Tongbeiquan is also known sometimes as Baiyuan Tongbeiquan (白猿通背拳, White Ape Through the back boxing), is a famous martial art from North China which specializes in large opening and closing movements that rely on the exertion of energy through the body and to the limbs often whipping in power and with continuous actions.
Tongbeiquan has been feared in history for its powerful and highly efficacious combat fighting techniques. Whether long distance or short distance, with specialized striking hands and unique power generating methods, whether striking or wrestling, Tongbeiquan is a no nonsense traditional Chinese Martial Art. The Taiping Institute practices Qi family Tongbeiquan as passed on by Qi Xin and his descendants.
Legends and Folklore
Tong bei (通背, through the back) represents the power which is generation by passing through the back and to the extensions. It is often mentioned in legend that Tongbeiquan dates back to over 2,000 years ago during the Zhan Guo (战国, Warring States Period 475 - 221 CE).
According to folklore a very capable master named Yuan Gong fought with a master of the Mojiao (魔教, Mysterious Sect) and lost. As a result he lived in seclusion in nearby forests and bushlands. It is said that through the years he developed long white hair and beard and when people saw him that referred to him as Baiyuan Laoren (白猿老人, White Ape Old Man). Additonal legends suggest that a Daoist named Chen Tuan developed the style during the Song Dynasty. References to a Tong Bei Quan Master Han Tong (韩通) during the Song Dynasty are also found in other historical novels/records.
Origins and History of Qi Style Tongbeiquan
Although the legendary origins of Tongbeiquan date to ancient times, most of the current teachings of Tongbeiquan commenced with the Qi family. The Qi family originating from elsewhere are said to have resided in Gu An county, Hebei province during the time of Emperor Daoguang (1821-1850: Qing dynasty), two brothers Qi Laowei and Qi Laoqing both loved martial arts and as a result studied with many local masters. They practised Liuhequan and Liuheqiang (Spear). It is said that they then travelled around learning the best spear methods from various masters.
When Qi Laowei returned, he taught the methods (Liuhe boxing and Liuhe Spear) to his young son Qi Xin (祁信). This spear method combined Liuhe Spear with Luo Family’s Duanmen Spear and Yang’s Family’s Liehua Spear. When Qi Xin practiced his spear he did not attach the Spearhead and just used the long staff (Gan). As a result the method was named “Qi Family 12 Gan”. It contained 12 Cao Fa (Strategic Methods), 10 Duan Fa (Attack Breaking Methods) and 36 San Dian (36 Combat principles). This became a well guarded secret and would never be passed on unless disciples were inner door disciples.
Although not entirely clear it is said that Qi Xin had studied Tongbeiquan with Master Lv as well as methods with other masters including Mingtangquan Pengganmen” Qi Xin also had advanced studies with many masters. Qi Xin is said to have resided at the Tong Xin Inn (also known as Jia Family Inn) which was owned by Jia Xing. Qi Xin then became well acquainted with Jia Xing who was also martial arts enthusiast. They both shared the love for the martial arts and shared tremendously in their skills. On an occasion an incident arose where Qi Xin had to ward off over 25 assailants. Using his majestic spear techniques he became a reputed master and the general public commenced calling him ‘Gan Zi Qi’. Jia xing was both a friend and a student. So significant was the achievement that when he returned to his village nearby, he became a teacher of the martial arts. Jia Xing also taught the skills. This became the commencement of the first time that Tongbeiquan was to be taught in public.
Once he commenced accepting disciples his branch was referred to as “Qi Jia Men” or Qi Family Division. Qi Xin was recognised as the founder of this school of martial arts and the time the most important weapon was Qijia Da Qiang (Qi Family Spear) and the empty hands method was referred to as “Mingtangquan Pengganmen”, the movements were Da Pi Da Tiao (Great Crushing hammers and rising arms), Da Kai Da He (Great Openings Great Combinations).
Qi Taichang (祁太昌), the son of Qi Xin and become a most important personage in the development of Tongbeiquan. In his youth he studied under the guidance of his father and during his adolescence he was sent by his father for further studies with a Master Hong (according to some records this meant an exchange of skills with his martial uncle Master Shi Hongsheng, founder of Shi Style Tongbeiquan). Qi Taichang together with his father combined all his family’ martial arts Liuhequan, Qimen Qiang, Mingtang Pengqieshoufa and Xinji Tongbeiquan into one. This became the true authentic transmission of Qi Family Tongbeiquan.
Qi Family Tongbeiquan practised Huofa (Flexible, pliable moving joints) as the basic preliminaries and the 108 CaoFa (108 Strategic Methods/Techniques) as the essential core. Further developments were undertaken by consultation with his father Qi Xin and a Master Ma from Henan province, who imparted his skills of Yingshou and Tixibu to Qi Taichang. The Young Master Qi added the essence and advancement of skills into the 108 Caofa.
In Gu'an County, there was a famous master nicknamed ‘Single Broadsword Zhao Sheng”. His broadsword skills were renowned as being the best at the time in the area. The result was that Qi Taichang and Zhao Sheng mutually exchanged (Zhao’s Broadsword for Qi’s Spear methods). The Broadsword skills that Qi Taichang studied included 8 types of footwork and 13 specific points regarding the broadsword. Consisting of 36 techniques, this became known as”8 Steps 13 Broadsword” or Babu Shisan Dao. From here, Qi Family Tongbeiquan consisted of three components: Spear, Broadsword and Hands. The next generations then laid the foundation for the incomparable entry of Qi Style Tongbeiquan into the Chinese Martial arts world.
Qi Style Tongbeiquan (祁氏通背拳)
In general, due to the timing and lineages of teaching, Qi Pai Tongbeiquan has evolved into two key practices - Lao Qi Pai (老祁派) - The original methods of Tong Bei Quan are large, fast and powerful with an intention of pure combat effectiveness. This is that passed by Qi Xin. This very combat and practically orientated Tongbeiquan is seldom experienced nowadays as most descendants were of the evolutions of Shao Qi Pai. Shao Qi Pai (少祁派) - After his studies with other masters, Qi Taichang added some changes to the original skills making them more balanced between hard and soft (or internal), as well as systemizing the techniques in accordance with the 5 elements.
Both Lao Qi Pai and Shao Qi Pai although sharing some differing approaches, the techniques are practically the same. Lao Qi Pai is less popular nowadays and even Shao Qi Pai is more commonly known by its latter derivatives such as Wuxing Tongbeiquan. Many of Qi Xin’s, Qi Taichang’s and Jia Xing’s disciples carried on their masters heritage and become legendary throughout the Jianghu (Martial World). Renowned for its fearsome arsenal of continuous whipping powerful attacks and immense power generated through the back, Tongbeiquan became feared by many and revered by its practitioners.
Shi Style Tongbeiquan (白猿通背拳, Baiyuan Tongbei Quan)
Lu Yunqing who was from Zhou Village in Wei County, Jinan District, Shandong Province taught Shi Hongsheng (Shi Family Tongbeiquan or Baiyuan Tongbei) who emphasized the 24 methods as the core of his style which became a popular practise amongst the chinese moslems/Huizu of the Niujie district in Beijing. In Beijing, Shi Hongsheng taught only a few disciples including Han Tongyi (An Old Daoist of the Baiyun Guan - White Cloud Daoist Temple), Liu Ziying (a Chinese Medical Physician), Zhang Wencheng ( Store Keeper), Ma Xiaohe (Moslem from NiuJie area in Beijing) and Xiang Zhongshan.
The Niujie quarter of Beijing is also renowned as the place where Beijing Shuai Jiao (Chinese Wrestling) practitioners are also found. Therefore when Baiyuan Tongbeiquan was brought, the style also was enhanced to include many Shuai Jiao methods. Ma Xiaohe, one of the disciples of Wang Qicheng, was responsible for bringing and propagating the Tongbeiquan martial art to the Niu Jie area of Beijing. Ma Xiaohe taught 3 key disciples with each mastering different aspects. Wang Guixiang studied the 108 Hands (108 Shou), Zhang Shaosan 24 Postures methods (Ershisi Shi Quan) and Hou Xirong studied the 6 Sequences of Separating Boxing (Liu Tang Chai Quan). The Zhang Shaosan and the 24 Postures approach was the most influential and widespread in the Niujie area.
Later other methods were practiced such as the Ba Shou Lian Quan (8 Hands Linking Boxing) which was introduced by Li Jun ( from Daxin Village, Gu An County, Hebei Province just south of Beijing). In fact these 8 hands are just modifications from the 24 Postures. The Shi Er Zhang (12 Palms) is another addition which was introduced by Mr. Wu Tian, but are also found within the 108 Hands. The 24 Postures are actually 4 sequences which are divided as Quan (Boxing), Zhang (Palms), Zhou (Elbows) and Chui (Strikes). These 24 posture sequences hold the essence of Niu Jie Shi Style Bai Yuan Tongbeiquan.
Dissemination of Tongbeiquan
Resultant from the effectiveness of Tongbeiquan in combat many of its practitioners throughout history have been involved in substantial confrontations from military, logistics security and rebellion uprisings. Thus, each generation has contributed greatly to the style and there are a number of key Masters that have especially made great efforts to consolidate the great body of knowledge held within Tongbeiquan.
Tong bei (通背, through the back) has had many influences and thereby evolved into a few different braches of the style. The two key branches of Tongbei Quan are Qi Pai and Shi Pai. Most of the others are derivatives thereof or are different styles altogether with only the name in common. We present the key lineages and their most representative practitioners below.
Qi Style Tongbei Quan (老祁派 , Lao Qi Pai)
2. Chen Qing taught his son Chen Zhenfang and Wang Zhanchun 1. Gu An County, Hebei - Qi Xin (祁信) taught his son Qi Taichang, Chen Qing, Huang Jiu, Zhao Jingqiu, Han Guiyi, his friend Jia Xing, Li Zhong
3. Chen Zhenfang taught Liu Yueting and Li Yuan
3. Wang Zhanchun taught Zhang Xiulin, Zhang Dianhua and Zhang Ce (also studied with Chen Qing)
4. Liu Yueting (刘月亭, 1870 - 1934), studied since he was young with Chen Zhenfang (陈振芳) and later after his teacher's passing he studied with Wang Zhanchun. He was both hardworking and intelligent student and thereby caught the essence of Tongbeiquan. With an emphasis on mastering the single techniques (dan cao) he also inherited the famous spear/lance and broadsword skills of Qi Family. With this background he became a representative master of Lao Qi Pai in his generation and taught many followers, the most known including Yao Baochi, Hu Yuetan, Yang Gualin, Liu Xiong, Chen Xinpu and Zhang En.
5. Hu Yuetan (胡悦昙, 1900-1956) was originally from Zhaoquan Village in Hengshui County, Hebei Province. He loved martial arts since a young and after moving to Beijing became a student of the "Northern Knight" Wang Rongbiao, studying Pigua (Tongbi), Liu Fengchun, studying Baguazhang and later a formal disciple of GM. Liu Yueting, expert of Qi family Tongbeiquan. Hu Yuetan latered studied under a number of Tongbeiquan Masters such as Tian Ruiqing (1869-1949) amd Liu Peng (1853-1937), he also sought as many experts of Tongbeiquan (Incl. Xiu JIanchi) to encapsulate all the methods of the style. Between the years of 1933 to 1937, Hu took a number of expeditions to the south of the capital in search of lost Tongbeiquan methods and brought them back. During that time he also enhanced his own skills achieving a deep level of skill. Hu did not have formal students as he essentially taught all Tongbeiquan practitioners interested in furthering their skills.
Qi Style Tongbei Quan (少祁派, Shao Qi Pai)
2. Qi Taichang (祁太昌, ) studied with Master Ma (from Henan) and exhanged with Shi Hongsheng, Jia Wen developing a new method that emphasised gentler/softer approach with an expanded detail, the decendants of this style became known as belonging to the Shao Qi Pai. He taught his son Qi Shun, Cui Tai, Li Qinghai, Li Zhendong, Li Jinghai, Wang Yuheng, Gao Mingshan, Xu Tianhe, Zhang Youchun, Cui Jing, Le Jingxiu and Le Hexiu.
3. Qi Shun taught Jia Wen decendants of this style became known as belonging to the Shao Qi Pai.
3. Le Jingxiu taught his son, Le Youlin
3. Xu Tianhe (许天和) was one of the most renowned of Qi Taichang's students and taught only few disciples as his standards were quite high these included Wu Zhendong, Xu Yongsheng, Xiu Jianchi, Xu Zuohai
3. Cui Jing taught Liu Zhi and Tian Xiang
4. Jia Wen (贾文,1863-1948) paased the skills to his son Jia Huchen.
4. Tian Xiang (1869-1949), also known as Tian Ruiqing taught Li Bao Ming (李宝明, 1914-1987)
Qi Style Tongbei Quan (五行通背拳 , Wuxing Tongbeiquan)
4. Xiu Jianchi (修剑痴, 1883-1959) was a Manchurian born in Guan county, Hebei province. Due to his ancestors’ Xiu Jianchi military achievement, he was permitted by the Qing government to inherit his ancestor’s military position and later appointed a major general to train an army in Changsha, Hunan. After his military career, Master Xiu dedicated the rest of his life to study and popularize the Tong-Bei martial art. In the latter part of his life, he entrusted his disciple Yaoting Wang to train his apprentices in Dalian, Liaoning; Xiu Jianchi in the latter parts of his life dedicated himself to write works on Tongbeiquan. In the year of 1953, when he was over seventy years old, he finalized the Tongbeiquan system which united techniques, strategy and theories which he named Shao Qi Wuxing Tongbeiquan. He had many students, some include Sha Guozheng, Wang Yaoting, Cheng Chuanrui, Zue Yiheng, Wang Zihe, Wang Jiayi, ....etc
Qi Style Tongbei Quan ( 太极五行通背拳, Taiji Wuxing Tongbeiquan)
4. Zhang Ce (张策, 1866-1934) having studied in Chuojiao and Erlangquan in his youth with Jin Lingxiao, then later Zhang Ce Lao Qi Pai Tongbeiquan with Chen Qing and his disciple Wang Zhanchun, as well as Yang Style Taijiquan with Yang Jianhou, also encountered Daoist Han from Bai Yun Guan (White Cloud Monastery) and learnt Shao Qi Pai Tongbeiquan. He then developed a new style Tongbeiquan referred to as Taiji Wuxing Tongbeiquan (and other names depending on period when it was taught), students were in the hundreds and included Zhou Jinghai, Han Zhanao, Zhou Xueyin, Zhang Dianhua, Zhang Xuemin, Zhang Xueen, Li Xiangyun, Ma Zhaochun, Li Shutang, Wu tunan, Liu Shuyi, Qiang Yunmen, Dong Xiusheng, Zhang Xien, Bao Qingshan and many more.
Shi Style Tongbei Quan (白猿通背拳 , Baiyuan Tongbeiquan)
0. Shi Hongsheng (石鸿胜) studied with Lu Yunjqing and possibly exchanged with Qi Taichang, taught Zhang Wencheng, Liu Ziying, Han Dongyi, Xiang Zhongshan and Ma Xiaohe
1. Zhang Wencheng (张文成) passed the skills onto Liu Baoming, Ma Deshan and Li Zhendong
1.Ma Xiaohe (马晓合) from Beijing Niujie district taught Wang Guixiang, Hou Xirong and Zhang Shaosan
2. Li Zhendong (李振东, 1882-1977) taught Li Shusen, Zhang Ruiqing, Zhang Guizeng.
2. Zhang Shaosan (张少三) specialised in the 24 posture methods and taught Hang Yucheng, Bai Yongxiang, Wang Qicheng, Wang Yongfeng, Wang Yukun, Zhang Wenbin and Feng yushan
3. Wang Qicheng (王启成, 1895-1972) passed to Zhou Lianyuan, Tan Guifu, Ma Yulin, Hu Yuanceng, Hu Shaoguang, Zhang Guizeng, Wu Yuzeng, Wang Shukuan, Wang Lisheng, Meng Zhengyuan
3. Li Shusen (李树森,1902-1975) taught Zao Zeren, Gu Yun, Lu Shengli, Li Gengjiang and Zhang Yun
4. Hu Shaoguang (胡绍光) taught He Shiming, Li Dong and Di Deqi.
4. Zhang Guizeng (张贵增) was fortunate to study with many teachers and passed the skills in Beijing to Bai Baoyuan, Liu Daiqun, Cang Haichun, Chen Chongxi, Chen Jiajun, Chen Liankai, Shi Yonghe, Fu Zhangman, Liu Yuemao, Zhang Xinbin, Yu Shaoyi, Zhu Qiangli, Cai Limin, Teng Jingquan, Zhu Xuquan, Wang Guolang, Tang Xuhua, Zhang Bin, Xiao Huanxin, Yang Hongliang, Cheng Jie, Dong Jianrui, Deng Changhong, Fuwei, Ling Guangliang, Zhang Yonglai, Wu Yixin, Jiang Jianguo, Li Zhenhua.
Taiping Tongbeiquan is integrated with the Qi Family (Lao & Shao) and Zhang Ce Tongbeiquan. In recent years we have on bi-annual intervals traveled to the Niujie area for Baiyuan Tongbeiquan but have not considered this into the curriculum as yet. Our Tongbeiquan (通背拳) curriculum consists of eight aspects of development.
1. Huo Fa ( 活法Mobility exercises)
These are conditioning exercises that develop flexibility and strength across the various parts of the body. These include the various joints (wrists, elbows, shoulders, hips, knees ..etc) and the body frame itself with particular focus on the back, the rib cage and the waist.
This stage is the most important, since without the right body development, some of the techniques and methods of Tongbeiquan cannot be done properly and most importantly the power generation will be lacking. Therefore depending on the pre-condition of individual students and their progress thereof, this stage itself can take quite some time (up to 3 years). Many of the exercises are also techniques/methods, or directly associated with techniques.
The most identifiable mobility methods are those with regards to the shoulder and back, here the tendons, ligaments and muscles are stretched and strengthened. Although known for generating power from the back, when we practice tongbeiquan at the more advanced levels, those power bursts require the smallest of movement, so it does not mean that the back is waving in huge motions, but that it is co-ordinated, flexible and strong enough to allow power to pass, generate momentum and burst out. Thus the practice of these methods cannot be understated.
The exercises and the understanding of Power generation - Huan Jing (Exchanging Power) - soft, pliable and of varying speeds, Fa Jing (Exerting Power) - explosions of power at will at the appropriate time. As well as the Lianhuan aspect (continuity and linking Development) form the core or the Gong Fu of Tongbeiquan.There are many others but the above are some of the ones we most regularly practice.
2. Dan Cao Fa (单操法, Individual Techniques)
Traditionally, in Tongbeiquan we refer to 108 Cao Fa (36 Tian Gang and 72 Di Sha ). However, these do not refer to simply 108 techniques, but rather 108 principle methods on which there are many variations to each (these can be when combined with footwork, or for different ranges, angles or combinations).
The 108, methods include the so called 5 Element Palms ( 五行掌, Wu Xing Zhang):
• Zhuan Zhang - Drilling Palms (although Zhuan is applied more for Fist Strike)
The 108 methods, include the famous hands of Tongbeiquan :
The 108 methods, include the Continuos canons (连环炮, Lianhuan Pao) of Tongbeiquan:
The 108 methods, include the skillful methods of Tongbeiquan including:
The 108 methods, include the 4 Mountains (四山, Si Shan) of Tongbeiquan:
Many Tongbeiquan practitioners spend a lifetime only mastering the 108 Cao Fa since it contains such depth and requires such great skill to master. In Tongbeiquan the practice of forms is not as important as the Cao Fa.
As an example of the sub methods, if we take the Pi Shan (Splitting Mountain) it can have a multitude of variations such as relating to footwork: Shan Bu Pi Shan (Flashin Step Split Mountain) and Gen Bu Pi Shan (Following Step Split Mountain) or with some basic hands like Yin Shou Pi Shan (Enticing hand split Mountain) or by changing angles such as Fan Pi Shan (Turning Split Mountain) and by combination like Pi Li Cang Hua (Split Moutain find the hidden Flower) and many others.
As a further example Zhan Shou (Chopping Hands), could be practiced as Xing Bu Zhan Shou (Moving step Chopping Hands), Ti Xi Bu Zhan Shou (Lifting Step Chopping Hands) and as combinations such as across the various plains Heng Zhan Shou (Horizontal Chopping Hands) or in combination such as Chuan Zhang Zhan Shou (Thrust Palm Chopping Hands).
The wonder of Tongbeiquan is found within the 108 Cao Fa, as long as the basic exercises and appropriate flexibility and power have been developed, these 108 Cao Fa are the heart of Tongbeiquan.
4. Lian Cao Fa (连操法, Linked Techniques)
These are natural extensions to the Cao Fa. Basically after understanding each Cao Fa and its variations, these are now combined with others forming links or chains of simultaneous attack and defence. Some of this practice may have already commenced during the process of practicing the Dan Cao Fa. These are sometimes short and at other times long. The intention is not define the exact ones to practice (although there are some traditionally taught), in as much as developing the ability to pick, mix and change the Cao Fa to suit conditions. Thus this is an important stage in the development of combat abilities with the Tongbeiquan skills.
5. Lian Tangzi (连趟子, Linked Sequences/Forms)
Once the Cao Fa have been mastered and the combination abilities achieved, the practice of forms may commence. The practice of forms is not so important in Tongbeiquan, in ancient times there are only a few handsets in existence these are Mingtangquan, Lao Jiazi (Old Framework) and Chaiquan (Pull apart boxing). Chaiquan had many variations since each generation would change modify and add according to their experiences. Most forms are attributable to the great effort of GM Xiu Jianchi who systematized all the curriculum and created a specific structured set of forms within that effort. Many great Tongbeiquan masters have existed and lived to achieve incredible skills without ever having studied forms
6. San Shou (散手, Combat)
The development of combat commences only once the correct principles have been mastered. This is a long and gradual process but once the awareness is made the abilities are almost instant. There are many 2-man drills and combat based methods that trained from early on but these would only give a superficial understanding. Once the Cao Fa have been mastered to an appropriate level, then the real skills can be obtained. Although it must also be noted that this does not require all 108 Cao Fa. In fact just a few Tongbeiquan technques can be combined into an effective combat system.
The approach with Combat is thus one of consolidated with the various techniques and methods practices. Applications are introduced, drills are undertaken and some free hand combat practiced. However, it is equally important not to over rely on the techniques as one progresses or the ability to gain further insight and skills could be hampered by the combat emphasis of only a few techniques.
Tongbeiquan is however deadly practical and its techniques renowned as many of its Masters were undefeated or held in high regards for their combat skills. This is mainly because every method is directly combate applicable and the angles allow for very agressive penetrating attacks whilst simultaneously maintaining defense.
7. Qi Xie (器械, Weapons)
Essentially there are two key weapons in Tongbeiquan
Similar to the process of mastering the fists, the weapons are also based on key techniques which are mastered in parts, then in continual linkages and sometimes as forms.
8. Qi Gong (气功, Internal Cultivation)
Throughout there are methods of Standing Posture (which are actually moving) and the practice of Ming Tang Quan is also considered one of developing internal strength. In Tongbeiquan, one practices dynamic power development supported by Qigong internal skills.