Shuai Jiao – The Chinese Grappling Art

Table of Contents

When people think of Chinese martial arts they generally think of Jackie Chan and Jet Li performing athletic movements and varied striking combinations that are lightning fast.

There is yet another amazing Chinese martial art that is much lesser known but an extremely effective combat system as well as a popular sport within parts of China. The martial art we are writing about is a form of Chinese wrestling called Shuai Jiao.

Shuai Jiao literally means “Fall Down” and has roots as far back as 6000 years ago, although not called Shuai Jiao until recently, the seed which would grow to be the Chinese grappling art was planted.

Shuai Jiao Uniform
Shuai Jiao Uniform

A form of Jacket wrestling, Shuai Jiao practitioners wear a strong, durable and heavy woven jacket, canvas belt, pants and shoes (although bare feet are allowed for beginners) with the goal to takedown, sweep, trip or throw the opponent.

This Chinese wrestling style emphasizes skill, speed and technique over strength and this can be seen by the actual throw/takedown having more emphasis than the gaining a proper grip prior to the throw/takedown and by the lack of stalling in attaining grips.

It must be noted that there are several different types of Shuai Jiao as well as a more martial art focused style of Shuai Jiao as well as styles of Shuai Jiao that are more sport and competition focused.

Styles of Shuai Jiao

China is a very large country and due to the fact of it’s large size, there have been several noticeable styles of Shuai Jiao that have developed. This is not to say that there are no other styles but these are the main styles at the dinner table.

Tianjin Shuai jiao
Tianjin Shuai jiao

Wearing a Da Lian (specific style jacket) is a style named Zhili or Hebei. 

  1. A style that focuses on speed of use in technique, which is literally named “Fast Wrestling” (Kuai Jiao). This style is named Baoding. Interesting as Shuai Jiao matches are noticeably fast paced in nature and one can see that Baoding has a heavy influence on modern Shuai Jiao. Kauai Jiao is the most athletic style of Shuai Jiao.
  1. Boke – this is a style that is also known as “Mongolian style”, this style is influenced by Mongolian cultural wrestling (Bokh). There is a different uniform as the wrestlers need to wear a special jacket called a Zhaogele (basically a type of vest). Wrestlers cannot grab the legs and the match is over once a knee touches the ground or an opponent is not standing after executing a successful technique. Boke is popular in Northern China.
  1. Originating and practiced in the landlocked province of Shanxi is the Shanxi style of Shiao Jaio. This style is different in that competitors do not wear a jacket and the rules allow leg grabs. It is common to see joint locks applied in Shanxi style wrestling as well.
  1. The most popular style of Shuai Jiao is Beijing Shuai Jiao is interesting as grabbing the legs is not allowed but sweeps and even kicks. The use of jackets is mandatory and there are plenty of upper body throws using grips off the jacket as well as joint locks are permitted.
  1. A very effective style is the Tianjin style of Shuai Jiao. This Tianjin chinese wrestling style has great foot sweeps and trips as well as it uses a similar jacket as seen in Mongolian wrestling.

What is The Scoring System in Shuai Jiao

Shuai Jiao has a rather simple point scoring system where when a practitioner can force the opponent off their feet to the ground, they are awarded a point. 

Depending on which style of Shuai Jiao is being practiced, the definition of a downed opponent will be different as with certain styles it can be the knee touching the ground as well as there are styles that award a point only for throws/takedowns/sweeps and trips that have an opponent land on the ground completely with the aggressor falling on top of the opponent and even standing overtop.

Shuai Jiao Shoulder Throw
Shuai Jiao Shoulder Throw

There are some other rule sets that will award 1 point for the competitor that forces the opponent to touch the mat with an arm, hand, or knee. A competitor can be awarded 2 points for forcing an opponent to touch the mat with their back, stomach, hip and any central part of their torso (not arms or lower leg after the knee). A competitor can be ardent 3 points for any type of aerial throw with a clean landing, somewhat like a 5 point throw in Greco Roman wrestling or a Ippon throw in Judo.

In certain circumstances a point can be awarded to a competitor should the opponent be penalized for any type infraction that the referee deems necessary due to the opponents breaking the rules.

Any time a competitor performs a successful technique they will be awarded a point, the competitor with the most amount of points at the end of the match is the winner.

5 Different Ways to Score in Shuai Jiao

There are 5 different ways to score in Shuai Jiao, the five ways to attack are:

Da Shuai – open-hand techniques to takedown, throw or sweep an opponent

Shuai Jiao – Standup grappling techniques such as throwing, wrestling

Kuai Chiao – fast wrestling and shooting techniques

Na Shuai – joint manipulation that leads to a throw, sweep or takedown

Dian Shuai – the use of pressure points to throw, sweep or takedown an opponent

These are the ways Shuai Jiao wrestlers can score points and attain a victory in competition.

A Short History of Shuai Jiao

Shuai Jiao Ancient Wrestling
Shuai Jiao Ancient Wrestling

Although 6000 years old with stories of men wearing horned helmets trying to head butt and wrestle each other to the ground, the real catalyst to what would become Shuai Jiao was an art called “Jao Di” which was a military martial art that had seen combat many times against enemies of ancient China. Jao Di was a strong grappling art that emphasized throws, joint locks, pressure points and effective striking techniques

Eventually Jao Di would become more than a Chinese military combat wrestling system and would also become a sport that many spectators loved to watch and for competitors to compete in.

Many regions of China would have their own techniques, influences and rule sets that would eventually become what is known as Shuai Jiao as in 1928 there was a demand to standardize the rules for competition through a national organization.

Shuai Jiao Masters
Shuai Jiao Masters

The Influence of Shuai Jiao on Other Grappling Styles

Shuai Jiao has influenced many martial arts throughout the centuries and even today there are martial arts and martial artists who can claim relation to the Chinese wrestling style.

Shuai Jiao and Japanese Jujutsu

There are many historians that claim that Japanese Jujutsu was influenced by Shuai Jiao as centuries ago a man named Chen Yuan-Yu traveled throughout Japan and during his travels he shared many Shuai Jiao techniques with the Japanese martial artists he met during his journey. The techniques he presented are said to have a direct influence on the joint locking and throwing techniques of Japanese Jujutsu.

Shuai Jiao’s Influence on Modern Combat Sports

MMA Fighter Goncharov Practicing Shuai Jiao
MMA Fighter Goncharov Practicing Shuai Jiao

It is very common to find that Chinese Olympic wrestlers and MMA and UFC Fighters have at one time or another had extensive Shuai Jiao training and in some way have been influenced by the Chinese grappling art.

One of the most popular combat sports in China is Sanda which is a combination of string techniques from Kung Fu and Chinese Kickboxing with the throwing, sweeping and tripping techniques of Shuai Jiao. Many MMA fighters come from a Sanda background and have been successful with the fast Shuai Jiao type takedowns in competition.

Final Thoughts

Shuai Jiao is a truly impressive grappling art that has some similarities to other wrestling styles such as Sambo, Chidaoba and Mongolian wrestling. 

It has seen Military combat through centuries of Chinese warfare, it is both a combat system and a sport but what makes Shuai Jiao such an effective grappling system is it’s extensive foot sweep system and  the quickness and simplicity of the techniques it possesses. Shuai Jiao may not be a well known grappling art in the west but it is a grappling art that is worth its weight in gold.


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