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The Close Relationship Between Tongbiquan (Tongbeiquan) and Xinyi Liuhequan
The Ming-Qing figure Dong Cheng, of Lesser Dong Village in Huaiqing, Henan, was the founding ancestor of Tongbiquan. There are many different forms of Tongbiquan, such as: White Ape Tongbei, found in Beijing and Shanghai; Five Element Tongbei passed down by Qi Xin, who learned from the old Daoist Han during the early 1800s; Heyi [Unified] Tongbei of Liu Yuchun, who learned from 4th Uncle Lu in the 1850s; Hongdong Tongbi; Xu Family White Ape Immortal Tongbei from Jiaozuo; and the now-lost Tongbi consisting of “Six Roads” and “Ten Section Brocade” described by Qing scholar Huang Baijia in his treatise “On Internal Boxing.” These all originated with Dong Cheng, the creator of Tongbiquan (see my article Huaiqing Tongbi The Source of All Martial Arts’).
Dong Cheng’s ancestry can be traced back to Dong Gu, minister of the Zhao kingdom during the Spring and Autumn period (from Yuncheng in Shanxi). Confucius once praised Dong Gu as ‘one of the great ministers of the time.’ Since Dong Gus grandson Dong Gao fled to Huaiqing in Henan, their family propagated on the banks of the Qin River, and the area came to be known as ‘Lesser Dong [Village].’ Dong Yong of the Eastern Han, who was the protagonist of the story Immortal Consort,’was a descendant of Dong Gu.
In the early Ming, the brother and sister Chang Yuxia and Chang Yuqiu led troops to wipe out Lesser Dong Village. They especially sought to kill all the Dong family members who were learned or had military skills. Half the village was slaughtered, and the rest scattered throughout the country. Many of the elderly, weak, and infirmed Dong family members changed their surnames to Sun or Fu to save their lives. Some of the younger generation became monks and priests in the area (in the Ming and Qing, there were many Daoist temples and Buddhist monasteries in Huaiqing, as well as many temples of the Three-in-One movement).
Dong Cheng had been a Daoist priest, and his nephew Dong Bingqian was a Daoist priest at the Taiji Hall of the Three Sages shrine in the Qianzai temple (see my article ‘The Life and Origins of Tongbeiquan Founder Dong Cheng’). Dong Cheng created Tongbiquan (Tongbeiquan) based on his realizations at the Jingjing Temple at the foot of the Taihang Mountains, and then claimed to have learned it from a white ape in the mountains. He first taught King of Mt. Jin, Zhou Fan, and in his middle years taught his nephew Dong Bingqian. In his later years he taught Xu Shoulu of Zezhou in Shanxi.
The arts that these three people learned from Dong Cheng at these different times in his life were not all the same. The Tongbiquan that he taught in his later years to Xu Shoulu was particularly different. A comparison of the manuals from the three different lines of his teaching reveals a process of continued progression and refinement. This has to do with his exchanges with practitioners of the ‘Thirteen Postures.’
Dong Cheng did not create Tongbiquan from nothing. He had first studied Song Taizu Longfist, and later practiced the Bai Family Five Fists (regarding the former, it was claimed to have been created by Song Taizu, but was really developed in the early Ming; as for the latter, Bai Yufeng was a person from Ye in the Ming, and later was mistakenly said to be from the Jin or Yuan period; see my article ‘Creator of Shaolin Five Fists, Bai Yufeng, was from the Ming’). On the basis of the arts that he learned from his teachers of those styles, he created Tongbiquan.
Dong Cheng first taught Jingshan King Zhou Fan, and in his middle years had some exchanges with Zhang Songxi, influencing Zhang Songxi’s boxing style. Particularly, Zhang’s Tongbei Six Roads and Ten Section Brocade. Zhang Songxi’s students did not learn all of his martial arts; they were transmitted down to Huang Baijia, who mentioned the ‘Tongbi Six Roads’ and ‘Ten Section Brocade’ that came from Zhang’s exchanges with Dong. However, Huang Baijia had not learned them, and left no record of them. Yet, Dong was most influenced himself by the Thirteen Postures of Zhang Sanfeng’(known in the area as ‘Soft 13 Postures or 13 Postures Soft Hands’) practitioner Wang Zongyue.
Wang Zongyue’s influence on Dong Cheng not only led him to have his nephew Dong Bingqian study Wang’s Thirteen Postures; in his later years he also changed the practice method and theory of his Tongbiquan. This can be seen from the boxing manual of Xu Shoulu of Zezhou, who learned from Dong in his later years. Even today, practitioners of Xu family Tongbei have preserved the family saying, Our boxing style is good enough to easily defeat all other styles; only when fighting against practitioners of Thirteen Postures should you be careful, using ‘Long Step Dividing-Heart Palm,’ Middle Fist’ and such techniques to beat them.’ Supposedly this was passed on from the founder of Xu family Tongbiquan, Xu Shoulu.
Therefore, Xu family Tongbiquan and Hongdong Tongbi (which was created by Guo Yongfu, a sixth generation practitioner of Dong Bingqian’s Tongbi) and White Ape Tongbei, as well as Five Element and Heyi Tongbei, are all different (See my articles ‘The Formation of Different Styles of Tongbi’ and ‘The Life and Origins of Tongbeiquan Founder Dong Cheng’).
However, this is not the main point of this writing; rather, this writing concerns the close relationship between Dong Chengs Tongbiquan and Xinyi Liuhequan.
In my contacts with practitioners of Xu family White Ape Immortal Tongbiquan, I have discovered that the boxing theories of Dong Cheng in his later years contained much of the same theory as the ‘Xinyi Liuhequan Manual.’ In addition to this, the short verse beginning the Xinyi manual that I received from my teacher Ma Hongxian in Luoyang, ‘The mind is like an ape, the intent is like a horse; the four limbs must move in unison contains a reference to the ape.
When Ji Longfeng’s disciple Henan Li ( see my article on The Mystery of Ma Xueli’s Lineage’) taught the abbot of Shaolin, in addition to leaving behind the Discussion of Ten Important Points,’ he also taught the ‘Secret 24 Character Formula.’Within this ’24 Character Formula’ is the sentence, ‘Tongbi is famous for its dodging; Xinyi is good at evasion.’ The Spear Method of Teacher Ji,’which is contained in the ancient Shaolin manual, is a combination of Ji’s spear techniques and the Tongbeiquan manual.
Also, the Xinyiquan of the Shaolin lay disciple Mr. Jia is in fact Tongbeiquan; it was probably the boxing taught early on by Ji when he was teaching his spear methods to the Shaolin Monastery. It is very different from Xinyi Liuhequan, created by Ji, as well as the Xinyiba taught by his disciple Henan Li to the Shaolin abbot. Unfortunately, the Shaolin Monastery’s Xinyiba only contains one [of the original] ‘ba’ [strikes]; the other 12 variations were created by the Shaolin monks. Of these twelve variations, the majority are repetitions of this ‘Dizzy Head Strike’ [juetou ba厥头把], which is called Eyebrow Chopping’in Luoyang Xinyi. There are also several variations of the ‘Spreading Wings Strike’ [liangchi ba亮翅把] which is very similar to Luoyang Xinyis White Crane Spreads its Wings.’ And, there are a few moves which are from Dahongquan. Moreover, the single ‘ba’ that remains is missing the contraction and extension of the middle segment. It is possible that over the course of transmission, while the move was preserved, its true essence was lost. See my article, Xinyi Liuhequan and Shaolin Xinyiba.’
Dong Cheng had some revelations in his later years, and for this reason the explanation of the method of opening’that he taught to the Xu family was different from what he taught to Jingshan King Zhou Fan. In his later years, in addition to improving his Tongbeiquan, he also created ‘Yin-yang Eight Steps Fists.’ The Five Steps Seven Fists’ recorded by his nephew Dong Bingqian in his ‘Wujing xuanji’ could also have been created by Dong Cheng. However, although Dong Cheng had already developed many theories [later used in] Xinyi Liuhequan, his style of boxing was different [from Xinyi Liuhequan]. In ‘Wujing xuanji’ there is mention of such moves as ‘Thunderclap, Double Strike, Bear Comes out of the Cave, Tiger Sits in his Lair that are also found in Xinyi Liuhequan, yet the postures that are shown are completely different.
After Dong Cheng passed these theories on to Dong Bingqian, Dong Bingqian also studied the ‘Thirteen Postures of Zhang Sanfeng’ with Wang Zongyue under Dong Cheng’s suggestion. (Note: In the Wang Village ‘Six Harmony Divine Spear’ manual in circulation in the Huaiqing area, there is an introduction written by Wang Zhaoyu, the Six Harmony Spear expert of the Jiaqing era [1796 – 1820] which states, ‘…when old Dong [Bingqian] came north, he possessed two consummate skills: boxing, and spear. For spear, he practiced Six Harmony Divine Spear; for boxing, he practiced the 13 Postures. He hid away to practice the Dao, and transmitted his spear skills to the neighboring Wang Village, and his boxing skills to Chen Village in Wen County. His school of martial arts came originally from Zhang Sanfeng…The same statement is made in the Origins Preface’of the Wang Village Spear Manual written by Wang Anmin in the Qianlong period (1735 – 1796). Chen Wangting later became the disciple of Wang Zongyue’s only student Jiang Fa and continued to develop the ‘Thirteen Postures of Zhang Sanfeng,’see my article The History of Taijiquan The Real Story.’This particular short preface is the strongest piece of evidence that Zhang Sanfeng of the Yuan dynasty created the Thirteen Postures.)
Moreover, it is also entirely possible that Dong Bingqian learned Six Harmony Spear and Staff from the famous teacher Li Kefu of the Ming Jiajing period (1521 – 1567). (Note: Wang Village Spear is Pear Blossom Spear. In the Ming, Li Kefu’s famous ‘Six Harmony Pear Blossom Spear’ was recorded in Cheng Zongyou’s ‘Long Spear Methods,’ written in 1621. Cheng learned these methods from Li. Qi Jiguang, who lived during the same period as Li Kefu, learned some spear techniques at the age of 21 from Tang Jingchuan; it is also possible that he went to his contemporary Li Kefu to seek instruction. In his ‘Jixiao xinshu, he writes about Yang family’s Eight Mother Spears, Six Harmony Spear, and 24 Spears. The Six Harmony Spear described in Tang Jingchuan’s ‘Wubian xuan’ is very different from that in Qi’s text. The Yang familys Six Harmony Spear was also called Pear Blossom Spear or Pear Blossom Six Harmony Spear. It was not related to the spear method of the Song dynasty general Yang’s sixth son, nor was it related to the Pear Blossom Spear’ of Li Quans wife Yang Miaozhen of the Song. That was a combination of weaponry and explosives, with flammable material attached to the spearpoint. Before a battle, it would be lit on fire and could be flung several yards ahead of the spear; when the flames stop burning [the enemy soldier], you stab them with your spear.’)
What is known is that Six Harmony Spear was created in the Ming dynasty, and by the Jiajing and Wanli periods, Li Kefu of Henan was very well-known for these techniques. Wang Zongyue was also from this period. Dong Bingqian of the Qianzai temple in Bo’ai, Henan, also could have learned from Li like Cheng Zongyou. In the Wu style of Taiji, which is related to Qianzai temple, there are the Three Lifesaving Spears, Single Posture Eight Spears, Thirteen Big Spears, 24 Spears and 2 person partner sticky staff and wrapping spear (altogether 13 roads). In Xinyi, there are 13 single posture spear methods and 13 posture 2-person spear, 21 Spears, and 36 Spears (Six Harmony Spear). The important skills of the 36 Spears includes 8 Mother Spears, 13 Spears and 24 Spears; Xinyi’s 21 Spears is a combination of 8 Mother Spears and 13 Spears, could the 24 Spears be these 21 techniques plus the Three Lifesaving Spears?)
Therefore, Dong Bingqian carried on and became well-versed in Dong Cheng’s Tongbeiquan, 13 Postures of Zhang Sanfeng, and Six Harmony Spear and Staff, as well as the Yin-yang Eight Step Fist and neigong mentioned in ‘Wujing xuanji’ that were created by Dong Cheng in his later years. He also possessed the embryonic techniques and theory of Xinyi Liuhequan, in addition to several movements of the same name [as Xinyi Liuhe movements].
When Ji Longfeng went to study with Dong Bingqian (see my two articles, ‘Reflections on Ji Longfengs Creation of his Boxing and The Li Ziqi Stele is a Forgery’), it was inevitable that Ji would create Xinyi Liuhequan.
On this theoretical basis, Ji Longfeng (no wonder there is the tale that Ji received a boxing manual from an extraordinary person’; we can see that the statement in the Xinyi Liuhequan manual that ‘my manual is Xinyi; your boxing style is Six Harmony; we can combine them to make Xinyi Liuhequan did not come from nowhere. It is only because of the forged ‘Xinyi Liuhequan Preface’that appeared in the late Qing/early Republican period mentioning the Yuewang Temple in the Zhongnan mountains that Xinyi Liuhequan was claimed to have come from Yue Fei. In reality this was a reflection of the anti-Qing sentiment, or possibly an attempt to obscure the origins to others or preserve internal secrets, as when Chang Naizhou claimed to have learned from Yu Rang and did not mention that he studied with the Wang family of Wang Village and the Li family of Tang village, or when Dong Haichuan claimed that the skills he studied in Henan were learned from a baaa in the South. Liu Dekuan also said that the six roads of ‘Fangtian Halberd’ that he learned in Nanyang actually came from the south. This is a common occurrence; it is easy to confuse the history of boxing styles.) not only went extremely in-depth into his study of boxing, refining his skills; he also produced an original creation, using almost as much theoretical skill as Dong Cheng himself in his creation of the unique style of Xinyi Liuhequan. This style places heavy emphasis on neigong and single movement practice; its only form is the Four Strikes which is simply four movements linked together (the first is Eagle Pounces on Food, which is the same as Horizontal fist; the second is Single Strike, same as upward strike to the neck; the third is anjue, same as Eagle Seizes; the fourth is Eyebrow Chop, same as Chopping hand.)
Note: I am about to start on an article The Circumstances of the Appearance of the Forged Liuhequan Preface which will be finished before the end of the year.
Ji passed these theoretical teachings onto Mr. Zheng of Nanshan (a hermit); Zheng passed them on to Mr. Li of Henan (a hermit). Li, who was skilled at bonesetting as well as boxing, wrote the “Ten Essentials of Xinyiquan Preface” in 1732; afterwards, he also wrote the “Twenty-four Character Secret Formula” that explained Xinyi fighting skills. He also passed his bonesetting skills onto Guo Xiangtai of Pingle in Luoyang (where there is the well-known “Guo’s bonesetting arts”). After Li arrived at the Wangwushan area of Jiyuan, in his later years, he also wrote the Treatise on the Nine Essentials of Xinyiquan. This treatise, in addition to being passed along to the Zhaobao taiji practitioners and Chen Changxing of Chen Village, was also preserved by the Yuan family in Jiyuan. In the early Republican era, Zheng Lianpu gave a copy to the martial arts coach at Peking University, Li Jianqiu (Li Cunyi’s grand-disciple); in 1919, Li recorded it in his book The Art of Xingyiquan.” (See my article, “The Myth of Ma Xueli’s Lineage.”)
The Tongbei “Horse Stance Double Pushing Palm Standing Posture” and the “Lesser Posture Stance” passed on by Dong Cheng in his later years to the Xu family are very similar to the “Squeezing Horse Standing Posture” and the “Fishscale Stepping” of Yinyang Bapanzhang. After the start of the Republican era, the master of Yinyang Bapanzhang, Ren Zhicheng, no longer fearing repercussions from the Qing government, wrote of his lineage that in the Daoguang period (1820-1850), Dong Menglin taught Dong Haichuan and Li Zhenqing, after which Li Zhenqing taught Ren and his brothers. He also said that this art had been passed down for three generations in Dong Menglin’s family. From this, we can see that the first generation of Yinyang Bagua/Bapanzhang must have existed during the Qianlong period (1735-1796); it is entirely possible that Dong Menglin was from Huaiqing, and was a descendent of Dong Cheng. On the basis of his knowledge of Dong Cheng’s boxing style, he developed the “Horse Stance Double Pushing Palm Standing Posture” into his “Squeezing Horse Standing Posture” and, adding stepping to the “Lesser Posture Stance,” developed it into “Fishscale Stepping.” Taking Dong Cheng’s “Five Bows”shenfa from the Thirteen Postures, and his theory of the 3x3=9 Segments (Three Basins and Nine Segments) as well as three dantian (I have discovered that only Yinyang Bapanzhang’s theory of the location of the three dantian is the same as Dong Cheng’s), he created Yinyang Bagua/Bapanzhang (formerly, Dong Cheng had created a style known as “Yinyang Eight Step Punches”). He took a similar path as Ji Longfeng, both refining a broad skillset into a more simple form, and between the two it is like different songs performed with the same skill.’ (See my article Yinyang Bapanzhang and Baguazhang.”)
The old Daoist Han, who taught Wuxing Tongbei to Qi Xin of Henan in the Daoguang period, could also quite possibly have been from the Huaiqing area, a martial descendent of Dong Cheng. He also developed a refined, simplistic system, emphasizing the key shenfa aspects such as the Five Bows” (Zhang Ce’s early disciple Tian Zuolin, who taught my martial uncle Yang Zhaoji, had some documents that suggested that Qi Xin may have been from Shanxi, Zhejiang, or Henan). The simple yet refined arts of Xinyi Liuhequan, Yinyang Bapanzhang, and Wuxing Tongbeiquan differ based on the respective skills and ingenuities of their creators, as well as the level of subtlety in their skill.
In the Li family record, we also learn that the ninth generation members Li Zhong, Li Xin, and their marital cousin Chen Wangting of Chen Village learned Thirteen Postures Soft Hands and “Tongbeiquan from Dong Bingqian. Afterwards, they created the four routines of “Taiji Life-Nourishing Skill”; these four routines were known as the Thirteen Postures Latter Four Routines” in Chen Village. Compare this with the lost Four Routines Boxing Manual of Chen Village, which was said to have consisted of Tongbei 24 Postures,’two routines of‘Tongbei Xingquan,’ and one routine of ‘Taizu Goes to Southern Tang.’On the basis of the Thirteen Postures that the Li brothers and Chen studied, they softened the motions and turned them into the above four routines. It could be that this was an early creation, which did not reach fruition, or that they later created another style of boxing; for whatever reason, these routines were not preserved in either Tang Village or Chen Village. Yet they were passed on to the Yuan family of Jiyuan, where they were known as the four routines of Divine Boxing.” In the 1930s, the Thirteen Posture routine developed by 14th generation disciple Chen Youben were influenced by the “reeling” principle of Tongbeiquan and the original Thirteen Postures of Zhang Sanfeng; this seems like a case of obtaining a sesame seed but losing a watermelon.”
14th generation family member Chen Changxing taught the Thirteen Postures to Yang Luchan, and the Zhaobao Taiji master Chen Qingping taught the Thirteen Postures to Wu Yuxi.
The Chang family boxing style created in the Qianlong period by Chang Naizhou of Sishui, Henan, also has a close relationship to Dong Cheng’s Tongbeiquan. Chang had once studied Wang Village Six Harmony Spear, and had studied Li Family Twelve Postures from Li Helin; both of these styles can be traced back to Dong Bingqian. Unfortunately, Changs boxing style was never refined and simplified.
Republican-era Xingyiquan practitioner Wang Xiangzhai learned a standing posture “Hunyuan Zhuang” from the Xu family in Jiyuan that had come down from Dong Cheng, as well as the associated mental imagery (among the “Ten Questions” of Xu family, there is the “achievement” [cheng] method); later, Wang created Yiquan or, as it is also called, “Great Achievement Boxing” [Dachengquan], whose fundamental posture is “Hunyuan Zhuang.”
The supposed early Song dynasty “Tongbei of Han Tong” that is so often talked about is just a myth made up by later people. (See my article “Remaining Myths in the History of Shaolin Boxing”)
All in all, every style of boxing in Chinese martial arts has its consummate skills; the level of subtlety of these high-level skills is different for each. This is related to the hard training, persistence and ingenuity of the individuals involved and whether or not they studied with accomplished teachers.
Before concluding this article, I would like to express my great thanks to Bao Yulong, who gave me a copy of the late Ming Tongbei manual; Xu Weizhan, practitioner of Xu Family White Ape Immortal Tongbi; and Wang Jun who gave me a copy of the “Six Harmony Divine Spear Manual.” Without the materials generously provided by these people, this research would be difficult to undertake.
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