THE BOXING CLASSIC (KEYS TO NIMBLENESS)
(Chapter 14 of New Book of Effective Methods)
by Qi Jiguang
[translation by Paul Brennan, Aug, 2019]
(These skills will not prepare you for battle, but they can supply you with extra strength. Therefore they too should be a part of military training. On the other hand, civilians who do not have much strength can also learn much that is useful from these skills, which is why I have included this chapter at the end.)
Boxing arts do not seem to be useful skills for the battlefield, but they exercise the hands and feet, and accustom the limbs and body to hard work. Thus they serve as basic training. Therefore I have included this discussion of them as the final chapter, in order to complete this study [of military theory]. To learn a boxing art, you have to have a nimble body, dexterous hands, and be light-footed yet sure-footed. Advancing and retreating in exactly the right way, it will be as though your legs can fly. Its subtleties can be found in all of its lowering and rising, turning around and thrusting through [i.e. its constant changing of height and direction]. Its fierceness can be found in chopping and swinging. Its quickness can be found in grabbing the opponent and tossing him away so that he finds himself facing the sky. Its softness can be found in knowing when it is time to evade.
I have selected the thirty-two best postures from boxing arts. They are to be linked together one after another. When you meet an opponent, you will thus gain victory by transforming without limit, and with such subtlety that no one can comprehend what you are doing, actions so hidden that no one can see what is going on and will think it is magic. It is commonly said: “The fist strikes without any awareness [that it was coming].” In other words, it is the same thing as [from Six Scabbards (Dragon Scabbard), chapter 26]: “The thunderclap gives no time to cover one’s ears. [The lighting flash gives no chance to close one’s eyes.]” This also has to do with this saying: “If you do not waste time defending, you will only need one technique, but if you are caught up in defending, you will end up needing ten.” A wide range of study plus lots of preparation will equal victory.*
Some boxing arts have been around since long ago, such as the Thirty-Two Posture Long Boxing of the first Song Emperor, Six-Steps Boxing, Monkey Boxing, and Decoy Boxing. Though they each have their own postures and terminology, they are actually more similar than they are different. As for the present, the Seventy-Two Walking Punches of the Wen family, Thirty-Six Locks, Twenty-Four Horse-Mounting Strikes, Eight Sudden Turnings, and Twelve Short-Range Techniques are the best of the best. Lü Hong’s Eight Throws have great hardness, but are not quite as good as “Silken” Zhang’s Short Fighting. There are also the kicks of Li Bantian of Shandong, the grabbing methods of “Eagle Claw” Wang, the throwing methods of “Thousand-Throws” Zhang, and the striking methods of Zhang Bojing. There are the staff methods of the Shaolin Temple, just as good as the Qingtian staff methods. There are the spear methods of Master Yang, as well as Raking Fists and Raking Staff. These arts are all famous nowadays.
Each of them has its own strong points and yet lacks in some regard, either attending to the upper body and neglecting the lower body or attending to the lower body and neglecting the upper body. Any of these methods may defeat an opponent, but it is only due to expertise in one kind of skill. If we instead adopt something from each of these boxing arts and then put all of those things together, it would be just like the “Mt. Chang Snake” battle formation [from Art of War, chapter 11]: “Strike its head, its tail responds. Strike its tail, its head responds. Strike its middle, its head and tail respond together.” This means that if you are fully equipped above and below, there is no one you will not be able to defeat. Generally speaking, whether training with the fists, staff, saber, spear, fork, rake, sword, halberd, bow and arrow, hook, sickle, or crowding shield, everyone starts from boxing methods in order to exercise the body and hands. Thus it is boxing methods that provide the fundamentals for developing martial skill.
I have made drawings of the postures and supplemented them with verse instructions to better awaken the minds of students. Once you have obtained these skills, you have to try them out on opponents. You must never be amazed by victory or ashamed by defeat. Instead analyze why you won or lost, then re-exert yourself and test the techniques over and over again. When an opponent is timid, it is because he has achieved only a shallow level of skill, whereas a superb fighter is sure to have a refined skill. There is an old saying: “A high level of skill amplifies one’s courage.” True words indeed.
*(While I held a government post in the Zhoushan islands [off the coast of Zhejiang], I got to partake of the boxing arts training in Liu Caotang’s military academy. That experience taught me the meaning of those words: “If you are caught up in defending, you will end up needing to do ten techniques.” His superb skill has to do with the continuous striking within the staff art.)
[The drawings and text below are taken from the version of New Book of Effective Methods contained within the Siku Quanshu (“Four Warehouses Full of Books”), the monumental 18th century encyclopedia made of almost forty thousand volumes. (The “four” refers to four major categories of texts: classics, histories, philosophers, collections. Qi Jiguang’s work is categorized under philosophers/military.) The Siku Quanshu preserves Qi Jiguang’s book in its original published form, in which eight of the thirty-two postures (Postures 15–18 and 21–24) were unaccountably missing. Fortunately this gap had been filled by Mao Yuanyi when he produced his massive 17th century military encyclopedia Wubei Zhi (“Records of Military Training”), in which he included Qi’s “Boxing Classic” as part of volume 91, complete with drawings and text for the missing postures. The Siku Quanshu drawings show the figures wearing black boots, whereas the Wubei Zhi drawings show the figures wearing white boots, and so the source for each drawing is obvious at a glance.]
LAZILY PULLING BACK THE ROBE is for making a display of arrogance.
It can then change to a lowering posture, a SUDDEN STEP, or a SINGLE WHIP.
If the opponent does not boldly charge forward,
I await him with stillness, a keen gaze, and ready hands.
With GOLDEN ROOSTER STANDS ON ONE LEG, I go from dropping down to rising up.
As I place my leg, I swing across with my fist.
The opponent is thrown onto his back like an upside-down cow with all its legs in the air.
Meeting this technique, his groans reach to the sky.
The technique of REACHING OUT TO THE HORSE was passed down from the First Emperor of the Song Dynasty.
Like all postures, it can be lowered or adjusted.
Whether attacking or retreating, a weak position becomes a strong position.
This technique is the best means of intercepting a short-range punch.
With SINGLE WHIP IN A CROSSED STANCE, I advance like a virgin squeezing her legs tight.
The opponent throws out kicks on my left and right, difficult to defend against,
but I charge forward, my fists in succession chopping and tearing through.
In an “agarwood stance” [i.e. deeply rooted], I should be able to push over Mt. Tai.
In the BIG-DIPPER PUNCH, my hands and feet coordinate with each other.
Using a closing step to crowd the opponent, my upper body and lower body “lift the cage” [i.e. bring forward the saucepan shape].
If he is an expert, with fast hands and feet like the wind,
I nevertheless have the skills of thrusting through or chopping heavily.
With TURN TO RIDE THE DRAGON, I pretend to lose and flee.
Once I have lured the opponent into pursuing me, I turn and punch.
No matter how much fury he attacks me with,
there is no way for him to match my flurry of strikes.
Using HOLD UP A FOOT AS BAIT causes the opponent to recklessly advance.
I then switch and kick him with my other foot, showing him no mercy for his rashness.
At the same time, I chase him above with a palm strike, making him see stars.
Who would dare to test his skill against mine after this experience?
QIU LIU’S TECHNIQUE involves a left parry and a right palm strike. [Left and right should perhaps be reversed.]
I chop away an incoming kick, then step straight through the opponent’s center.
This technique is basically REACHING OUT TO THE HORSE on the other side.
One strike is all it takes and his life is over.
With DOWNWARD THRUST, I focus on lowering with fast legs.
I advance, crowding the opponent’s space so that he has no room.
Hooking around his foot and tangling up his arms, I will not let him get away.
By surprising him above as I catch him below, he will fall.
AMBUSH POSTURE is like a crossbow trap set in wait for a tiger.
Once the opponent falls into my trap, he stumbles, unable to find his balance.
I can then take advantage of the opportunity to shoot out a series of kicks.
He will receive such a beating that he will fall into a coma.
With THROWING ASIDE HAUGHTILY, I charge in while draping across.
This will keep the opponent from noticing my advancing step.
My right fist swings across as my left hand plucks down, fast as the wind.
I can then lash out with a palm strike that will knock him senseless.
The PINCHED-ELBOW POSTURE guards against the opponent’s kicks,
but in order to block them, I need to recognize their height.
I chop, strike, push, or press down as the situation demands,
never moving my hands and feet impulsively.
I perform SUDDEN STEP in accordance with the situation.
I hurl a barrage of kicks and punches at the opponent, left and right,
but even if his posture is solid and his hands react like wind and thunder,
he will not be able to handle my skillful surprise.
The GRAPPLING POSTURE seals off the opponent’s kick.
I press to the left or right, similar to the FOUR-LEVEL technique.
He throws a punch straight in, but I easily toss it aside.
Even with fast legs he will not get through.
For the WELL-RAILING FOUR-LEVEL PUNCH, I do a straight advance.
As the opponent moves to do a scissoring attack to my lower leg, kicking to my knee, I perform CANNON AIMED STRAIGHT AHEAD,
then roll through with a chop, leaning in to rake across with a hooking action.
Even the toughest general would run away.
For the GHOST KICK, I rush in to get to the opponent first.
I go in with a front feint and then a back sweep [i.e. a double sweep], and then I will come up with a reddening punch,
bending my back and leaning, then covering myself as I rise.
I can then perform HEART-PIERCING ELBOW, which demands more subtlety than I can convey here.
The PUNCH TO THE CROTCH is of course an attack to the genitals,
causing the opponent to have difficulty advancing, whereas I can now move in with ease.
I can then kick forward to his knee and do an uppercut to his face,
or quickly withdraw a step and jolt him with a reddening punch.
The BEAST’S HEAD POSTURE is like advancing with a shield.
Even if the opponent rushes to meet me with fast feet,
I can surprise him below to catch him above, making it difficult for him to defend,
and having connected at short range, I will then send out a reddening punch.
With the MIDDLE FOUR-LEVEL PUNCH, even if the opponent’s posture is solid, I will push him over anyway.
He may attack hard, with fast legs, but he will not find a way in.
I use both of my hands to crowd one of his hands.
For fighting at close quarters, it is experience that will make you skillful.
With CROUCHING-TIGER POSTURE, I angle my body to deal with the opponent’s kick.
Whatever comes near, I go forward to brace it away,
then once I see that he is standing unstably,
I can do a back sweep and he will fall cleanly.
For the HIGH FOUR-LEVEL PUNCH, the body method is lively and adaptive.
The opponent makes short-range attacks from the left and right, in and out as though he is flying.
But I crowd him so that his hands and feet lose coordination,
and thus it is now easy for my feet to kick and fists to punch.
THRUSTING BEHIND makes no defensive action,
it simply relies on fast legs to demand an opponent’s surrender.
I curl my back and advance without hesitation,
and my strike reverberates through him like echoes in a valley.
To perform the MAGIC PUNCH, I face the opponent squarely, then thrust downward.
I advance like a raging fire penetrating his heart.
If he happens to be a skillful adversary, I will switch to grappling and throwing,
but once I have raised my hands to take action, he will receive no mercy.
With SINGLE WHIP, one arm drapes over horizontally and the other cleaves through vertically.
I advance with both legs, going straight in to injure the opponent.
I have no fear that he may have a savage strength and a berserking boldness.
My great skill will hit him with a superhuman power.
SPARROW EATS AN EARTHWORM is a method of squatting down.
From it I will first raise up, then advance with a reddening punch.
When the opponent retreats, even though I am moving from a dropped position,
my thrust closes the distance and stops him from getting far.
With SUN-FACING HAND, I turn my body sideways to guard against the opponent’s kick.
Effortlessly locking him up, I force him into a heroic retreat.
Having thus reversed the situation, I will then snap out a kick at him.
Even the best master would lose his reputation.
With WILD GOOSE’S WING, I turn my body sideways and charge in.
I move in with fast legs, without stalling or halting.
Having chased in, I can thrust a kick to the opponent’s belly,
and I should then add a shearing chop, a push, or a punch.
To perform SITTING-TIGER POSTURE, I shift position by expressing with my feet.
I have to move my legs without letting the opponent notice it.
Left then right, my heels sweep across in succession.
I break his grip with a scissor action, snipping him away with ease.
With PHOENIX ELBOW IN A CROSSED STANCE, I step out with a heavy chop.
I parry downward with my palm, then strike to the opponent’s solar plexus [with my elbow].
It is like an eagle catching a rabbit, or a shot from a fully drawn bow.
I have to have coordination between my hands and feet.
When the CANNON AIMED STRAIGHT AHEAD thrusts out, it fills the opponent with terror.
I advance like a tiger, flinging out both fists.
If he retreats or dodges, I will also jolt the ground with a stomp.
Though he may not fall, he will certainly be shaken.
With PHOENIX ELBOW IN A STRAIGHT STANCE, I lean in with my body to find a way through.
By rolling inward quickly, it is difficult for the opponent to block.
Then I reverse direction and roll outward, knocking the wind out of him.
Once I have bowled someone over like this, who else would be bold enough to challenge me?
For the BANNER & DRUM POSTURE, I press in from the left and right as I advance.
I close in on the opponent’s arm, chopping inward sideways from both directions at the same time.
As I entwine his arm, I lean in, and he falls so cleanly that his defeat will be clear to everyone.
Once I then adopt the posture of TIGER HIDES ITS HEAD [i.e. crouched and ready to pounce], he will want to escape, but there is no way out.