Chinese Lei Tai

illustration of fighters atop a lei tai (unknown origin) - Chinese Lei Tai
illustration of fighters atop a lei tai (unknown origin)

The lei tai was a raised, square platform on which fighters in ancient China would engage in various combat sports. The goal of most of these sports, such as jiao di, was to knock the opponent off the platform. The dimensions of ancient lei tai are unknown and likely varied, but modern constructions typically measure 24 by 24 feet to 30 by 30 feet in area and 2 to 6 feet in height. The height of the platform not only provided a better view for spectators, but provided fighters with extra incentive not to get knocked off, as the fall would likely hurt.

These arenas could host both official tournaments and private fights, suggesting they were available for public use. During tournaments, officials would oversee the fights from designated areas on the sides of the lei tai to ensure no rules were broken and to settle disputes. This was typically not the case for private matches.


Origins and History

The earliest archaeological records of lei tai lie in the Qin Dynasty (221–206 BC). This platform continued to be a fairly consistent staple in Chinese fighting culture, persisting through every dynasty throughout the ensuing centuries. Even today, these platforms are still used in certain circles of martial artists.


Athletic Usage

One of the primary uses of the lei tai, as mentioned above, was for jiao di, a grappling sport whose name translates to “horn butting.” The goal of this ancient sport may have varied throughout its history, but it would typically involve either knocking the opponent off the platform or forcing a submission. Just like other combat sports fought on this platform, the winner of each round would stay atop the lei tai to take on the next challenger until none were left. Whoever was left on the platform when there were no more challengers was declared the winner of the competition.

Bibliography

Wu, D., & Murphy, P. D. (1994). Handbook of Chinese popular culture. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.

O’Brien, J. (2007). Nei jia quan: Internal martial arts. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books/Blue Snake Books.

Wushu History. (1995). Translated section from Wushu International Judge Teaching Materials – edition 1995. International Wushu Federation. Retrieved from http://www.eagleclaw.gr/en/historyw.htm

Sports and games in ancient China. (1986). Beijing, China: New World Press.