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If you’ve never heard of shuai jiao, you’re certainly not alone. Though mentions of this martial art date back as far as 2697 BC, when it was said to have been used by the army of the Yellow Emperor Huangdi, it is now fading into obscurity. Today, shuai jiao can be described with the same grim language used by conservationists when discussing the dwindling populations of the giant panda, the polar bear, and the mountain gorilla. It is, quite simply, an art on the verge of extinction.

Shuai Jiao

shuai jiao

The strange thing about shuai jiao’s spot on the metaphorical endangered species list is that, from a technical vantage point, it’s not all that different from grappling arts like Russian Sambo or Mongolian wrestling—both of which are still extremely popular in their countries of origin. In fact, its been speculated that, because China is a far older civilization than Russia or Mongolia, its indigenous shuai jiao could be the forefather of these aforementioned arts. Unfortunately, the lack of recorded history on this subject means these claims will always reside in the realm of conjecture.

Whether it is the ancestor of martial arts like Sambo and Mongolian wrestling or not, the fact remains that shuai jiao bears a strong aesthetic similarity to them. It also looks a bit like Judo, in that it is a grappling art based on throws and trips, and practiced in a uniform much like a Judogi. Fittingly enough, “shuai” translates roughly to “to throw down” while “jiao” can be loosely translated to “stumble or fall caused by a trip.” That said, shuai jiao is far more commonly—and more simply—translated to “Chinese wrestling.”

So, why is shuai jiao in such decline when the similar arts of nearby countries continue to thrive?

Future of Shuai Jiao

shuai jiao

Well, it has unfortunately fallen victim to the passage of time and the ever-changing martial arts landscape. While arts like Judo and Sambo have been able to adapt and modernize, shuai jiao has unfortunately not been as successful in doing so. Legitimate instruction has become increasingly difficult to find, and competition circuits have thinned out.

As such, young Chinese martial artists with an knack for grappling have been turning their attention to arts like judo and western wrestling with increasing frequency. The added appeal of these more modernized grappling forms is that the bright lights of the Olympics await truly gifted practitioners.

On the Chinese shuai jiao circuit, no such pinnacle awaits. The choice between shuai jiao and American wrestling, then, is often an easy one.  And in the rare case that a young student chooses traditional shuai jiao, their training is often so diluted by the influence of American wrestling that it can hardly be called traditional at all.

shuai jiao

This, of course, is not to suggest that pure shuai jiao has completely flat-lined in China. This is an art that has survived thousands of years. It will not disappear easily. Though it is undeniably fading, it still being kept alive by dedicated groups of practitioners, not only in China, but also internationally.

A quick Google search of “shuai jiao” will shine a light on these groups, as you’ll be directed to the websites of dozens of western shuai jiao societies and associations, and schools that claim to teach the art.

Shuai jiao in UFC

shuai jiao

Unsurprisingly, these groups are far more common in shuai jiao’s ancestral home of China. Though it is an art on the brink of disappearance it is still practiced, and its most proficient students often end up working for the police and military.

It is also the base art of many of China’s finest mixed martial artists, many of whom have competed or currently compete in the UFC. Current UFC fighters Li Jingliang and Ning Guangyou, for example, can both trace their martial arts training back to shuai jiao. So too can former UFC bantamweight Jumabieke Tuerxun, who was unfortunately released from the promotion after three consecutive losses.

So, while the ancient of shuai jiao may be a relative unknown when compared to arts like Sambo and judo, its vestiges can still be found on stages as brightly lit as the UFC’s Octagon. As such, the legacy of shuai jiao is likely to burn on for years to come.

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