Long before she was animated into existence in Disney's Mulan, a female warrior named Hua Mulan waged war to protect China. This is her story.

Most Westerners — martial artists and non-martial artists alike — know the name Hua Mulan because of a hit Disney film from 1998, which was titled, appropriately enough, Mulan. Few know that the animated feature was based on a real historical figure and that she had been depicted on film a number of times. The Real Hua Mulan Mulan is believed to have been born in Henan province during the Wei dynasty (386-534 A.D.). She was reportedly an excellent seamstress and a skilled martial artist who was renowned for her archery expertise. At one point in her life, her infirm father was called to duty to help fight invaders from the Mongol Empire, and Mulan, fearing for her dad’s safety, donned men’s clothing and joined the army in his place.


(Photo Courtesy of National Taiwan Museum)

The defining moment in her military career came one night when she was on guard duty. Mulan observed crows flying at night and noted that the birds should be resting at that hour. She immediately suspected an ambush and alerted her superior. Then she devised a plan and proposed it to him. When the Mongols attacked, Mulan sustained an arrow wound to the shoulder, yet she was still able to defeat the leader of the invasion force in hand-to-hand combat. Afterward, she refused treatment out of fear her brothers-in-arms would discover that she was a woman. Mulan on Film A proud soldier is shown riding atop a spirited steed as it gallops across the misty moors in a bygone era. The mare skids to a halt and rockets its warrior master toward the heavens. Still in flight, the hero loads a body-length bow with three arrows. Landing in her patented si liu bu stance, Hua Mulan — played by Nancy Chan — uses her famous three-fingered arrow release to impale three charging Mongol warriors. That scene comes from a black-and-white film called Mulan Joins the Army. Made in Shanghai and released in 1939, it was actually the third movie to focus on Mulan’s exploits. Directed by Bu Wancang, it came from the Orphan Island period. The name refers to film production that took place in Shanghai’s foreign concessions, which were not occupied by the Japanese. Despite its historical connection — China really was threatened by the Mongols — Mulan Joins the Army was intended to rouse patriotic sentiments with respect to how modern China was being threatened by the Japanese. Those circumstances led to Nancy Chan becoming the first Hong Kong actress to be catapulted to fame by the Shanghai film industry. A more famous film adaptation of Mulan’s life came in 1964. Released by the Shaw Brothers, it was an opera titled Lady General Hua Mulan or Woman General Hua Mulan. It starred Ivy Ling Po as the famed female fighter.

(Photo Courtesy of Celestial Pictures)

Mulan by Disney When Disney announced that it was planning its own version of the Mulan story, the project bore the title The Legend of Fa Mulan. Note the spelling of the surname — Fa instead of Hua. Disney execs said they were under the impression that “Fa Mulan” was the Cantonese spelling of her name. I contacted the production office and advised them that Fa is Cantonese but Mulan is Mandarin. I then suggested that the filmmakers should render her name as either “Fa Moklan” (Cantonese) or “Hua Mulan” (Mandarin). In the end, they opted to change the movie’s title to Mulan.

Would you like a free guide titled “Kung Fu TV Series Flashback: Behind the Scenes With David Carradine (Kwai Chang Caine)”? Just click here.

There were other major changes, as well, the most obvious being the addition of Mushu, the dragon spirit (voiced by Eddie Murphy), and the pet cricket. Sadly, the script eliminated all references to Mulan’s renowned archery ability.

The Next Mulan? Disney appears to be on a roll with live-action versions of its classics. For example, we were given Alice in Wonderland in 2010, Maleficent (from Sleeping Beauty) in 2014 and Cinderella in 2015. Beauty and the Beast is next, with a release planned for 2017. The rumor mill has it that a live-action version of Mulan may be in the works. Rila Fukushima, who co-starred in Wolverine (2013) and appears in the CW television series Arrow, is reportedly being considered to bring the title character to life. Go here to order Dr. Craig D. Reid’s book The Ultimate Guide to Martial Arts Movies of the 1970s: 500+ Films Loaded With Action, Weapons and Warriors.
SUBSCRIBE TO BLACKBELT MAGAZINE TODAY!
Don't miss a single issue of the world largest magazine of martial arts.

Do you want to maximize your self defense skills? Learn the game of combat chess and most importantly the queen of all moves.

Allow me to intercept those who would object to the title of this article. I'm not claiming that there's a secret move, shortcut or hack that will give you the edge in any fight. Even if there was an ultimate weapon or strategy, you likely would avoid it because you
Keep Reading Show less

Whether your martial art has you rolling on the ground and grappling, striking and sparring, or working with weapons (hopefully the unsharpened variety!), there are five common types of injuries martial artists tend to see. It is nearly impossible to avoid all injuries, but there are steps you can take to reduce your risk of injury that everyone who practices any martial art should be aware of.

Stress Fractures

One of the most common martial arts injuries, stress fractures occur when bones are struck with repetitive force -- think checking kicks in muay thai, or repeatedly hitting a heavy bag with inadequate wrist support. Stress fractures are also very common in runners' feet and legs, so if you've recently upped your cardio to get in better shape for your art, be on the lookout!

Keep Reading Show less

A good pair of gloves is like a dollop of whipped cream on a cake slice—it just makes everything better! Whereas a bad pair of gloves can make your training session feel uncomfortable and awkward, a great pair can make you feel like you could beat Mike Tyson (or at least stay alive in a fight with him for a few seconds). One training session with gloves on either end of the spectrum will quickly make you appreciate the importance of quality equipment.

What to Expect from Creed

In this case, you can definitely expect good quality whipped crea—er, gloves. Made of genuine leather, Creed Heavy Bag Gloves are built to last. After wearing them for many weeks filled with numerous rounds of heavy bag training, the gloves still feel great!

The Creed Heavy Bag Gloves provide a comfortable and protective balance of padding in the appropriate areas. This ensures that they keep their shape well, cover your fist well in the areas that hit the target and ensure the satisfying smack of solid impact rather than the crack of a rolled wrist.

Keep Reading Show less

UFC 250 Poster Featuring Main Card with Amanda Nunes and Felicia Spencer

The UFC 250 main card set for Saturday night will feature five fights in lighter weight divisions that won't disappoint fight fans. The match ups are guaranteed to be fast paced and heavy hitting with three bantamweight matches and the highly anticipated women's featherweight title fight between Amanda Nunes and Felicia Spencer.

Reigning champ Amanda Nunes will be center stage at the UFC Apex arena once again Saturday night to defend her women's featherweight title against her challenger Felicia Spencer.

Keep Reading Show less
Don’t miss a thing Subscribe to Our Newsletter