Rou Quan - The Shaolin Soft Boxing System - Salvatore Canzonieri
Shaolin has been very famous for its– “Nei Gong” or “Qi Gong” internal exercises done for the health and vitality of its practitioners. The most being the ‘Ba Duan Jin' – ‘Eight Section Brocade' and the ‘Yi Jin Jing' – “Muscle Tendon Exercises'. But, Shaolin has also practiced another system of very rarely seen neigong exercises that were directly related to their martial art practice. These are called the Rou Gong (Soft or Supple Exercises) and the Rou Quan ( ???? - Soft or Supple Fist). They are generally taught to senior monks and its soothing and soft motions are considered excellent for older marital artists wishing to retain their skills. It is used to relax the bones and muscles. It requires smooth breathing to coordinate with body movements. It uses the concept of softness within hardness. By ‘soft' they mean supple and flexible, not mushy and limp.
After practicing for a long time, the Qi in the Dian Tan can reach the top and bottom of the body through the meridians. It was also done for the health of the internal organs, preventing constipation and stagnation. Rou Quan (soft fist) sounds similar to one of the original names for Yang Taiji Quan, which was first called Rou Gong (soft work) or Rou Shou (soft hands) by people.
It is one of the longest running oral traditions in Shaolin, and all the "old" line lineages from around Henan have their oldest linage heads learning it at some point. For example, Shi De Gen learned this along with the Xin Yi Ba from Wu Gulun. Other wel known masters from today who practice Rou Quan are: Zhu Tian Shi, Mao Jing Guang, Shi Yanzhuang, and Liu Zhen Hai.
The Eight Section Brocade is considered a Rou Gong neigong set, because it trains flexibility rather than brute strength. Some of the other Rou Gong sets are called:
- Liuhe Gong (6 harmony exercises), a set of six walking qigong movements;
- Chan Yuan Gong (‘Zen' sect Circular Exercises), a set of nine or so stationary qigong movements;
- and the Luohan 13 Rou Gong, a set of 13 turning qigong movements.
All three neigong sets show many attributes, concepts, movements, techniques, and postures that are very much like those found in all the different branches of Taoist influenced Taiji Quan. The Rou Gong (and the Rou Quan sets that were developed from them) also share many movements and techniques with all the Henan, Huaiqing province, Wen County area martial arts that documented to have originated from there since the Ming dynasty (such as Da Hong Quan (which includes Taizu Chang Quan and Pao Quan routines), Jingang Quan, Hei Hu Quan, all the various Tongbei Quan, and others); all of which are very similar to Taiji Quan in many aspects and movements.
What is most important to note about these soft gong sets is that their movements can also be very easily used for self defense. Not only can these Shaolin neigong sets be applied as empty hand self defense movements, but they can also be done with a staff, double swords, or double knives. So, the health and the martial aspects are one in these most important neigong sets. These attributes are not something to be underestimated, because they make the Rou Quan system very unique and as such can perhaps be used to date their origin or development.
As stated before, the late Ming generals of the 1500s were sure that Shaolin by then had been practicing their staff fighting methods for centuries because of the sophistication and range of its techniques. But, they were the first to record these methods. Partly this was because the publishing industry was much more capable at their time rather than at any previous time, and partly because Shaolin had been shut down for a long period in the Yuan Dynasty.
The staff fighting of other monastic temples was already written about during the Song dynasty, why wouldn't Shaolin have such methods as well, even though they were not documented yet. The information was simply not recorded on paper, just verbally handed down from master to student or it was destroyed by fire. Even Song dynasty novels wrote about staff wielding monks, which must have had some kind of basis in real life.
But, the fact that staff (and other weapons) fighting methods are HIDDEN inside the movements of the Rou Gong and Rou Quan means that they were not lost. Cheng Zongyou, writing in his Shaolin Staff Methods book of the early 1600s, explains that the Shaolin monks were exploring how to develop empty hand combat methods to have the same level of perfection as their staff method. Both Qi Jiquang and his contemporary He Liangchen wrote that the staff methods were enhanced by learning the empty hand methods, and when these two were ready, only then could the sword, spear, and other weapons be mastered. Thus, the Rou Gong and Rou Quan movements can be said to have arisen from combining Buddhist staff fighting and Long Fist techniques (which had already internalized Buddhist neigong techniques) and Taoist sword fighting and 13 Gong techniques (which had already internalized Taoist neigong techniques).
Two nearly identical books from the early 1700s on Shaolin martial arts were the Hand Combat Classic by Cao Huandau and Xuanji's Secret Transmission of Acupuncture Points Hand Combat Formulas by Zhang Ming. These books were annotated versions of an earlier book from a century earlier by Zhang Kongzhao (style: Hengqiu), who studied his Shaolin method with Zhang Ming (who is given as author of the preface to Xuanji's Secret Transmissions book). Both books attribute these fighting methods to a monk named Xuanji (who is mentioned on a Shaolin Stele from 1631 as being a military appointee monk). In these books, this Shaolin martial art is described in much the same terms as Rou Quan operates, with Taiji Quan like concepts such as ‘Rou di qiang' – Soft defeats strong and “Rou sheng gang' - Soft subdues hard.
Also, in Meir Shahar's book, The Shaolin Monastery , it shows that Zhang describes “fundamental techniques for stepping (bu), throwing (die), seizing (na), and throwing off balance by hooking the opponent's legs (guan).” Also, this manual delineates acupuncture or pressure point strikes. Finally, the manuals show that internal strength, neigong, was the driving energy for the combat aspects of the fighting method, and the combat movements were done to cultivate Qi.
The manuals also describe ‘Duanda sheng chang quan' - Close range overcoming long fist', which were Wu Quan / Luohan Quan system ideas. Interestingly, the Xuanji's Secret Transmission book details an existing Yuejia Duanda (Yue Family Close Strike) style, which along with Mien (cotton) Zhang, Ren Jia, and Liu Jia Duanda styles, today are linked to the Ba Shan Fan style. So far, all of these attributes to this Shaolin empty hand style are also found in all the movements of the Rou Gong / Rou Quan sets.
The books also describe the Mi Quan (Secret Boxing) style that was brought into Shaolin from Shandong province, which is now called Mizong Yi (Lost Track) Boxing. Internal power in this style is generated by dropping the shoulders and elbows; also, it combines hard and soft movements; dodging, springing, and shifting techniques; with elusive stepping patterns that include jumping. Its 108 fighting techniques (like the other Wu Quan derived styles have, such as Tongbei Quan and the Chen Taiji Quan Long Fist set) include: Embrace, get in, reverse, glue, roll, snap, lift, stick-pull, grab, up-push, intercept, hammer, deflect, and squeeze. Thus, the Mizong style is a clue to what the original Wu Quan may have looked like back in time, and is most likely it's living remnant.
Neigong and Soft Hard Posture sets were listed as part of the Wu Quan system that passed for many generations from Bai Yufeng and Jue Yuan's time to Niu Hanzhang. Furthermore, about the Rou Gong and Rou Quan, these sets have a distinctly Taoist Daoyin way of thinking, in that the combat techniques were also meant to cure illness and enhance health. Taiji Quan, since it came out of the Ming-Qing transition period, which was known as a time when boxing methods were combined with breathing methods and Daoyin exercises, as such shares many attributes with the Rou Gong / Rou Quan sets. Both the Rou Gong and Taiji Quan systems espouse the same ideas of coordinating the body, the mind, and the breath into a harmonious integration. Both sought to make the martial aspects more efficient and effective, so that an aging person could perform them to further cultivate one's health, vitality, strength, and spirituality. The question is which came first, ‘the chicken or the egg'?
There are three possible time periods that the Rou Gong and Rou Quan sets were from:
1 - Perhaps the Rou Gong movements were developed from the exchange of information received from Zhang Sanfeng, or other Taoists, during the Yuan Dynasty? This would explain why they are very similar to the movements and techniques found in the Zhang Songxi Neijia Quan, Wang Zhungyue's Taoist 13 Postures, Priest Dong Cheng's Tongbei Quan, and Chen Taiji Quan (and other branches), which all have interacted with each other historically.
This would mean that these Rou Gong were one of the original sources of neigong that Bai Yufeng and Jue Yuan had reintroduced to Shaolin; it is known that these people practiced neigong material, which they might not have originated but learned in Luoyang or via their travels to other areas of Henan or even from the Shaanxi, Gansu, Shanxi, Guangxi, and Sichuan provinces (Emei long has had important neigong and Neijia quan material in their history, but they often trace their origin to Shaolin monks). Though Guanxi was far south, monks from Shaolin had gone to branch temples since the time of the Song dynasty. Monks Jue Yuan and Yi Guan had traveled there to meet Ma Zi-Long, who practiced an internal method that was said to have been originally from Shaolin but now forgotten.
The Rou Gong sets are very like much like Taoist neigong in their attributes, so perhaps this connection is originally from Zhang Sanfeng's Wudang Mountain Taoist transmission of information after all. Thus it entered Shaolin, was lost by end of the Yuan Dynasty during the destruction of the monastery, entered the countryside and passed to the people, and finally was reintroduced into Shaolin, and perhaps modified over time, by the 1400s of the Ming Dynasty.
2 - Other researchers, like Dr. Yan Zhiyuan instead believe that it was the Taoist Priest Dong Cheng that had visited Shaolin at some point during the late Ming / early Qing era and introduced them to the Tongbei Rou Quan material he had developed after learning the 13 Postures, more properly known as the 13 Gong Rou Shou (13 skills or exercises soft hands). Dong Cheng had developed a routine of “Rou Quan” postures and movements that merged both the Tongbei boxing he had developed from his previous Shaolin based training with his newly discovered Taoist Neijia Quan training he received from Wang Zhungyue and Zhang Songxi. If this is true, then the Rou Gong sets were developed after the 1600s, into the middle Qing dynasty times.
Shaolin does practice various different Rou Quan sets. Their 36 Posture Rou Quan Yi Lu and Er Lu sets do resemble Tongbei Quan very much and they do follow the same sequences of postures and movements found in all the Wen county martial arts that are similar in postures to those of Chen Taiji Quan. But, these two Rou Quan sets are also similar in postures and movements as in the Yang Taiji Quan sets and the Wu and Wu (Hao) Taiji Quan sets that were derived from the Yang style. Some Shaolin Rou Quan sets are distinctly different from all these styles, such as a 108 Posture Rou Quan set, and others. During the Tang Dynasty, records show that a Rou Xing Chui (Supple Shaped Hammer Strikes) set was exhibited for the Emperor's enjoyment by a Shaolin Monk, along with a Pao Quan set.
3 - But, other people today say that looking over material that has been recorded about Bai Yufeng's and Jue Yuan's Wu Quan and Luohan Quan system (as shown in the previous section of this document), one can see that there are many neigong sets listed, including various 18 Hands of the Luohan Gong based sets (not counting the Luohan Quan sets). The Rou Gong indeed has a set called the Luohan 13 Gong, which has a matching Rou Quan boxing set, composed of 18 different postures. It also has a longer Rou Quan set composed of 108 different postures.
So, it is just as likely that EITHER these Rou Gong and Rou Quan sets were developed after 1425 in the Ming Dynasty, as part of the Luohan and Wu Quan systems that Jue Yuan and Bai Yufeng had developed (with the help of Li Sou's Da Hong Quan) OR they were the actual neigong material that Bai and friends had reintroduced into Shaolin at the time. This would also explain why the Rou Quan sets are so much like the other styles from the Henan , Huaiqing province, Wen County area.
Also, many of the movements show a similarity in form and function with movements seen in Tongbei Quan, Five Elements (of Xing Yi Quan), and in the Yuejia Ba Fan Shou routines (from the Ba Shan Fan system, a set of self defense movements credited to Yue Fei that shares many postures with Taiji Quan and was later modified to follow the Yang and Wu Taiji Quan long sets.). None of the movements of the Rou Gong are copies of the very popular movements seen in the 12 posture Yi Jinjing set, which was first published in the 1620s. Perhaps then the Rou Gong predates the Yi Jinjing in Shaolin.
Being that the Rou Gong are also hidden staff and sword weapons techniques, perhaps they show a connection to Taoist sword methods, which have long had Qi cultivation built into their methodology way before the Qing dynasty back into antiquity. The Taoist Sword movements were the original root of the Taoist 13 Gong featured in their Zhang Sanfeng and other Wudang / Sichuan Neijia Quan sets. The fact that the Shaolin Rou Gong / Rou Quan sets feature the 13 Gong (Postures or Skills) of the Five Elements and Eight Directions point to their roots in Bai Yufeng's and Yue Juan's original martial developments.
Again, since the Rou Gong methods can also be done with the staff (as well with double swords), it is important to note that the Shaolin staff of old was made of iron, and was not a simple thing to lift and wield. One would need leverage to lift and move this staff with ease and not fully strain the body. The mechanics of the Rou Gong sets' movements provide the proper body mechanics that would allow this sort of leveraged movement.
This concept is especially important since the Rou Gong was generally practiced by the older monks who were not necessarily martial monks, but who needed both health and self defense enhancing movements. One could appear to be practicing health enhancing qigong while at the same time, performing hidden combat techniques. During the 1500s, there were many thousands of monks trained to perform the staff methods. By the 1600s there was a necessity to transform these well trained movements into empty hand movements, both due to the turmoil of the Ming-Wing transition times and to the Manchus forbidding the folk to perform weapons martial arts and training. The Rou Gong's hidden staff and sword techniques would have allowed clandestine training to go on without molestation.
Taiji Quan sets were not created to be composed of both empty hand and weapons movements; they had to adopt weapons sets from other styles, such as Taoist Straight Sword, Yang family Spear, Shaolin staff, and others. The following describe some of the Rou Gong sets and their commonality with Taiji movements and postures. Each of these three Rou Shou Neigong sets builds upon the previous sets, and the three Rou Gong sets set the foundation for corresponding Rou Quan sets (of 18, 36, and 108 postures). Each of the sets are performed in a meditative state of mind, calmly, relaxed, smoothly, and flowingly.
Liuhe Gong – these ‘Six Harmony' Exercises or Skills are said to be "Pre-Buddhist" material, and that they have not been altered. It is health enhancing neigong done for achieving mental clarity and getting rid of anxiety and depression. Each of the six movements and postures correspond to a different organ in the body, such as the heart, lungs, kidneys, spleen, liver, and to different meridian channels. It is a walking qigong routine; each of the six exercises is done with mouth-open breathing and light pick up steps.
Six steps are done along a row and then a turnaround is made. Each row is done with each move repeated on the right and left sides for a total of six times. The neigong set clearly appears like a rudimentary or prototypical form of Taiji Quan. The basic “cat-walking” walking movement looks just like a variation of the ‘Brush Knee and Twist Step' of Taiji Quan. The Liu He Gong set teaches the use of the concept of ‘Swing, Sink, and Point' that is familiar to Taiji Quan. These movements all originate from the waist area as the joints contract and release, which allows the body to 'swing'. At the end of a swing, the body sinks down, and from that stable position the body stretches forward while the hands extend and point from the centerline. The stepping pattern is the same for each of the first four exercises; the fourth and fifth exercises are done differently. The same stepping pattern is found in the Jingang Bashi routine (an early root to Bagua Zhang).
First, the right foot steps with toes out (bei bu) as the body swings to right as the right leg sinks and the left knee lifts up next to it. Next, the left leg steps out toe in (kou bu) diagonally to the left, heel first, using an “erasure” step. Next, the right heel presses against the ground shifting the body forward, as the right arm extends out and does a particular movement, at the same time an open mouth ‘out breath' is made. The right arm withdraws back, timed together with an ‘in breath'. Each of the six exercises ends with a different hand movement. The sequence is repeated for the opposite side.
The Liuhe Gong movements (6 Harmony Skills or Exercises or Strengths) consist of:
Single Hand Pushes Mountain ( ???? Dan Shou Tui Shan) – the palm faces forward, pushes, and then turns over as it returns to its starting position. (Functions same as ‘Lien Huan Shi – Linking style', ‘Wash Face, Brush Knee, Twist Step' followed by ‘Hands Play the Lute' (Yang) or ‘Retreat Hands – Zhai Shou' (Chen) from Taiji Quan and “Push Mountain Palms” from Tongbei and Ba Fan Shou.)
Wind Swings the Willow ( ???? Feng Bai Yang-Liu) – the palm swings out horizontally to the side, as it “wards off”, and then scoops back as it returns to its starting position. Functions same as ‘White Crane Spreads Wings' and ‘Cloud Hands' from Taiji and Tongbei Quan.
Chest center hugs Moon ( ???? Huai Zhong Bao Yue) – the palm extends face down as it points forward and then scoops down and back as it returns to its starting position. Functions same as ‘Tui Shou Shi – Push Boat style” from Taiji Quan and “Pai Shou” from Tongbei Quan.
Ambush Tiger Posture ( ??? Fu Hu Shi) – the flat palm slaps straight down and then glides up over the meridian points as it returns back as it returns to its starting position. Functions same as “Zhou An Shi – Catch Press Style”, ‘Deflect, Parry' (Yang) and ‘Covering Hand - Yan Shou Hong Quan' (Chen) from Taiji Quan.
Lift Palm to Sky ( ??? Tuo Tien Zhang) – the arm and palm spirals from the centerline of the body straight up vertically overhead, it spirals back down as the other arm spirals up next. Functions same as ‘Tuo Ya Shi – Lift palm and Crush Style or ‘Golden Rooster – Jin Ji Du Li' from Taiji Quan.
Subdue Dragon Palm ( ? ? ? Jiang Long Zhang) – the elbows drop as the both palms point out face up to either side. Next both palms turn over and push down together. Functions same as “Zhan Tui Shi – Rolling Push Style', ‘ Double-Handed Push – Shuang Tui Shou' (Chen), or “Repel Monkey” from Taiji Quan.
Note: it is interesting that when Ji Longfeng went to Qianzai Temple , he learned 6 Harmonies (spear and fist) there. Later he visited Shaolin Temple itself, and exchanged martial information with the monks there. Eventually he developed what became known as Xinyi Liuhe Quan. Perhaps the 6 Harmonies material he learned was based on this Liuhe Gong set from the Rou Gong?
Chan Yuan Gong (‘Zen' sect Circling Energies or Skills) – This set of sophisticated exercises is a moving neigong set but does not do it while walking like the Liuhe Gong; instead it is done stationary, while turning the waist from right to left. The ‘Kua' (the hip fold area near the waist) generates all the movements as it circles around. This set emphasizes moving from your central channel while standing. This set teaches spiral force, how to be connected to the center, and uses rolling energy. The movements are for enhancing health by circulating qi through the various meridian channels. This set is done with breathing training and other coordinated body methods to develop whole body coordination for health and for martial purposes.
The practice of this set is thought to strengthen the body's Central Nervous System. It uses winding silk energy – Chánsi Jing ( ??? ) and whole body coiling energy. Much like Taiji Quan, the set teaches how to use Dan Tien rotation to make movements; the arms follow the movement of the body, they do not move independently. This set functions exactly as the Tai Ji Quan Classics say, "being rooted in the feet, developed by the legs, directed by the waist transferred through the back, and expressed in the hands." The silk reeling movements that originate from the dantian trace a ‘taijitu' pattern, vertically or horizontally. This neigong routine is very much like the training exercises practiced in Chen Taiji, such as ‘push hands', “brush knee', ‘hold a ball', ‘Da Lun – Big Wheel', and others. Also, some of the movements are like the Five Elements as well.
The movements of Chan Yuan Gong (‘Zen' Circling Energies or Skills) consist of:
Concealed Sun Hidden by Clouds ( ????? Bi Ri Zhe Yun) – Functions the same as the classic Chen Taiji Quan double arm side silk reeling exercises; the movements start first with the outside circle and then adding the "tear shapes" (to quickly change direction while maintaining a smooth motion) while shifting the weight from leg to leg; this motion in turn drives the rest of the joints of the body in a fluid, spiraling motion. Also same as “Yun Shou Shi - Cloud Hands style' in Taiji Quan training sets (ba shi).
Greeting Wind Wipes Dirt ( ???? Ying-feng Hui Chen) – Functions the same as “Lien Huan Shi – Linking Style” and “Wash Face, Brush Knee, Twist Step” from Taiji Quan, also seen in Tongbei Quan.
Pure Wind Swings the Willow ( ? ? ?? Qing-feng Bai Liu) – Functions the same as “hold the ball and turn the ball” movements from Taiji Quan.
Forcefully Split Hua Mountain ( ?? ? Li Pi Hua Shan) – Functions same as in Tongbei Quan (same name for movement). Functions the same as in “Embrace Tiger and Return to Mountain from Taiji Quan.
Autumn Winds Sweeps Lotus ( ? ? ?? Qou Feng Sao Ye) / Twist waist Move around Hips ( ???? Niu Yao Zhou Kua) - Functions same as ‘Change Palms Three Times' in Taiji Quan
Shaking Body Sways the Shoulders ( ???? Yao Shen Huang Bang) – functions the same as White Crane Spreads Wings.
Moving Against Water Current Boat ( ???? Ni Shui Xing Zhou) – Functions the same as “Tui Zhou shi – Push Boat style” and the Da Lun (Big Wheel) training exercises in Taiji Quan.
Both Hands like Lotus Flower ( ???? Shuang Shou Lian-Hua) – Functions the same as Push Hands exercises and ‘Ban, Na, Chui – Deflect, Parry, and Strike' in Taiji Quan.
Forcefully Pull Nine Bulls ( ???? Li La Jiu Niu) – Functions same as ‘Step back Repulse Monkey' (Yang) / “Whirl Arms on Both Sides (Chen) in Taiji Quan.
Hungry Tiger Contracts Body ( ???? E' Hu Shu Shen) – Functions same as Tiger Shape / Pao Quan from Five Elements.
Luohan 13 Gong - from the first two Rou Gong there developed the more complex and faster paced Luohan 13 Gong, which essentially uses the same concepts as the Taoist 13 Gong Rou Shou, for sure, in the execution of its 13 jings. Each movement has four stages: Rise, Support, Close, and Open. Though practiced for health, the set has many hidden combat techniques that include pushing, pulling, wrapping, bumping, sweeping, locking, knocking down, and throwing (grappling arts), which outnumber any striking and kicking techniques. The techniques appear like a combination of Taiji Quan, Xing Yi, and Bagua Zhang.
Of the Rou Gong sets, this one more complicated and has more explicit Silk reeling (chan si jin) and bursts of power (fa jing) manifested, with smooth flowing movements punctuated by explosive strikes. The set teaches how to work with incoming energy so that it will be captured (trapped) so as to cause it to follow the turning of the body; the body yields, redirects, neutralizes/absorbs/transfers, and then releases the now multiplied energy. They teach the ability to "stick, adhere, continue, and follow (zhan, nian, lian, sui)", same as Taiji Quan. Also, Chin Na (joint locking and leverage) techniques are hidden within the movements as well. The movements revolve around the use of the eight gates of tai chi chuan to manifest either kai (expansive power) or he (contracting power) through the physical postures. Also, the movements from the Five Elements are present.
Just like Dong Cheng's later version of Tongbei Quan and also the Taiji Quan that developed later, the Shaolin Luohan 13 Gong set uses the 13 movements or skills (Gong) of the ‘Wu Xing' (five elements) stepping patterns and ‘Bagua' (eight gates) directions, which are also found in the Wu Xing Quan system developed by Bai Yufeng around 1425 in the Ming Dynasty (which he developed from the mysterious Hua Quan – “Transforming” or “Neutralizing” Boxing). It is not known which came first. These are called the 13 Gong in both the Shaolin Rou Gong system and Priest Dong Cheng's Tongbei Quan, which would include Taiji Quan. The 13 movements allow you to fluidly change direction at any point without hesitation, as you move either circularly along a straight line or straight along a circular line. In other words, you can fluidly change self defense angles to your advantage. This set emphasizes moving from your central channel while walking.
Both the Taoist and the Luohan 13 Gong consists of:
The 8 gates (Ba Gua), which are Peng, Lu, Ji, An = Four Primary Hands (Ward Off, Roll Back, Press, and Push) / the 4 straight directions (of Kuan, Li, Zhen, and Dui ).
and Sai, Lie, Zhou, Kao = the Four Corner Hands (Pull Down, Split , Elbow, and Shoulder) / the 4 diagonal directions (of Qian, Kun, Gen, and Xun ).
The 5 elements, (aka the 5 shapes, Wu Xing) are Jin, Tui, Gu, Pan, and Ding = stepping forward, backward, to the left – sideways forward, to the right – sideways backward, and staying in place. Elements = Water; Fire; Wood, Metal, and Earth.
The first eight are about Shou fa - hand skills; and the last five are about Bu fa - footwork skills.
The four primary hands together = Grasp the Bird's Tail ? , ? , ? , ? in Taiji Quan.
This set looks like a combination of Luohan, Ba Shan Fan, Tongbei, Xingyi Five Elements, and Taiji Quan. Many of the movements can be seen in Taiji Quan routines. One of the movements is very much like the Da Lun (Big Wheel) training in Taiji Quan. Also, this set shares stepping methods, postures, and movements that are based on the Five Elements, like most Luohan sets are. The stepping pattern is a Xing Yi like ‘drop front leg and drag in back leg' shuffling movement.
The set opens with practically the same commencement movement that the Taiji Quan sets also begin with, although it is more detailed and an obviously neigong movement. This same opening movement is found in some Tongbei Quan sets, such as the Xiao Lienhuan (Small Linkage) set and the Qi Xing Hua Ji Pao (Strange Flower Intersecting Hammer) set. Almost all the routine's movements are also found in various Tongbei Quan sets.
The Luohan 13 Gong set consists of these 13 movements:
Old Man Splits Wood ( ???? Lao Seng Pi Chai) – Functions same as “Grasp the Birds Tail” - the Four Primary Hands ‘Peng-Lu-Ji-An' (Ward Off, Roll Back, Press, and Push) in Taiji Quan. Also as ‘Pi Quan' in Five Elements.
Luohan Drapes Coat ( ???? Luo Han Pi Yi) – Functions the same as ‘Lazily Draping Coat' with ‘Six Sealings, Four Closings' in Taiji Quan.
Lazy Monks Lies on Pillow ( ? ??? Lan Seng Wo Zhen) – Functions the same as ‘Sai, Lie, Zhou, Kao' = the Four Corner Hands (Pull Down, Tear/Split, Elbow, and Shoulder) in Taiji Quan.
Double Hands Push Mountain ( ?? ?? Shuang Shou Tui Shan) – Functions the same as in ‘Tui Zhou - Push Boat' in Taiji Quan. Also same name and function in Tongbei Quan.
Winds Swings the Lotus Leaves ( ? ??? Feng Bai He Ye) – Functions the same as ‘White Crane Spread Wings' in Taiji Quan.
Luohan Flag Grasp ( ???? Luohan Qi Ba) – Same as Pao Quan in Five Elements.
Cloud Hands Seven Stars ( ???? Yun Shou Qi Xing) – Same as ‘Step Up to Seven Stars' in Taiji Quan. Also same as Beng Quan in Five Elements.
Old Tiger Hugs Head ( ???? Lao Hu Bao Tou) – Same as “Fist under Elbow” and “Whirling Hong Quan” in Taiji Quan. Also same as Zhuan Quan in Five Elements.
Roll Hand Push Palm ( ???? Gun Shou Tui Zhang) – Same as ‘Fair / Jade Lady Works at Shuttles' and Silk Reeling Exercises in Taiji Quan.
Luohan Sifts Flour ( ???? Luohan Luo Mien) – same as Da Lun exercises in Taiji Quan, ends with Heng Quan from Five Elements. Also found in Bagua.
Turn Body, White Snake Spits Tongue ( ?????? Zhuan Shen, Bai She Tu Xin) – Same as Tai Bird in XY and ‘Turn Over Body, Snake Spits Tongue' in Taiji Quan.
Single Hand Inserts Incense ( ???? Dan Shou Cha Xiang) – same as ‘Fan Tong Bei – Fan through Back/Shoulder' with ‘Needle in Sea Bottom' in Taiji Quan.
Luohan Carries Basket on Arm ( ???? Luohan Kua Lan) – same as ‘Jingang/ Luohan Pounds Mortar' in Taiji Quan. Also found in Ba Shan Fan.
From all these Rou Gong, sets were eventually made called Rou Quan, which used these same neigong movements for self defense , based on the principle of “the soft overcoming the hard”. Direct opposition of another's force is strictly discouraged, and great emphasis is placed upon borrowing the force of the opponent and using it to one's own advantage by absorbing and neutralizing incoming force, joining with the opponent by sticking, following, and controlling an opponent's center of gravity (his pelvic region), and then issuing force at the appropriate time and angle with the power of the entire body.
The techniques are combinations of the energies of the Eight Techniques: ward off, roll back, press, push, pluck, split, elbow, and body stroke [peng, lu, ji, an, cai, lie, zhou, kao] and the Five Elements. The Rou Quan sets have many movements not seen in the Luohan 13 Gong; most of the added postures and movements can also be found in Hong Quan, Tongbei Quan, and Taiji Quan.
Also, there are some movements seen in the Ba Fan Shou sets, and specific leg movements that are only seen in Ba Shan Fan (and in Xinyi Liuhe Quan). Note: some Ba Shan Fan lineages say that the style was originally from Shaolin and related to the Luohan Quan system. They trace their origins in the Zhou Family Kicks style during the Southern Song era; General Yue Fei's teacher was Zhou Tong of this family, and this is why he is credited with being a founder of Ba Fan Shou, Eagle Claw (which was created from Ba Fan Shou), and even Xinyi Liuhe Quan.
From out of the Rou Gong, three Rou Quan (Soft Boxing) sections were said to have been created. The shortest one is 18 postures. The longest one is 108 postures. There is a 36 posture Rou Quan set practiced in the Dengfeng area (where Lao Hong Quan is practiced) that shares the first section of movements as in Taiji Quan's Yi Lu set, it shares attributes seen in the Chen, Yang, and Wu branches. The Shaolin Ape-Monkey (Yuan-Hou Quan) set closely follows this first section as well.
There are also Rou Quan sets that were developed in the Qing Dynasty that are mixed with other long fist styles. The oral legend is that Shaolin's Rou Quan was originally composed of three sets, not counting the Rou gong sets, created by the famous monk Hui Ke, the second abbot of Shaolin after Chan sect founder Bodhidharma, who was believed by some to have had a military background earlier in his life . But, Hui Ke's life has been recorded in detail and no records at all show that he practiced Rou Quan or any martial arts nor his teacher Damo. Plus, Hui Ke never lived inside of Shaolin's grounds in the first place.
If indeed the Rou Gong and Rou Quan were developed before the Qing Dynasty, then without these neigong sets there would not be any Taiji Quan, Xinyi/Xingyi Quan, and Bagua Zhang today.
Back to Articles Index Page>>
Back to Qigong Program Page>>
Back to Martial Arts Program Page>>
Back to Main Page>>