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The Art of San Shou Kuai Jiao

By Grandmaster Shou-Yu Liang and Tai D. Ngo



San Shou Kuai Jiao refers to the techniques used in free fighting to take down or throw an opponent. Because San Shou Kuai Jiao emphasizes speed, it is known as Fast Wrestling. The words San Shou in Chinese mean free fighting, and imply the use of bare handed martial skills. Kuai Jiao means quickly downing or throwing an opponent.

Traditionally, Chinese martial arts fighting techniques are divided into four general fighting categories: Ti, Da, Shuai, Na. Ti is kicking; Da is striking; Shuai (short for Shuai Jiao) is wrestling; Na is Qin Na, i.e. seizing and controlling an opponent's joints and cavities. Generally speaking, when you encounter an opponent in a fight, leg techniques are used in long ranges and hand techniques are used for short ranges.

To become a well-rounded martial artist, you must be proficient in the four basic fighting skills mentioned above. In the past, San Shou competition was held on the Lei Tai, a 24 x 24 foot platform 5 feet high. Victory was decided when an opponent was thrown off the Lei Tai or knocked to the floor. Therefore, Shuai Mao is an important part of San Shou fighting. A martial artist without any Shuai Jiao skills would not easily survive a San Shou match.

Shuai Jiao is believed to be the oldest martial art in China. Its history can be traced back thousands of years. Legend tells that Shuai Jiao already existed during the reign of the Yellow Emperor (Huang Ti, 2697 B.C.) and was used to train soldiers. Throughout Chinese history the art has been adopted by governments of different dynasties as a military training method. However, Shuai Jiao was not only used as a tool for military training, but also widely practiced among civilians. It was the civilians who perfected and popularized the art.

In the Song dynasty (960-1278 A.D.), Shuai Jiao skill had reached a very high level and fast wrestling (Kuai Jiao) already existed and was very popular. During this period, throws became more complex, and speed and skillfulness of movement was emphasized.

Technically speaking, the foundation and basic principles of San Shou Kuai Jiao are based on traditional Chinese wrestling (Chuan Tong Shuai Jiao) and adapted for combat training. San Shou Kuai Jiao techniques and principles are very simple, effective and-most importantly-quick. Because of its speed and effectiveness, an opponent often does not have a chance to fight back. San Shou Kuai Jiao is an art that does not rely just on muscular strength-it must be done skillfully. It always emphasizes avoiding direct impact with an enemy's power. It also emphasizes getting close to an enemy quickly and using the enemy's power against himself. Because of its effectiveness, San Shou Kuai Jiao has been trained along with all styles of Chinese martial arts for thousands of years.

San Shou Kuai Jiao can cause tremendous physical damage to an opponent. The severity of the damage is dependent on the degree of power used in the technique. Moderate use of power can quickly throw down an opponent and disable his fighting ability. Excessive use of power can permanently injure an opponent. Therefore, the value of San Shou Kuai Jiao has been recognized by Chinese martial artists for centuries. Even with today's modern military technology, San Shou Kuai Jiao is still an important combat skill. In China today it is used to train the police, the military, and special forces.

Differences Between San Shou Kuai Jiao and Other Styles of Wrestling

In general when fighting, the conflict becomes a competition of power, speed, technique, and adaptability to changing situations. The goal is to quickly disable your opponent's fighting ability so that he cannot fight back. When fighting on the street, you cannot risk tangling with your opponent too long. You need to end the fight as soon as possible, especially if you are facing more than one opponent. San Shou Kuai Jiao is perfectly suitable for self-defense on the street because it specializes in throwing techniques to disable an opponent's fighting ability. Throwing techniques can be used whether you initiate the attack or are defending against one. Almost every part of your body can be used against an opponent. The most common body parts used are: head, hands, elbow, shoulder, foot, knees and hips.

As mentioned earlier, San Shou Kuai Jiao is a special kind of martial art technique used to throw or take down an opponent very fast. This art shares many similarities with other wrestling styles, especially traditional Chinese wrestling and Japanese Jujitsu and Judo. This is no surprise because San Shou Kuai Jiao's foundation is based on traditional Chinese wrestling, and traditional Chinese wrestling influenced Jujitsu and Judo.

Many martial arts historians believe that it was Chinese wrestling that greatly influenced the soft arts of Japan. During the late Ming dynasty, a government officer and martial artist named Chen, Yuan-Yun (1587-1671 A.D. Ming dynasty) fled China to Japan in the year 1659 and later taught martial arts there. This is recorded in Japan's history documents Collection of Ancestor's Conversations, Volume 2, Biography of Chen, Yuan-Yun. The Japanese built a monument to honor his contributions to Japan's martial arts. This monument still stands outside of a temple in Tokyo.

Generally speaking, most San Shou Kuai Jiao techniques were derived from traditional Chinese Wrestling (Shuai Jiao), and Shuai Jiao is the oldest form of Chinese martial arts. However, because Shuai Jiao already existed for thousand of years, it became a complete system by itself. Therefore, Shuai Jiao provides many important foundations for San Shou Kuai Jiao's techniques and development.

Although San Shou Kuai Jiao shares some similarities with traditional wrestling and other arts, from a technical point of view, San Shou Kuai Jiao's technique construction, basic principles, applications and purposes are quite different from the rest. These differences are San Shou Kuai Jiao's distinctive characteristics. In general, we can summarize these differences as follows:

First, compared to traditional Chinese wrestling, Jujitsu and Judo, San Shou Kuai Jiao emphasizes more speed when throwing. In contrast, traditional wrestling, Jujitsu and Judo emphasize obtaining good grappling position on an opponent's body or uniform first, and then applying the throw. In this way, it takes more time to throw down an opponent.

Second, San Shou Kuai Jiao incorporates kicking and punching techniques. San Shou Kuai Jiao always combines hand and leg techniques. However, traditional wrestling, Jujitsu and Judo, especially the sport varieties, do not emphasize these techniques.

Third, unlike Greco-Roman and free-style wrestling, Jujitsu, and Judo, San Shou Kuai Jiao generally avoids falling to the ground and grappling too long with an opponent. One simple reason is that it is dangerous to tangle with opponent on ground in a real fight, especially if you face multiple opponents.

These differences do not imply that one style is superior to another. Fighting is a very complicated subject. There are many factors behind victory. Winning a fight depends on situation, timing, location, skills, strength, and the spirit of the individual. It does not depend on the style itself. As a martial artist, keep an open mind to accept and absorb the effective elements of other styles. In turn, it will help to bring your skill to a higher level.