Most modern students of wushu are familiar with a little set of movements called Wubu Quan (5 Step Boxing) or even Chang Quan (Long Fist) but few realize much of its roots are in Cha Quan. Many have heard of the well known Tantui (especially of the Jingwu (Chin Woo) variant) yet few realize its origins in Jiaomen (Religious branch – referring to Chinese Moslem martial arts). Most know China for the ‘han’ Chinese culture yet fewer are aware there are many different cultures across China and throughout history many shifts of populations and migration influenced the development of culture including martial arts. Cha Quan is one of the best known Jiaomen or Moslem Chinese Martial arts (this includes Liuhe Quan, Baji Quan, Qi Shi Quan and Xin Yi Liu He Quan amongst many others) and herein we will introduce a little about its history.
Regarding the origin just like most ancient or older martial arts systems this always becomes a challenge due to the lack of written records and the subtle changes made generations after another. Importantly unlike some totally unrealistic stories of mysterious temples and magical monks. Cha Quan’s legends are based on warriors and this helps make it seem more reasonable. One thing to also realize however is that like most other martial arts Cha Quan did not stand still so what was and what is are likely evolved somewhat.
Cha Quan is said to have commenced during the reign of the Ming Di in the Han dynasty, when a warrior from today’s Xinjiang province called Zhamir (查密尔) sometimes romanized as Xianyi (尚义) helped the imperial armies defeat babarian invaders across the northern plains. He was also joined by his colleagues Hua Zhongzhi and Wu Dianzhang. The two methods which were Jiazi and Shenfashi later became known by the post-humous respect of the original transcenders as Cha Quan and Hua Quan, at times these were considered as one style called Chahua Men.
The An Lushan Rebellion
The An Lushan Rebellion (755-763), also known as the An-shi period of chaos/disturbances (安史之乱), was caused by General An Lushan whose parents were unkown, was raised by a Songdian (Ancient Iranian civilization within the province of Achaemenid empire in today’s Central Asia) father and a Tijue (from the Northern ancient Turk tribes) mother. General An Lushan became a favored officer by the Emperor Xuanzong who had given An Lushan control of the garrisons in the Northern areas of Pinglu, Fanyang (near today’s Beijing) and Hedong areas. At the end of 755, General An Lushan revolted against the Tang and captured Luoyang (the Eastern capital at the time). Further expansions followed as they proceeded to take over Changán overcoming the impregnable Tang troops in the Tongguan mountain passes. When An Lushan entered Changán, the Emperor Xuanzong, his court and household fled to Sichuan. Changán was captured by An Lushan in 756.
In 756, Li Heng (son of Tang Emperor Xuanzong) declared himself as the Emperor whist residing in Lingzhou. He organized generals Guo Ziyi and Li Guanbi to deal with the An Lushan rebels. The generals given the loss of troops and manpower after the battles with the rebels throughout the land, decided after much debate to seek help from the Turkish Tujue tribes (the Huihe, also known as Uyghur Khaganate that resided in Mongolia during the time and the ancestors of modern Uyghurs. Over 22,000 Arab mercenaries were sent by the Abbasid Caliph Al-Mansur to join the Tang troops. Military training for the troops combined the methods of the Arab mercenaries with the elite fighters of the Tang that remained. Together the Tang and Tujue troops were successful in re-capturing Changán and Luoyang in 757 most of these mercenaries at least those that survived stayed in China after the war.
It is said that a batallion had headed Eastward from the capital in Chang’an and many had died in conflicts and insurgencies throughout Hebei province. There were three men known as Cha Xiangyi (查尚义), Hua Zhongfeng (滑宗岐) and Wu Dianzhang (武殿璋) that successfully escaped and sought hiding in Guan County. As they were badly injured locals took care of the warriors and aided their wounds. Hua Zhongfeng had incurred the greatest injuries and remained in the village whilst Cha Xiangyi and Wu Dianzhang returned to battle. After recovery Hua Zhongfeng taught the locals military techniques and this was the beginning of Cha Quan.
Cha Xiangyi and Hua Zhongfeng both taught the locals from Guan County and each had their specialties. Hua Zhongfeng’s movements were large and open, which were called Jiazi Quan (Framework Boxing), also known as Dajia Quan (Large Frame Boxing)). Cha Xiangyi taught more compact and faster methods thus referred to as the Xiaojia Quan (Small Frame Boxing), also known as Shen Fa Shi (Body Methods Techniques. They both passed on skills to locals and in their honour later the boxing became Cha Quan (after Zhamir) and Hua Quan (after Hua Zhongfeng), sometimes when together also called Chahua Men (The School of Cha and Hua).
The Three main Schools of Cha Quan
Since the reign of Qianlong (Qing Dynasty, 1736-1795) Cha Quan had become divided into three key schools. This is due three Masters whom each enhanced the style with their experience and skills. Zhang Qiwei from Zhangyin village, Guan county is the founder of the Zhang Style Cha Quan. Yang Hongxiu from the southern part of Guan County, is the founder of Yang Style Cha Quan. Li Enju from Jining County, is the founder of Li Style Cha Quan.
Zhang Style is relatively compact, fast and agile. Yang Style has long extensions, smooth transitions and is more aesthetically pleasing. Li Style is continuous, rough and powerful it is the more fierceful of all the styles but also the least known.