Traditional Ba Gua Zhang

Training

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Having studied Xingyiquan with Guo yunshen in his childhood Wang xiangzhai  travelled  China, meeting, comparing skills with masters of various styles of Gong  fu.  In the mid-1920s, he came to the conclusion that xingyiquan was often taught wrong  with too much emphasis on ‘outer form’, neglecting the essence of true martial power.  He started to teach what he felt was the true essence of the art using a different name, without the ‘xing’ (meaning form). Wang Xiangzhai, who had a great knowledge about the theory and history of his art, used the name “Yiquan” (意拳) In the 1940s one of Wang Xiangzhai’s students wrote an article about his “school” and named it “Dachengquan” (大成拳) which was supposed to mean “great achievement boxing”. This name was not used by Wang Xiangzhai, ( Wang thought the name was a poor choice as it was boastful and not very descriptive of the intent).

In 1927 ,after an invitation from his friend master Zhang zhao dong, Wang moved to Tianjin to start teaching his new boxing methods. Among his first group of students were people such as Zhao dao xin,chou zhi he etc. In 1929 Wang, Zhang zhao dong and Zhao dao xin, who was now wang’s top disciple traveled to Hangzhou for free fighting competitions. The photo below was taken in Hangzhou.

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After Hangzhou  Wang and Zhao dao xin carried on to Shanghai, where they stayed and taught for many years. In 1930s in Shanghai, Wang’s school became famous. a few of his core students were training with him at that time. Brothers Han Xing Chiao and Han Xing Yuen, Zhang chang xin all came to train during this time.

Yiquan is essentially formless, but contains a small number of fixed sets of fighting movements and techniques. The main  focus is put on developing one’s natural movement and fighting abilities through a system of training methods and concepts, working to improve the perception of one’s body, its movement, and of force.

Yiquan Is a distillation of the internal aspects at the core of all arts that Wang was exposed to, including He quan, Tai ji quan, Ba gua zhang, , Lui he ba fa etc.

The  training in yiquan is divided into seven stages;

  •  Zhan zhuang   Standing pole postures where emphasis is put on natural condition, working to improve listening to the body and on developing hunyuan li, “Natural living force”.
  • Shi li   Testing force moving exercises, trying to bring the sensations of hunyuan li developed through Zhan zhuang into movements.
  • Zou bu  Practicing footwork
  • Tui shou  practicing hand a nd foot techniques to prepare for fighting
  • Fa li   Learning how to release power.
  • Shi sheng  how to coordinate your breath(qi) with your power
  • Shi zuo  actual free sparring.

Although there are several theories as to the Origins of Ba Gua Zhang, recent and exhaustive research by martial scholars in Mainland China conclude without  reasonable doubt that the Art is the creation of a single individual, Dong Hai Chuan.  This is there story. Dong was born in Wen An County, Hebei Province about 1813. Dong practiced  local martial arts from his youth and gained some notoriety as a skilled fighter. At about 40 years of age, Dong left home and traveled southward. At some point during his travels he became a member of the Chuan Zhen (Complete Truth) sect of Taoism. The Taoists of this sect practiced a method of walking in a circle  white reciting certain mantras. The practice was designed to quiet the mind and  focus the intent as a prelude to enlightenment. Dong later combined the circle  walking mechanics with the martial arts he had mastered in his youth to create his own style.

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Dong Hai Chuan originally called his art “Zhuan Zhang” (Turning Palm) only later changing it to ba gua zhang. When Dong began teaching his Zhuan Zhang in Beijing, only taught those who had prior training in martial arts. Dong’s teachings were limited to a few “palm changes” executed while walking the circle and his theory and techniques of combat. His students took Dong’s forms and theories and combined them with the martial arts they had studied previously. This is normal practice in China and is considered essential to understanding the art. Most of the various styles of Ba Gua Zhang found today, can be traced back to one of several of Dong Hai Chuan’s original students. Among these students, three individuals were responsible for passing on the Art to the greatest number of practitioners. One of Dong’s most famous students was a man named Yin Fu. Yin studied with Dong longer than any other and was one of the most respected fighters in the country in his time (he was the personal bodyguard to the Dowager Empress, the highest prestige position of its kind in the entire country).

Yin Fu was a master of Luo Han Quan, a Northern Chinese style of boxing, before he began his long apprenticeship with Dong. Another top student of Dong’s was Chen Ting Hua, originally a master of Shuai Jiao (Chinese wrestling). Cheng taught a great number of students in his time, including his great friend Zhang zhao dong. and variations of his style are many. A third student of Dong’s who created his own Ba Gua Zhang variant was Liang Zhen Pu. Liang was Dong’s youngest student and was greatly influenced by Dong’s other disciples. Although Ba Gua Zhang is a relatively new form of martial, art, it became famous throughout China during its inventor’s lifetime. Most Ba gua zhang techniques originated from other Northern Chinese systems. But its main contribution was its circularity and evasive footwork. Employing the strategy of change,like all chinese boxing, it is a circular style utilizing body turning and twisting movements.

The footwork, coupled with the logical body mechanics and ingrained patterns, allows the martial artist to set up and execute techniques while rapidly changing movement, direction and alignment. A complete Ba Gua system as taught by a real traditional  teacher can be quite extensive . When you incorporate the weighted training, the post training conditioning,   training, nei Gong training, two-man fighting techniques , weapon training and the post training etc an effective martial artist emerges. The Bau gua i teach comes down from Zhang zhao dong and we specialize in fighting rather than forms. There are also many weapons which are  avialable to learn like the dao,jian shuang tou shi(double headed spear), yin yang yue etc.

Xing Yi Quan is one of the oldest styles of Chinese martial arts. Xing refers to form or shape and Yi commonly refers to the mind or intent. Quan [fist] denotes a method of unarmed combat. Xing Yi Quan is commonly referred to as Form and Mind or Form and Will boxing. The name illustrates the strong emphasis placed on the form or body and also the mind or yi. The exact details of the origins of Xing Yi Quan are unknown.

The creation of the Art is traditionally attributed to the famous general and patriot Yue Fei (1103-1141) of the Sung Dynasty. Being a beloved historical figure and warrior, Yue Fei is credited with the creation of several systems of martial arts. There is, however, no historical evidence to support the claim that he had anything to do with the creation of the art Xing Yi Quan. The style was originally called Xin Yi Liu He Quan [Heart Mind Six Harmonies Boxing]. The Six harmonies refer to the Three Internal Harmonies (the heart or desire harmonizes with the intent; the intent harmonizes with the Qi or vital energy; the Qi harmonizes with the physical strength), and the Three External Harmonies (the shoulders harmonize [coordinate] with the hips; the elbows harmonize with the knees; the hands harmonize with the feet).

The practitioner’s internal processes harmonize and coordinate the external movement, unifying the person as a whole into the most powerful state possible. The earliest reliable historical information we have makes reference to Ji Long Feng (also known as Ji Ji Ke) of Shan Xi Province as being the first to teach the art of Xin Yi Liu He Quan. Ji Long Feng was active near the end of the Ming Dynasty (early 1600’s) and was a master of spear fighting [he had the reputation of possessing “divine” skill with the spear]. He is recorded as stating, “I have protected myself in violent times with my spear. Now that we are in a time of peace and our weapons have all been destroyed, if I am unarmed and meet the unexpected how shall I defend myself? ” In answer to his own question, Ji Long Feng reportedly created a style of weaponless combat based on his expertise with the spear. He referred to his art as Liu He, The Six Harmonies.

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Ji Long Feng had two very famous students. One was from He Bei Province and was named Cao Ji Wu. The other was from He Nan province and was named Ma Xue Li. It was at this point in history that the Xin Yi Liu He Quan [now also referred to as Xin (heart) or Xing (form) Yi Quan] divided into three separate yet related styles: the Shan Xi, He Nan and He Bei schools. After spending twelve years studying Xin Yi with Ji Long Feng, Cao Ji Wu entered the Imperial Martial Examinations and placed first [this was the most prestigious honor one could possibly win as a martial artist in Dynastic China, and as the reward for victory was an assured high level military appointment, the competitive exam attracted the cream of the martial crop from the entire country].

Cao’s high profile martial status brought fame to the Art. Cao Ji Wu, in turn, passed on the Xin Yi Quan to two famous brothers, Dai Long Bang and Dai Lin Bang. Dai Long Bang further developed the Art and the written classics of the style are attributed to him. Dai Long Bang in turn transmitted the Art to its most famous exponent, the renowned Li Luo Neng (also known as Li Neng Ran; he was nicknamed “Divine Fist Li”). Li Luo Neng holds the distinction of being the greatest Xing Yi boxer in the styles’ history and one of the top Chinese boxers of all time. Li Luo Neng taught his art in his native Shan Xi Province and also taught a great number of students in He Bei Province [his duties as a bodyguard involved escorting various members of wealthy families to and from He Bei].

Two of Li’s most famous Shan Xi students were Sung Shi pong and Che Ti Zhai. Li’s most famous He Bei student was the formidable Guo Yun Shen, who reportedly defeated all comers with his famous Beng Quan, a straight punch to the body [as a youth in training, Guo would walk several miles to and from his teacher’s house every day, practicing his Beng Quan every step of the way]. After spending several years incarcerated for killing a man in a platform challenge match [Under the law of the times, fighters were not held liable if they killed their opponent during organized challenge matches, but after the unfortunate fight in which Guo’s opponent died, he was arrested.

When Guo protested and quoted the law of exoneration for platform fighters, he was told that “a man of your level of skill should have more control and was sentenced to several years in prison,and it was while in prisonn he developed his famous ban bu beng quan], Guo Yun Shen passed on his art to Wang Fu Yuan, Liu Chi Lan and Sun Lu Tang, among others. Liu Chi Lan passed on the Art to the most famous practitioners of this century, including Li Cun Yi and Zhang Zhao Dong. There are many practitioners of all three substyles of Xing Yi Quan active today, and the Art is still a popular and well respected style of martial art in China and abroad.

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The art of Xing Yi Quan is divided into two main systems: the Ten Animal and the Five Elements. The Five-Element system is further divided into two main branches, the He Bei and Shan Xi styles. The movements in the forms are patterned after the spirit of various animals in combat, including the Dragon, Tiger, Monkey, Horse, Chicken, Hawk, Snake, Bear, Eagle and Swallow. The Five Element based systems have five basic forms: Splitting, Drilling, Crushing Pounding and Crossing; these Five Elements form the foundation of the Art. The basic energies of the Five Elements are then expanded into Twelve Animal forms which include variations of the animal forms found in the Ten Animal styles as well as two additional animals, the Tai (a mythical bird) and the Tuo (a type of water skimming insect).

Training in all systems centers on repetitive practice of single movements that are later combined into more complicated linked forms. The direction of movement in Xing Yi forms can appear predominately linear, but there are many circular movements. In fact the whole style is based on circles. Practitioners practice the forms coordinating the motions of their entire bodies into one focused point. The hands, feet and torso all arrive together and the nose, lead hand and lead foot are aligned along the same vertical axis (San Jian Xiang Jiao). The arms are held in front of the body and the practitioner lines up his or her centerline with the opponent’s centerline. A familiar adage of Xing Yi Quan is that “the hands do not leave the [area of] the heart and the elbows do not leave the ribs.” There are few kicks in the style and the techniques are explosive  in nature. Great emphasis is ‘placed upon the ability to generate power with the whole body and focus it into one pulse which is released in a sudden burst. The Five Element based styles of Xing Yi Quan (Shan Xi and He Bei styles) traditionally begin training with stance keeping, the holding of static postures for prolonged periods of time (Zhan Zhuang)Usually san ti shi..

San Ti shi (Three bodies) or San Cai (Three Powers referring to heaven, earth and man). It is from this posture that all of the subsequent movements in the style are created, and most teachers place great emphasis upon its practice. After stance training, the student begins to learn the Five Element Fists (Wu Xing Quan). These are the basic movements of the Art and express all the possible combinations of motion which produce martial power (including energy which moves downward upward, forward, backward,left and right). After a certain level of proficiency is acquired in the practice of the Five Element Fists, the student goes on to learn the twelve Animal shapes( some animal shapes also have their own forms} and linked forms.Like Wu xing lian haun quan for example.

The twelve Animal forms are variations of the energies of the Five Elements expressed through the format of the spirit of animals in combat. There are several two-person combat forms that teach the student the correct methods of attack and defense and the applications of the techniques practiced in the solo forms. Five Element based styles also include weapons training.For examlpe Jian, dao, gun and qiang. The style i teach also  has weapons like chui,gou,emei ci, etc.

The origins of Tai Ji Quan are often attributed to one Zhang San Feng (a Daoist of either the Twelfth or Fifteenth century depending on the source) who created the Art after witnessing a fight between a snake and a crane. Although there is evidence that Zhang San Feng actually existed, it sounds like a pile of shit to me, and there is no historical evidence to support the claim that he had anything to do with the creation or practice of Tai Ji Quan.

These stories were popularized in the early part of this century and were the result of misinformation and the desire to connect the Art with a more famous and ancient personage. All of the various styles of Tai Ji Quan which are in existence today can be traced back to a single man, Chen Wang Ting, a general of the latter years of the Ming Dynasty. Chen was a native of Chen Jia Gou, Wen County, in Henan Province. After the fall of the Ming and the establishment of the Ching Dynasty (1644), Chen Wang Ting returned to the Chen village and created his forms of boxing. Originally containing up to seven sets, only two sets of Chen Style Tai Ji Quan have survived to the present. Originally, the Art was only taught let members of the Chen clan until a promising young outsider named Yang Lu Chan was accepted as a student in the early part of the Nineteenth century. After mastering the Art, Yang Lu Chan (nicknamed “Yang without enemy” as he was reportedly a peerless fighter) modified the original Chen style and created the Yang style of Tai Ji Quan.

Wu Yu Xiang leaned the Art from Yang Lu Chan and a variation of the original Chen form from Chen Ching Ping (who taught the ‘small frame’ version of Chen Tai Ji Quan) and created the Wu style. A man named Hao Wei Zhen, learned the Wu style from Wu Yu Xiang’s nephew and taught the style to Sun Lu Tang, who in turn created the Sun style (Sun was already an established master of Xing Yi Quan and Ba Gua Zhang when he learned Tai Ji Quan. He combined his knowledge of the other arts when creating his style). Yang Lu Chan had another student, a Manchu named Quan You, who in turned taught the Art to his son, Wu Jian Quan.

Wu Jian Quan popularized his variation of the Yang style, which is commonly referred to as the Wu Jian Quan style. In recent times (this century) there have been many other variations and modifications of the Art, but all may be traced back through the above masters to the original Chen family forms. Complete Tai ji Quan arts include basic exercises, stance keeping (Zhan Zhuang), repetitive single movement training,  form training, power training,  weapons training (which includes straight sword, broadsword, staff and spear), technique training and various pushing hand drills.The Wu style i teach also has a large number of neigong exercises.

Wu jian quan was originally employed by the Ching court in the palace battalion of the Imperial Guards. After the emperor Puyi abdicated the throne, Chief of General Staff Yin Chang recommended Master Wu Chien Chuan to President Li Yuan Hong. Subsequently he was appointed teacher to the Eleventh Corps of the Presidential Body Guards. Among his students were Chiefs of Staff Chang I Ke, Tuan Chih Kui, Lu Mian and others.

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In 1916 Master Wu Chien Chuan, along with other famous Wushu experts of the time Yang Shao Hou, Yang Cheng Fu, Hsu Sheng Chi Tzu Hsiu, Sun Lu T’ang, Liu En Shou, Liu Tsai Chen, Chang Chung Yuan, Tong Lian Chi, Chiang Teng Tsui, Hsing Shih Ju and others established the Beijing Institute of Physical Education. The Institute recruited more than sixty students from the teaching ranks of high schools and universities throughout Beijing.  generation Masters brothers Wu Kung Yi and Wu Kung Cho were among the first graduates.

Following the success of the Northern Expedition [1926-1927] the Central Guoshu Institute headed by Li Ching Lin and Chang Chih Chiang was established in Nanjing. This institute always invited Master Wu Chien Chuan to sit on the judges committee during Guoshu examinations.

In 1928 the Shanghai Municipal Government, the Jing Wu  Physical Education Association, the Sino-French University and local notables Huang Ching Jong, Tu Yue Sheng, Chang Hsiao, Lin Wang Hsiao Lai and others jointly cabled the Beijing Physical Education School to invite Master Wu Chien Chuan to move south and teach Tai Chi Chuan. The local response was overwhelming. Important party and national figures Chiao I T’ang, Wang Yung Ping, Hsiong Shih Hui, Peng Yang Kuang, Ai Liang, Wu Sse Yu, Ku Cheng Lun, Chu Fu Cheng, Chen Pu Lei, Zhang Nai Ch’i and others also followed Master Wu Chien Chuan to Shanghai. In the 1930s’ Master Wu was invite by Cheng wing kwong to live and teach  in Hong Kong.

An important combat strategy of Tai Ji Quan can be summed up in the phrase “Entice (the opponent) to advance, (cause the opponent to) fall into emptiness, unite (with the opponent) then throw (the opponent) out” [Yin jin, luo kong, he ji chu]. Another important principle is “don’t push back against your opponent and don’t lose your opponent”[ Bu ding,bu jiu]

The ability to “stick, adhere, continue and follow (zhan, nian, lian, sui)” is vital to the application of Tai Ji Quan combat techniques, the majority of which are grappling oriented. Techniques that include pushing, pulling, wrapping, bumping, sweeping, locking, knocking down and throwing (grappling arts) far outnumber striking and kicking techniques. Solo forms are usually trained slowly so as to develop speed.


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Most of the Tai Ji Quan techniques are combinations of the energies of the Eight Techniques: expand, roll back,squeeze, press, pluck, split, elbow and body stroke [peng, lu, ji, an, cai, lie, zhou, kao]. Expand is the first an the mother of all the other energies energy, and  should be applied to the whole body. It is the energy resulting from proper alignment and relaxation which gives the Tai Ji Quan fighter the elasticity and springiness necessary to fight. Expand is the energy which supplies buoyancy and supports weight (as soft and flexible water is able to support a massive ship). Roll back is energy which moves incoming force past one’s body toward the rear,or to the side etc. Squeeze is like squeezing all the juice out of orange for example(it can be done fast or slow) . Press is a force which puts pressure downward, usually very heavy. Pluck is a sudden, jerking force towards the rear of one’s own body for example. Split is the energy of dissipating a force along two planes for example.Elbow is whole body power focused through the elbow. Body stroke is a whole body strike usually channeled through the shoulder. Most of the various techniques of Tai Ji Quan, including throwing, locking, kicking and striking, are combinations of these eight energies.

The Wu style of tai ji is a large and complete system,containing many two man training exercises,weapons and internal training. The emphasis is on fighting.