Baji Quan (八极拳）， also known as Baji Men, Kaimen Bajii and Bazi quan) is a tradtional martial art from Hebei province in North China. It applies unique principles in combat relying on explosive burst of power and the unification of body to the attack allowing for both unique close quarter combat whilst being able to close the distance gap.
Baji Quan originated amongst the Hui nationality in the Cangxian area (Cang County Prefecture) and gained reputation as a practical and efficient boxing method. Possibly it is because of such that many bodyguards of high officials in history have also been practitioners of Bajiquan. There are few different branches of the style which have now evolved, although fundamentally they all share a common core.
Origins of Bajiquan
Ba Ji Quan is one of the martial arts of China that are attributed to the Hui Zu nationality (Chinese Moslem). The Hui Zu arrived into the Cangzhou region from the time of the Ming Dynasty (around 1403) when Zuo Yonggong was stationed in the south of Cangzhou by the Ming Emperor, where his families purchased lands from around the Cangzhou area including parts of Mengcun county, Heludian, Xiaolu vilage, Wu Zhuangzi and Houzhuangke villages. It is those areas that 4 generations later the Wu families emerged decending from their original Hui Zu ancestors. 10 generations later.
Wu Zhong (吴钟, also known as Wu Hongsheng) was born in 1712, nearby Houzhuangke. His father died when he was an infant and his family suffered in poverty, as a result his mother sent him away to Mengcun under the care of his elder niece. Wu Zhong was a bright and diligent child and grew to adore martial arts. He recited scriptures at the local Qing Zhen Si (Mosque) where he also practiced some boxing methods with local masters (the Hui Zu have a large array of martial arts such as Liu He Quan and Cha Quan at the time) which have been practiced since Ming Dynasty times and likely to be the atypical style practiced by Wu Zhong). It is said that Wu Zhong had excelled in understanding the essence of combat after practicing with many masters and derived his own style on that understanding. The method at the time did not have any name as it was just a derivation of Wu Zhong so it was often referred to as Wushi (Fighter Wu's style) or later as Wu Jia Quan (Wu Family Boxing). In 1727, it is also said that a Daoist Master "Lai" taught boxing to Wu Zhong and that a few years after the master left another teacher "Pi" (supposedly a student of Lai) taught the Liu He Spear to Wu Zhong.
A story of Wu Zhong's travels articulates that Wu Zhong travelled around southward and had actually visited the Shaolin Temple. in a friendly exchange of Skills the Shaolin monks were impressed by Wu Zhong's Spear Techniques (Liu He Spear). He received praise from senior monks and officals that were there, and since was named "Super Spear wielding Wu Zhong" and along with two other masters Kang Dali (expert of Duan Da and Chin Na) and Li Zhang (famous for his broadsword techniques), were known as the "3 Outstanding Martial artists". He became good friends with his martial coleagues. After the fame the imperial court sought Wu Zhong out and after many duels to prove his skills he became the teacher of the 14th son (Yin Ti) of the Kangxi Qing Emperor. He then gained fame as "From Nanjing to Yanjing (Beijng), Wuzhong is number one". Many wondered about his nameless boxing methods.
In 1775, Wu Zhong returned to Mengcun, he took care of his monther and family, also teaching his boxing skills to the Wu Family (Wu Jia Quan - Wu Family Boxing). Althought many studied aspects of his skills, it was only his direct family that received the full transmission. These included his daughter Wu Rong, his grandson Wu Zhongyu and his great grandson Wu Ying. In 1790, Wu Ying systematically recorded the contents of the boxing into a manuscript, he also assigned the name "Bajiquan" (Wu Shi Kai Men Bajiquan to be exact) to the methods to ensure that the nameless method would not be lost into history. In the manuscript it clearly states that Bajiquan did not exist prior to this time and that the name was derived for the preservation of this most important set of skills. The great Master Wu Zhong passed away 1802.
Dissemination of Bajiquan
Second Generation Bajiquan Masters
Wu Rong (吴荣,1764-1839), was the daughter of Wu Zhong (he had no sons) and as she was the person likely responsible to assist in teaching (as when Wu Zhong returned he was already over 60), thus although Wu Zhong taught many, she is noted as the key inheritor noted of Bajiquan. Wu Rong had married Dai Yueyi who was a pracitioner of various Changquan based arts, as a result she incorporated some of those techniques into Bajiquan.
Wu Yong (吴永.1762-1843), was an extremely bright and capable young man, acquiring much of the Bajiquan skills he became an important figure in Bajiquan as he was responsible for the compilation and systematic recording of the respective practices of Bajiquan into a manuscript. It is said that Wu Zhong in his latter years became very fond of Wu Yong and taught as much as he could to him.
The dissemination of Bajiquan was also predominantly through Wu Yong to the next generations, he taught many but most notable are his thirteen key disciples which consisted predominantly of family members, these included: Yang Deyuan, Wu Kun (his son), Wu Kai (his nephew), Jiao Wenming, Gao Mingshan (from Luotong village), Li Dazhong (from Luotong village), Zhang Keming (from Luotong village), Wu Lingchun (his grandson), Wu Tongyun (his grandson), Wu Lingyun (his grand nephew), Ding Xiaowu, Wang Changxi and Wang Shitong.
Wu Kai (吴恺,1812-1882) was considered a standard bearer of the style, yet he had strict standards and was very reserved in teaching the style (essentially all were family) and had only seven key disciples: Wu Baorui (1851~), Wu Linshu, Wu Baoxuan, Liu Qingpan, Zhang Wenhe (1865-1934) and Wu Xiaowu.
|Li Dazhong 李大中 (1810-1874)||Zhang Keming 张克明 (1812-1882)||Wu Kai 吴恺 (1812-1882)|
|Li Guizhang 李贵章 (1855-1927)||Zhang Jingxing 张景星 (1812-1882)||Huang Sihai 黄士海 (1829-1914)|
Other fourth generations include Wu Linshu 吴麟书, Nephew of Wu Kai and Wu Baorui 吴宝瑞 (1851-1906) Nephew of Wu Kai.
Branches of Bajiquan
Wu Family Bajiquan
Wu Huiqing (吴会清,1869-1958), was the inheritor of Wu family Bajiquan having studied with his granduncle Wu Kai (nephew of Wu Ying) for a while and then also with his uncle Wu Baorui and Wu Linshu (student of Wu Kai). He studied with his uncles for many years and also had acquired knowledge of other styles which he incorporated such as Piguaquan and the Jiu Gong Chun Yang Sword. He also was known for his Tie Sha Zhang (Iron Palm). He was both capable and well educated having ensured that his students understood both the practice and the theories of Bajiquan. During his life he taught many but also was the Keeper of the family and boxing records, which he revised and added many further boxing theories to. In Mengcun he is a key propagator of the art and the most significant teacher of his generation.
Wu Xiufeng (吴秀峰,1908-1976), was the eldest son of Wu Huiqing and suffered from deafness in his childhood. As a result he was more determined and dedicated in his practice of Bajiquan, he acquired excellent skills and became a capable fighter. In 1929 he roamed around the country including Shandong where Han Huachen and Zuo Shuangchen invited him to teach in Zaozhuang city, then even reaching the southern areas of Jiangxi, Zhejiang and Guangdong. In Jiangxi province he was for a short time the head coach of the Hong Jun (Red Guards - this was in the early stages of their formation). In 1933 he setup the "Tianjin Building a nation Martial Arts Society" in Tianjin where he started to accept and teach students. He learnt from others and took in the good points of other schools, thus It was during this time that he also developed Bajiquan even further creating many sets and theories. Some routines like the Xiaojia (Small Frame) were enhanced to up to 12 sub routines, the 24 Lianshou (24 Linked hands), Shier Pao Xing (12 embraces) and Fushou Duida (Combined set) are examples of his developments.
Li Family Bajiquan
Li Shuwen (李书文,1864-1934), was from Nanliang village (some references also suggest Changsha in Cang County). As a result of poverty when he was young he was sent to an Opera Group to study. As a result of injuries from the difficult training he returned home where he commenced practicing Bajiquan under the tutelage of Huang Sihai (Student of Zhang Keming). He disliked the opera very much then but the discipline allowed to become an excellent practitioner of Bajiqiuan. He also excelled at the Spear was known as "Spiritual Spear Li". Li Shuwen was an example of the aggressive nature of Bajiquan as in many challenges in his youth he would kill or critically maim opponents. As an example when he was at a banquet where his employer introduced some other martial artists who were being considered for employment and asked to cross hands, he showed the opponent the exact technique that he would use, then at the time of the dual in a matter of seconds and with that single blow the palm struck the opponents head cracking the neck and knocking the eyeballs out of the socket leading to instant death. This resulted in Li Shuwen obtaining a feared reputation but also having many seeking his death in revenge. Towards the end of his life Li Shuwen lived in constant fear and paranoia, then many years later one day on his return from Shandong to Cangzhou he was indeed poisoned to death. He taught many students even though there were also many not willing to train with the rough aggressive Master. Those that did however excelled and became masters in their own right. Some of these include: Huo Diange, Huo Diankui, Xu Lanzhou, Ren Guodong, Zhang Xiangwu, Han Huachen, Liu Hechen, Dou Shilong, Na Yukui, Liu Chendong, Liu Yunqiao and Zu Zhiqing.
Han Family Bajiquan
Han Huiqing (韩会清,1887-1937) , was from Luotuan village, Hui nationality studied from a young age with Master Zhang Jingxing. An extremely talented practitioner and representative of Luotuan. He was admired by the local people for his morality, scholarly and martial skills. There were many stories of his feats like a single palm to displace bricks in a wall, smashing slabs of ice or how he could grab a high spinning well pully at an instant ceasing its spin. He practiced continuously even when working on the family farms he would practice Chuang Bu (charging step of Bajiquan). In 1912 at the invitation of Ma Fengtu (his younger training brother) he took a coaching position at the Shenyang Police Academy. Here he continued to expound Baji after his seniors (Li Shuwen and Huo Diange had worked for the same General in Harbin). In 1920's he worked as a guard of a mine in Zaozhuang, he accepted Li Xueyi and Zhao Ronglin as students then. In 1928 they head south (Han and his students) and together with Ma Yingtu fought in the October 1928 National Combat (Leitai) competition. Han defeated over 30 opponents and each time with only a single blow usually maiming them having to be escorted off in stretchers. He became known as the "Invincible General". Ma Yingtu also was similarly unstoppable and as a result of polical issues neither Han or Ma were allowed to continue and they were excluded from the competition. However their performance one the praise of the organizers and thus Han Huiqing was appointed a teacher at the Nanjing Zhongyang Guoshu Association. At the time the famous Wang Ziping and Tong Zhongyi were responsible for Shuaijiao competitions whilst Han Huiqing and Ma Yingtu were responsible for the hand to hand combat competitions. His influence was so that at the time the was also another saying "in the South Han, in the North Li" referring to the superiority of the two masters Han Huiqing and Li Shuwen. Master Han Huiqing passed away from Heart failure in 1937. Many studied with Master Han and became bodyguards thus sometimes the nickname of Bodyguard boxing is given to Bajiquan. Some of his most well known earlier students included Zhao Shude, Li Xueyi, Zhao Ronglin. His other students included Dong Yiqing, Wei Hongen, Dong Huiting, Liu Hanzhou, Shen Zhongshan, Zhang Ziting, Zhang Zhendong, Dong Yiwen, Yao chunfu, Shang Guanting, Han Longquan and his son Han Jiquan. His son Han Jiquan (1909-1994) spread the art further to his daughter Han Zhenge and sons Han Zhenhai, Han Zhenjiang, Han Zhende as well as students from places such as Hebei, Shandong and Fujian province.
Huo Family Bajiquan
Huo Diange (霍殿阁,1886-1942), also known as Huo Xiuting, was born in Xiaoji Village, Cang County (today a part of Nanpi County). Since a young age Huo Diange enjoyed martial arts and had practiced Piao Sa Boxing with local teachers. Later at age 17 he became a student under Master Li Shuwen studying Bajiquan and Liuhe (Six Harmonies) Spear. He practiced with diligence for over 12 years and was well favored by the highly demanding teacher Li Shu Wen. After Master Li Shuwen went travelling. Huo Diange then started teaching in Tianjin (Zhong Xin Park) and later he met some influential friends which then influenced him to later joined the army which took him to place like Harbin, Shengyang and Changchun, in each of those places he passed on his Bajiquan leading to many inheritors. In those years he also for some time became Bodyguard of the last emperor of China Pu Yi. In 1924 he moved to Tianjin and taught there. In 1926 he caught up with his teacher Li Shuwen and when training together he understood some new key concepts which he then formulate a new advanced set of 'Ying Shou Quan', which was later to become a standard for Huo Family Bajiquan. As a result of issues with the Japanese in 1927, In 1932 he moved to Chang Chun trying to setup there, then a few years later his friend (a Chuojiao Master Zhou Xinwu (周馨武), a senior from his official posts) arrived and together with his son Huo Qingyun helped to propagate and develop Huo Family Bajiquan. Students of Huo Diange include: Huo Qingyun, Huo Qingfeng, Huo Qingshan, Jiang Cangyong, Song Bishan, Zhao Bingnan, Yang Bin, Li Baoshan, Liang Zhenqi, Luo Junshan, Mao Hongen, Xu Yusheng, Chu Yixin, Zhou Zonggui, Lei Zhanfeng and Miao Yuchun. Huo Qingyun (1905-1987), was the son of Huo Diange and was instrumental in promoting his fathers Bajiquan and with the help of his father's other students like Chu Yixin and Zhao Bingnan opened schools across North Eastern China (Changchun, Shenyang, Dalian and Harbin) to propagate the Huo Family Bajiquan.
Xu Yusheng (许禹声, 1907-1987), also known as Xu Mingzhong was from Xiaoliu Village, Tianjin. At a young age he studied Luohan boxing for four years with local boxer Su Wanhe. Later one of Qiang Ruiqing's disciples Fan Qingyun (樊清云) was teaching in the nearby areas and Xu Yusheng studied Bajiquan Xiaojia and Duida for over three years. In 1926 he became accepted under the tutelage of Huo Diange, who demanded strict standards which after a while Xu Yusheng became an expert and helped to establish schools in North China alongside his colleagues Zhao Yuting and Sun Yulong. After time, he was taught the complete system of Bajiquan as well as Yijin Jing, Pigua Zhang and Liuhe Daqiang (Spear), Broadsword, staff and more, becoming an indoor disciple of Huo family Bajiquan. As part of the National Guoshu activities for Huo Diange, he became exposed to martial arts practitioners across many areas including Hebei, Shanxi, Beijing and TIanjin. In the 1930's he became well known in Tianjin and when Huo Diange went to Dongbei in 1932, Xu Yusheng remained in Tianjin where the Japanese had started to take over. Xu Yusheng joined the batallion of General Song Zheyuan, who were famously known as the Big sword group defending the Northern areas of China. There many confrontations and in 1937 during the Lugou bridge incident, Xu Yusheng was injured by artillery. In 1938 he was sent to Changchun, Dongbei and he was fortunate to see his master Huo Diange, but soon after he joined his martial brothers in Heilongjiang fighting the Japanese, the battle was torturous and although their batallion lost the Japanese sustained much deaths and injury. In his late years Xu Yusheng had taught Bajiquan with both strict demanding standard, but without reservation emphasising practical combat skills.
Other branches include:
Ma Family Bajiquan - From the Ma brothers Ma Fengtu (马风图,1888-1973) and Ma Yingtu (马英图,1898-1956) , they studied many arts including Piguazhang, Chuojiao, Tongbei and Fanzi in addition to Bajiquan. The Bajiquan is derived from their studies with Zhang Jingxing.
Ji Family Bajiquan - This line was commenced by Ji Yunlong (季云龙,1857-1942) who was from Langkouer village, Cangzhou. Ji Yunlong studied his family taught martial arts (Huaquan/Yanqingquan) in his youth and later became a disciple of Liu Huchen (who had studied with Wang Changxi) studying Bajiquan.
Qiang Family Bajiquan - From Qiang Ruiqing (强瑞清,1861-1947) from Zilaitun village in Mengcun county, studied Bajiquan with Cao Jingtian (who had studied with Wang Changxi) from Chengjialin village and later married Cao's grandaughter Cao Jianying. He became representative of Zilaitun village Bajiquan and was well acquainted with masters of his generation like Wu Huiqing.
Bajiquan although fairly simple on the onset internally includes alot of deep concepts and theory to support the development of power and techniques. Some of the obvious features are the unique stepping that aggressively enters an opponents high risk zone, the well conceived Elbows and of course the powerful opening palms that foil any attempt to attack by opponents. The rooting and explosive full body power development takes quite some time master and the sequence of practice ensures the most benefical outcome. Our practice is derived from the teachings predominantly of Zhou Yuxiang (studied with Xu Yusheng, who learnt from Qiang Ruiqing's disciple and from Huo Diange) which is mostly Huo Family Bajiquan. Exchange expeditions by the Taiping Institute members to Wu Family practitioners have also added some additional elements in recent years.
Training in Bajiquan commences with some general body developing exercises and Zhuang Gong (Standing/stance training) since it is the essence on which a good foundation can be built given that so much of Bajiquan's power is derived from a strong, agile and stable root. This practice includes the learning of the different stances but most importantly is the standing in the Xian Tian Zhuang ( Horse stance), which also has strict requirements on how to sink the hip, round the chest and hold up the back relaxing each aspect whilst maintaining firm structure.
Some stepping methods are then gradually introduced, of which the most important are Zhen Jiao, Chuang Bu and Xun Bu. At this same time students learn various upper body exercises that provide the foundation for later techniques. Upon successfully grasping some of the basic stepping and motion concepts, then some of the important Kau Zhuang which are knocking motions against opponents or other matter are practiced. Here this reinforces the Zhuang Gong as the movements and impacts ensure good stability of footwork and rooting of stance. Some of the Kau Zhuang as examples include:
Fundamentals - Dan Cao
Ba Shi (Jin Gang Ba Shi)
Ba Ding (Jin Gang Ba Ding)
Ba Da Kai
Liu Da Kai are the way that essential combat principles of Bajiquan are first practiced in order to understand the wider concepts. These include Ding (顶 Pressing), Bao (抱 embracing), Dan (单 Singles), Ti (提 Lifting), Kua (挎 Closing) and Chan (缠 Wrapping). When this are practiced they are represented by key techniques such as Ding Zhou (Pressing Elbow), Bao Zhou (Embracing elbow), Dan Yang Da (Single Strike), Ti Zhou (Lifitng Elbow), Kua Da (Hip Strike) and Da Chan (Large Wrap). Since Huo Diange added an additional two techniques Chao Yang Shou (朝阳手 Sun Facing Hands) and Ba Wang Zhe Jiang (霸王折缰 King takes weight) this later became known as Ba Da Kai to lineages thereafter.
In the original Ba Ji system of Wu Zhong's time it is likely that there were not as many sets as there are in some of the lines today. Many of the latter descendants either had studied other martial arts which they supplemented Bajiquan with or had through their own experiences added additional methods/approaches and techniques. As a result each line has their own mix of sets accordingly.