Blog, Ma Xianda, Tong Bei Studies, Translations

Ma Xianda: A Short History of Duan Bing part 2-短兵格斗简史及其特点

Here is the second section of the Introduction to Duan Bing by Ma Xianda from his book. In the first part he discussed the long history of swordplay and fencing in Chinese culture. In this next section he discusses the extremely influential Republican era of China(1912–1949) and its effect on the formation of Duan Bing and other combat sports. This period is famous for adopting many things from Western culture into the “Tiyu” or Physical Culture movement. This movement was an effort to get the population fit and disprove the “sick men of Asia” stereotype that was levied at the Chinese. It is also a period of enormous growth in the martial arts through publication and through the establishment of institutions like the Wujing Athletic Association and the Central Guoshu Institute. These institutions and the men and women who made them up both in student body and in teaching faculty set what will become the basis for our modern practice of Chinese martial arts.

“Long Weapon” or Chang Bing fencing. In this period, it was often assumed to be a bayonet, hence the rifle stocks on the ends of these sticks.

One characteristic of the period was the introduction and intermingling of foreign influences both Asian and Western. As Master Ma described in the first section, while the history of swordplay and fencing goes back thousands of years in China, due to the advent of gunpowder and other incendiary weapons there is no unbroken practice of fencing or competitive activity to draw from to create a cross disciplinary sport. During the Republican period, the forbearers of the sport of Duan Bing took from sources like Japanese kendo and western fencing. Equipment like Shinai and other Japanese style gear were adopted for the use in Chinese style fencing, and many of the early rules were based on Japanese sources. The Tiyu movement took much from German Military exercise, and Duan Bing was no different. However, the Japanese too, were enamored with western modalities and also provided manuals with instruction in western methods. Even later, western fencing will play a large role in the development of the sport of Duan Bing. 



Section 2 Historical Background of the Appearance of the Current Form of Duan Bing

任何绝妙的剑刀法,不是人们凭借主观臆造的,更非“夜 梦宣武大帝授以技法,翌日所向无敌,顶立于天下”。 任何“神传仙授”之说,都是武术发展进程中的神话而已。传世的 优异技法,无不来自无数次的实战结晶和其实践的积累和总 结。只是在早期的实践、演战中,大都以真剑真刀实战,为操 得一技上身,伤亡致残严重。尤其在奴隶制时代,常以奴隶做 靶操习,伤害惨重。据史载,春秋战国时期击剑之风盛极一 时,昔赵文王喜剑,剑士夹门而客三千余人,日夜相击于前, 死伤者岁百余人,好之不厌。赵文王喜剑,每年死伤百余人, 仍喜好不厌。此情此景,固然击剑之风炽盛,但死伤也过于惨 重。随着社会的进步,奴隶制的解体,击刺相格的方式有所改 进,然而具体操习格斗的形式,并未被记载传世,令后世困惑 不解,致使击刺斩搏停滯在空盘说解和模拟的状态,而难以向 前发展。综观各类武经典籍,难以寻求击刺对搏和操习斩杀技 能的记载。就拿五百年前记述有效战技的戚继光的名著《纪效 新书》来说,他提出:“凡比较武艺,务要俱照示学习实敌本 子,真可对搏打者……”但如何“真可对搏打者”,却无具体 地记述。致使技法的延续和传承,形成断裂,难觅途径。历代 武技高手,哪位不晓,再好的招法,不练、不搏、不斗,岂能 致胜于人。尤其是应用招式,形成有效命中,其技术是由诸多中国短兵——教学训练竞技日素构成的, 绝非单一技能所为。

Any excellent swordsmanship is not created by people subjectively, nor is it  like “Emperor Xuanwu was given a technique one night in a dream, and the next day he was invincible and stood on the top of the world”. Any theory of being “taught by immortals” is just myth in the martial arts. The excellent techniques handed down from past to present all come from the crystallization of countless actual combative encounters and the accumulation and summary of their practice. In the early days, practice and combat used real swords and sabers in order to train the upper body, resulting in serious casualties and disabilities. Especially in the era of slavery, slaves were often used as target for drills, causing heavy damage. According to historical records, during the Spring and Autumn Period and the Warring States Period, fencing was very popular. In the past, King Wen of Zhao was fond of swords, and the swordsmen gathered at the door numbered more than 3,000. King Wen of Zhao was so fond of swords he killed and injured more than 100 people every year. This situation, although the popularity of fencing was blazing, the casualties incurred were too heavy. With the advancement of society and the disintegration of slavery, the methods of striking and stabbing had improved. However, the specific form of sparring and fighting had not been recorded or handed down. The state of recreating these skills and understanding them is difficult to advance. Looking at all kinds of martial arts classics, it is difficult to find records of stabbing and fighting and practicing beheading skills. Take Qi Jiguang’s famous book “Ji Xiao Xin Shu”, which described effective combat skills 500 years ago. He proposed: “If one wishes to compare the martial arts, it is necessary to learn from practice with true resisting opponent.” But how? Qi states, ”it is necessary to learn from practice with a true resisting opponent.”, but there is no specific descriptions. As a result, a break has formed in the continuation and inheritance of techniques and it is difficult to find the way. Of all the martial arts masters of the past dynasties, which one was not aware that no matter how good the technique,  without practice, and fighting how can you be better than others? Especially the application of moves and the creation of effective hits, Chinese Duan Bing technical aspects is composed of many components- teaching, training and competition. It is not composed of a single skill.

 它是在 历史演进至近现代,不被官府所重视的各类武技,其中包 -剑刀法在内,散存于社会和民间,处于自生自灭或被官府禁 的状态。在此情形下,仍有许多中华民族的先贤志士,不断 在探讨武术领域中的散搏、长、短兵刃的竞技和格斗训练的 径和方法,这一历程,尽管十分缓慢,但还从未停止过。

[Duan Bing] is composed of a variety of martial arts that lacked government interest or support. This includes both sword and saber fencing, which had been scattered among society and the people, and was left to fend for its self and often banned.  Although this is the case, there are still many sages of the Chinese nation who are constantly exploring the paths and methods of sparring, long- and short-blade competition and fight training in the field of martial arts. Although this process is very slow, it has never stopped.

直至 20 世纪二三十年代,特别是民国时期中央国术馆的成 (1928 年),在张之江先生的积极倡导下,对武术领域中的 脚兵刃套路,以及踢、打、跌、拿、练等,采取了在继承基 上的提炼、改进和优化技术范畴。当时云集于南京中央国术 的各门各派的高手、大师,真可谓人才济济,并对高层次的 才,统统以竞技为手段的国术考试(简称“国考”)的方 评品出不同的奖次,大大地提示和升华了武术体系中的 本用具备”的层次。

National examinations 1933

It wasn’t until the 1920s and 1930s, in the Republic period of China, in particular, at the completion of the Central Guoshu Institute (1928),which,  under the active advocacy of Mr. Zhang Zhijiang, where the routines of foot soldiers and blades in martial arts. Kicking, hitting, falling, grappling and so on, were adopted with the intention of refining, improving and optimizing the technical categories on the basis of lineage.  At that time, the masters of various schools of martial arts gathered in Nanjing. It was a large amount of high level talent. All of the Chinese martial arts examinations (referred to as “national examinations”), which used competition as a means of evaluation, presented different awards, which prompted and sublimated the level of “basic skills” in the martial arts systems to a great extent.

Famous masters of the Central Guoshu Institute

短兵,就是在这一时期产生的对抗性竞技形式。其形制, 是这一时期经过逐次实践,不断改进而形成的。它的出现并 一蹴而成的。起初,是以竹制藤剑为器材,附以日式劈刺 三,在一定的规则下两人相击相搏,称之为“打剑”“劈剑” 。当时的做法是先在馆内试验。即教师与教师、学员与学 间,进行内部实战。在此实战过程中,著名武术家马英图 名武术家朱国禄,打得最为精彩激烈,轰动南京武林。这 为南北两位大家都有雄厚的打剑技能并具雄厚剑法研习功 绝非一般缺练少打的剑家,故激烈超凡。这次对战虽表现 各自的中国剑法的精妙,但因伤势严重,不利于广泛开 同时也为长期不战、武风微弱的国情所不容。用竹质兵 污害事故难以减低。于是在此基础上改制成以藤条为干, 裹以棉絮,加皮制外套的短兵形制,自此,大大地减低了伤害事故,并在竞赛制度、竞赛规则等方面,予以改进和规范, 既继承了中国传统的剑刀法的技法精髓,又运用竞赛、对抗的 方式,促进和推动了击刺斩格的技术升华。更重要的是这一形 制和竞技的变革,使古老的中国剑刀法的格斗形式融入了世界 竞技的大潮。应该说,是把打剑、劈剑、击剑、斩剑等历史格 斗的不定式,统一在短兵形制的范畴内了。这是剑刀术对抗较 艺竞技的一大进步,也是对其的一大贡献。包括同一时期出现 的长兵、散手等。历史总是要前进的,事物总是要发展的,尽管它尚不甚完善,但总是有了改进的底本。

A Jian Ke/Jian Xia displaying the repurposed Japanese gear.

Duan Bing is the form of competitive practice that emerged in this era. Its general form was developed through continuous practice and improvement during this period. It appeared and was adopted in one fell swoop. At first, Japanese style rattan swords (Shinai) were used with chopping and stabbing. Under these certain rules, two people fight against each other, which is called “fighting sword” and “chopping sword”. The practice at the time was to test it at the Guo Shou Academy first. That is to say, competition among the students and faculty only. An Actual battle between the famous martial artist Ma Yingtu and Zhu Guolu caused a sensation in Nanjing being so exciting and fierce. This was because the two swordsmen, one from the north and one from the south, were not the ordinary type of swordsmen who lack practice and rarely fight, they were both highly skilled and well studied. The match was extraordinarily intense. Although this bout showed the excellence of Chinese swordsmanship of both of the combatants, the serious injuries incurred rendered it unusable for wide scale development, nor was it tolerated by the weak position of the military during peace time. It is difficult to reduce the injuries due to debris form the rattan sword. Therefore, the Duan Bing System changed the weapon to a rattan base, wrapped in wool or cotton, with a leather cover. This reduced injuries by a large factor. Also, in the system of competition, rules were developed to improve and standardize play. It not only inherits the essence of traditional Chinese swordsmanship, but also uses competition and confrontation to promote the technical application of stabbing and cutting techniques. More importantly, these changes in competitions has brought the the skills of ancient Chinese swordsmanship to the international competitive sports community. It should be said that whether it is called “Hit Sword”, “Chopping Sword”, “Striking Sword”, or “Cutting sword” the variations of historical fighting can be unified under the practice of Duan Bing. This is a great improvement in the practice of swordsmanship and a major contribution to the competitive aspect of the art. Appearing at the same time were Chang Bing “Long weapon” and San Shou “Free Fighting”. History must advance forward and things must always develop, although it is not perfect, it provides a basis for improvement. 

Equipment and ideas for matchplay were informed by Japanese Kendo and western systems.

今天的短兵,无论从器材形制、制做和它的技术体系,训 练方法,竞赛制度、竞赛规则,以至裁判法等,又比 20 世纪 20 年代,有了很大的进步。我深信它会以更加完善的面貌,出现 在国内和国际武坛。

Duan Bing today, in terms of equipment, gear manufacturing  and production and its technical system, training methods, competition rules, and even the method of officiating have improved compared to the 1920s. I am convinced that it will take a more complete aspect, and will be included in the domestic and international martial arts scene.  

短兵由 1928 年试制后,中央国术馆实施了先在馆内开课、 施教,并将其列为各期必修课程之一。在此期间,张之江招贤 纳士,邀集诸多国内名家、大家,共同研究国考项目。从套路 评判、散手空搏、摔跤、长兵、短兵、弓矢射法,以及发展力 量性的石担、石锁、举大刀、踢毽子等等,凡具有武术和民族 体育性质的项目,均被列进研究与改进之中。

In 1928, after the trial period for Duan Bing, the Central Goushu Institute implemented the first classes in the curriculum and made it one of the compulsory courses in each term. During this period, Zhang Zhijiang recruited talented people and invited many famous scholars and experts from all over China to jointly study the national examination project. From routines, sparring, wrestling, long and short weapons, and archery to strength training like stone locks, brandishing the “Big Knife”, kicking the shuttle cock etc, all projects dealing with martial arts or a national sports nature were included in research and development.

短兵就是这一时期由古代劈剑、打剑、斩剑等不定式的对 抗、竞技、较艺而集中在统一制式、统一规范下进行的比较武 艺,并提升各类剑刀法精萃于一体。起初,在相当一段时日 里,以竹质藤条,裹以牛筋、皮条而制的竹剑,做为“兵 杖”,其打法激烈,伤害严重,故又以当今裹棉皮质短兵,加 以改进,总算确立了传袭至今的短兵形制。

Duan Bing is descend ended from the ancient fencing techniques of chopping, hitting, and cutting etc., and contains he competitive martial arts that has been unified under a standard system, and improves the essence of the various schools of swordsmanship. At first, for quite a period of time, rattan sticks held together with leather (Shinai) were used as “arming sticks”. The style play was fierce and the damage cause was serious, so it was improved by the use of the current cotton covered sort weapons, and finally established the form of short weapon that has been used until the present. 

1933 年,国立国术体育专科学校(“国体”)成立,短兵 被列入国体必修课程之一,并在各年级的学期终、学年终进行 比赛,平时又辅以班级、年级、全校性友谊赛和对抗赛,男女 同学间,也时有竞技和较艺,一时间,蔚然成风。成绩卓著, 或连年获胜者,被冠以“剑客”、“剑侠”之类的美称。国体 虽在 20 世纪 30 年代初成立于南京,但在初创不久,就由于抗 日战争的爆发而迁校于长沙、桂林、昆明、四川北碚等地。尽 管处于战乱年代,环境艰难,但师生们仍能坚持教学不辍,真 乃难能可贵。

In 1933, the National Sports Martial Arts Teachers College (“National Sports College”) was established, and Duan Bing was included as one of the compulsory courses of national sports. Competitions were held at the end of each grade semester and the end of the school year, supplemented by classes, grades, and school-wide friendly competitions. And for a while competitions between male and female classmates had become the norm. Outstanding achievement, or each years winners, were called “Jian Ke” or “Jian Xia”. Although the National Sports College was established in Nanjing in the early 1930’s, it was not long after that that the school moved to Changsha, Guilin, Kunming, Beibi, Sichuan and other places due to the start of the Sino/Japanese War. Despite the difficult environment of a war torn area, the teachers and students continued their studies admirably. 

1945 年,抗战胜利,国体迁校天津,校址建于天津北宁花 园体育场,恢复正常教学,扩大了招生,增设三年制大专和五 年制的大中专,教学活动、教学质量在全国体育系科和体育专 科学校中,名声鹊起。具有该校特色的武术(当时称“国 术”)项目,在国内独领体坛。短兵竞技,在此一时期颇具影 响,在该校的所在地天津市以及毗邻的津京地区传播较广。尤 以天津市区,群众基础较为坚实。直至 1949 年天津解放,暂告一段。

In 1945, the Anti-Japanese War was won, the National Sports School moved to Tianjin, and was built in Tianjin Beining Garden Stadium. Normal teaching was resumed, enrollment was expanded, and three-year and five-year junior colleges were added. Teaching activities and teaching quality in the national sports college gained a great reputation among the national sports departments and sports colleges. Wushu (then called Guoshu) that was characteristic of the school dominated the sports community in China. Competition in Duan Bing was quite influential during this period and spread widely in Tianjin, where the school is located, and in the adjacent Tianjin-Beijing area. Especially in the urban Tianjin area where the numbers of people was greater than in other areas, until the liberation of Tianjin in 1949, when it came to an end. 

Ma, Xianda. 中囯短兵: 敎学・训练・竞技. China: 三秦出版社, 2003.

End of part two. Part one is found here.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s