Chinese Martial Arts in 19th century China

The following are English language accounts of 19th century Chinese martial arts in China, which have always been rare due to the scarcity of English observers and translators at such an early time. I’ve stopped right before the Boxer Rebellion/Uprising (1898-1901), which deserves its own treatment and will be covered in a future article.

The first here is from 1817 and, while perhaps not specifically martial arts, discusses a Chinese manner of fighting and has a number of elements worth considering.

Pulling the queue was a common theme in 19th century western illustrations

Pulling the queue was a common theme in 19th century western illustrations

First, the queue that was worn by Chinese is an important consideration. The queue, or “tails” below, was a mandatory hairstyle worn by males during the Quin (Manchu) dynasty (1644-1912) that consisted of shaved temples and a long ponytail. Initially reluctant to drop the topknot and adopt the new style, Quin rulers gave the choice of adoption or execution. After two hundred years, the queue eventually became a point of pride that males were loathe to lose.

That Chinese grabbed queues and grappled was a common observation and should be unsurprising–it is a built-in handle and anywhere the head goes, the body must follow. Other points notable in the account include the “foul method of fighting,” a common refrain to those used to the more limited rules of western sportive pugilism, and the deadly reputation of Chinese kicks.

When two Chinese quarrel, they generally seize each other by the tails, which they twist violently, both often fall to the ground, and it is surprising to see how long they can endure such acute pain, their eyes seem bursting from their sockets, the whole countenance is distorted, and I am convinced that pugilists of the best bottom must yield in such a contest from utter incapacity to bear the dreadful suffing: though violent to madness in gesture and language, they seldom proceed to action, and I have seen a smart tap from a fan satisfy extreme rage; when, however, they actually have recourse to blows, they fight most foully, and death has been known to ensue from a kick.

Journal of the Proceedings of the Late Embassy to China, Henry Ellis, (1817)

Shortly following that account, a shipwrecked voyage of 1819-1820, led by Europeans, but with a crew that was “composed from almost all the nations of Asia, a motley group indeed, and exhibiting a most fantastic and groteque appearance,” journeyed across southern China to reach the European settlements at Canton. During the course of the journey, they got liquored up, had an internal scrap which caught up a local, got punished, and were told to keep out of trouble and told to stay away from the whorehouses.

In the course of this day several of our people being intoxicated with samsu, a pernicious spirit, make from jaggery, (coarse sugar) and also from corn, drank always warm by the better class, began to fight with one another in the square, which soon caused the place to be filled with the natives as spectators. In our endeavours to get them without the gates, one of them struck Mr. B., and then gave him a fair challenge to box; but for his temerity he soon got so sound a drubbing as to convince him how far inferior a Hainanese is to a European in the noble art of self-defence Although this man was thought a professor in that branch of the fine arts, yet, I fancy, this was the first, and will, probably, be the last, time he will venture upon a similar experiment.

The poor fellow, however, fought toughly for about 20 minutes before he asked for quarter, and the surrounding multitude never once interfered in the contest, although they evinced great interest as to the result. Shortly after this noisy and tumultuous scene had begun, information having been conveyed to the authorities, two mandarines, officers of police, made their appearances, attended by executioners, as their office is best explained in our language, and also a few soldiers.

Immediately on the entering of these persons a death-like silence took place, as if at that instant not a soul were present, and this contrasted with the precious uproar, was certainly very remarkable, such is the deference paid to men in the adminstration of the laws. As soon as the mandarines were seated in large arm-chairs, brought for that purpose, they inquired gravely into the cause that led to the disturbance, and quickly perceiving that their countryman was in the wrong, ordered him to receive two dozen strokes on the bare breech.

Woodcut from China: its costume, arts, manufactures, etc, Vol. 4, Breton (1813)

Woodcut from China: its costume, arts, manufactures, etc, Vol. 4, Breton (1813)

The punishment was inflicted with a flat bamboo, about three inches broad and seven feet long; this was used with both hands, the culprit being held down by four men in such manner as effectually to prevent his moving either hand or foot. He was then put into what is called a conju, which is a heavy board about three feet square, with a hole in the centre for the neck: to this board was attached a label, in large characters, to make more public the crime for which he was punished.

As an example to others, he was placed, accoutred as he was, just without the gates of our residence, under a guard of soldiers. The mandarines then sent for those of our people that had been fighting in the morning, and after a patient heariing of what they could advance in extenuation of their disorderly conduct, they ordered each one dozen bastinadoes a-la-mode-dupays [one dozen strikes with the stick in the manner of the country].

Diary of a Journey Overland through the Maritime Provinces of Hainan and China (1822)

The tracts mentioned in the next account are interesting as they represent brief instruction manuals and must have been common because there is a translation of one from 1874 far below. This is the first of two accounts that mention training with weights and bag punching. Creatively named postures and techniques is another theme that extends to modern day.

Pugilism in China–The art of self-defence is regularly taught in China. It is much practiced, although not countenanced by the local governments. In the penal code, nothing appears concerning it. Tracts are printed which would, in all probability, accompanied by their wood-cuts, amuse the fancy in England. The Chinese have no pitched battles that we ever heard of; but we have seen a pamphlet on the subject of boxing, cudgelling, and sword-exercise, in which there are many fanciful terms.

The first lesson, for a Chinese boxer, consists of winding his long tail tight round his head, stripping himself to the buff, then placing his right foot foremost, and with all his might giving a heavy thrust with his right fist against a bag suspended for the purpose. He is directed to change hands and feet alternately, restraining his breath and boxing the bag of sand right and left, for hours together. This exercise the fancy call “thumping down walls and overturning parapets.”

In the second lesson, the pugilist grasps in each hand a “stone lock,” i.e., a heavy mass of stone worked in the form of a Chinese lock. Then, being stripped and tail arranged as before, he practises thrusting out a mans’s length these weights, right and left, till he is tired. He is to change feet and hands at the same time. This lesson is called “a golden dragon thrusting out his claws.” Next comes “a crow stretching his wings–a dragon issuing forth from his den–a drunken Chinaman knocking at your door–a sphinx spreading her wings–a hungry tiger seizing a lamb–a hawk clawing a sparrow–a crane and a muscle reciprocally embarrassed,” with various other specimens or fanciful nomenclature for divers feats of the pugilistic art.–Canton Reg., June 18.

The Asiatic Journal and Monthly Register (1830)

This next mention, while translated and written in 1841, shows the position of Chinese martial arts a century or more earlier. Today’s gongfu/quanfa/wushu/guoshu practiitoners may be surprised to learn that the martial arts were long thought a lowly practice in China, an idea that came along with emigration to the US in the late 1800s. A martial artist was more likely to be a beggar, charlatan, vagabond, or street entertainer than a monk or respected teacher of the art. Our modern conception of the martial arts as primarily a Shaolin monk practice owe more to early 20th century Chinese fiction than reality. The following account is a translation of the Ta Tsing Hwang te Shing Heun, or Sacred Instructions of the Emperors of the Ta Tsing Dynasty. The emperor mentioned here, Kangxi, reigned from 1661 to 1722.

Amongst the degenerate practices of the age was pugilism, against which the emperor very gravely inveighs, and exhorts his people to introduce more manly sports, superior to the amusements of loitering vagabonds.

Chinese Repository, Volume 10, Jan-Dec, 1841 Canton

The passage below, from 1843, offers the weaponed and empty handed illustrations here, the visuals of gouging the eyes and other open hand attacks, and again offers a Chinese martial artist’s adoption of postures or attitudes. I’m intrigued by the vocal punctuations and wonder what specifically that may have been (naming of techniques, particular words, a Chinese form of kiai?). Also bear in mind that while the open hand is here criticized compared to the fist, some WWII combatives instructors promoted open hand strikes after their experience in Shanghai.

Woodcut from The Chinese as they are (1843)

Woodcut from The Chinese as they are (1843)

Boxing seems to be considered as a part of a soldier’s accomplishments, since if, by mischance a man lost his weapons, he could have recourse to his fists. In combats upon the stage, the competitors are represented as throwing away their swords, and prolonging the struggle with their hands. The foreground of the following illustration represents a couple as they appear after casting away their swords. The Chinese throw the body into every variety of attitude, but seem to know nothing about the mode of parrying a blow. Instead of this, they endeavour to thrust their long nails into their adversary’s eye, who is also not aware that a very slight stroke of the hand would ward off the mischief aimed at his visual organs. It is, however, still more wonderful that they should be strangers to the practice of firmly clenching the fist; but they merely strike with the hand open, or with the fingers slightly bent. A great deal of parade is made in the way of prelude; the breast and the arm begin bared, and presented in a manner truly characteristic of the nation. Specimens of this preparatory display are now and then seen in common life, where the effect of a fierce volley of rounds is deemed insufficient; but it has never been my lot to see a blow struck that would give a European a moment’s smart.

Woodcut from The Chinese as they are (1843)

Woodcut from The Chinese as they are (1843)

In a little work I have on the art of fencing, a man is represented in the act of striking a heavy weight, suspended by a string, for the purpose of increasing muscular strength; and a practice similar to this was well known among our prizefighters some years ago, though it seems that the Chinese had the start of us in this ingenious discovery. If we could see anything like a graduated arc, we might fancy they had the principle of the ballistic pendulum, invented by Robins, to ascertain the force of balls when projected from the mouth of a cannon. I was once threatened with a practical proof of this art near what is called the barrier, at Macou, because a companion of mine had given some offence to the keepers of the wall, by taking advantage of a dismantled part to get a peep at the other side. One of them, as champion of the rest, came up and made a vigorous display of the various body positions into which he could throw his body, either for annoyance or defence. At every important shift, he uttered a thundering vociferation, to give greater effect to what he was doing, and ever and anon his companions shouted as they stood gazing from the wall, while the writer remained quietly waiting to see at what part of these evolutions it might be necessary to interpose as a matter of self-defence; but as this interposition did not appear to be called for, I retired, after giving this soldier and athlete ample time to try his hand at something more than show if he chose.

The Chinese as they are (1843)

In this 1868 translation of a Chinese farcical play, the translator describes the status of Chinese martial artists (“pugilists”) in much the same terms as the emperor 200 hundred years earlier. First is the description of the practice of martial arts in China, followed by the relevant scene from the play. In this scene, A-lan (which from a later translator probably would have been written Ah Lan or Ah Lon) has just lost, to a gambler, a pig which he was supposed to have sold. He asks the gambler to teach him martial arts in order to face his wife when he returns.

I also enjoy the emphasis on the creatively named postures, which we’ve already seen. The reference to one of the forms being “Kwan Ping” is fascinating as this may be a reference to Yang Lu-chan (1799-1872), who was born in Guangping (Kwan Ping) and whom Yang style Taijiquan (Tai Chi Chuan) is named after. Of course, it could also be a reference to the Imperial Guards or something else entirely, but the timing is right for Yang Lu-Chan.

Yang Lu-chan (1799-1872)

Yang Lu-chan (1799-1872)

Professors of the noble art of self-defence are not uncommon in China, they generally unite to their calling that of quack-doctor. Selecting some bumpkin in the crowd, the professor will give him leave to aim a blow at him in any manner he likes, and proceed to demonstrate with what ease it may be parried. This is always done by catching the wrist of the attacking party in some unexpected way, and not improbably the return attack consists of a kick in the stomach, or a blow on the forehead from the sole of the professor’s foot. Then the pugilist will thump himself on the ribs with an iron rod till the place grows black and blue, and the blows resound like strokes on a drum. He applies a plaster (his own specialty of course) for a few moments, and when he removes it, in some inscrutable way, bruises and discolouration have banished, and given place to yellow and rather dirty skin!

A-lan. But just put me up to a little boxing, do now.
First Gambler. Very well. Stand like this.
(They spar, A-lan is knocked down.)
A-lan. What do you call that posture?
First Gambler. Its name is “Speedy promotion.” Now try this.
(Teaches him a new attitude, and again knocks him down.)
A-lan. What is that called?
First Gambler. It is called “Kwan Ping presenting the seal.”
A-lan. Are there any more?
First Gambler. Oh yes, “The three hands,” or this, “The bright arrow.”
[Teaches him various postures, then makes an attack upon him as he supposes A-lan’s wife will, and allows A-lan to knock him down several times.]
Good, good! Well those are quite enough for you to beat your wife.

A-lan is then soundly thrashed by the wife when his newly learned techniques fail him.
China Magazine (1868)

Woodcut from Outlaws of the Marsh (ca. 15th century)

Woodcut from Outlaws of the Marsh (ca. 15th century)

The following reminds us that there is a reason why the Shaolin monastery is associated with martial arts; it is true that Shaolin has long had a reputation for staff fighting. The idea of monks skilled with crossbows (ballista) is undeniably cool.

The Art of Self-Defence in China
Priests in China have long practiced military and calisthenic exercises, for defending their temples, and persons, on their journeyings, and to mortify the flesh. A monastery near Hwang-pi, in the prefecture of Han-yang, contains four hundred priests, of whom more than a hundred are skilled in military arts, fencing, boxing, and the use of the nu [Chinese character deleted], or ballista, with which they defend their neighbourhood from marauders.

From the Shaulin kwan p’u, we learn that the priests of the monastery of Shaulin, in Honan, have long been celebrated for their skill in single-stick exercise.

Kung-fu [Chinese character deleted], is a species of disciplinary calisthenics, practised by Tauist priests.

Kiau-ta [Chinese character deleted], is the name of the maitre-d’armes, or kiau-sz’ who teaches boxing, fencing and sword exercise. This name has been unfortunately given to the Christian Teacher, a man of peace. Shwa kwan [Chinese character deleted] to fence with quarter-staves, and shwa teng pai [Chinese character deleted], to play with foils and shields, are other terms used.

Notes and Queries on China and Japan, N. B. Dennys, vol 3. (1869)

A reiteration from 1873 that martial arts are often found in connection with beggars or, more charitably, as street performance.

Others [other beggars] go through all the exercises of the noble art of self-defence, only beating the air, not boxing a brother-beggar; and begging priests are frequently met with.

Once a Week, Volume XII, September 27, 1873

Here we are lucky enough to have a partial translation and cuts from one of those types of brief and cheap instructional tracts mentioned earlier.The translation of the title is said to have been a bit free with the material in arriving at “The Noble Art of Self-Defence” in China but the translator felt it captured the intention even if it was not literal. You may find the complete PDF here, what is below is what I considered the most relevant excerpts from the discussion.

The Chinese have very little idea of fighting with the fists. It takes a good deal of provocation to induce them to fight at all. The amount of bad language which will be bandied between two strapping coolies and end in nothing more decisive than bad language would serve to provoke a dozen fights in the British forecastle, where ” Now Bill, call him an adjective substantive, or he’ll call you one,” seldom fails to initiate the assault and battery which all present are longing to see. When Chinamen do fight, bamboos, or half-bricks are much more in request than nature’s unassisted weapons, or if they are driven to an empty-handed enconnter they will seize each other by the head and scuffle about in a way which would go to the heart of any member of the sporting interest.

Anything more exquisitely ludicrous than a couple of Chinese induced to put on the gloves (after an example of their use from Englishmen) I have never seen. They cautiously backed on each other until the seats of their trowsers almost touched, each one bending himself nearly double to avoid the imagined terrific blows his antagonist was aiming at his head, and at the same time striking vaguely round in what schoolboys call the windmill fashion. If either of them “got [original is missing a few words] somewhere in the region of the other’s knees.

Thus, for the reprisal known as ‘The hungry tiger catching the sheep,’ the following directions are laid down (See lllustration I.):

A-advances his left foot, and attempts to strike a blow with his open right hand:
B- brings both feet together, standing up firmly, pops in his left with a downright blow, and lets him have the right over the chest to aid the effect.

Noble art1
A glance at Illustration II will shew that Chinese bruisers are not particular as to what we should call unfair play:

A-draws back his left foot and attempts to scratch B’s face with his right hand:
B-draws up his left foot suddenly, strikes out with his left, and lets him have the right over the waistband.

The next three Illustrations are occupied with the old English game of quarter-staff. In number III, A is trying with all his might to prize up the end of B’s staff (each apparently oblivious of the lovely blow on the left side of the head to which he is exposing himself, without any possibility of parrying it) when B suddenly inserts his staff under A’s left ankle and tumbles him over, A’s own efforts contributing to his ignominious fall. This is looked upon as great fun.

Noble art2
The next device is entitled The stopper over all (see Illustration IV). The gentle-man on the right is trying to be offensive with both foot and staff, but his intentions are frustrated. Number V., however, is well worth attention as an example of that successful use of the foot which seems so exasperatingly unfair to us;

A-stands well up, gets his hands together and strikes a down blow (7th cut) at the same time drawing back his right foot:
B-gathers himself well together on his right foot, gets up both ends of his staff (7th guard), parries the blow with all his strength, and at the same time pops in his left foot.

Please observe him popping in his left foot. An example of the same kind will be found in Illustration VI., though here it is difficult to see, if the combat were “on the square” (which I believe to be the correct equivalent, in sporting circles, for bona fide) and not merely got up for show-it is difficult to see what is to prevent the man with the two swords from striking a sound back hander with his right which would cause his antagonist to take his meals standing and sleep on his face for a considerable period.

Of the remaining six pages of this unsatisfactory little work, four are devoted to exercises with double swords, and two to those with shields.

Noble art3
They all partake of the same got-up-beforehand character. In one (see Illustration VII.) he with the spear appears to be concentrating his whole attention upon carefully putting it into the guard of the other’s right hand sword, where it is immediately jammed by a turn of the wrist, leaving the unhappy wielder exposed to his enemy’s left hand weapon.

The same observation applies to the last Illustration with which I will trouble the reader, number VIII. This is called The Snipe and the Oyster.

Noble art4
The man with the spear is carefully putting it between the two shields of the other, who closes their rims upon it and holds fast, matters thus coming to a deadlock, and the audience looking on, whilst the combatants tug and pull with well simulated rage, in such breathless suspense as may sometimes be witnessed at transpontine theatres, when two ruffians, having carefully locked the hilts of their daggers together, proceed to drag each other all round the stage to very agitato fiddling and the lights turned down.

China Review vol 3, no. 2, , Sept 1874

While some of the accounts above are contradictory, even in something as simple as the prevalence of martial arts in China (pugilism is common/ pugilism is uncommon), hopefully the commonalities allow the reader to draw a better picture of the martial activities in 19th century China.

Kung Fu Tricks & Other Fakery

Breaking stones with heads or hands, tearing phone books, performing amazing feats of strength and the like go waaaaaay back. The earliest accounts of martial art tricks/stunts I recall go back to the days of the Roman gladiators.

Today it’s shaolin monks, less recently “no-touch” knockouts, a couple decades ago it was the “unbendable arm” and other ki tricks; a hundred years ago it was the jujutsu invaders entering the west doing pole-on-neck stunts. Physical culturists performed the same feats and you could find carnies, wrestlers, other martial artists, and strong men (and women) all performing similar feats at different places and times in history. The line between the categories was often blurred with some demonstrators seeming to hit all of those descriptions.

I like the following site because it shows how some of the popular tricks are performed and that there is no mystical basis behind them. Some of these techniques may require strength, but, just like good martial arts, proper technique is a strength magnifier, and they show you the techniques that make the stunts possible.

Included are ways to break bricks, bottles, roll up frying pans, resist multiple people, fake powerful punches, tear phone books and other tricks of the trade. I also like that they include some elements from the CQC/CQB/WWII combatives field, such as putting someone in the grapevine and escaping the grapevine yourself. For those unfamiliar, the grapevine was a method shown by Fairbairn to lock a man to a small tree or pole by arranging his legs in a certain way so that he could not escape unassisted.

The site is Kung Fu Do (formerly Bad Kung Fu) and I urge you to check it out if that’s the sorta thing you’re into. The site wasn’t laid out all that well in the past, and you had to poke around a bit, but it looks easier to navigate these days. As for me, I couldn’t get enough!

William Ewart Fairbairn: The Legendary Instructor

Combatives researcher Phil Mathews has put together another excellent biographical article on yet another combatives pioneer. This time the subject is none other than William Ewart Fairbairn, possibly the biggest name in the field.

Fairbairn spent time in the Royal Marines in the 1900s, the Shanghai Municipal Police in the 1920s, then taught combatives at Camp X in Canada and in America during WWII. During that time he studied judo, jujutsu, chinese boxing and various other arts which he synthesized into his own style of dirty fighting that he taught to law enforcement and soldiers.

How dirty was Fairbairn’s dirty fighting? My favorite line from Phil’s article is the quote from a Fairbairn student: “Within 15 seconds, I came to realize that my private parts were in constant jeopardy!”

The article fills in some gaps and clears up some misconceptions about what “everybody knows” about Fairbairn’s life and work. To read it in full, see William Ewart Fairbairn: The Legendary Instructor

Phil also recommends Peter Robins’ book The Legend of W.E. Fairbairn, Gentleman and Warrior: The Shanghai Years:

For more on the 1920s Shanghai Municipal Police, also check out Robert Bickers’ Empire Made Me: An Englishman Adrift in Shanghai:

Chinese-American Boxers Before 1900

After 1900, there are a number of reasonably well-known Chinese-American boxers that fought in the western boxing tradition including at least two with variations on the name Ah Wing. The handful of Chinese-American boxers that fought in the 19th century are so obscure as to be unknown. Unfortunately they tended to be unknown in their own time as well, and every time a Chinese American boxer received any press, he was billed as the “only” or “first” Chinese to fight in the western style. That trend continued for at least fifty years.

For all practical purposes, Chinese immigration to the U.S. did not begin until 1850 (in 1849 there were less than 100 Chinese in California, by 1876 there were 116,000 in the state). Once the California Gold Rush began in 1849, Chinese flooded into California, eventually resulting in a backlash against the Chinese population in the U.S.

Anti-chinese sentiment

Discoveries of gold in Australia and played-out mines in California caused the unemployment rate to skyrocket. Looking for someone to blame, rabble rousers marched, preaching their views on the “Chinese Question.” The Chinese Question was, of course, what to do about all the Chinese crowding America’s shores. The Chinese were an easy target because they stayed segregated initially by the language barrier and often their own choice. After all, most were present only as sojourners, and intended to return to China after saving enough money.

The Chinese benevolent societies, such as the Six Companies, lobbied long and unsuccessfully for better treatment under the law, but anti-Chinese sentiment was rampant. Even so, some Chinese in America lived, worked, and owned property outside Chinatown ghettos, and generally interacted more than others.

Queen Chinatown Poster

One area where language is no barrier to successful interaction, even today, is in the fight ring. Boxing speaks its own language and quite a few Chinese in America and Chinese-Americans have learned to speak it fluently over the last 150 years.

The First
Of them, the earliest known pugilist was California boxer Ah Bung in 1871. Unfortunately, other than his existence and that he resided in San Francisco (along with the other quarter of the Chinese population in the U.S.) nothing more is known about Ah Bung, other than that his name was a source of amusement. Some newspapermen found it an apt name for a pugilist because “bung” could mean both the stopper in a cask itself or the act of hammering in the stopper.

Battling Laundry Workers
It was in Philadelphia that the headlines were next captured with “A Prize Fight Between Chinamen” in early 1883. Neither of the men involved were professional fighters, but they had a feud brewing and forty spectators were drawn to see the encounter.

Loo Hing was a laundry washer and Hi Sing Foon an ironer in another laundry. Hi Sing Foon had recently arrived from San Francisco with a reputation as a “bad man” and within a month had confirmed that reputation by branding Hing with a hot iron. Hing pressed charges (I couldn’t resist) but Foon produced unscrupulous witnesses to testify that Hing had absently sat down on a hot iron in Foon’s hand. Foon was therefore acquitted.

Understandably chagrined at the results of the trial, Hing sought revenge for his mistreatment. While delivering laundry to Clarke’s boxing gym, Hing proposed to do Red Mooney’s laundry in exchange for lessons in the fistic art. Accepting the proposition, Mooney began giving Hing western-style boxing lessons twice weekly.

Not one to miss a chance for promotion, Mooney contacted fellow sport Dan Reilly who, after informing Foon of Hing’s preparations, offered similar boxing instruction for Foon if he agreed to fight Hing in a bout. Foon refused the instruction, but agreed to fight a boxing match with Reilly as his second.

Mooney and Reilly drew forty spectators (seven of whom were Chinese) at $2 a head into a second floor back room lit by coa-oil lamps; the winner was to receive a share of the gate receipts. The boxers wore hard gloves, which back then were often little more than regular leather gloves, and rarely weighed more than a few ounces. For costume, they both stripped to their blue linen trousers. There was no ring, but men held up barrel staves to keep the spectators out of the way of the combatants.

Like most Chinese of the time, both men wore their hair in queues, and in a common streetfight among Chinese in America, the combatants normally grabbed their opponent’s queue with their left hand, and pummeled their face with the right. For this match, Hing specifically banned hair pulling, hitting below the belt, and scratching, prohibitions to which Foon agreed, and the match was afoot.

Hing brought his arms up in in the prizefighter’s guard and Foon awkwardly mirrored his position. Hing nailed Foon with a straight left that rocked him and followed up with two more punches. Foon shrugged it off and rushed Hing, showering Foon with wild punches before they clinched and fell, thereby ending the round according to prizefight rules.

Unfortunately, poor Hing was probably hindered more than helped by his brief couple weeks of boxing instruction. He was likely in that awkward phase where whatever natural method of fighting with which he was accustomed was being supplanted by the not-yet-learned beginner’s movements in boxing. Foon, on the other hand, judging by the fight descriptions, either knew a bit of Chinese boxing or was just more at home in a rough and tumble.

Hing did his best work at range, ducking and creating distance; Foon ruled the infighting and the grappling component and usually ended up on top when they went down. Both were gassed and bloody by the fourth round and by the fifth Hing had given up on his newfound science and reverted to swinging for the fences.

Rounds six through ten were back and forth, but in the seventh Foon managed to kick Hing in the eye. Hing called foul, but the referee disallowed it, deciding that a kick with a bare foot was not a foul. Then in the eleventh, Foon, gaining his second wind, blasted Hing with a flurry of punches and struck Hing on the top of the head with what may have been a hammerfist (“[Foon] made one tremendous effort, raised his hand high over his head, and brought it down like a pile driver on top of his opponent’s head”), consequently putting Hing down.

Mooney pushed Hing out for the twelfth, but he had finally had enough and sat down on the floor, refusing to continue. The seconds said that both men had wanted to quit a half dozen times each during the match, but had been afraid of being mobbed by the disappointed spectators, which would likely have been the result in that era if they had quit. Hing, again failing to gain the satisfaction he sought, was helped out by his friends while Foon collected his winnings and strolled out with his own happier comrades.

The Contender
In August 1891 Lee Bin Nam, billed as a “noted Chinese pugilist,” passed through Baltimore on his way to San Fransisco from New York. Little more is known about Nam, other than he was about 5’8, 200 lbs., and claimed that he was planning to challenge John L. Sullivan.

Nam spent his time in Baltimore visiting with Ting Yong Moar, the local “mason” leader, and Wong Chin Woo, a visiting New York newspaperman. “Mason” in that context could have meant almost anything: a benevolent organization, trade group, general fraternal order, secret society, or fighting tong.

The Last of the Century
The last Chinese-American boxer of the 19th century was Li Hung Foy, who was matched to fight first Brooklyn boxer Harry Fisher for twenty rounds in early May 1899, and then Tom Williams in Fairview, New York later that month. It is unknown if either bout ever took place.

The pre-1900 bouts were preliminaries in one sense, because it was not until early 1900 when Ah Wing entered the boxing field and became the first Chinese-American to make a career in western boxing. Perhaps one day we will know more about these earlier pioneers who made the first inroads into the field.

Primary sources consulted include:

New York Times, 2-18-1883
Washington Post, 2-19-1883
Washington Post 7-25-1886
Middletown Daily Times, 8-1-1891
The Standard (Ogden, Utah), 8-1-1891
National Police Gazette, 5-6-1899
The Sandusky Star, 5-25-1899

Mystery: Did Black Belt Ever Publish This Article?

I had an interesting email exchange the other day. The foremost researcher on H2H/Combatives instructor Dermot “Pat” O’Neill sent an image of page 10 from the January 1967 issue of Black Belt magazine. Here is the page (click on the image to open up to full size):

Black Belt January 1967 p. 10

As you can see, Black Belt announces that the U.S. Marine Corps is going to drop its judo based combatives program and replace it with a system based on Chinese boxing. In the announcement, Black Belt finishes with “We will carry the full story.” So everyone is thinking O’Neill (if you’ve seen the film “Devil’s Brigade,” the combatives instructor is based on him) and the hunt is on for what promises to be a fascinating article.

I google a bit, and, as with many things, I wind up on eBay looking for a February 1967 copy of Black Belt, reasoning that the page was a teaser for the next month’s issue. The first seller was in Thailand training and couldn’t get to his issue to check if the story was in there, but the next seller had a copy and was willing to check for me.

Unfortunately, the article was not in the February 1967 issue. The seller, an extremely kind man with the seller id Bloop68, went to the trouble of pulling all the 1967 issues and checking for the article. No luck, but please check out his store because he could not have been more helpful for something that would have amounted to maybe a $15 sale (it was obvious he was checking because that’s the kind of person he was, not just because I was a potential sale).

One of the EJMAS editors pointed out that the story would have went to print sometime in mid-1966 and hit the newsstands in fall 1966 considering Black Belt’s lead time, but a quick search of the online historical newspapers was fruitless.

So, the mystery remains: Did Black Belt ever actually publish the article? If anyone knows anything relevant, or you just want to chime in, please contact us! You can leave a comment here or contact us privately through the Contact Us page.

For more on O’Neill online see Cestari & Grasso’s biographical summary here. For an excellent print resource see Brown, Steve.”Dermot O’Neill: One of the 20th Century’s Most Overlooked Combatives Pioneers.” Journal Of Asian Martial Arts, 12:3, pp. 18-31 (2003).