Masters (8)

Chuojiao Fanzi Quan - Introduction to Master Wu Binlou and Chuojiao in Beijing

Chuojiao Fanziquan (戳脚翻子拳), is the name of Chuojiao from the capital, Beijing of China. It has evolved into distinct features with much of this attributed to its renowned masters. Chuojiao is one of the older boxing methods of China, known for its comprehensive martial skills which emphasize both kick/legs and hands, as well as ground fighting (Ditanquan). In Li County, Hebei Province the great Master Feng Keshan (冯克善), was the private instructor of the Liu family household, at which time he also took on other disciples from the town. One such disciple was Wei Changyi.

Wei Style Chuojiao 

In the martial world the three generations of renowned Chuojiao masters all heralded from the same village. M. Wei Changyi, M. Wei Xankui and M. Wu Binlou were from the Qixhuang Village of Li County in Hebei Province. Wei Changyi was the Head Security Logistics Escort (Biao Shi) of the Fuyuan Biao Shi (福源镖局). 


The Imperial Bodyguard – “” Wei Changyi

Wei Cangyi (魏昌义) was from Jijiazhuang (Jijia Village) in Lixian and when Feng Keshan was in Lixian as the instructor of the Liu family in nearby Zhaoduanzhuang, Wei Changyi sought out Master Feng and studied the great art of Chuojiao. Master Wei also travelled to nearby Shanxi province and had picked up skills of various other martial arts. He became a well-known martial artist, a famous Biaoshi (Security escorted Logistics Expert) and also was employed as bodyguard for the imperial family. As a result of these posts/careeers, Wei Changyi did not have as many disciples, but did become a renowned fighter. A sample incident is when a famous Xingyi Master Li Fuzhen had a friendly challenge with Wei Changyi, and was so impressed by the powerful kicks of Chuojiao, that he asked Wei Changyi to teach him some methods. Li Fuzhen then developed a set of Yuanyangquan which he incorporated into his branch of Xingyiquan. 

The Imperial Legend – “Iron Leg” Wei Zankui

Wei Zankui (魏赞魁,1854-1951) was the nephew of Wei Chanyi, who studied daily with the great Master for over 10 years and became an expert of the style. There are many legends of Wei Zankui including one in 1900 when the 8 foreign nations inv aded Tianjin, 20,000 Qing soldiers were sent to battle the invaders at Tongzhou Zhangjia Bay. Since Wei Zankui was so skilled in battle he became a captain and led the soldiers to victory, forcing the foreign armies to retreat. The Foreign armies returned with a greater expanded force. Generals of the Qing armies such as Ma Yukun, Chen Zilin, Zhang Chunfa and others abandoned the battle. Only general Li Binheng was trapped and surrounded. Wei Zankui then led the remaining armies to battle all night long to find a way to out manoeuvre the foreign armies. Wei Zankui with his Yue Dang(Moon Knives) protected the general Li and the armies to safety. He earned great merit for this feat. After returning to the imperial palace, he also protected the Empress Dowager Cixi to safety to the west of the imperial palace. Again earning merit for his bravery. As a result of these achievements he achieved a great rank (Si Jing Daidao) and Chuojiaofanzi became respected as Yu Fanzi ('Yu' used for imperial purposes, 御翻子). 

Wei Zankui was a very direct and did not engage in flattery, once upon a time he travelled to Guanghelou to watch a performance of classical chinese opera and after a dispute with Huang Daizi (a royal family member), he killed one of the parties with the royal family member. As a result he was sent to the army front as punishment. On the way, his group was ambushed and as result, Wei Zankui did not end up going to the front and decided to leave service returning to his birth home in Li County.

After leaving his post, Wei Zankui returned to Li county where he lived in seclusion and accepted some disciples and taught many his Chuojiaofanzi. Wei Zankui was an extraordinary martial artist and therefore gained the nickname if "Iron Leg", he not only could move trees off their roots with a kick but could also withstand iron or cart rolling over his legs.

Even at the advanced age of 94, he could still demonstrate his Chuojiao and ditangquan which includes many aerial tumbles and falls with ease. In 1950, when Wei Zankui was 97 years all his friends and students celebrated his birthday and as a result of his excitement as he stood up to perform some routines of Chuojiao and fell accidently, he felt useless in his age not being able to perform his skilled martial art. Not long after, he passed away. There were countless thousands that came to mourn his passing from all the villages around and all the streets were blocked when his coffin was moved through the towns.

Wei Zankui's disciples included: Wei Xing, Wei Youcai, Wei Xishen, Wu Zhentang, Xiao Chunrong and Wu Binlou. In Li county, the descendants of Wei Zankui which were the majority of the disciples above practiced what is referred to as Li County Chuojiao. An exception was Wu Binlou who taught many in Beijing, his style thereafter referred to as Beijing Chuojiaofanzi.

Beiping Chuojiao Master – “Flower Whip” Wu Binlou

Wu Binlou (吴斌楼, 1898-1977) was born on the 12th December 1898 in Qijiazhuang, Li county western bridge district with the Baoding municipality. Li county is recognised as one of the Chuo Jiao martial arts area of concentration and practice. In 1905 Wu Binlou at the age of 6, he commenced the practice of Chuojiao with tutelage from “Iron Leg” Wei Zankui, at the same time he commenced his general education. He studied for ten years Chuojiao, Cunfanzi, Xiaofanzi, Dafanzi, Kaozhanlian and Weapons. In addition he was fortunate to be taught some methods from his grandmaster Wei Chang Yi (Direct Disciple of Feng Keshan).

In 1915, Wu Binlou followed his father to Beijing assisting in the family business. In addition to helping the business, he also trained his martial arts daily. In 1920, he became the Bureau Teacher for the Ren Mau Biao Jue (Ren Mau Security Bureau). In olden days, security bureaus were used to transport goods, property and offer escort security services. They hired the best martial artists to ensure their reputation was maintained. It is during this time that Wu Bin Lou earned the name as “Hua Bian” (Flower Chain Whip) Wu Binlou.

In 1921, the bureau closed down as a result of changes to the economic structure of the region and of commercial enterprising. Since Wu Binlou always intended to complete his studies he returned to Li county in Hebei province and followed his master Wei Zankui in progressing and analysing the deeper aspects of Chuo Jiao. He progressed quickly and improved his knowledge and skill considerably.

Master Wu Binlou was a great talent and at not even thirty years of age grasped the essence of the martial arts, and his uniquely specialised Chuojiao Fanzi was heard across the martial world. In 1935, he was honored amongst other great martial artists such as Heng Shoushan, ZhaoXinyuan, Liu Desheng, Liu Yueting (Qi Family Tongbeiquan), Wang Rongbiao and Shang Yunxiang (Xing Yi Quan) - as the 10 experts of martial arts in Beijing. In that same year, Wu Binlou whilst in Nanjing met with a master Yao Zhiguang from Hubei Province who was descendant from Yao Zhenfang, whom was associated with Wei Changyi from earlier times. This was a great meet and the two masters Wu Binlou and Yao Zhiguang spent much time together researching to re establish the 18 sets of Yanqing Fanzi further enhancing the repetoire of the style. This project was not completed but in addition to Wu binlou adding the set from Yao Zhiguang and one newly created, he also created an additional 9 sets (totalling 11) under the title Yanqing Fanzi Quan.

In 1939, the Japanese armies had encroached parts of Northern China and Wu Binlou was tasked with leading a delegation to Japan to participate in Martial Arts competitions. At the time many martial arts colleagues had tried to persuade him no to go mainly out of concerns of being misinterpreted as support to the Japanese. Wu Binlou thought for long over the matter and finally decided to go proclaiming "This time travelling eastward the intentions are complicated and difficult to assess, irrespectively I want martial arts to bring courage to our nation".

As soon as the delegation arrived to the Tokyo martial arts union which was filled with spectators and military academy personnel. A proud Japanese Yoshimi stood in the ring with a look of arrogance upon the humbly dressed Wu Binlou. The Japanese fighting then screamed with a multitude of punches and hand strikes ferociously, Master Wu resolved the attacks with ease and patience which completely frustrated the fighter. From this frustration the fighter resulted to Jujitsu techniques and grappling, but yet again Wu Binlou countered them with ease and floored the Japanese to which the crowds reacted loudly. The Japanese fighter had no choice but to resort to kicks (which were not allowed according to the rules) with a multitude sweeping, axing and spinning kicks. Ironically, the master of Chuojiao of kicks themselves was bombarded by a series of kicks that were easily avoided. Master smiled and then showed some of the most amazing series of leg skills from Jiuezi kick, Dengzi kicks and many more which broke down Yoshimi helplessly as he laid on the ground stumbling to stand but then fell down before being able to.There were many such scenes and at this the Japanese were both astounded but humiliated, as victorious in the battlefield they could not defeat the chinese martial arts.

After returning from Japan by ship - another incident confronted Master Wu Binlou, this time it was with a German who challenged him wielding a sword. With nothing at his side, Master Wu obtained the Long handled pipe (one of the specialised weapons of Chuojiao) and calmly defended, disarmed and defeated the German swordsmen. The proud-ness shown by both the Japanese and German challenges left a significant impact on Master Wu, who later ensured the importance of humility amongst his students and disciples.

There are many similar stories about about Master Wu, which had cemented his reputation among martial arts circles in Beijing. He setup a research society and participated in many events in the promotion of traditional chinese martial arts. He promoted an open and humble nature in his students of using the martial arts to establish friendships.In the 1950's however M. Wu had a lot of challenges, his wife had died early leaving him with a son whom had moved far away. As a result, M Wu lived alone in Beijing and he was during certain years relatively impoverished.  In 1977, he passed away ending his miraculous and exemplary life, leaving a legacy in Chuojiao Fanzi Quan. Overview of Chuojiao Fanzi.

Beijing Chuojiao Fanzi Quan 

The contents of Chuojiao Fanzi have much in common with Chuojiao in general which is depicted in our Chuojiao methodology section. Here we therefore outline the content in consideration of that and highlight some key divergences or developments with a focus on the empty hand methods.

Chuojiao Fanzi consists of the following empty hand forms/contents:

Chuojiao (戳脚九趟) - 9 sequences/routines: The first five are sometimes called Baishe Tuxin (White snake expels poison) and the latter 4 are Huangying Nasu (Eagle catches prey). The first four sequences are close (almost identical) to the Jiu Zhizi (or Wutangzi)i, However the later sequences 5-9 are quite different, being more of a rearrangement of techniques/movements from sequences 1-4 as opposed to new methods which appear in each of the sequences of Jiu Zhizi.

Cun Fanzi (寸翻子)- 6 sequences/routines: Cunshou (1 & 2), Taiyangquan, WuFengsuo, Dan Fengquan, and San Jieshou. The Cun Fanzi routines are conceptually similar to the Liu Tang Gen (or Liuhe Gen) of Chuojiao. Both consist of 6 sequences and contain some of the inch and trembling power methods, as well as abundance of basic hand techniques. Some of the kicks and opening/closing sections do not exist in Liu Tang Gen and are likely just stylistic variations with the Beijing Chuojiao Fanzi methods.

Yanqingfanzi  (燕青翻子) - 18 sequences/routines: As propagated by Wu Binlou in collaboration with Hubei Master Yao Zhiguang, The first 8 referred to as Ba Da Kai (8 Great Openings) and the latter 10 are Yi Tiao Long (A Dragon). It must be noted that only 11 sequences are known to exist as Master Wu Binlou and Yao Zhiguang did not complete the reconstruction. Although a book was released in 2007 by Cai Jinghe showing 18 sequences, these were in fact recently made up by Cai Jinghe (only a short time later student of Wu Binlou) to fill the gap. All these sets are essentially new developments. In older Hebei Chuojiao there has only ever been one set called Yanxing Quan or Yanqingquan, which is thought to be influenced by the style of the same name.

Da Fanzi (大翻子) - 8 Routines in theory, but in actuality Wu Binlou only taught 2: Jiazichui and Sanlanshou. These although quite different in arrangement share common names with like sequences in general Chuojiao.

Xiao Fanzi (小翻子) - 2 Routines: The two routines are Xiehuanbu and Yaomotui. These methods are resembling the Wen Tangzi in name (Xie Huan Bu and Rao Ma Tui) and in part arrangement. Since Wei Changyi was also a student in Li county, it is likely that these developments from the founder Feng Keshan had not yet been completed and thus the difference.

Kaozhanlian (靠粘连) - 2 Routines: According to the documented records, there are 18 sets of Kaozhanlian which is also referred to as 18 Luohanying. But this was just for the sake of theoretical completeness. In actuality there have only ever been 2 sets of Kao Zhan Lian within Chuojiao Fanzi, and most only ever learned the first set. The second was inherited by very few disciples since it said that it was created by Wu Binlou later in his life, thus earlier students did not have a chance to learn it. There is a single set of Kao Zhanlian also exists in Hebei Chuojiao which is substantially similar both in method and arrangement to the Hebei Chuojiao Fanzi Set.

Ditangquan (地躺拳) - 6 Routines: There are six routines of  Ditangquan or ground boxing which include Zisundan, Feiqian, Yanzika, Xiaobaxian and Jinsishou. These are in common with Hebei Chuojiao, although some movements and sequencing has had some evolutionary change.




My Apprenticeship with Li Gui Chang by Mao Ming Chun


I studied with Master Li from 1989, for ten years in total, beginning in 1989. But, I knew my master long before. In 1973, when I studied the martial arts with Master Yin Lian-zhi at the sports school of Northern Suburbs District, Taiyuan, as one of the top students, I met Master Li  at a tournament. At that time, in his short and tidy black beard, in his black Chinese tunic suit, and wearing old-fashioned round glasses, he sat in the middle of referee seats, working as a head referee. Master Li was always serious in his demeanor, conveying a unique feeling. I was told his skill was quite outstanding.

In one tournament, because the spear I used was big and long, I did not get high scores. After the competition, Master Li asked me: “Who taught you?  Why did you use such as heavy spear?” I told him that Master Ying taught me and that this was the spear I normally trained with. Master Li looked at the spear, deep in thought, saying: “It is not easy to learn the spear, just with strength. Look, your spear is so heavy. You are quite young, but powerful! In training the spear, you have to know how to borrow the strength from the spear shaft. Hey!  You do not understand, even I when tell you.” He shook his head and walked away.

At that time , I did not know what it meant to borrow the strength from the spear - how to borrow strength? This puzzle stayed in my mind until I studied with Master Li. When the examinations for university admission were restored in 1977, I was enrolled into the sports school of Shanxi University through outstanding scores. I systematically studied s the theory of Chinese martial arts - Taiji Quan, Shaolin Quan, Ba Gua Zhang, Whip Stick, and life preservation skill with Prof. Chen Shengfu. In 1982, I was enrolled as a postgraduate candidate of Prof. Chen Shengfu through examinations. During my post-graduate programs, I met with Master Li quite often. Prof. Chen requested us to meet and study with the famous masters of Chinese martial arts in Shanxi province. The first martial artist was Master Li. Then, Master Li lived in the dormitory of Taiyuan Sports Committee in Xinglin district, not a big room. Because I carried the banner of Prof. Chen Shengfu, he treated me very warmly. His wife offered a cup of sugar water to me. Then, I did not understand proper etiquette and sat down asking him directly about his master’s instruction and his disciples. Master Li dealt with me in an off-hand manner: “I have not taught students for a long time. Now, I am not healthy. You see I have to lie down to rest, just saying these words. You should go back, I do not have anything for you.”

I mentioned this to Prof. Chen, after I returned to the school. Prof. Chen said: “You do not understand these martial artists folk. Many of them are strange in their temperament. If you want to understand them, you must have a modest attitude to learn from them, really a modest attitude.” Afterwards, again I went to ask Master Li modestly for advice about the issues on Xing Yi Quan and Tai Ji Quan. He gradually started to explain and enlighten me. Seeing that I had a foundation and an inquiring mind, he asked me: “If I teach you, will Prof. Chen oppose?” I said: “Prof. Chen is very open-minded, telling us to search out teachers and make friends everywhere. If I study with you, Prof. Chen will be surely happy.” Master Li said: “That is good. I will mention it to Prof. Chen, when I meet him.” 

When Master Li organized a training course for Xing Yi Quan at the swimming pool of Shanxi University in 1989, I had more opportunities to meet with him. I went to the swimming pool and saw lots of people standing in San Ti. Previously I had also trained San Ti and did not truly feel and understand it. Upon seeing I was standing San Ti incorrectly , Master Li stood up and showed me his San Ti, which was really outstanding in posture. Skinny as he was, Master Li suddenly transformed into a different person: His head was slightly guided upward, with the body trunk straightened, like a upright old pine tree, but with the whole body as soft and gentle as water and a particularly bright and shining expression his two eyes. I was really shocked. A school brother standing aside said to me: “Master Li thinks highly of you. He never stands San Ti, showing like this to anybody.” I was deeply moved, expressing my intention to learn Xing Yi Quan systematically. Master Li then said: “come and train if you have time,” and presented me with his photo, his name and time signature on its back. This showed he was willing to accept me. From then on, I went to Master Li’s home to study, when I had time.

In 1992, in his 80th birthday party, lots of martial artists and enthusiasts came from various cities of the province cerebrating his birthday. Master Li himself arranged for Prof. Chen and me to sit with him in the same table. At the table, Master Li asked Prof. Chen: “Can I continue to train your disciple?” Prof. Chen was very glad to hear this, saying: “It is our duty to build up his talent. You are a martial artist. I am very relieved, if you train him.” Then, Prof. Chen said to me: “Look! Mao Mingchun. You are really lucky, now that the master that is looking for disciple. You must painstakingly learn, and make your talents known in the field of sports. You must not let Master Li disappointed.” At that moment, I immediately poured glasses of liquor for two masters, on order to pay my respect to them. Master Li said immediately to everyone at the table: “from now on, he is my disciple, and I ask all of you to offer you help to him.” Then, I took a photo together with Master and his wife.

In 1993, Mr. Li Rongchun from Shanxi University suggested that we organize the Taiyuan Tui Shou (Pushing Hands) Association. Master Li agreed with his suggestion and told me to contact with large number of Tui Shou enthusiasts in Taiyuan. Within the year, Taiyuan Taiji Tui Shou Association was formally organized. Master Li was elected to be the president and some of my school brothers and me were appointed by Master Li to be deputy presidents. After the Tui Shou association was organized, I went to Master Li’s home almost every day, managing some business of the association, learning and studying come techniques and discussing some teaching materials. Then, we received a letter from the North American Tang Shou Tao Association, saying about 30 coaches from the Tang Shou Tao Association would come to study Xing Yi Quan and Tui Shou with Master Li. In April of 1994, our group of six to seven people traveled to Beijing and stayed in Beijing Exhibition Hotel. I was in charge of compiling the teaching plan, liaison and simple translation. We trained 28 coaches of Tang Shou Tao Association for ten days and obtained satisfactory results.

After coming back from Beijing, Master Li said to me: “your foundation is not bad, but you do not understand my style. You can only be my disciple and understand our method, after you train proficiently. My expertise is in Southern Shaolin Soft Arts, Xingyi and the whip stick. When Xing Yi, Tai Ji and Ba Gua arecombined, that is real Tai Ji. Otherwise, Tai Ji is empty. In my view, you are basically skillful in those aspects. You only need to process internal regulation, and clearly understand the essence (kernel) of Southern Shaolin and Xing Yi Quan.” He repeated: “you do not need to learn forms, because the forms are made up, while the essence that cannot be made up, is the internal instinct. The key is in how to initiate and control it. At this time, it is first necessary understand San Ti.”

Studiying San Ti with Master Li

Thousands of methods in Xing Yi Quan emanate from San Ti. The following is my understanding in training San Ti with Master Li.

Master Li said: “San Ti, also term San Cai in the old time, San Ti refers to the heaven, earth and human beings. In Xing Yi Quan, it refers to the upper, middle and lower Dantian areas, and refers to the head, hand and foot externally. Before, many people training Xing Yi Quan injured their legs. This is a fact. The reason is that they did not stand San Ti correctly. There are basically two reasons: In Practicing San ti, one must practice standing  for a long time – from 6 months to three years. Many people stood San Ti without inquiring about its principle, just standing there with strength. And the second is that most of them stand in thirty percent and seventy percent weighting. People do not understand that the thirty percent and seventy percent gravity is a single weighting method, a method for practical application of the attacking and defending techniques. It should not be adopted in the beginning of training. In the beginning, it is necessary to stand in a balanced position with slightly big step, namely, equal strength in both legs and the same sensation in both soles. The purpose of this is to train the balance of the body and the balance of internal qi and blood. Without balance of qi and blood, there will be no health. If there is no balance in the body, how could it be possible to change. Therefore, it is necessary to seek balance before looking for changes. Balance is necessary for there to be single weighting. Then success will be possible with single weighting.”

“The key points in standing stake, beside the training based upon the rules and the experience of the ancient people: the most important thing is supposed to focus on the mutual response in the five body parts: vertex, palm, sole, gravity, and center. The vertex should be uplifted. The combination of the five body parts is the essential in standing stake.”

My understanding: I trained San Ti for long time, but I did not have any special sensation, other than feeling very tired in the legs. After I trained San Ti again under Master Li’s instruction, a series of reactions took place inside my body. First, I could train in relaxation: Master Li requested me to stretch out the head, hands and feet in relaxation in standing the stake: with the head uplifted in relaxation for pulling apart every section of the spine column, so qi and blood can flow smoothly in the Governor Vessel, with the palm and sole stretched out, in order to dredge qi and blood in the four limbs to build up internal energy. After training this way for a period of time, I felt warm in the four limbs, sweating in the hands. I felt clear in the ears and bright in the eyes, and I felt more powerful. After having these positive g sensations, I became even more deeply engaged in the study of San Ti. Master Li used to say training is primarily supposed to develop the instinct and potential of the human body. So, I studied the relationship between San Ti and instinct; and how to develop the instinct.

First, in standing San Ti, the legs started to vibrate after standing for several minutes. At the same time, presenting a distending, heating, numb, painful and aching sensation. In that moment, one issue took place. If in standing the position of thirty percent and seventy percent weighting, the vibration came quickly, but lasted for short time. In standing in the position of the balance stake (balanced San Ti), vibration came slowly, but lasted for longer time. By careful sense, I found that periodic change took place in the balanced stake; also periodic change synchronous to vibration. I became extremely excited about it, because I could not find any relevant experiments and explanations in the various texts on sports physiology. At that moment, I sensed that this phenomenon must be very important and significant physiological reaction and training method. Because vibration is periodical, I termed this type of stake as “Taiji Stake” of San Ti, indicating the rising and falling changes in energy, metabolism and body sense. Later, the tests showed that frequency of this muscular vibration in “Taiji Stake” of San Ti was about 7 ~ 10 times per second, close to the natural muscular vibration of 10 times per second, and also close to the meridians wave of 7 ~ 13 times per second.

Therefore, an idea appeared in my mind: could the muscular vibration in standing stake  be used to train the springing and shooting energy, the strength-releasing speed of the leg muscles, and the speed of the fist? The vibration in standing stake is natural and instinctive and is a kind of the physiological reaction of the human body to the motor stimulation. If the main intention and movements are added into the natural vibration, what could happen? By training and experiments, good effects could be produced in the combination of those two, and reaction ability could be greatly elevated, and the strength could be obviously increased, and the coordination of body movement could also be improved. Further, the internal five organs could be stimulated, if training goes internally.

After I told Master Li about those sensations, he was slightly shocked: “you have had these sensations and experiences? I tell you: the spontaneous vibration of the muscle is supposed to train the pre-heaven energy, and that initiated by the mind is post-heaven energy. During the vibration of the muscles in standing the stake, if initiated by the mind, it is the joint training of the pre-heaven and post-heaven energy. You have found it but cannot control it. Only when the pre-heaven energy is trained to react instantly, can it be possible to attack people without sense. In the training, it is necessary to pay more attention to the sensation and reaction of the Diantian, sole and palm.”

As for the development of the instinct and potential of the human body by Xing Yi Quan and the theory of “practicing the fist skill like walking”, walking is an instinctive movement of the human body. Let us study what walking means. By studying the walking and standing method of the chicken, we can understand that what we learn from the chicken legs in Xing Yi Quan is the stability of the chicken in stepping energy, stamping energy and standing on one leg. By studying the relationships between the walking, running and pouncing movements of animals that walk on four legs and the movements of Xing Yi Quan, we can discover that San Ti is like the standing posture of the tiger and leopard, and  Pi Quan is like the walking process of the tiger and leopard.

When we stand in San Ti and bend the body forward for 90 degrees, it looks like the posture of animals walking with four limbs on the ground. Human beings evolved from the ape and the ape evolved from the animals that walk on all fours. The baby’s crawling is very similar to the walking of a small cat or dog. The changes in San Ti - Pi Quan - is very similar to walking of the tiger and leopard. The release of force  in Pi Quan can be viewed as the forward pouncing of the tiger and leopard. In the twelve animals of Xing Yi Quan, the special techniques of the animals walking with four limbs like tiger, monkey, horse and bear were adopted, and with San Ti (the essentials of Chinese martial arts) were summarized and refined through long-term practice. The importance of this is that the movements and postures are very close to the natural, instinctive movements of animals and humans being.

There is a famous saying in Xing Yi Quan: “to strike a person is like walking.” When it is said that one should to return to the state of infancy, it means to that one should crawl naively like baby; in standing, feel like you are crawling. Because the four limbs touch the ground in crawling, every step is real and firm. Therefore, it is said “the fist does not go out in vain and come back in vain.” In Six Harmony Boxing Methods, there is a saying: “a baby’s striking and playing methods must develop naturally.” 

In walking, the animals of four limbs always touch the ground at three points. In order to maintain balance, the lower back and tail turn naturally. When the human stands and walks, the center of gravity is high. Although the two hands do not touch the ground, the arms still wave forwards and backward, like the movements of the two forelimbs in walking of. When  animals walk, the rear foot of the same side always replaces the front foot of the same side, and the front foot extends forward, to walk alternatively at the left and right side. When the tiger and leopard run quickly or pounce on their prey, after the two rear feet land on the ground simultaneously, the front two feet land on the ground simultaneously; and four limbs land on the ground in turn in normal running and walking.

In Xing Yi Quan, there is such saying that “only when the hand and foot arrive at the same time, is there real skill. The hand and foot arrive in separation, in walking, running and gathering force. The hand and foot arrive together, in galloping, pouncing and releasing the force. The basic original form of San Ti is smooth step and twisted step. The smooth step is suitable for straight force, like Beng Quan, and the twisted step suitable for curved force, like Heng Quan.

San Ti is the foundation for attacking skills and movements of Xing Yi Quan, and all the movements in Xing Yi Quan come from this basic posture, so it is said that “all methods come from San Ti”. San Ti includes the basic principles of the stepping forms, body forms and hand forms in Xing Yi Quan. San Ti is not only a posture for both attack and defense, it also can powerfully strengthen the body, expel illness and prolong the life. By standing in San Ti, it is possible to regulate the balance between qi and blood, and regulate the coordination of the nine major sections of the whole body. Therefore, it is a basic method for training internal and external “six harmonies”.

The intensity of the movements is maximal in standing San Ti with gravity of front thirty and rear seventy, and less in standing with gravity of front forty and rear sixty, and even less with gravity of front fifty and rear fifty. There is also a form with the  front bow step. There are different demands and functions in each standing posture. All of them need to be trained.

There are four phenomena in Xing Yi Quan: chicken leg, dragon body, bear shoulder and tiger holding the head. Therefore, in standing San Ti and practicing Pi Quan, it is necessary to sense their respective and interesting implications.

Master Li on Taiji

Returning back to Taiyuan after teaching the coaches of North American Tang Shou Tao Association, Master Li called me to his home, saying: “The American students want to learn Tai Ji Quan. The 88 forms are too long. I wrote down 45 forms, derived from the main movements of 88 forms.” The following are the names of 45 forms written down by Master Li.

1. Preparation.

2. Stance.

3. Walk forward and hold the sparrow tail in the right.

4. Single whip.

5. Uplift the hand.

6. White crane spreads wings.

7. Left pulling knee with twisted step.

8. Play Bi Pa with the hand.

9. Left and right pulling knee with twisted step.

10. Play Bi Pa with the hand.

11. Walk forward to move, block and pound.

12. Like blockage and like closure.

13. Cross hand.

14. Hold the tiger back to the mountains.

15. Grab the sparrow tail sideways.

16. Look at the hammer underneath the elbow.

17. Roll the humerus backward.

18. Left and right oblique fly.

19. Uplift the hand and advance the posture.

20. White crane spreads wings.

21. Left pulling knee.

22. Needle on the bottom of sea.

23. Flash the whole arm.

24. Turn the body and throw the hammer.

25. Walk forward to move, block and pound.

26. Walk forward and hold the sparrow tail in the right.

27. Single whip.

28. Cloud hand.

29. Single whip.

30. High exploring horse at the left and right.

31. Separate the feet leftward and rightward.

32. Turn the body and stamp with the left foot.

33. Left and right pulling knee with twisted step.

34. Walk forward and pound with the hammer.

35. Turn the body and white snake spits the tongue.

36. Walk forward to move and block.

37. Stamp with the right foot.

38. Crouch the tiger at the left and right.

39. Turn the body backward and stamp with the foot.

40. Strike the ears with two fists.

41. Stamp with the left foot.

42. Turn the body and stamp with the right foot.

43. Walk forward to move and block.

44. Like blockage and like closure.

45. Cross hand.

Master Li said: “I have given you a subject, a subject for examination, and also a research project. You need to carefully study the special points in Xing Yi Quan and Ba Gua Zhang, and you’d better put those important points into the 45 forms. Earlier, Sun Lu Tang compiled a kind of Tai Ji Quan, called Moving Step Tai Ji Quan, based upon the footwork of Xing Yi Quan. We also should be innovative and  compile them scientifically. Now, there is so much knowledge compiled not good than our predecessors?” Master Li said: “this art was termed Xin Yi (heart and mind) and Xing Yi (form and mind)”, and we have Xin Yi (new intention). 

Master Li’s comments encouraged me greatly. I researched many things and studied Xing Yi Quan, Tranquility-Skill Threads-Entangling Tai Ji Quan (Jin Gong Chan Si Tai Ji Quan), Wu Style Tai Ji Quan, Ba Gua Zhang, and Shaolin Soft Arts. Through repeated compilation and revision over five years, the manuscript was preliminarily finalized. After demonstrating for Master Li, Master Li commented: “it is okay. You need to consider the frame, intensity, energy and force, speed and smoothness; whether you are able to separate the true and the false, and have the energy burst forth instantly; can the 45 forms be practiced faster than Xing Yi Quan, and are the various body parts more smooth, active and changeable?” 

After hearing all this, my head was spinning. How could it be possible to practice with such high demands, and to have them all included into 45 forms? Master Li enlightened me: “The frame should be reasonable and the accumulated energy should be full and perfect, like stretching a bow, and the energy should be shoot out like an arrow, when it is needed. The Dantian is a round ball without a terminus. How could you change it into two appearances, four images and eight trigrams? The force should be intensified from looseness, and the key is the internal intensity. Do not show it in hands. Once it is smooth and active, it is fast in speed. Where are a thousand units of weight? Where are four units of weight? Once you find it, you can speed up as you want. At that moment, it does not matter if it is Tai Ji Quan, Xing Yi Quan or Ba Gua Zhang, and you can change the speed and energy as you want. Do not forget the circle of the Southern Shaolin soft art.” 

Then I worked everyday on the research subject given to me by Master Li, continuously testing  and continuously  improving. When, just after making some progress, I needed his instruction and guidance, I was shocked with endless sadness by the news Master Li passed away. Ten years have passed and his voice and expressions still frequently appear before me. Certain progress had been made in the subject left over by Master Li, but it is still far away from his demands. We (myself and the other disciples) must unite closely, study jointly, make progress together and follow the expectations of the ancestors to pass down Chinese martial arts.  

In memory of Master Li with this article | 2010-5-20
(Translated by Huang Guoqi)




























Interview with Liu Rui (Small Frame Chengjia Zhaobao Taijiquan)

Interview of Liu Rui by Alex Yeo in T’ai Chi Magazine, October 2007

Alex Yeo: Thank you Master Liu for this interview. Could you give us a brief introduction to Zhaobao Taijiquan?

Liu Rui: Zhaobao Taijiquan is an orthodox school of Taijiquan as created by Zhang Sanfeng. It was passed down to Jiang Fa (1574- 1654) of Zhao Bao town (located in Henan Province) by Wang Zongyue of Shangxi province. One of the better-known inheritors was Chen Qingping (1795- 1869). Chen had many disciples; among them was He Zhao Yuan (1811- 1891)(who created He Style Taijiquan). Zhaobao taijiquan has flourished into various schools [of Zhaobao Taijiquan] and among them, He style has become the main stream of Zhaobao Taijiquan. Zhaobao Taijiquan has the traditional characteristics of Wudang boxing. Although it has been hundreds of years since Zhang Sanfeng created Taijiquan, Zhaobao Taijiquan nothing the less still retained the special characteristics of the three arts [form, push hands, and martial applications] melted into one pot as created by Zhang Sanfeng [from which the name Three-Harmonized- in-One]. In the 1920’s my teacher Zheng Wuqing (1894- 1984) followed He Zhaoyuan’s grandson He Qing Xi (1862- 1936) and studied the Dai Li routine. I am Zheng Wuqing’s inner disciple and the 11th generation inheritor. For many generations Zhaobao Taijiquan had been kept strictly within the town. It was only in the time of the 10th generation that the art was taught to outsiders.

Alex Yeo: How did you start learning Zhaobao Taijiquan?

Liu Rui: I’m not from a martial arts family. It was fate that brought me to it. In the 1950’s and 1960’s, [living] conditions were very bad and due to lack of nutrition I was very, very ill. Basically the doctors gave up on me and even refused to treat me. Fortunately, an old physician recommended me to my teacher to learn Taijiquan. Within 100 days, I showed miraculous recovery, after which I continued to learn and the rest is history. I was fortunate to follow my teacher for 20 years. He was like a father to me, teaching me everything he knew. From 1974, my teacher took almost seven years painstakingly correcting every single minute detail of my form. 

Alex Yeo: I’m not very familiar with Zhaobao style, but I have the impression that there are many different sets and routines in Zhaobao Taijiquan, unlike other styles such as Chen which only has two representative forms, and Yang, Wu(2), Wu(3), and Sun which only have one representative form each, excluding variations. Why is this so?

Liu Rui: It’s about spreading to the masses. Seventh generation Chen Qingping didn’t keep strictly to the rule of keeping the art within the town. He sorted out the routines into three different routines – Dai Li, Ling Luo and Teng Nuo. Chen taught the Dai Li routine to He Zhaoyuan, the Teng Nuo routine to Li Jing Yan, and the Ling Luo to other disciples. Among Chen’s disciples, He Zhaoyuan had the best gongfu. He personally passed down the Dai Li routine (also known as Cheng [heritage or accomplishment] or Chi Cun [measurement] routine0 to his grandson He Qingxi. He Qingxi who based on the principle of, “first from open and wide, then to small and tight,” in turn modified the routine into the Big and Small routines. The Small routine was passed to Hao Ychao and Zheng Wuqing, (who also learned the original Heritage Frame), while the Big routine was passed to other disciples. As the form originated from Wudang, was inherited by Zhaobao Town, and made perfect by the He family, this is why it has also been known as Wudang Zhaobao He Style Taijiquan besides longer-sounding, Wudang Zhaobao Three-Harmonized- in-One Heritage Frame Taijiquan, which is the style I practice and teach. Each successive practitioners of each branch [of Zhaobao Taijiquan] added their own individual experiences and understanding onto the routines they practiced and passed down accordingly. This is why there are so many different routines and methods today, and as they originated from Zhaobao Town it is not incorrect to label them all as Zhaobao Taijiquan.

Alex Yeo: So out of so many, which routine could be said to be representative to Zhaobao Taijiquan?

Liu Rui: From the beginning, the teacher could pass on what they liked to as many students as they wished, but the Cheng routine (Heritage Frame) was passed on only to one or two disciples. Why? We know that Zhaobao Taijiquan has the concept of three-harmonized-in-one and the Heritage Frame best displays this concept. The Heritage Frame is characterized by high postures and very smooth and gentle movements. What is three-harmonized-in- one? It is form, push hands, and combat applications, you do not have to change the movements yet you can still use them as is. Zhaobao and Wudang are just localities. Cheng means to “ji cheng”, (meaning to inherit, to carry on), and to “da cheng”, (meaning to achieve, accomplish). [There were very few] inheritors of this routine, only one or two in each generation. It was meant only for the succeeding leader, though two would usually be taught; just in case something happened to the chosen successor, there would be another person to take over the role.

Chen Qingping taught the Cheng routine to He Zhaoyuan. He Zhaoyuan taught it to He Qingxi who taught it to Hao Yuchao and Zheng Wuqing. I was Zheng Wuqing’s disciple. Zheng loshi(teacher) also taught only two students. One was Shi Maoyuan, my elder disciple brother, and he had already passed on. The other was me. At first we learned the xiao jia, (small set). We all learned the small set. In the beginning he told me not to learn outside(meaning not to learn Zhaobao styles from other teachers), I’d only get things mixed up, (i.e., get confused). It was after seven years that my teacher started to change it into Cheng routine. Later my teacher decided to break tradition and spread the Cheng routine rather than teach only one or two per generation. [His decision was] as long as the student’s character is good and his power of understanding is high, pass it on to him. And this [instruction to spread the art] was passed down to me. So for the past few years I’d teach a student and observe him for a few years. If he meets the criteria I’d teach him the Cheng routine, if you do not inherit the Cheng routine, you do not inherit the oral formula. I have many disciple brothers, but they do not know the formula.

Alex Yeo: Those who do not get the formula would not get to learn the Heritage Frame?

Liu Rui: That is correct. They remain at the small set, or big set, or the Ling Luo sets. Now however I teach the Heritage Frame to anyone that meets the criteria.

Alex Yeo: So what is different about the Heritage Frame from other routines?

Liu Rui: Our postures are high, our movements are small, and everything is very gentle, refined and elegant. It is very natural. Nature is round, and our movements are round. Nature is yin/yang. , and in the moment we move there is also yin/yang. Nature is also straight, and we are also straight, for example, when we step, the line from knee to foot is straight. (i.e. perpendicular). Where the hands go also the body goes. This form of boxing is governed by the eight characters of zhong, zheng, ping, yuan, qing, ling. rou and huo (center, upright, smooth, circular, light, agility, suppleness and liveliness, respectively). These eight characters are in line with natural human physiology. Lightness, agility, evenness, and slowness reduce exertion of physical strength as well as release a person’s latent and hidden abilities. When your latent abilities are released, your [internal] strength will naturally be more powerful.

Every movement is [demanded to be ] light and supple, and every movement is to be accurate down to the last inch [i.e. to be absolutely at the right spot]. When you have trained [correctly] long enough , your internal energy will naturally blend external movements, your internal strength will gradually increase. This is suppleness resulting in hardness, storing up suppleness to become hardness. Supple results in hardness, the method is using suppleness. Storing up (or accumulating) suppleness to become hardness, the strength is the ability to accumulate.

The positions of the postures are strict and exact, and after becoming familiar with them, habit will become natural (i.e. subconscious movements without having to think about it). When you cross hand with somebody, the moment you come into contact you will control the opponent, and whether you want to [go on to] hurt him or not is up to you. Yet all these things are done without and exertion of strength, with no trying to force things to happen. With this kind of training, martial skills and health promotion are effortlessly blended into one.

Alex Yeo: Speaking of martial applications, how does Zhaobao Taijiquan approach this?

Liu Rui: Push hands is the bridge between the form and martial applications. Zhaobao push hands has five characters to note. They are ting, zhan, zhan, nian, and chan (listen, quick, stain, stick, pester, respectively) My teacher Zheng Wuqing once said that push hands is a contest of circles, not contending of strength. The classics say that we have to be (paraphrasing) stable like that of the flat ground yet lively like a car wheel, as well as the qi is to be like the car wheel with the wheel to be the wheel spoke.

Usually people will understand the Taijiquan circle to be flat, horizontal circle. Actually, in Zhaobao Heritage Frame Taijiquan the circle is three a three dimensional circle, rotating horizontally, vertically, diagonally, in reality a ball in fact.Take White Crane Spreads Wings, Lazily Inserting Garment. Single Whip, cloud Hands and so on, all of them are doing circular movements. And it is this kind of circularity is not a circle on a flat plane but a three- dimensional circle. Each circle leads into another circle; there is no part that is not circular. In the entire 75-posture routine there are countless circles, thus completing the entire form. In push hands we use countless circles, countless circular movements to probe each other’s strength and stability.

The higher the quality of this three- dimensional circulatory, the more able you are able to neutralize any kind of force directed towards you from the opponent and cause it to slide off the tangent of your circle. This ability to neutralize a force off the tangent of you circle seems to be something amazing, maybe even magical, but it is natural physics, all apart of natural science. This is how you handle someone who comes at you with great physical force. The movement of my circle is small, stable but quick without losing my equilibrium. The opponent when applying his force on me will not be able to stand firmly; he has lost his feet, so to speak. This is 4 liang (Chinese unit of weight, about 0.05kg) to move [i.e. 200g to move 500g].

[In the circles] everything is moving, and in spheres, constantly, never ceasing. The moon constantly orbits the earth, the earth constantly orbits around the Sun, [and] the Sun constantly orbits the Milky Way. Everything is constantly moving and they follow the circular shape. In Taijiquan we must also be like that. We must find the circle in every movement. In every posture, you have the central equilibrium, and under this condition, you execute your postures with slow, fast, relaxed, supple, nimble and lively movements. You should not nee to use much effort. If you use much effort it is no longer Taijiquan. In high -level training, you move the body with your qi. What is the motive? It is that our hands and legs not moving (i.e. the whole body does not move) you hit your opponent out. This is the highest level.

Alex Yeo: So this is the highest level, that without the body moving we can hit the opponent out?

Liu Rui: Yes but not entirely, for we still must move, but the movement is so small that is looks like we didn’t move. Observe this (demonstrating). Do you see it? Do you see my hands moving? Do you see my waist moving? There was some movement, but only those who have reached a certain standard will be able to see it. However, this is not kind of “movement” you see others doing shaking here and there. 

Alex Yeo: How do you train for this kind of skill, or neigong (internal skill)?

Liu Rui: Taijiquan is a traditional Chinese health art. [Health is obtained] thru the graceful, slow, smooth and round movements, and obtained slowly. [The aim of] of Taijiquan through the round movements is to remove the external coarse strength and develop the jing, shen, qi (essence, spirit and energy). So it is through this type of training that we obtain the [Taijiquan] internal. Because it is a neijia quan (internal boxing), its emphasis is on the yi nian (the thought); there is no external form. External boxing will talk about strength, linear lines and external shape. So neigong requires a long-term training in the form to obtain. As the saying goes, “A day’s training is a day’s gong (as in gongfu). A day not trained is ten day’s lost.” The way to obtain neigong is to do the form. There is no other way. There is a saying to (paraphrasing) do the form 108,000 times. (3) So if you want to obtain neigong, the method is already spelled out clearly for you.

Alex Yeo: Just to clarify, there is only the form, there are no other methods besides the form?

Liu Rui: There is no other training method. There is just this form that we have. You just practice this form hundreds of thousands of times. You pursue it endlessly, [To give an example, if it is your goal and you practiced and] if you think you have achieved song (looseness), you practice even more to achieve even an even greater level of song. If you think you have achieved qing (lightness) you practice even more to achieve an even greater level of qing. You just keep pursuing it [i.e. practicing the form] for the rest of your life. There is no end goal to speak of [i.e. reach a point where you have “arrived” and can stop practicing the form.

Alex Yeo: Is really possible to gain gongfu just by doing the form only?

Liu Rui: Many people have practiced very hard for many years, yet they achieve nothing, and this is why so many people believe Taijiquan is just for health only and cannot produce gongfu.

This is not true.

As long as you follow all the requirements accurately, you don’t doubt what you are doing. You just do it without hesitation, and, of course you have to persevere, you will achieve the high levels of Taijiquan. It will not happen in the short term, but it will happen.

High levels of gongfu is not fiction, nor are they imagination. It is real, it is fact. I don’t know about others but let me tell you about my own teacher, and this I witnessed with my own eyes. [When] he was teaching in the public park, and someone would see some dust on his shoulders or wrinkles on his shirt and went to pat it off without him knowing, that person would find himself sent off about a zhang (Chinese unit of measurement, about 3.33 meters) away. This happened not once but several times on many occasions. [Since he taught in public parks] many people in the Northeast [of China where Zheng Wuqing was teaching] witnessed it too, so this is not a false tale or exaggeration.

Thus I say that real Taijiquan gongfu is a real thing, and not mere legend as many make it out to be. There are people who posses this gongfu. To achieve this gongfu is not an easy thing however. It requires many factors, none of which [could afford] to be absent. Why aren’t we surprised that we have an ancient saying, “Practitioners are as many as the furs on the cow, but [those who succeed] are fewer than the hooves a cow has?” Or the other traditional saying (paraphrasing), Three years of Chang Chuan (Long Fist, i.e. external martial art training) and you can kill somebody, [but] 10 years in Taji without leaving the front door?”

These saying tell us that you need to put in tremendous effort, laborious effort, and a very long time in order for the gongfu to manifest. I feel that there are no shortcuts in Taijiquan. There is a process, of “[know the] theory, put it into practice, [understand the] theory in relation to the practice, then put [it] into practice again” And the process repeats continually. This is what we call Wudang Zhaobao Heritage Frame Taijiquan, “a level of gongfu, a level of knowledge.” 

Alex Yeo: How about those that have trained for many years but yet to achieve any success? What could be the reason?

Liu Rui: Some practitioners have put in many years of effort but see no progress, so they say there is nothing to gain. As the well-known saying goes, “Gongfu does not let down the person with xin”[Chinese word meaning the will or determination to succeed]. There are some reasons for this lack of progress:

+ You are tied up in your old ideology (i.e. you refuse to accept even when corrected).

+ You were taught the incorrect or wrong method.

+ You need a mingshi (teacher who understands). Then you need the transmission (he must teach you). Which do you not have?

+ Have you learned in a scientific and systematic way?

+ You do not have a deep understanding and knowledge [of the art], or what you know is not enough and you are merely scratching the surface.

+ You didn’t respect your teacher [and so he didn’t teach you].

“Those that have the will, will accomplish the matter.” Did you persevere enough? Were you determined enough? Does your teacher really understand, or is he “blind leading the blind?” Did you really do it step by step, or did you try to run before you could crawl? Gongfu is not just obtained through training; you must also understand [it]. Taiji Quan, the quan (boxing), if you want to understand it thoroughly you must put in the effort. If you think training your boxing is just putting forth your strength and energy, this is wrong, this is a big disease.

Taijiquan requires song, rou, yuan, huo (relax, supple, round, lively), if you do not realize them [i.e. understand through hands on experience], don’t understand what they mean, then no matter how hard and how long you train you will still not develop any gongfu.

Alex Yeo: You mentioned song here. You also mentioned earlier about if you think you have achieved song, to practice even more to achieve more song. What is song anyway?

Liu Rui : When we talk about song we have to talk about “song rou. (4)” Taijiquan practitioners, even those who do not practice but merely know something about the art, all know about song. Yet, when you ask them what exactly it is they could only explain it somewhat, or it turns out that they don’t really understand it after all. In twenty years with my teacher, every time he corrected my form, the first thing that he said was that I was not song enough, and I was stiff like a rod and should be more natural!

Why do we painstakingly pursue song and in the end still cannot song? We humans as we grow up and develop and live in this world, we often have to struggle against our environment, we struggle against wild animals and we struggle against each other. Only then can we survive. This kind of consciousness [of struggling and the resulting tensions caused] cannot be easily eliminated.

That’s why practicing Taijiquan is to use the natural pre-heaven strength to replace the post-heaven coarse strength. This is not something to be accomplished in one day, but needs a long period and arduous effort to explore, to pursue, to train, as well as to require the correct guidance from your teacher. Then you can have some kind of harvest.

My teacher always emphasized to me that the practitioner’s life long goal is to pursue Song. Seek song within song, seek lightness within lightness. These pursuits should never be ending. This is why [in our style] we have a saying to, “Jing Gu (muscles, tendons, sinews and bones) must song, Pi Mo (skin and hair) must Gong (attack).” These are very simple eight [Chinese] characters. But how to put them into practical Taijiquan Can cause practitioners to feel like the proverbial tiger that tried to eat up the sky, ending up with no ground to land its paws. I too once felt at a loss[like the tiger]. That time my teacher said to me, “Liu Rui, have you eaten dang shan li before? It is just like that taste. Once the pear goes into your mouth there is no residue at all. Song Rou precisely is when there is no trace of strength at all in the body. “Jing Ju must Song” means even in your bones must get rid of every last trace of hard energy.

I analyzed my teacher’s analogy and finally I understood. To song, even your bone marrow, tendons, sinews and meridians, all of them, you cannot accumulate strength, you cannot use strength and you cannot harbor strength. Yet song must also have a limit, and the limit is that the whole body must relax, like the willow supporting the wind – it is not supporting anything at all, not resisting any external forces at all. Then this is the appropriate degree of song and then your song will be natural. The manifestation of song and tension, yin and yang, concurrently, is the body is song but the back is tense. This is why in Taijiquan we require to contain the chest and raise the back. This way, the energy is able to rise from the feet, travel through the legs, concentrate in the waist and is expressed through the four limbs. The key is to song the body and tense the back. If the body is not song, how can the qi be song?

Alex Yeo: Master Liu, it is unfortunate we have such a short time available, there are many more questions I’d like to ask. So to end, could you give us a piece of advice to take home, on what we must do to obtain Taijiquan gongfu?

Liu Rui : Everything has a method. It cannot be that there is no method. The method has to be correct or you will end up on the wrong path.

Alex Yeo: Thank you.


The Queen of Baguazhang, heiress of Taijiquan – M. Ge Chunyan

Given natural circumstances in martial arts men dominate but there are exceptions especially in the internal arts which rely on skill/technique/strategy over external force. One of the most renowned female masters of our generation is M. Ge Chunyan (戈春艷, 1959- ) who was born in Beijing. She started learning martial arts in 1972 and was among the first batch of athletes that formed the renowned Beijing Wushu Team in 1978.

As a young girl she originally joined a different sports team but when the Wushu scouts (Wu Bin and Li Junfeng) were seeking new recruits of talented young athletes, she stood out. At the young age of 13, M. Ge Chunyan was considered ‘old’ for the talent program (most were young like Jet Li, who was only 7 at the time) but as M. Li Junfeng explained it was her determination and hard work ethic that allowed young Chunyan to be selected (as the oldest recruit). She had the never give up attitude to training so that if she could complete a technique she would practice it more in her own time, arduously until perfection. 

The initial phases of the Beijing Wushu team was a grueling experience, it was the launch of an entire new athletic paradigm within China and the Beijing Wushu team had to become the best. During those early days much of the ‘standardization’ was still in development and the skills of the young athletes were imparted by experienced old Master hands. 

M. Ge would often tell stories of the different Masters they encountered. The students would be introduced to a style/system and trained daily for up to a month. Then they would then be asked their major of study for the traditional segment. M. Ge Chunyan opted for Baguazhang and her tale of mastery began. 

M. Li Junfeng, her coach was also a master hand of Baguazhang and had a vivid interest in the style, as many different experts were called upon to teach M. Ge Chunyan different families of Baguazhang such as Li Ziming, Liu Jingrui, Sha Guozheng, Sun Jianyun, Sun Zhijun and so on.  Together Li Junfeng and Ge Chunyan formulated a set of skills (routine) that would absorb the essence of the various teachers’ styles. The influence of Tongbeiquan in Sha Style Baguazhang, the wrapping and spiralling of Liu Jingrui, the swimming dragon body and coiling of  Sun Zhijun and so forth. Ge Chunyan was also well skilled in Chen Style Taijiquan, where she was a disciple of Lei Muni and later Feng Zhiqiang whilst also obtaining insights from many masters of that generation. 

During that time she was to become the National Champion of Baguazhang for an amazing five years in a row. In 1984, M.Ge shocked the entire Wushu community by winning five gold medals in the 1984 national championships in Chen Style Taijiquan, Long Tassel Sword, Baguazhang, Three man weapon sparring and the individual all round championship. It was a rare feat and even more astounding that during the year of the compeition she was also involved in the filming of Wulin Zhi (武林志, Pride's deadly fury) as the leading actress potraying a Baguazhang exponent.

After her competitive years in performance wushu like most athletes that push the boundaries, she obtained some injuries and became a Wushu coach herself. Her studies of martial arts later continued but more on the traditional route. M. Ge became a closed disciple of GM. Sun Zhijun and of GM. Feng Zhiqiang focusing on the complete study of the big three internal arts – Taijiquan, Baguazhang and Xingyiquan. 

With GM. Feng Zhiqiang she often spoken of waking early in the morning as training started deep inside the Heavenly Temple Park (Tian Tan) at 4am, where they would practice Zhan Zhuang (Standing like a post - Qigong/Meditation) for an hour before proceeding to train Taijiquan. Even in the middle of the cold harsh Beijing winters they would start with many layers of clothes and later the heat and steam from the training would see them left with only a layer or two. With GM Sun Zhijun she recalls the amount of circle walking practice especially the Xia Pan (Lower plane) where for hours of training the legs would become exhausted and strengthened tremendously. Both GM Feng and GM Sun were renowned for the fighting/combat proficiency, GM Feng was often the one chosen by Chen Fa'ke to take on all challengers with his powerful Tuishou skills, whilst GM Sun was often heralded as one of the best Baguazhang fighters with his amazing integrated throwing skills. 

M. Ge Chunyan has also appeared in many films such as Wulin Zhi (武林志 Pride's deadly fury 1983), Dadao Wangwu (大刀王五,Hero Wang Wu 1985), (Deadend of the Besiegers 1992) and (The Legendary Amazons 2011). Even today, M. Ge Chunyan is called upon as an advisor to films like 2013 film The Grandmaster (一代宗师) by Wong Kar-wai where she was the chief advisor of Baguazhang and trainer for Zhang Zhiyi (who won best actress for the film). As expressed by Wong Kar-wai, he sought out the most traditional and recognized experts of the respective styles which included Duncan Leung (Wing Chun), Wang Shiquan (Bajiquan), Fu Yangquan (Xingyiquan) and Ge Chunyan (Baguazhang). 

M. Ge Chunyan is an 8th duan Wushu expert and a recognized Wuying (武英, Martial Hero) category athlete (the most prestigious recognition awarded for a Wushu exponent in China). Although once a Wushu athlete, today she dedicated to the internal arts and their importance towards health preservation. 


Short Interview with Chou Deji (Chow Tak Gei) - Inheritor of Futsan Pak Mei

Today, it is recognized that Chou Taisheng was the earliest practitioner of Pak Mei to teach in Futsan, can you explain the situation there at the time ?

Chou: After liberation, Father taught Pak Mei boxing as a means of supporting the family. In those days usually fees were charged monthly, I cannot recall the exact amount. There were very few students/disciples until Master Liu (Liu Shaoliang) came, thereafter the Pak Mei style was more widely practiced.

What is the difference between your father's and Liu Shaoliang's Pak Mei ?

Chou: Master Liu empasized fast and dynamic hand techniques whilst my father stressed the importance of power and weapons practice. Father often would mention that Master Liu's skills were better and that is why he wanted me to also become a disciple of Master Liu.

You must have accepted quite a few students/disciples of Pak Mei right ?

Chou: I took students on from a very young age, in addition to the Futsan Jingwu association and the Futsan Martial arts association where I was the Coach for over 3 years, but the students usually take it for granted. In fact, there are very few in Futsan who really are interested in Pak Mei. However, there are many foreigners who are obsessed with Pak Mei, and I cam across who had a lot of passion for studying our boxing. There was one specific foreign student who studied one routine (set) with me, a few years later he made the special trip of returning all the way from Argentina to ask me to teach him another routine. When he first came he could not speak chinese, but second time round he learnt to say ""Shifu'" to me and even showed pictures highlighting my father as "Zhe shi Shi Gong"" (This is grand master).

So how is the popularity and development of Pak Mei in Futsan today ?

Chou: In comparison to other boxing styles, today in Futsan there not many who study Pak Mei. It is likely that amongst all the counties in the city there are around 100 or so students/practitioners. In terms of really having a martial arts school for Pak Mei, only Liu Shaoliang son Liu Weiben opened a "Liu Shaoliang Memorial Hall".

Why are there so few practitioners ?

Chou: This is actually a problem related to society and the pressures of other interests or objectives in modern life.

So are you dissappointed with the state of Pak Mei then ?

Chou: There can't really be dissappointments since history always experiences it's ups and downs. It would be a hope for me that in Futsan some sort of Pak Mei boxing centre could be establshed and that many more people do not think of it as just a hobby or casual activity since such a mindset is likely to change. Rather, I hope that they could embrace it as a form of life.

In terms of the content, Chou Deji highlighted that the most representative boxing are the Sup Ji Kuen, Gao Bo Toi, Sup Bat Mo Kiu and Fu Bo. The Sup Ji Kuen is seen as the most basic, yet it should not be seen as easy since its practice is very challenging. Gao Bo Toi is the most representative of the Pak Mei style, it has 9 basic hand methods, and each of the hand methods have nine variations which total over 81 combinations. Other than this, there is the Fu Bo (Tiger Step) which is considered highly powerful and specialized..


Hebei Chuojiao Master Wang Luocang

Wang Luocang, also known as Wang Yingfeng (英峰) and nicknamed the ‘Flying Rat’, was from Zhujiazuo Village, Liushi Town, Hebei Province (which is between Li county and Gaoyang county). Since childhood he had shown great interest in martial arts, he was also studious and intelligent. In his teens he was fortunate to become a disciple of Master Wei Changyi (1812-1910) studying the skills of Chuojiao. As a diligently hardworking student even though his home was very far away he would travel daily for training practicing his kicking and boxing methods without fail irrespective of rain, hail or shine. It is that determination ensuring that each time he learnt new techniques he practiced them repeatedy for a thousand times, that allowed Wang Lucang to gain great skills in all aspects of Chuojiao.

Whilst many masters have studied Chuojiao, very few completed the system because it was so comprehensive and took much time to practice. Wang Luocang was one of the few who stayed through the difficulties and researched this most beautiful system of combat also known as Wen family Boxing (Wen Jia Quan). Both the external and internal (Neigong) skills were acquired and his Yuanyang Kicks (Signature move of Chuojiao) were maginficently deadly, his lightness and agility of a mystical standard.  This however was not enough as Wang Luocang travelled around the country as a Biaoshi (Logistics Security Officer) across many well known areas of China such as Beijing, Tianjin, Jinan, Shandong, Shanxi, Gansu, Mongolia and Liaoning meeting many masters, making friends and exchanging knowledge of martial arts with them. He gained special guidance from three teachers known as Chi, Bo and Chun who advanced his skills.

In 1910 as he was travelling southward with some cargo, he heard notice that his teacher Wei Changyi was seriously ill. He immediately left his post and back to be at his teacher’s side. For over 100 days he served as his teachers nurse and during such time Master Wei advised him on the principles of a worthy life based on the aspects of Ren (Benevolence), Yi (Righteousness), Li (Priopriety), Zhi (wisdom) and Xin (Trust). He explained that Zhong (loyalty), Xiao (filial piety), Jie (economizing) and Ti (duty as a younger brother) were of primary importance when imparting Chuojiao skills. During this time the important manuals and classics of Chuojiao were imparted to Wang Luocang – classics such as  Wenjia Teaching Method《温家教育术》, Wen Family Boxing and Weapons Records《温家拳器械录》Nine Sequences of Chuojiao Zhizi Manual《九趟戳脚枝子谱》Chuojiaofanzi Boxing Manual《戳脚翻子拳谱》Chuojiaofaniz Weapons Manual 《戳脚翻子器械谱》Internal and External Skills Methodology《内外功功理功法》Emperor’s Four empty eight postures methods《皇帝的四空八势之法》Taijiquan Skills and Theories manual《太极拳功理法谱》Yin Yang Bagua boxing skills and theories manual《阴阳八卦拳功理法谱》Five elements boxing skills and theories manual《五行拳功理法谱》12 Shapes boxing skills and theories manual 《十二形拳功理法谱》and more.  Wei Changyi passed away at the advanced age of 98.

In 1915, Master Wang started accepting disciples which included the sons of the Liu family household – Liu Jián (刘济安)、Liu Baoán (刘保安)、Li Fazhong (李法宗)、Wang Buqin (王步群)、Wang Laotong (王老通) and Wang Guixin (王贵欣).

In 1916,  In Mouying, the hinterland areas between Gaoyang, Sunning and Li Counties at the hospital he accepted Liu Changwang () and at Gengzhuang village, Liu Renyi. In Liushi Town, further accepted disciples included Yu Jinquan (余金全)、Yu Yintong (余印同)、Yan Zhanghui (闫长会)、Zhang Yonghe (张永和)、Li Menlou (李门楼) , SongChen (宋臣) and others.

In 1923,  The Liu family from his village asked his coaching so he taught Liu Xinán as well other locals such Liu Bao (刘豹)、Sun Lianqun (孙连群)、Wang Buliao (王步卿)、Wang Bujie (王步杰)、Wang Baoyu (王宝玉)、Wang Henian (王鹤年)、whilst in Mouying village he accepted Liu Xianzhang (刘宪章) , Liu Fengchao (刘凤朝)、Qi Huo (祁活)、in Nanyutian Village he taught Wang Fengqi (王凤斋) and Li Ying (李银).

In 1931,  In his village hometown accepted further disciples such as Wang Dahan (王大汉)、Sun Hanchun (孙汉春)、Wang Honghai (王洪海)、Li Ruixiang (李瑞祥)、Zhang Guoxing (张国兴)、Sun Chengzhi (孙承志).

In 1938,  two further discipoles included Dawang village Liu Silan (刘斯兰) and Yang Yunxiang (杨云祥).

In 1940, since his was advanced in age he accepted some grandstudents such as Liu Zhiping (刘志平)、Wang Xiaobang (王小棒)、Wang Dongyang (王东阳)、Wang Shiling (王继玲)、Kang Shuling (康树林)、Tian Huilai (田会来)、Wang Ruan (王欢)、Wang Shouzhi (王守志)、Wang Chengzhi (王成志)

In 1941 – accepted disciples from Nanyutian village - Liu Shutian (刘书田)、Zhang Shutian (张树田)、Zhang Huilai (张会来)、Zhang Huizhong (张会中)、Li Jinfeng (李金峰)、Wu Qinhe (吴庆和).

In 1945,  which marked the end of the Sino-Japanese war (2nd , 1937-1945) which had dramatic impacts to the Baoding areas since the both the headquarters of the Baoding Military Academy (保定軍校) and . Many Chuojiao practitioners (as in other confrontations, conflicts) were involved and had been killed or fatally wounded. After the surrender of the Japanese a great gathering was held in celebration with Wang Luocang who invited students from around the areas (Baoding, Sunning, Gaoyang and Li county) together. 

In 1956, he passed away at the age of 81 years old, his son Wang Buchen (1916-2003) was away in distant Shanxi Huo County and could not return, his disciple Li Ruixiang handled all the funeral arrangements and carried the coffin to the burial with other disciples Liu Xinán, Sun Lianqun and others. Attended by many of his disciples whom all felt deep respect for their teacher and responsibility to ensure Chuojiao would be passed on to only righteous inheritors


Chengdu Sports Academy Master Zheng Huaixian

Zheng Huaixian (1897-1982), also known as Zheng Deshun, was originally from Anxin County, Hebei Province. Renowned as an expert of Chinese Medicine specializing in Orthopeadics, a Martial arts expert and great teacher. He was honoured as “ Wu Yi Zongshi” (Martial & Medicine Master). 

M. Zheng started his martial arts journey in Chuojiao (戳脚) which he practiced for over 7-8 years under the tutelage of Wei Jinshan and Li Erqing, who also introduced the traditional bone setting and traumatic injuries medical techniques. Later he became a disciple of the well known Taiji, Bagua, Xingyi Master Sun Lu Tang studying for over four years. After that in 1928, he lived and taught martial arts in Shanghai simultaneously entering the martial world and was able to study and exchange with a large number of prominent masters.

In 1936. as a member of the China team he demonstrated Wushu in Berlin during the XI Olympic Games. After the formation of the new China he moved to Sichuan where in 1949 was a member of the China Wushu Association and Teacher of the Chengdu Sports Academy, which also included other experts such as Wang Shutian in its faculty. It is in Chengdu where he had a great impact, M. Zheng developed numerous classical routines and his curriculums became the basis of the education of would be masters that had passed through the Sports Academy/Institutions at the time. He was a very open and caring teacher who passed both the martial arts and medical treatment to many students.

The Sports Hospital (Sports Injury Research Centre) remains today as a legacy of his medical system. The hospital treats athletes for performance, sports injuries and recovering sports rehabilitation or isses of fatigue. It is a key integrated teaching, research clinic and practice center.


Shandong's Master Zhou Yongfu (周永福)

Zhou Yongfu (周永福, 1913 - 2015 ) was born in Weifang, Shandong Province. He was passionate about martial arts since a young and when he was sixteen together with his brother Zhou Yongxiang (周永祥, 1910 - 2004) was able to enter the Qingdao National Martial Arts Institute (青岛国术馆), during which he studied Xingyiquan, Baguazhang and Taijiquan with Tian Hongya (Disciple of Li Cunyi), Meihua Changquan with Ji Yanchang, Yantai Hao Family  Meihua Praying Mantis Boxing with Hao Henglu and so forth. He would practice everyday, putting great effort into his practice and as a result he acquired excellent foundation and became talented in martial arts. Due to his skills with the Chain Wip he was nicknamed "Flying Chain Whip Zhou".  

After graduating from the institute he specialized in Wushu and sports teaching. He became a coach at the Qingdao Institute and the Weifang Institute. During 1951-1957, he worked for the Qingdao printing house. He entered competitions in 1953-54,at the latter one there were many well known teachers, such as Wang Ziping with whom Zhou later befriended. In 1935 was the instructor for an Elementary school. In 1936, he he setup classes in his hometown Weifang accepting students/disciples. He also taught in 1941 at the Qingdao Taijiquan Society. Together with his brother Zhou Yongxiang, even back then they were both known as the Two Martial heroes of Shandong. His brother later taught at the Shandong Normal (Teacher's) University, whilst Zhou Yongfu became the Senior Coach of the Shandong provincial squads.

When the the Shandong Provincial Wushu team was formed in 1958 and Zhou was transferred as coach to the new team. As the Head coach he placed much efforts to ensure the quality of the team and devoted himself to achieve that outcome. He gave his blood, sweat and tears to ensure that later to be known talents the likes of Wang Changkai, Niu Huailu, Yu Hai, Wang Qizeng and Xu Guilin could achieve their best potential. Many of his students achieved outstanding recognition in the martial arts community as well such as  Yu Chenghui, Xu Xueli and Gao Xingliang. Truly dedicated, he remained with the team for almost 30 years, retiring from his post in 1989 at already 76 years of age. Together with his brother Zhou Yongxiang they formulated a system that encompasses all their martial skills, known as Yuanyang Men. 

Zhou Yongfu was also involved in the production of martial arts textbooks which he collaborated with such notables as Cai Longyun, Chang chenfang and Wang Ziping. His also contributed many articles and essays to magazines/publications of martial arts in China.  Together with his brother he also wrote two manuals [Meihua Mantis Boxing] and [Zhongguo Xingyi Boxing]. In 2002 he also wrote [Sun Bin Boxing] 

In recognition of his dedication and contributions to martial arts, the government recognized Zhou Yongfu as a 9th Duan Wushu Master. He settled down in Qingdao but maintained his involvement in martial arts associations, participating in events until old age. He organized sessions in Qingdao teaching free for fitness and health to the community seven times a week. During the SARS epidemic he also helped the community to understand preventative measures, improving of physical and immune health and really lived up to the expectations of a great Master.