The Art of Wushu: Taking all comers with Shaolin boxing

Of all of the fighting styles in Age of Wushu, Shaolin Long Boxing is the one I hate the most. It has no counters or easy answers. In a close-combat fight, Long Boxing is unmatched. The only real option is to run away, and in the narrow confines of a duel arena, even that option is limited.

However, I don't dislike Long Boxing because it's the best. There has to be a "best" style, though that can be obfuscated a bit with counters (which is the case for many other top-tier styles). The reason I hate it is that it has no counterplay. Even if you understand exactly what your opponent will do next with Long Boxing, there are only a tiny handful of style-specific answers if your opponent just follows a basic flowchart. Everyone else just loses. It's really that frustrating.

What do you mean there is no counterplay?

In order to understand why I hate it, we have to understand the idea of counterplay. It's pretty simple; it's the idea that, if we know exactly what attack is coming next, we can counter it. If my opponent performs a lunge, I can block it and get free rage meter. If my opponent feints, I can use a combo starter. If my opponent does some other move, I probably have some answer in my toolkit. This is true of virtually every style in the game. Even styles that have a death combo where you can lose 60-100% HP in a single hit have an answer because that single hit often can be countered (either it's a feint that you must not block or a CC-type effect you must block).

Shaolin boxing has no counterplay in most cases. The sole outlying exception is using hyper armor (typically from Perish Blade's Plague God's Wrath or Departing Sting's Loathsome Clouds and Rain) to attack and disrupt the Shaolin's attacks even while being struck. If you block, you're just falling into a trap.

The uncounterable tools

Fleeing Steps is the Shaolin basic lunge. It's a normal lunge in every way except one, and even that is not extremely abnormal. Fleeing Steps is special in that it has one or possibly two advantage frames on hit (between 50-100ms -- I'm unsure of the exact window, but it is less than 150ms). If Fleeing Steps hits an enemy, it can actually combo into another lunge technique, and Long Boxing has a lunge super. Fleeing Steps is not the only lunge to have frame advantage in the game, but it is the most exploitative.

The actual problem with Fleeing Steps' frame advantage actually comes from Feint Step, Long Boxing's feint. Feint Step's special ability is that it knocks down on hit or block, though the knockdown is much longer if it is blocked. Unlike every other feint in the game, Feint Step is treated as a lunge, which means it hits instantaneously and interrupts other moves. That interaction is a problem in and of itself; Feint Step can actually interrupt attacks that would beat other feints.

For instance, if a Beggar were to try to use Submerge the Lotus to interrupt Feint Step and start a combo, Submerge would actually lose the exchange. Feint Step by itself has no answer, though that is not a huge problem. It has a long cooldown, and by itself it's a perfectly fine gimmick. If you use Feint Step to interrupt a power move, it won't break the enemy's block, and thus you won't get an extended knockdown for doing so.

The problem is that when you're blocking Fleeing Steps, Feint Step is guaranteed. I mean that you will block Feint Step if you block Fleeing Steps because of the frame advantage on Fleeing Steps. If you block Fleeing Steps, you can let go of the block key. You can even give directional inputs; it does not matter. You will block Feint Step, and there is nothing you can do about it except eat a combo afterward.

This creates the exciting mindgame when fighting against Long Boxing:
  • Don't block, get hit by Fleeing Steps and he deals free damage, gets free rage, and gets to escape away for free
  • Don't block, get hit by Fleeing Steps and he combos into super, dealing 30-50% damage
  • Block and he combos into Split Asunder, Advance to Land a Blow into a finisher for at least 40%, more if he has meter
  • Attack and it either gets blocked or interrupted by Fleeing Steps (see first two options)
  • Use Goose to get away when he gets close, get hit by Fleeing Steps (see the first two options above)
This is not fun. It's not even sort of fun. It's like Shaolin took a vacuum cleaner and turned the setting to "fun." There's no guesswork in the strategy here. The only real counter-strategy is to rush him when Fleeing Steps is down, and it has a short six-second cooldown. He can also just block and use attacks to try and beat your feint or just run away a bit. He has all the options even in that situation, and you have a time limit such that if you don't at least break even, he gets ahead.

He also has Split Asunder, a PBAoE stun with one of the fastest non-instant startups on any CC in the game. Finally, he has Advance to Land a Blow, a powerful knockback punch that deals enormous damage and knocks back even if you block. These tools would be fine, but because Long Boxing has the best option select in the game, they're a bit too much.

How do I beat Shaolin?

The answer for most people is that you can win as long as the monk has greater than 100ms latency. If he does, you can escape the forced-block situation and fight normally. If he has superior ping, though, there are a few style-specific options. All of them require you to be better than your opponent. If your opponent is similarly skilled and uses Long Boxing to its fullest, you are in trouble. Beware of any monk who mains Weituo Stick because he will be a monster if he ever switches styles.

Taiji Sword's health swap and mana restore can be used to stalemate. Combined with Boundless Sword's mana restore on block, you can force longer engagements. Taiji Sword's pushback slash can be used to bleed your enemy dry by running him out of mana. Unfortunately, the monk could also use Taiji Sword or just the Boundless Sword block to make this strategy hard. If you have level 7 in Pegasus and Circle the Moon, you should be fairly hard to break.

Hyper armor can also be used predictively to counter Long Boxing's advances. Of the options with hyper armor, Departing Sting is by far the best, and the style comes the closest to being able to fight Long Boxing on even ground. You will need to guess when your enemy wants to attack, hit him with Loathsome Clouds, and combo mercilessly. Unfortunately, you will not really be able to build Parting Sorrow stacks since you won't be blocking much. Because of the ability to force near-unblockables using the Departing Sting combo point (feint into Sorrow of Parting), you can be more aggressive when Fleeing Steps is down.

Perish Blade is one of my favorite counters because it turns the matchup on its head. In order to use Perish Blade in this matchup, you need to get enough super meter to use Plague God's Wrath through some means (running away and throwing darts or something) and then switch to Perish. If possible, you want to use the hyper armor of Plague God's Wrath to block Fleeing Steps or Feint Step and knock your foe back, then combo with Viper Flicks Tongue. Follow up with almost mindless rushing with Spirit Leaves the Body, using its hyper armor in Plague God mode to interrupt his attacks and chunk him for lots of damage. If Plague God runs out and you don't have enough meter to re-activate it, you probably lose unless you have a Taiji health swap.

Shaolin Boxing is basically uncounterable, and while the above styles have a shot, there really isn't a good answer. The short answer is that if you're an external martial artist (even if you're Yin), Long Boxing is so overpowered that you should probably learn it.

Age of Wushu is a wonderous place, full of hidden secrets, incredible vistas and fearsome martial arts. Join Patrick as he journeys through China, revealing the many secrets of this ancient land. The Ming Dynasty may be a tumultuous time, but studying The Art of Wushu will give you the techniques you need to prevail.
This article was originally published on Massively.