Yantai is well known for its Mantis Boxing, and as part of the weapons in the system, it is common to find the Six Harmonies Staff (六合棍). This staff method is said to have been brought into the Mantis boxing world from practitioners in Nantushan village in Fushan district. In August, 2010 The Nantushan Liuhe Staff was entered into the official Yantai records and M Cheng Xianming (1937-) from Dongbie Guan Village, Fushan District, Yantai City, Shandong as a representative inheritor.
Cangzhou, the origin of the Liuhe Staff
Cheng Xianming explains that the Liuhe Staff was not from Nantushan but was brought into the village by a man called Yu Qiu (于秋) from Cangzhou in Hebei Province (where many great martial arts were practiced including Liuhequan (六合拳 Six Harmonies Boxing)). In the Chongwen (1628-1644) period of the Ming Dynasty, a resident of Nantushan, Yu Erzhi travelled to Cangzhou and whilst in an Inn helped a man escape from the authorities. This man called Qiu later returned with Yan Erzhi to Nantushan and together that taught the Staff methods to Yu Erzhi's grand son, whom showed great dedication and skills in its practice. As a result Yu Qiu taught the complete staff methods and from then on, the Nantushan Six Harmomies staff legacy commenced.
Yu Family Legacy
This Six Harmonies staff was kept secret within the Yu Family of the Nantushan village for generations. It wasn't until the Qianlong (1711-1799) period of the Qing dynasty, that Yu Yi taught the staff outside the family. Yu Yi at the time also wanted to enhance the family's martial arts and sought to exchange with Boxing masters. It is at that time that Liang Xuexiang, the famed Master of Praying Mantis Boxing exchanged the Beng Bu Mantis Boxing method for the Six Harmony Staff. A local folklore explains that in the past Nan Tu Shan would select the best fighters to protect the village and their recognition so great that it was said "As long as the 36 fighters come down the mountain, all under heaven would be in Peace". Unfortunately after martial expert from Cangzhou came to the village challenging the best fighters with his short stick, defeating every single one of the them. The village became very disheartened. One of the village expert stick fighters, Yu Peisheng was away on business and after hearing the news returned. Yu Peisheng defeated the short stick fighter with ease and the reputation of the Nantushan Yu Family stick was restored and continues until this day.
Six Harmonies Staff Method
The Six Harmonies Staff consists of Six rounds (sequences) with 110 movements in total. Each of the movements or techniques have specific names and essential requirements. The techniques must be practiced clearly without any omissions, it is a complete Staff system. The Method has many features in accord with both the staff and the spear and it is often said that within the Staff the Spear is hidden. The Six harmonies staff clearly divides Yin and Yang, integrates Bagua theories, Clearly separates the full and empty, there are effective methods of entering and retreating. It is very lively and agile, with a large variety in techniques. Those together with the Body methods, Stepping, Bravery and the physical skills allow practitioners to achieve great Staff skills.
To ensure effectiveness, the staff used in the method is the White Wax wood eyebrow height staff. There are six staff methods Tiao (pick), Ci (Stab), Pi (Axe), Liao (Lift up), Sao (sweep), Jiao (Cross) and the variations of those with confusing changes and linking methods allows the Six Harmonies staff to come alive. As it is said in Northern circles " The Spear pokes along the straight line, whilst the staff strikes across a large area".
Ensuring the true transmission of the Six Harmonies Staff
Cheng Xianming had studied Praying Mantis boxing with Che E'ting and Su Kebin. He learnt the Six Harmonies staff from Zhang Baolu and Luan Hongcheng. Cheng Xianming told of the story how he loved martial arts from a young age and in those days to become a army cadet he started to train the Six Harmonies staff. Since real combat skills were necessary, he thought the study of Six Harmonies staff would be most useful. But at the time the Stick method was not taught to outsiders. So he followed a young boy from the Nantushan Villiage and became friends and the young boy would take the family's Boxing Manual out. So in this way the methods would be in line with the requirements noted in the boxing manual. This way rather than have variations of the staff methods, it would ensure that the techniques would remain true to their original skilled design. M Cheng was an industrious student and was not satisfied with both the transmission and alignment to the boxing manual. He later followed Fushan's Yang Jingtang's disciple to further his research on the Six Harmonies Staff.
The second entry in the so called other (or ancient) Taijiquan styles is about a highly influential M. Song Shuming, Song Style Taijiquan.
Song Shuming (宋书铭, ~1840-1925) originally from Baoding, Hebei Province. It was proclaimed that he learnt the boxing method from Sun Yuanqiao (宋远桥) whom traced a lineage that goes back to the Tang Dynasty. The legend claims that the founder of the style was Xu Xuanping (許宣平) whom is said to have been a hermit that resided on Chengyang Mountain in the Tang Dynasty. Xu practiced a type of Taiji style called “Sanshiqi, 三世七” or (Tiangong Quan, 天功拳). Xu was described as tall man with long hair and a long beard. There are also stories that suggest Xu Xuanping had studied at Nanyan Gong with Daoist Master Li Daozi on Wudang Mountain. Li Daozi was thought to have practiced a method known as “Xian Tian Quan, Pre-heaven Boxing” and in another lineage of these non rudimentary Taijiquan there is the Yu Family descendants such as Yu Liandan in the Ming Dynasty also claim this line.
Meeting Xu Yusheng and the Beijing Sports Research Society
In accord with Song Shuming account. Song Yuanqiao was a martial arts master from the Qing periood and had passed a Taijiquan from ancestors back since the Tang dynasty. Song Shuming was working within Yuan Shikai’s (1859-1916) regime and became associated with Xu Yusheng (1878-1945) who was working in the Sports Department. Once Yuan Shikai passed away, Song Shuming returned to his hometown and no one knew much about him afterwards.
Xu Yusheng had studied since 6 years old withi his brother Cha Quan and Tantui since a young age and when he was 20 studied with Liu Dekuan. He also studied Taijiquan with Yang Jianhou. In 1912 along with Wu Jianquan, Zhao Xinzhou, Geng Chengxin, Guo Zhiyun, Ge Qingwu, Ji Zixiu and Heng Shoushan established the “ Beijing Sports Research Society” .
It is said that Xu Yusheng held Song Shuming in high regard because after an exchange of hands, Xu was no match for Song Shuming (at the time Song Shuming was about 72 years old whilst Xu Yusheng was 33). During the short time in Beijing (~1912-1916), Song Shuming is said to have given pointers or guidance to Xu Yusheng and his associates in the Beijing Sports Research Society. Whilst they learnt the Sanshiqi, none were taken as disciples.
An interesting story tells of Wu Tunan (～1884-1989) having in posession a text known as [Song Style Family Heritage Taiji Gong Origin and branches] and then Song Shuming pulling out an almost identical [Song Yuanqiao Taiji Gong Origin and branches]. Coincidence or just a nice story. Another story tells of an exchange with Yang Shaohou (but this also did not likely happen).
Deeper notion of Sanshiqi
In accordance with the Song manual, the San Shi Qi also represents three generations and seven (types), which refer to the theories of the style that state Mankind has 3 generations (Heaven Prior, Earth After and Man today) boxing which is divided into 7 types (Outsider, insider, Ordered, In the Hall, in the Room, Openly, Spiritually transformed).
The 37 postures are thought to have been extractions of the key methods with Yang Style Taijiquan. The practitioner does not need to follow an order of practiced, rather once mastered the postures could be combined in any order or could be made long and short through repetition as considered necessary. However, it had to flow smoothly, thus the Chang Quan (Long fist like a flowing river expression being applied).
Influence of Song Style Taijiquan to Wu Style Taijiquan.
Yang Luchan, the renowned founder of Yang Style Taijiquan taught in the Imperial Palace for the Security Guards Camp. During the time only three indviduals managed to acquire Yang Luchan’s skills. These were Wan Chuan, Ling Shan and Quan You. In order to avoid conflict to Yang’s position in King Duan’s palace, the three Manchurian students were acknowledged as disciples under Yang Banhou (Yang Luchan’s son). Quan You’s son, Ai’shen (i.e. Wu Jianquan) had studied martial arts with his father but since Quan You passed away in 1902, Wu Jianquan had placed much efforts in the research of the Taijiquan skills with fellow practitioners such as Qang Maozhai, Guo Fen, Liu Dekuan, Ji Zixiu, Xia Guixun and Heng Tai whom practiced together and developed the Taijiquan system further.
Wu Jianquan, Liu Enshou and Liu Caichen practiced Taijiquan with Quan You and later became associated with Xu Yusheng and his society. Wu Jianquan especially had sought out Song Shuming and acquired his 37 postures . Later Wu Jianquan developed from his fathers teachings, those exchanged with others and Song’s method influence what would be known as -Wu Style Taijiquan. In 1928 he moved Southwards from the capital to teach and in 1935, Wu established the Jianquan Taijiquan School in Shanghai.
Song Shuming's Yang Style Taijiquan or something else
It is hard to determine whether the 37 postures are because of their name or their practice really just from Yang Style Taijiquan or if because many of those that acquired the 37 postures were from a Yang Style Taijiquan background that today, the 37 postures are simply almost equivalent to the methods within Yang Style Taijiquan. Another account suggested that Song had practiced with Wu Yuxiang (1812-1880) for a short while in 1951 before Wu left to travel to Zhaobao Village for advanced study and because of the short time emphasized the key postures. In fact all the postures in Song Shuming's Sanshiqi are found in the normal Yang Style Taijiquan allbeit with slightly different practice approach and removing all repetitions.
The mystery might never unfold clearly but many of the methods in Yang Style Taijiquan and Wu Style Taijiquan today incorporate both influences from Song Shumings Sanshiqi or the theories, and the research of the respective representatives that worked together in research whilst in Beijing.
Later, historians to justify the relationship of Zhang Sanfeng to Taijiquan and Taijiquan to Wudang, further elaborated the lineages between the Tang Dynasty Hermit Xu and the elusive Song Shuming which is the basis of many other Taijiquan including Wudang Taijiquan - but more of that next time.
The 37 Postures of Song Shuming's Sanshiqi
1. Grasp the Sparrow's Tail
2. Single Whip
3. Raise Hands Upper posture
4. White Crane Spreads Wings
5. Brush Knee Twist Step
6. Hand Strums the Pipa (Lute)
7. Deflect, Parry Punch (Banlan Chui)
8. Apparent Close up
9. Cross Hands
10. Embrace Tiger return to mountain
11. Angled Single Whip
12. Observe Fist underelbow
13. Step back and repulse the monkey
14. Slant Flying
15. Needle at bottom of the sea
16. Fan through the back
17. Hammer with fist (Pieshen Chui)
18. Cloud Hands
19. Stand high search for horse
20. Llft Right Split kick
21. Turn body press kic
22. Downwards strike
23. Right Press kick
24. Left right strike tiger
25. Twin strikes to the ear
26. Drape body press kick
27. Part the horse's mane
28. Jade lady Thrusts
29. Lower posture
30. Golden rooster stands on one leg
31. White Snake expels poison
32. Cross outcircle kick
33. Crotch strike
34. Seven Stars
35. Ride Tiger
36. Double swinging lotus
37. Bend bow shoot the tiger
In the villages of Hebei province the art of combat has been entrenched into society for hundreds of years. It is here that most of the renowned fighters throughout Chinese martial arts history evolved. Jingang Quan, also known as Ba Da Jingang Quan (八大金刚拳 Eight Great Warrior Guards Boxing), Jingang Luohan Quan (金刚罗汉拳 Guardian Luohan) and sometimes as Shaolin Quan (少林拳Shaolin Boxing) is one of the older boxing methods of Northern China. Jingang Quan is a powerful, practical fighting system.
Feng Keshan, the founder of Chuojiao (戳脚), was one of the leaders of the Bagua Jiao (八卦教), also known as the Tianli Jiao (天理教). He had studied martial arts since young initially under the tutelage of his household who were imperial officers and then with many masters across Shandong, Henan and Hebei province. Jingang Quan was said to have been one of his earlier studies and the core foundation to his simply awesome abilities.
Jingang Quan consists of many skills including a foundation practice (金刚架子 Jingang Jiazi), also known as Luohan quan) which allows the most fundamental techniques to be exercised, a core practice (金刚捶Jingang Chui) which contains all the essential fighting techniques and a set of combat practice (金刚散手Jingang Sanshou) which starts from the practice of individual techniques, duel set and free combatives. There are also a few additional materials created by descendant masters in the generations after Feng Keshan.
Jingang Chui consists of eight Tang (Sequences) with each having its own specific objectives, techniques and training focuses. As an example the fourth sequence applies the signature Wuhua Pao (Canon Fists) adding mobility across the three angles/gates (Sanjiao or Sanmen). The fifth focuses on large techniques requiring continuity (Lianhuan), speed and a powerful flexible waist. It emphasizes hidden or deceptive techniques. Jingang Chui uses large, extended, circular movements to improve overall body mobility in the muscles, tendons, and joints. It is dynamic and directly powerful, with aggressive attacks and intelligent counter tactics.
The additional boxing methods created by second generation Jingangquan practitioners (students of Feng Keshan and Duan Family) include : Si Da Jingang (4 Great Guards), Ba Bu Jingang (8 Steps Jingang) and Wuzu Jingang (5 Ancestors Jingangquan). Si Da Jingang is also known as Sixing Quan (4 Shapes Boxing) since it emphasizes the techniques associated with four animals (Green Snake, Fierce Tiger, Brave Eagle and Rabbit). Babu Quan (8 Steps Boxing) emphasizes eight main tehcniques. Wuzu Jingang is based on the five sets of straight line fist combinations.
Throughout Jingangquan there is an abundance of throwing and takedown methods. Some of its methods are extremely specialized like the Huanglong Sanquan (Yellow Dragon three coils and turns). The key throwing methods like Gouzi (Hooking), Qiezi (Cutting), Biezi (Outside Sweeping) and so on are found in Jingang's repetoire.
Like many of the central plain martial arts, multiple opponents is a key to their routine practices. Sudden changes of direction, footwork and integrated techniques are all representative of that. Jingangquan has numerous methods like this from the commonly applied Bei Chui (Striking through to the back), to the linked strikes of Riyue Mingzhu (Sun and Moon Bright Pearls).
Deceptive since its methods seem long, within its arsenal Jingangquan includes sophisticated grappling methods and locks. From the cross hands that intercept strikes, to the kao (near body) methods which then apply an number of wrist, elbow, shoulder, knee and whole body trapping, locking and grappling.
Chuojiao is essentially the King of kicking methods and renowned as such throughout China. Jingangquan also has a large array of kicking methods from the usual Yuanyang Jiao (Mandarin Duck Kick), Qianhou Sao (Front/Back sweeps), Cun Tui (Inch Kicks), Deng Tui (Stamping Kicks), Xuan Kong Jiao (Jumping Kicks) and so on.
Hand and Other Techniques
Jingangquan's arsenal includes a large array of strikes: uppercuts, circular strikes, straight punches, groin smashes, bridge smashes, hammer strikes, dragon eye fists and so forth. There are also elbows such as upward elbows, turning elbows, pressing elbows and spinning elbows. Palm strikes include chopping palms, pressing palms, pushing palms, covering palms, toppling palms and more. There are even headbutts.
Jingangquan is not just set/routine of Chuojiao but in fact a system of boxing onto its own. Direct, powerful, tactical and effective. Unfortunately with fewer practitioners today and even less that understand Jingangquan's combatives fully, it is one of those treasures that are slowly fading.
Whilst it is widely acknowledged today that Taijiquan originated in Wen County with the influence of Jiang Fa and/or Chen Wangting (as the founders, inheritors, compilers or developers of the method), there are a few styles recording in folklore that are thought to be older. Whilst typically we tend to prefer separating fact from fiction in this case it is interesting since some of the theories and practitioners of those styles have been known to influence some of the Taijiquan styles known today. Cheng style herein described is considered as the oldest of those. This is the first of many short articles introducing such ancient styles and their influences on modern Taijiquan.
Cheng Style Taijiquan | 程氏太极拳
Han Gongyue (韩拱月) was said to live in the Liang Dynasty (502-557 AD) was considered the founder of some practice known as Taiji Gong (太极功) which was passed to Cheng Lingxi (程灵洗) who was from Huizhou District (徽州府), also known as Shezhou and today known as Huangshan City, Anhui Province. Cheng Lingxi practiced with great diligence and was said to achieve light and agile steps, that supported his impressive power. Cheng helped to protect Shezhou during the rebellion against Liang of the Southern Dynasties (侯景之乱) in 548. He was recognized as a devoted and powerful soldier, thereafter rewarded by an official governance post by the Liang Emperor.
This style remained within the Cheng Family until many generations later when Cheng Bi (程珌, 1164-1242), also a successful official of the Song dynasty was said to practice this Style which became known as Small Nine Heavens (小九天) in 15 postures. Cheng Bi wrote a number of short articles such as “Five notes on applied skill,用功五志” and “Five Natures return to One, 四性归原”
Five Natures return to one
Most people in the world do not know their own nature, How can one discover their nature ? The five natures which also apply to human nature, are also the nature that applies to world (Heaven & Earth). I rely on the world in order to survive and preserve life. Yet the world cannot be grasped and is formless. If I am then first able to comprehend my own nature, then the world will accept my indpendent spirit.
* The five natures are often representatives of the five emotional and physical states or ego-self that should be overcome.
Five notes on applied skill
The Five points on applied skill are interesting since they have also been found in the records by Zhang Songxi (Neijia Quan) and added/re-constructed in some of the Yang Style texts. Further the concepts are still be-fitting to current Taijiquan practice and many of the important focuses of Taijiquan seem to have been captured even back then.