much easier. It is lighter and easier to carry through the mud of the southern fields. It protects the javelin user behind it. Steal the enemies attention, and distract them with deception. You can rely on those who are victorious. A shield without a javelin can defend, but cannot kill (attack). If you wish to advance after you raise the javelin, you must not throw it carelessly. General Yue WuMu (Yue Fei), together with shields, created a system for saber. He ordered his men to lower their heads (under the shields) and hack at the horses legs only, and so doing defeated Wu Zhu’s “Guaizi Ma” (Calvary unit). 

出人陣中進退便利且微且殺。南北通用之利器也,製雖稍有不同。以此置於行伍之先。必在狼筅之下。蓋恃筅為勢架護於上,  方能筅下突進。因勢之跼蹐利於出入故也。若無筅則牌刀皆短,不能獨出獨入。每為長器所制故不便于用耳。

It is easy to move in and out of formation to make small attacks to gain advantage and kill. This weapon is used North to South, although they have slightly different systems. Place a company of troops at the front line. This must be under the “Wolf Brush”. The formation depends on the bamboo brush protecting from above, in order to rush in under its cover. Because this stance is compact, it is easy for it to move in and out. If there is no brush and only shield and sabers, they will not be able to go in and out alone. Long weapons always over power you, so this is not a good tactic (with the shield). 

Qi Jiguang’s introduction:

千古有圓長二色,其來尚矣,主衛而不主刺。國初,木加以革,重而不利步。以藤為牌,近出福建,銃子雖不能隔,而矢石槍刀皆可蔽,所以代甲胄之用,在南方田塍泥雨中,頗稱極便。其體須輕堅密,務使遮蔽一身上下四旁,無所不備。用牌之間,複有所謂標者,所以奪人之目,而為我之疑兵所賴以勝人者也。牌無標,能禦而不能殺。將欲進步,然後起標,勿輕發以敗其事。腰刀用於發標之後以殺敵,非長利輕泛,則不能接遠。其習牌之人,又須膽勇、氣力輕足、便捷少年,然後可授之以此,置於行伍之先,為眾人之藩蔽,衛以長短之器,為彼之應援。以之臨敵,其眾可合而不可離,可用而不可疲,進退左右,無所不利,此藤牌之功用也。今將牌勢之可錄者,繪說於後。

Through the ages, shields have been of two shapes, round and long, and were used to defend not to penetrate. In the early days of the nation, they used wood and animal hide, but they were too heavy to advance well. The use of rattan for shields is from Fujian, while it is ineffective against firearms, it can protect from arrows, stones, spears and knives. So, it is a good substitute for armor in the rain and mud of southern fields. It must be made light and firm, so that it may cover the body on all sides. In the space between the shields they use the javelin. Steal the mens attention, and deploy a ruse. Those that rely on this will be victorious. The shield without the javelin can defend but not attack. In order to advance, do so after you raise the javelin. Do not throw it recklessly and be defeated. The waist saber is used to attack the enemy after throwing the javelin. It is not long and is not suitable for long distances. Those who practice the shield should be brave young men with good speed and stamina. Then it may be trained. Place shield men first in the ranks, so that they may form a barrier and protect everyone. Defend with long and short weapons to support them.  When facing the enemy, the company must be united and not act separately. They must be able and not weak. Advancing, retreating, left and right, without any deficiencies or weaknesses, this is the skill of the Ratan Shield. Stances that can be  recorded for the shield are described later.


一、習藤牌人牌一面,內用大藤為骨,以藤蔑條條退藤纏聯。每面隨牌標槍二枝,腰刀一把。其兵執牌作勢向敵,以標執在右手,腰刀橫在牌裏挽手之上,以腕抵住。待敵長槍將及身,擲標刺之,中與不中,敵必用槍顧撥,我即乘隙徑進,急取出刀在右,隨牌砍殺。一入槍身之內,則槍為棄物,我必勝彼矣。但擲標後而倉惶不及取刀,是一大病。其禦短兵更易。

From Jixiao XinShu紀效新書

For training the shield, each man is given one shield. The interior of the shield has a skeleton of large rattan, which is then wrapped with thin strips of rattan. Each shield surface is flanked by two javelins and one waist sword. When the soldiers face the enemy, they hold the javelin in the right hand. The waist sword is held across the interior of the shield above the forearm and resting on the wrist. When the enemy spear is about to hit the body, throw the javelin to stab him. Hit or miss, the enemy will attempt to move it aside. I immediately take advantage of the narrow gap and rush in, quickly drawing my saber on the right and attacking with slashes with the shield (protecting me). Once inside the spears range, the spear is discarded and I will be victorious. However, once the javelin is thrown, do not panic and delay in drawing the saber. This is surely a great flaw. Soldiers will find it easy to defend at close range.

右牌用藤云云,木牌、皮牌皆類此用

On the right a rattan shield, wooden shields, and leather shields are used similarly. 

Jixiao Xin Shu紀效新書


右標槍,或用稠木細竹,皆可。但前重而後輕,前稍粗而後稍細,為得法。

On the right is the javelin. Use either thick wood or thin bamboo, both are fine. The front is heavy, the back is light. The front is thicker and the back is thinner. This is the way. 

Note: The thinner and thicker parts are referring to the heads of the javelin more than the shaft as it seems from the drawing.

The Postures:

The pages on the right are from the original Jixiao XinShu 績效新書 by Qi Jiguang戚繼光. On the left is the Wubei Zhi 武備志 by Mao YuanYi 茅元儀.

起手勢:照高管下, 橫行直進,諸勢可變,有躲閃之秒。

Raise your Hand: Brandish the high and mind the low. Move across or straight ahead. Change into various stances, that will be good for evasion and dodging.

斜行勢:此乃直來橫受之法,動偏步生硬騎龍,以進人之左。

Diagonal Walk: This method is for receiving the straight by going across. Ride the dragon fast, as to enter to the persons left.

Note: The phrase ride/mount the dragon 騎龍 is a traditional name for a footwork technique. It can be interpreted vaguely as a sort of lunging step with the legs wide.

仙人指路勢:乃看管之法,拗步直進直退,諸勢可變

Immortal points the way: This is the method of standing watch. Crossed stance and straight entering and retreating, may change into several stances. 

Note: 拗步means twisted or crossed step. It refers to the forward leg and the forward hand. If they are opposite to each other, i.e. left foot forward right hand forward, it is “ao” 拗If it is the same, right hand and foot forward, it is called “shun” 順.

滾牌勢:此勢隨滾進,以襲人之右,先進刀後進牌,疾速如風為妙

Roll Shield: This stance rolls with the momentum to advance by attacking the person from the right. Advance with the saber and enter with the shield. It is deadly when fast like the wind. 

躍步勢:此乃騎龍如探馬,刀前牌後誘人來,轉過牌來刀在後,低平,坐下靠和挨

Jump Step: this is Mounting the Dragon like Testing a Horse. Saber forward, shield behind entice the enemy to approach. Turn the shield in front and bring the saber back, lower level, sit down and lean in close against them.

Note: Here we have “Mounting the Dragon” 騎龍and “Testing Horse”探馬. Both traditional names being used by Qi before. “Testing the Horse” is also described in the Fist Classic.

低平勢:此真正對敵勢也,用推步須要帶鏢一根,身在牌內鏢步齊進,百發百中

Lower Level Stance: This is the true correct way to engage the enemy. You must use a javelin and “uprooting” steps. The body stays behind the shield while the steps and the javelin enter together. 100 shots 100 bullseyes. 

Note: 推步 or “Uprooting Steps”. This could be a traditional name or it could be merely descriptive. The word “Tui”推 means to push up or forward. Steps that are preparing for resistance to an advance is possibly the intention here.

金雞畔頭勢:畔頭之勢最為良,鎗上頭從牌下藏,進 步 如風人莫變,刀鎗牌俠閘為難當

Golden Rooster Bobs its Head: the Bobbing Head technique is an excellent tactic. A spear strike comes in high, hide the head behind the shield. Step in like the wind so they can’t change. A knight with a saber, spear, and shield is difficult to stop. 


埋伏勢:此勢進步甚速,用小行或左或右,如有鎗戳在牌,不能脫手急用刀尖,將牌借刀訂開, 急進絕妙。

Ambush Stance: This stance enters very quickly. Use small steps or left or right. If spears thrust in at the shield, do not let go and use the tip of the saber. Open them with the saber and the shield so that you may rush in successfully. 


一、試牌跳牌,舊法:聽鑼聲為度,{斬見}牌如壁,閃牌如電,起伏得宜,翻身下露身,滾牌下露足,惟牌能殺敵、能蔽身,用之乃拒勁敵以衛兵也。

 One-Shield training form; the old method: Listen for the sound of the gong, cut off their view by forming a shield wall, flash the shield like lightening, crouch and stand with ease, Flip the shield over to expose the body, roll it over to expose the leg, only the shield can attack the enemy and cover the body. It is used by troops to defend against powerful enemies.

大士星牌歌:{斬見}牌砍刀,上步,再{斬見}牌砍刀,背牌擎刀,絞絲步回,撒花蓋頂收了。出牌見刀,翻身上,小跳翻身下。出牌幾刀,翻身上,小跳翻身下。

Shield Song of the Great Scholar Star: Display the shield and chop with the saber, step in, display the shield again and chop, from behind the shield raise up the saber, turn around with “Braiding Silk” footwork, finish with “Spreading Flowers on the Mountain Top”.  Push out the shield and brandish the saber, flip up, small hop, flip down. 

閃馬牌歌曰:幾牌再幾牌,砍一刀複一刀,翻身上,小跳翻身下,又砍一刀,又複一刀,又砍一刀,又複一刀,翻身上,小跳翻身下。

Shield Song of the Evasive Horse: More and more shields. One cut after the other. Small leap flip down, and again chop once and chop again,  chop once and repeat, flip the body up, small leap flip the body down. 

End shield

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