Morokoshi Kinmo zui is an encyclopedia of China. The whole collection contains five books and 14 different categories, astronomy, geography, architecture, people, Martial arts, instruments, machines, agriculture, costumes, vegetation, wild animals, insects, world map and Chinese landscapes. Part number 6 to 8 of this encyclopedia describes Chinese people performing different types of martial arts and entertaining activities such as acrobatics. The book contains four sections. First one is from page 1 to page 4, presenting horsemanship and archery. The second part is from page 5 to page 13, displaying half naked men performing hand-form martial arts. The third part is from page 14 to page 31, showing people practicing weapons such as swords, shields, cudgels, and spears. Last part is from page 32 to page 40, almost each page contains a background with different hobbies of ordinary people, and some pictures contain performers who are performing acrobatics to attract and impress audiences.

The cover page is the index three books, from book six to book eight. From left to right, the Chinese characters saying: “卷之六 人事之部,” combining with the content, means book six is about people’s performance. Followed by “士農工賈__伎百戰類,” the fifth word is blurred due to the paper being exposed in the air for hundreds of years. However, this sentence means it is the category of free-hand combat skills; now we call it martial arts, which suits for people of each social class in Chinese society. Next category is “卷之七 器用之部,” means that book seven is displaying the purpose of tools and equipment. After that, the sentence “祭器樂器圭璋半斛類” explains that those tools and instruments are used for sacrificial ceremony, “圭璋” is one of them, as Figure 1 shows. They look like daggers made of white jade, people in ancient China believed those items could be used as a medium to communicate with their ancestors. Book eight has the same title as book seven, which is also “卷之八 器用之部分,” however, they are no longer sacrificial instruments. Book eight contains “舟車兵刃䋄罟筆研類,” which are tools such as cars, boats, weapons, finishing nets, writing brushes, ink stones.

I choose book six because I am interested in martial arts and the first page of the book states the prime principle of archery, the person is standing on the ground with his arms raising up gives audiences a basic knowledge of stance of Chinese archery. The Chinese characters and hiragana above the man show the instructions and matters need attention positioning the stance. Page 3 and 4 indicate the way of how Manchuria people use a bow while riding a horse, which is called “馬箭圖,” means pictures of horseback archery. Only page 2 are the details of how to use a bow when standing on the ground, which is called “射法圖,” means pictures of the way of shooting. Page 5 to 13 present many free-hand combat styles, which is called “拳法,” which says the way of fists, meaning fighting skills without weapons. Each picture contains at least at least two people, half-naked, looks like fighting with each other using different movement. People in various pictures are different, for example, on page 5, both two individuals have no beard. However, one man below has a beard. On page 8, two people below seems thinner and younger than people on page 9.

figure 1

Furthermore, page 15 has four small pictures, each one contains a person, carrying a spear, demonstrating the martial art movement. Every movement has a unique name, written on the top of each picture. For example, at the top left, there is a movement called “十面埋伏勢”(Figure 2), means the stance of the ambush on all sides. Most of the action name is combined with four Chinese characters, and the four characters are usually idioms, in Chinese called “成語,” followed by a word “勢,” which only means stance. Here I will briefly explain one example on page 15, “青龍獻爪勢,” the idiom is the four words “青龍獻爪,” the words could be divided into two parts for better understanding, “青龍” refers to the mighty Eastern dragon, use to be worshiped by people who practice Daoism. “獻爪” means showing claws. The four words “青龍獻爪” means the powerful dragon is about to attack its enemy. Therefore, in the picture, a man is performing a strike with using a spear. Some of the stance names contain only two characters followed by “勢,” on page 17, the picture at top right indicates the stance name is called “朝天勢,” two characters “朝天” means pointing the sky. In the picture, a man is pointing his spear upwards. Indeed, most martial art stances with weapons can be easily understood by combining pictures and Chinese characters. However on page 15, the bottom right picture with a man holding a spear is named “指南針勢”(Figure 3), it looks like the previous picture “十面埋伏勢,” the word “指南針” means “compass.” It is a metaphor, indicates that the spear is the point of the compass, while this man is pressing the spear close to his chest, as I demonstrate below in Figure 4 and Figure 5 to distinguish the difference between two stances. The shape of this stance looks like a compass. Both compass stance and Spear movement demonstration stop at page 20.

Figure 2
Figure 3

Moreover, “習藤牌圖,” and “習狼筅圖”, from page 21 to 27, both are using the same format as spear practicing  “習“ means to learn, “藤牌” means shield made of rattans, and “圖” means pictures. The word “狼筅” means a spear type of weapon with tree branches as decoration to block enemies’ vision. After that, there is “棍法圖,” which means pictures indicates different cudgel techniques. In each picture, two people demonstrate the cudgel techniques, and the person on the right side is the one who is the demonstrator, the one in left is the enemy of the demonstrator. For example, on page 28, the bottom picture is called “齊眉殺圖,” means to raise cudgel parallel to the eyebrow and hit the enemy with one end of the cudgel. Therefore, the man on the right side is raising his cudgel to parallel to the eyebrow. At the same time on page 29, the picture at the top is called “走馬回頭圖,” which means a galloping horse turns its head.  In Chinese martial arts, it represents one is tending to turn around and flee, however waiting for the opponent to chase, then suddenly turn back to give the opponent a fatal hit. Therefore, the guy on the right side is turning his body to hit the guy on the left. The last example is “下穿勢,” which means penetrate from the bottom. Also, the person on the right side is trying to attack his opponent from the bottom using cudgel.

The final part of this book is ordinary people’s daily life and some acrobatics. The first page contains two recreation sports, the first one seems like people throwing objects to beat each other for fun, and the second one is a person hitting a drum hanging on a tree branch. The instruction and explanation are written on the left side of the picture. Pictures of the last part of the book all have decent background and content. For example, on page 35, the picture “高絙圖,” literally means a picture of wire-walking. The picture is showing many people are watching a person performing wire-walking. Some of the audiences are cheering and pointing. The next one is “傀儡圖,” means the picture of a puppet show. The background has many details such as the puppet master is hiding under the eaves and controlling the puppet, audiences are gathering around and watching the show. Pictures such as “鬥雞圖,” watching gaming fowl, and “彈圖,” shooting birds with small rocks represents the hobbies of ordinary people. In the end, there are “吞劍圖,” picture of swallow a sword, and “走火圖,” a picture of walking on fire, both figures represent people earn money by performing acrobatics.

In conclusion, book six of Morokoshi Kinmo zui is presenting an excellent overview of Chinese martial art and people’s daily life and performance. The book focuses on explaining each movement of Chinese martial art with proper names, gives us the knowledge of how they call the stances, and the pictures are beautiful and detailed.


Contributor: Antony
March 28, 2017