The Liuhe (Six Harmonies) are a key to many traditional Chinese martial arts. However in the North of China amongst the Huizu (Chinese Moslem) community a thorough martial art system which is centuries old is practiced that allows the mastery of the perfect harmony and the achievement of excellent combat skills and effectiveness. It is one of the older martial arts and is thought to have influenced many others styles in the Central Plains.
Forward and backwards, left and right, up and down are the six co-ordinates. Yin and Yang, rise and Fall, Movement and stillness are the six co-ordinates. Jing, Qi and Shen, Eyes, Limbs and Body are the 6 co-ordinates. Wrists and ankles, knees and elbows, shoulders and hips are the 6 co-ordinates.
There are many legends to the origin of Liuhequan (Six Harmonies Boxing), some suggest that it was a faction of the Shaolin school or Liuhe branch, Shaolin Weituomen, Shaolin Yupai. This is was mainly propagated by Wan Laisheng, a famous Liuheziranmen practioner. Another legend is that it original from ancient moslem methods where the Liuhe are actual references to the Huizu headwear. Thirdly, it is said that Yuefei, had developed the essentials of the style Liuhequan and Liuheqiang (Spear) in the Song dynasty which he taught senior members of his army. This is mainly as a result of the famous text Liuhequanxu (Preface to Liuhequan) which is a part of the Xinyi tradition.
What is a key irrespective of legend is that the primary concept of six coordinations/harmonies that is essential to the style is common and critical element in many martial arts. In its simplest concept this refers to The Nei Wai San He (Internal 3 and External 3 Coordinates), 3 Internal are Xin, Yi and Qi and the 3 External are Hands/Legs, Elbows/Knees and Shoulder/Hip. So Xin and Yi coordinate, Yi & Qi Coordinate, Qi and Li Coordinate. Externally Hands and Legs coordinate, Elbows and Knees Coordinate and Shoulders coordinate with Hips. The Internal and External Combine into one (Nei Wai He Yi), this then is Liuhe.
History and Development
Liuhequan is considered an ancient martial art, the earliest records however date to the Ming dynasty. A famous warrior Zhang Ming (张明) passed through Qingzhen Balizhuang in Botou village, Hebei Province, when he collapsed as he was injured and had been ill.
Cao Zhenpeng (曹振朋), a huizu (chinese moslem) took the injured warrior into his home and gave him medical attention. As a result Zhang Ming was indebted and passed his martial arts skills to Cao Zhenpeng. Master Zhang would watch how diligent and ardiously every morning Cao Zhengpeng practised and was impressed by his dedication and development that he also passed on all his boxing and martial skills, including boxing manuals to him. The art was Liuhequan.
Cao Zhenpeng only taught his son Cao Sheng who in turn passed the art to Shi Jinke, Shi Changchun and Zhang Maolong. Since the great master Zhang Ming made a point of advising Cao Zhenpeng not to transmit the art easily, It is only in the fourth generation that the art commenced being taught to others.
Shi Jinke taught around 18-20 disciples, who all became well known in the martial world. These include “Heixunfengshenliqianjinwang” (Black tornado Spirited, Strength of 1000 Catties King) Shi Jinsheng. Others included Shi Jinhe, Shi Qingzhen, Tian Kechun and Li Guanming. Since Liuhequan emphasises the three methods of strike, lock and throw, many Liuhe masters became well known for their Shuajiao (Chinese Takedowns and Wrestling) skills and have instrumental in the development of Shuaijiao.
Development of Liuhe Quan
The original place of concentration and practice is in Botou City, Hebei Province south of Cang County. Mainly inherited by the large Chinese moslem community, it used to be taught with the Huizu Mosque and amongst villagers. Through generations the art has been improved on and developed more systemically. In Botou there are dozens of practitioners and Botou is considered the most encompassing of the branches. This version of Liuhequan is very complete and contains large content. Since Shi Jinke was so important in the propagation of the art often Botou Liuhequan is referred to as Shi Family Liuhequan.
Cang County has been famous throughout history for its legendary martial skills, in ancient times, various rebels/military commanders/heroes were exiled by the government to here. The result is that abundant methods of martial practice exist and the local practitioners such as those of Liuhequan became lethal masters. Since Cang county is just north of Botou (in fact Botou is a county under Cangzhou jurisdiction), the Liuhequan methods were popular early on. There were three main lineages of practice: Li family, Tian family and Wu Family.
Many years ago a small Chinese Moslem community from Cangzhou region re-settled in the Baoding district and brought many of their skills and cultural features with them. They built a Mosque and the practice of Liuhequan was popularized. Many of the masters of Liuhequan became renowned for their combat skills, especially in those of Shuaijiao (Throwing and Wrestling) so much so that the Baoding district became well known for the Shuaojiao skills of its martial arts masters.
A well known master Liu Dekuan, was originally from Cangzhou. studied Liuhequan with Tian Chunkui and Li Fenggang (Li Guangming's nephew). Later he taught various disciples taught in Beijing including Zhao Jinzhou, Xu Wansheng (1878-1945), Wu Junshan and Li Yongzhu. Practitioners evolved Liu’s teachings to formulate the Beijing Liuhequan school. Since Master Wan Lai Sheng was a well known master of Ziranmen his descendants mostly from Fujian, are often recognized majorily for their Ziranmen. Ziranmen Liuhequan being a derivative of Beijing Liuhequan implies that it is also part of the modified Liuhequan as developed by Master Liu Dekuan.
Li Shuting (1863-1939) studied with Li Guanming and his disciple Wang Dianjun and later also received instruction from Li Fenggang. In 1910 Wang Ziping became his disciple. Other disciples include Zhang Fengshan, Hu Yuntian, Liu Yunting and Li Zhiyun. Li Zhiyun (1910-1984) was the son of Li Shuting, and taught his son Li Junde (1960-). Also Yang Style QIngping Sword.
Master Wan Laisheng, became famous many years ago in 1928, through his activities and actions associated with the Central Guoshu Institute of Nanjing, thereafter he was sent to South China (Fuzhou, Fujian Province) to assist in the teaching and development of martial arts.
Another well known master of Liuhequan was the great Tong Zhongyi, originally from Cangzhou, Hebei province, who defeated Sichuan Master Wu Shaoji at the Nanjing All China Guoshu meet. He later became well known and taught in Shanghai. Tong Zhongyi had studied with his father, a disciple of Li Guangming. Regarded as Shanghai Liuhequan, the style has become popular with many practitioners including Master Tong's daughter Tong Peiyun (who later moved to Singapore), as well as those from his school in Shanghai.
Key Lineages and branches of Liuhe Quan
Cangzhou Liuhequan (Da Liuhe Men) - This branch is the one which made Liuhequan famous as many great Masters were from this lineage. This branch was later to be known as Da Liuhe (Great Liuhe) both because its masters would learn from other styles thus making the system larger but also because of its status in the martial world at the time. This branch is from the descendants of 5th Generation Li Guanming whom had first studied Tantui Men in addition to Liuhe Men. It includes notables such as Li Fenggang, Wang Zhenyi (Da Dao Wang Wu), Tong Zhongyi, Wang Ziping and Li Shuting.
Botou Liuhequan (Liuhe Quan) - This is branch in which the decendants of Shi Family (5th Generation Shi Jinsheng) continue their practice. Both Botou Liuhequan and Cangzhou Liuhequan have similar content in terms of the respective routines and practices, However, Cangzhou Liuhequan includes a lot more material as s during the Biaoshi (Security Logistics/Bodyguard services) times, practitioners would absorb skills from around the region.
Beijing Liuhequan (Jingshi Liuhe Quan) - This branch is from the descendants of 7th Generation M Liu Dekuan. M Liu studied many martial arts and re-organized Liuhequan into simpler concise routines. His descendants thereafter practice a unique type of Liuhequan, referred to as Beijing or Jingshi Liuhequan today. Another descendant of the Beijing branch includes Wan Laisheng, best known for his Ziran Men, Wan Laisheng also re-constructed the forms and contents of Liuhequan and taught in the South of China (Fuzhou). Thus this sub branch of Beijing Liuhequan, is today referred to as Fuzhou Liuhequan, or ZiranMen Liuhequan.
Curriculum of Liuhe Quan
Liuhequan is characterised by very clear and defined movements, where there is change but the points of pause and action are clearly divided. The postures are interconnected and the applications straightforward. Liuhequan aims to combine the internal with the external in a balanced harmonious and mutually supportive manner.
The 6 Harmonies of direction: North, South, West, East, Up and down. The 6 Harmonies of the parts: Hands, feet, elbows, knees, hip and shoulders. And so on. In basic skills development Liuhequan concentrates on the 5 skills of Zhuang (Stance), Yao (Waist), Tui (Legs), Zhang (Palms) and Qi (Underlying energy).
In combat it is said 'Once the hands are released then they will strike, if the hands must be retracted the will grab, yet should the hands be lockup up then they will throw, whilst once the legs rise they will kick:" (出手便打，顺手便拿，缩手便摔，起脚便踢) Thus we emphasize:
Therefore in principle every strike can be followed by Chi-na techniques and thereafter by a throw. The development of combat then concentrates on the Bamu (8 roots) of : Ti (kick), Da (Strike), Shuai (Throw), Ji (Hit/beat), Qin (Sieze), Na (Grab), Xie (Take out) and Dian (Press).
Watching in the 6 aspects and fighting in the 8 directions, calmness externally with pure intention internally, the liuhequan practitioner can succeed. Given Liuhequan's combat approach, the practice is comprised of 3 main components :
To develop structure, students are required to practice basic movements, Liuhequan is very structured so that Tantui prepare a very good foundation upon which students can build their skills. Tantui is comprised of rows of simple combinations that are repeated, this repetitive process develops both the strength, stamina, coordination and structure required for the further aspects of Liuhequan.
Whilst developing structure and learning the basic methods of Striking (including all parts of the body, legs, knees, hips, back, elbows, hands, head etc...), students also commence the various Shuajiao exercises including stepping methods, various grappling and hand trappings, body and back strengthening, methods of entry, basic throws, lead throws, captured throws, deceived throws, and reverse throws. This then leads to combinations practices, sparring and combat. Concurrently students learn methods of evasiveness, agility and striking, many combinations form small 2 man drills and coordination methods which eventually lead to full 2 man combat set practice, applications free practice and open combat.
Grappling is developed by various exercises followed by the development of grappling alertness so that the practice of Chin-na becomes logical and natural, from the basic self defense grabs to the advanced breaking, limb destruction and artery sealing grabs. This then leads to the practice of two man combat sets designed with many Chin-na methods within and the development of Fan Chin-na (Reverse/Counter Chin-na). The latter stages is when students combine their striking abilities with their locking and throwing ones. The result is a complete and fully capable martial artist which by coordinating all aspects of the body, success in Liuhequan would result.
Empty Hand Sets
In Liuhequan some of the earlier forms are simple comprising of few techniques repeated in rows to enforce good technique, strength and structure. Students would often commence with Tantui and Liuhequan, progressing to the more advanced methods in time. Combat and associated strength training is as per the methodology and are concurrently addressed. Applications are practiced via the many two man forms and by other drills and free combat methods applicable to the style. Such combat includes the use of striking, kicking, locking/grappling and throwing.
Core Liuhe Quan Routines
These are considered the heart of the system - each series is in two parts usually referred to as Qianhou (Former and Latter).
Advanced Liuhe Quan Routines
These are either advanced or created by by past masters which brought new techniques either from their experiences or practices of other martial arts. Many of these have also been influenced by other Cangzhou martial arts including Yanqingquan and Tangquan as examples (and those styles by Liuhequan). However, the practice method and power are all in the manner held by the principles of Liuhe Quan.
Combat (2-man) Liuhe Quan Routines
Although there are many more drills and sub 2 man routines in Liuhequan, these are the specific sets which develop various specialties of combat development.
Liuhe Quan Weapon Routines