петак, 19. септембар 2014.

Only in Taiwan - The Sung Chiang Battle Array


  The best definition of the Sung Chiang Battle Array is group martial arts performances. They involve individual set performance , pair duel performance with traditional weapons and large group battle drills .These performances are mixture of martial arts , religious rituals and theatrical play. The Sung Chiang Battle Array performance was and still is very popular on southern Taiwan .
 The origin of the event is still unclear but unlike many other traditional Taiwanese folk arts, the Sung Chiang battle array has never been recorded as existing in mainland China, it is purely Taiwanese .Event is named after Sung Chiang , a leader of the 108 righteous bandits from the novel 'Water Margin". Water Margin is a story set in the Song dynasty, tells of how a group of 108 patriotic outlaws gathers at Mount Liang  to form a sizable army and fight for social justice  before they are eventually granted amnesty by the government and sent on campaigns to resist foreign invaders and suppress rebel forces.

The true origin can be traced to the early days of Koxinga's rule .In order to defend the island from the Manchus and Dutch , Koxinga armed and trained common people , mostly peasants . Despite of the Koxinga's efforts , Taiwan was soon conquered by Manchus . The Sung Chiang Battle array popularity was at the highest peak in that particular time . During 1700's and 1800's government control of the island was very weak , military and police forces were concentrated mostly  in Tainan leaving the rest of the island undefended . Villagers were forced to form a militia , often payed by government , in order to protect them self from Japanese pirates , Aboriginal head hunters and domestic bandits.
During the Japanese occupation of Taiwan (1895-1945) Sung Chiang battle array performance was forbidden and it never regain its former popularity .

Sung Chiang performing groups are organized by temple priests, who have traditionally been at the forefront of martial arts training. Performances usually take place in temple courtyards .A full-size Sung Chiang team has 108 members; smaller ones have 72 or, at a minimum, 36. Most of the teams are made up of men, but there are also teams made up of women and youths.
Many of the weapons used in the Sung Chiang battle array are actually old agricultural tools--rakes, sickles, hooks, umbrellas--used by the early peasantry. Sung Chiang performances are accompanied by drums and gongs, and by standard bearers acting as commanders. All team members must pray to Sung Chiang before a performance starts, and, at both the beginning and end of a performance, the performers gather at the temple gate, raise their weapons high, and shout 'Ho! Ho! Ho!'" The number of team members at a performance must not exceed 107 ,at particular point the spirit money and incense must be burned ,women born in the Year of the Tiger are not allowed at the beginning of a performance;

Today, Sung Chiang Battle Array purpose is to keep tradition alive and it has some religious purposes . In the past ,purpose of this practice was purely practical . It was mentioned before that villagers could not expect any government forces protection and they organized militia forces by them self. In the old days practice was focused on weapon training and practicing for fighting in the formation with all kinds of group maneuvers. Great deal of training was dedicated to shield usage. Empty hand practice , even if there is one , took a smallest proportion of the training.

Today Sung Chiang Battle Array performance is recognized from the government as a significant part of Taiwanese cultural heritage and there are a lot of efforts from  Council for Cultural Planning and Development to preserve it for the future generations.
This traditional martial performance is a great source of information for any serious martial arts history researcher , it is a window in the past and gives a great deal of information how people practiced martial arts before fire arms became commonly used .