The Ji Xiao Xin Shu of Qi Jiguang

The 继效新书 Jì Xiào Xīn Shū (New Book of Effective Fighting Techniques) was published by General Qi Jiguang 戚继光, (1528-1588) in 1560. A handbook on military strategy, the Ji Xiao Xin Shu is not included among the Tai Chi Classics, but according to some, it may have had significant influence on some of the earliest practitioners of Tai Chi.

323px-Qi_JiquanQi Jiguang was known as the Tiger General. From his father, who fought for the founding Ming Emperor, Qi held a hereditary position as a military leader, which he assumed at the age of 17. Within a very few years he had distinguished himself in battle against the Mongolians who threatened Beijing from the north.

Qi then assumed leadership of a garrison in Penglai. During the next decade Qi secured his place in history by defeating the Japanese (and Chinese) pirates that had been terrorizing the entire east coast of China.

Qi’s book,  the Ji Xiao Xin Shu, was concerned mainly with military strategy and the use of weapons, but he included a chapter on unarmed combat, not because he believed it was useful on the battle field (he didn’t) but because he considered it good physical training and discipline for troops. He was aware of a wide variety of martial arts and identified 32 postures in particular as being useful.

In a 1993 doctoral thesis, Clifford Gyves translates the 32 verses of the Quanjing Jieyao Pian, chapter 14, the Boxing Canon, and argues that eight of the postures named and described appear to be common to Tai Chi. The eight postures are:

  • Dan bian (single whip)
  • Jin ji duli (golden rooster stands on one leg)
  • Gao tan ma (high pat on horse—but he translates this as spy technique!)
  • Shang bu qi xing (step up seven stars)
  • Tui bu kua hu (step back to ride the tiger)
  • Bai he liang chi (white crane spreads wings)
  • Xiashi (snake creeps down)
  • Zhou di chui (fist under elbow)

However! I am guessing that in 1993, Gyves was unfamiliar with Chen-style Tai Chi, or he could hardly have missed the similarity of the movement described in Verse 1 to Lanzhayi:

Casually hitch up your clothes and let your body assume the Going Out the Door position. Change to a lowered posture and momentarily take the Single Whip stance.

In an appendix, Gyves compares names from the Ji Xiao Xin Shu with those of Yang and Wu practitioners. But, reading through all 32 verses, I see names and descriptions that sound like moves from Laojia Yilu and Erlu: the Beast Head Pose (Shou tou shi), for example, and Ride the Dragon Backwards (Dao qi long).

And surely this is Cannon Overhead (Dang tou pao) in Verse 30:

The Canonball (sic) Against the Head maneuver assaults the person’s fear; Advance your steps with tiger-like erectness and drive in with both fists.

417px-Ji_Xiao_Xin_Shu;_pg_464Without access to the text in Chinese (which I haven’t yet found online) I can’t take this much farther, but I’d be willing to bet that many more, if not most, postures in the quanjing can be identified in the old Chen forms.

Gyves stops short of saying that postures of Tai Chi were derived from the Ji Xiao Xin Shu; he says instead that they may simply reflect a common martial arts heritage. But it is interesting to note that Chen Wangting (1580-1660) was a Ming Dynasty military leader, in addition to being the head of the Chen family at the time and originator of Chen-style Tai Chi. It is entirely possible that he would have been familiar with an influential military handbook like the Ji Xiao Xin Shu.

Gyves points out that there is no reason to believe that General Qi’s practice was internal, so he cannot be said to have had a hand in the origination of Tai Chi. But Qi may very well have contributed to the selection of named martial arts postures and applications that Chen Wangting transformed into the earliest practice of Tai Chi.

Article from the Shanghai Daily about General Qi:

Translation of Chapter 14 by Clifford Gyves:

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