Natural Traditional Chinese Martial Arts articles by Sal Canzonieri

This was my nineth column in Han Wei Wushu, it is about the general history of traditional Chinese martial arts. Part 2 is about the time period of the 14th to 16th centuries.

Han Wei Wushu Newsletter
Han Wei Wushu Newsletter
(March 1996 issues #22)
Article #9

The Story of Traditional Martial Arts (14th Century AD to 19th Century AD)

By Salvatore Canzonieri, NJ

(14th century to 16th Century AD)

During the Yuan dynasty, Shaolin had effectively been shut down for a long period of time. By the time the Chinese Emperors retook the throne, during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644 AD), many people grew disillusioned with the hard, external fighting that Shaolin had degenerated into; it resembled crude, peasant style street fighting. During the early days of the Ming Dynasty, a few important developments were happening, but of which had the same goals in mind - to reunite the internal and external aspects of Chinese boxing.

The Ming Dynasty was the most important time period for the Chinese martial arts, all of its present day styles have their main origins in this time period. During the Ming Dynasty, various styles of martial arts became firmly established as separate schools. During the 1500s, General Qi Jiguang (1528-1587) published an important work. He is recognized as one of the most successful generals of the Ming dynasty. Noted for his severe discipline and intense training, Qi led an army comprised of uniformed regulars and civilian auxiliaries against Japanese pirates in Zejiang province. His unprecedented victories earned Qi a reputation as a training expert. He composed his first military treatise, the Jixiao Xinshu (New Treatise on Disciplined Service) in 1560 while serving in Zejiang. The text discusses command and control, tactics, and training. Chapter 14, the 'Quanjing Jieyao Pian' (Chapter on the Fist Canon and the Essentials of Nimbleness), endorses unarmed combat exercises as physical training for troops. No literary precedent for such a work has been discovered. Historical evidence suggests, however, that pre-Ming armies have used some forms of martial arts in training or demonstrations. Also, similarities between the 'Quanjing' and modern taijiquan raise questions about a possible common martial arts heritage. General Qi's main weapon was the Changdao. In 1568, the Great Wall of China was reconstructed by the Ming Generals, Tan Lun (1520-1577) and Qi Jiguang, and most of the well preserved parts of the Great Wall at Beijing are due to these two men.

Also during the Ming period, Pai Chen-Tou (Bai Chen-Dou) was said by some to have developed the Mei Hua Quan (Plum Flower Boxing) or Mei Hua Zhuang, which he extrapolated from his studies at Shaolin, what he did was to combine the Rou Quan (soft boxing) with the hard Shaolin boxing forms. Also, the art was practiced on wooden poles or stumps set into the ground and made of various heights. Mei Hua Quan was an attempt to bring the external and internal arts together. Meanwhile, on Wudang Mountain, the Wudang Tai Yi Wu Xing Quan - Great Spirit Five Elements Boxing (also known as Liang Yi Quan) style was being developed. It was created between 1488 and 1504 AD by eighth generation master Zhang Shou Xing of Zixian Palace by combining the 13 Postures of Nei Jia Quan (erroneously attributed to Chang San Feng), the ancient “Five Animal Frolics” exercises of Han dynasty physician Hua Tuo, and other Taoist boxing techniques. Presently this form is still being taught, it is both a qigong form and a boxing form. The style was taught to An Tian Rong by Pu Xuan who in 1929 began his stay at Zi Xiao Palace in Wu Dang. He learned this form of boxing from Chief monk Li He Lin. Li He Lin was the eighth generation successor from the originator Zhang Shou Xing who was at the Palace between 1488 and 1504 of the Ming Dynasty.

Sometime during the Late Yuan Dynasty or Early Ming Dynasty, at Shaolin, a monk named Jue Yuan (or Chueh Yuen) also felt the same disillusionment as others had felt earlier and worked with the original techniques of the 18 Lohan style to expand it into 72 techniques. He combined the temple Luohan style with fighting techniques he had learned from various sources. He still was not satisfied and asked permission to travel throughout China and consult with martial arts masters he might find from the various provinces. In Gansu Province in the west of China, in the city of Lanzhou, he met Li Sou, a master of "flood fist" Hóngquán. Li Sou accompanied Jue Yuan back to Henan, to Luoyang to introduce Jueyuan to Bai Yu-feng, who was born in Shanxi province, at Taiyuan. Bai was a master of an internal method from Luo yang Tong Fu Chan Si Monastery. He practiced the Ji Ji Tai Dou internal boxing style. The three of them, plus Li's son, went to the Shaolin and expanded Chue Yuen's 72 techniques into 173 techniques. Bai collected fragments of almost completely neglected patterns, put them to order and perfected them. They combined what they knew to form an internal and external style. After ten years of mutual study and research, Li Sou left Shaolin; Bai Yu-Feng and his son decided to stay in Shaolin and became monks. Bai Yu-Feng's monk name was Qiu Yue Chan Shi. Qiu Yue Chan Shi is known for his barehand fighting and narrow blade sword techniques. Jue Yuan (along with his student Yi Chuan) went to Guilin in Guangxi province (at the place of Yangshou) to meet Bai's teacher Ma Zi-Long, master of Ji Ji Tai Dou, who still practiced internal nei gong that was originally from Shaolin but now lost. They studied together at Jing Yun Shi monestary. Thus, they successfully combined internal Taoist techniques with that of the Lohan Shaolin system. All Shaolin derived styles that exist today are based on the guiding principles and techniques of the style they developed. It has completely changed Shaolin martial arts. Li Sou left forms from the Hung (flood) boxing style to Shaolin (and staff forms), which is still practiced today as Xiao Hong Quan and Da Hong Quan. Hong Quan's forms are influenced by moves from the Shaolin Tai Tzu Chang Quan and Rou Quan styles. These forms were to be a big influence on many later martial arts styles.

During the Ming period and into the Ching dynasty period, about 300 empty hand forms were developed at Shaolin. Also, Shaolin monks started collecting forms from all parts of China. Some of the other more important forms that Shaolin later either housed or developed were the Pao Chui (from the Taoists) and the Hong (Flood) boxing forms. Outside of Shaolin, the other styles were finishing their development by the Ming dynasty. Among the peasant peoples of the north, a style of boxing called Ba Shan Fan - 8 Flash Tumbling boxing (now called Fanzi Quan) was popularly practiced, the style has its roots in the Sung dynasty. It is an internal and external style (drawing energy from the circulation of air through the three channels of the body: water conduits, blood vessels, and sinew networks) that is characterized by slow and fast strikes that are hard and soft and incorporated into tumbling movements.

By the Ming period, the Taoist priests on Emei Mountain had developed the Three Emperor Pao Chuoi (cannon striking) style. The style is composed of rapid, powerful strikes which shoot out from the body. It also contains internal Taoist principles of soft/hard, positive/negative, focus and breathing, etc. It was brought back to Shaolin by Monk Pu Zhao, who had visited Emei Mountain during the late Ming and early Ching dynasties and learned it from a Taoist priest. Another style developed by the late Ming was the Lan Shou (Blocking hand) boxing. It was developed at Dawang Temple in Dazhigu (near Henan Province) by Zheng Tian Xing. It focuses on using hand blocking techniques with turning and shaking, while the feet strike the abdomen and groin of the opponent, borrowing the opponent's force while using it power to beat speed. Sometime during the early 1600s, the Shaolin Temple was expanded to open two southern temples in Fujian Province, in the Nine Little Lotus Mountains. Here, the predominant style was the Five Animals style and the monks at this temple developed other styles and forms from the original Five Animals forms.


Some Shaolin disciples began to fear that Shaolin Quan, which was a united system many ages ago, was now in danger of being fragmented into numerous sections. Under the original system, the monks were able to master the whole system. But, by the end of the Ming dynasty, Shaolin taught so many forms and styles that few monks knew the same styles as their counterparts and there was a danger that a style could die out if there was no one to teach it. A meeting was convened of all Shaolin masters. Each demonstrated their techniques, some excelled in chi use, agility, or force. Five were chosen as the best for various reasons: Da Mo style - chi training; White Crane mind concentration; Lohan - body positioning; Tai Tzu Long Fist - accurate forms patterns, and Tah Sheng ("Great Sage" monkey) - agility. These were combined into one system, creating the Five Ancestors style.

Another group of martial arts masters gathered together to again try to create a superstyle of fighting, sometime during the late Ming Dynasty, in north China. The style was called the Wu Zi Quan. Together, they combined Sun Tzu's Art of War tactics with techniques from the legendary 108 rebels of the Sung dynasty. The style contains practical applications that do not care about appearances. Their main purpose is to vanquish the enemy. It became widespread in the Ching dynasty, when many Manchu aristocrats learned the style to protect themselves. It was called a Black Hand style because of its many "unfair" fighting tactics.

By 1644 AD, the Manchurian tribe had invaded China and took it over. A vast number of Ming loyalists worked to over throw the Ching dynasty (1644-1911 AD) and in the process (unsuccessful), they developed many martial arts styles that are known today (especially in the south).

The late 1600s/early 1700s saw another major development in martial arts history that was in essence able to combine the best of both the Shaolin and the Wu tang traditions. This was the development of Chen Tai Ji Quan. Huang Bai Jia had learned his arts on Wu Tang Mountain. He was a teacher of Gan Fengchi. Gan Fengchi took what he learned of Wu Tang internal boxing and mixed it with Shaolin Boxing to create a close range fighting style he called Hua Quan (Flowery Boxing). It is a style characterized by joint locks, grappling, throws, falling, and many varieties of strikes and kicks. It was created to develop a hard Wu Tang boxing style that could be used to fight the Manchurians. Some of the techniques used in the Hua Quan's style, especially in its Chin Na (joint locks) forms, share similarity with techniques of the Yang style of Tai Chi Quan, implying some common roots.

Chang Sun Chi also learned Wu Tang boxing and internal arts. This form of boxing consisted only of three techniques, with many applications and was called Lao San Dao (Old Three Cuts). (This style, also called Nei Chia San Quan was still practiced on Wu-Tang during the Ching dynasty.) This art was passed to Chang Sun Chi, who taught Wang Tsung Yueh. Wang journeyed near Henan Province, in an area near both Shaolin and Chen family village.

Hsing I Quan (internal) was first created in the Sung dynasty (1127-1278 AD). Originally, the Hsing I style consisted only of three types of movements: stamping, drilling, and catching, which were performed in one breath as an integral sequence, resulting in an integrated force that was a combination of the three types. Shaolin contained a ancient style with similar techniques called Xin I (Heart and Mind) Boxing that was developed soon after the 18 Lohan forms were. As the Lohan style copied the movements of people, Xin I copied the movements of animals, and was meant to be used for fighting off attacking wild animals.

Also of great popularity during the Ching dynasty was the Ba Gua Style. Ba Gua is mentioned in written records about 200 years ago, first mentioned in 1797, when it was noted that a boxer named Wan Hsiang taught the Ba Gua fist techniques to Feng Ke-Shan. In 1811, Feng met a Niu Liang Chen, who recognized the Eight Square Steps in the movements that Feng was practicing. Niu further taught Feng more aspects of the art. There is an old Taoist boxing style known as Chi Men Quan (Mystery Style Boxing) that exhibits some of the same principles as Ba Gua. Tung Hai Chuan taught Taoist Meditation circle walking and the Single Palm and Double Palm Changes (which were applied alternatively), which were the original aspects of the art.

Tung relocated to Beijing and he taught Ba Gua there sometime around the 1830s and had many famous students, who in turn further developed the art of Ba Gua and added many techniques and forms to the system. The reason for this was that Tung Hai Chuan taught each of his students how to build Ba Gua onto the martial arts they already knew. Ba Gua was a methodology for transforming one's external style into an internal style that emphasized building up own strength from the inside out (developing one's joints, tendons, sinews, etc., to get inner strength and chi development).

A little known fact is that one of Tung Hai Chuan's students, Chang Zhao-Dong also knew Hsing I, Mi Tsung, and Shaolin Lohan style boxing. In his Ba Gua, he emphasized the 108 Lohan Shaolin style of boxing and required new students to learn this form first in order to get their bodies acclimated to martial arts body mechanics and fighting tactics. He also incorporated the moves from the 108 Lohan style into the fighting techniques of Ba Gua (not the stepping patterns, circular walking, and palm changes, which came from the Taoists). Thus, modern Ba Gua is influenced by Lohan Shaolin.

By the Ching dynasty another rare internal boxing style was beginning to surface from obscurity, Liu Ho Ba Fa (Six Combination, Eight Methods). This style was developed way back during the Sung dynasty by a Taoist named Chen Po (also called Chen Tu Nan and Chen Ji I). Chen was well respected by many people, including the Emperor, for being a great and learned scholar. He traveled to Wah Mountain, Xianxi Province, and lived there in seclusion. While there, he worked to develop a martial art style based on his knowledge of ancient Chinese medicine, philosophies, and such. He combined his knowledge of physiology, Taoist principles, Chi and Nei Gung, and Chang Sen Feng's Nei Chia Quan to create two forms, the "Sleeping" form and the 24 Chi Guiding Methods form. These forms used the techniques of internal boxing and organized them into six combinations (also called harmonies or ways) and eight methodologies. He taught the style to Li Tung Feng, who spread the style to the Henan and Hopei Provinces.

What is very interesting about the Liu Ho Ba Fa internal style is that even though the style was created so long ago (about 1,000 years ago), it contains marked similarities to the three other well known internal styles of Hsing I, Ba Gua, and Yang Tai Chi Quan. Liu Ho Ba Fa's core foundation and the way it derives its power makes the style look a lot like Hsing I. Its stepping patterns are very similar to Ba Gua's. Its techniques use the softness of Tai Chi Quan in the variations of movement. Also, some of its techniques are identical to the way they are executed in the Yang style of Tai Chi Quan, which makes great use of the palm, rather than the fist, as does Liu Ho Ba Fa. On first glance Liu Ho Ba Fa appears to be a mixture of all three.
Chen Po had studied Taoist Boxing, which we have seen it to have been originated between 500 and 600 AD. By the Sung dynasty of Chen's time, these various Taoist boxing styles had at least three or four hundred years to develop into firm styles, from which Chen Po would be able to develop his own techniques and style. Liu Ho Ba Fa is also very similar to the Nei Chia San Quan style practiced in the Ching period. Liu Ho Ba Fa exhibits signs of similarity with the other internal martial arts (so much so that some people believe Liu Ho Ba Fa must have developed during the Ching period and thus disbelieve its origin).

To further complicate matters, another internal style was developed during the years of the China Republic that again touched on the roots of the Tai Chi Quan style, specifically the later Yang style of Tai Chi. In 1931, a remarkable discovery was made concerning Tai Ji Quan. In Hopei Province, a Shuai Chiao master named Chang Tung Sheng had a fighting match against a Yang Tai Chi master named General Li Jung Lin, who was governor of the province. During the match, they discovered that Chang was able to counter and anticipate Li's Tai Chi moves. For some reason, there was a great similarity between their two styles. No one had ever considered before that Tai Chi and Shuai Chiao were so close in technique. Their forms (sequence of moves) looked different, but their movements and fighting applications were the same!
Chang and Li, worked together to explore the similarities of their styles. As Li taught Chang his Yang style Tai Chi, he discovered that the Tai Chi form he did was almost identical to applications and techniques in Shuai Chiao! They only difference was that the Yang form hid the leg movements of Shuai Chiao and did some of the stances differently. In the end, six movements were altered in the Yang form to make their applications work closer to that of Shuai Chiao's. The form retained the original 108 moves, but now the techniques had more directly obvious combat applications. They named the style Chang style Tai Chi.
Here is a comparison of some of the techniques:
Both Yang Tai Chi and Shuai Chiao were developed to be close range fighting styles. Both use the concepts of redirect and strike and switching hands. Both use the opponents own force against him and seek to upset the attacker's balance. Some Shuai Chiao techniques and their Yang equivalents are:
Shuai Chiao = Yang Tai Chi
Diagonal Fly = Fair Lady Works at Shuttle
Knee Seizing = Step Back & Repulse Monkey
Chopping = High Patting Horse
Arm Locking Kick = Cloud Hands
Inner Leg Hooking = Brush Knee Twist Step
Shoulder Strike = Diagonal Fly
Diagonal Pulling = Lu movement
Knee Lifting = Rooster Stands On One Leg.

The only differences between the two styles that can be seen in their fighting applications was that Shuai Chiao uses two forces to upset the balance of an opponent: a secondary force (the leg's hooking, sweeping, etc.) to pull the lower body upwards while the upper body is being redirected downwards.

When Li and Chang examined the Tai Chi form, they found that these leg movements were hidden in the form and their application was implied. Once the leg techniques were reintroduced into the Yang form, the two styles worked almost identically in application. Li and Chang then added the 13 postures and one step exercises (Er Shi Si Shi) to form the fundamentals of the new Chang Style Tai Chi Quan. Six of the 108 Yang techniques were changed to make them more applicable to combat. Some Tai Chi moves whose applications had been mysterious in the past now were able to make more sense. For example, a Tai Chi move called "Fan Through the Back" was called Shoulder Through the Back in Shuai Chiao and it was realized that the Chinese character for fan and shoulder were very similar. Thus, in past writings of Tai Chi, they must have been used mistakenly. There were other moves discovered (such as "Tiger Embracing the Mountain") that could be used as throws when comparing it to the Shuai Chiao version, making the move make more sense for fighting.

By 1940, another internal style, Da Chen Quan (Great Achievement Boxing), was developed by Wang Xiangzhai. Wang learned Hsing I Quan in his childhood, mastering the art quickly. He also traveled the country for many years, studying martial arts from many diferent masters and styles. He journeyed to Shaolin and spent months there learning from their best teachers, gaining valuable instruction on boxing theory. He also studied with a Wu Tang and Fujian Crane Boxing master. He also studied Tai Chi Quan from Yang Shao Hou and Ba Gua from Lin Feng Chun. In the mid-1920s, Wang begin teaching his version of Hsing I, which he called I Quan (Mind Boxing). He emphasized the essense or ideas behind the art more so than the postures. Still dissatisfied, he continued to study and practice boxing. He was determined to explore the secrets of success of all boxing schools and take the best from each. Finally, he felt ready and he founded Da Chen Quan, his "great achievement". In this style, he combined what he saw as the underlying boxing principles that were common to all the styles he explored with the Hsing I style's mechanism of force as well as the Chi Gung practices of Taoism and Buddhism. There are no forms in the style, all its techniques are for boxing and instinctually applied for combat, and arise from standing meditiation stances. Action comes from inaction, less is more.

Other noted styles of the Ching period are:
Sometime during the 1730s, the internal/external Ba Ji style was developed by Wu Zhueng (a Chinese Moslem) in Cangzhou of Hebei Province. He was taught the system by two Taoist anti-Ching rebels, who were in the north on rebel business, to visit the Ming Minister of National Defense, Nan Gen Yao. Many Chinese Moslems were staunch Chinese Empireloyalists and served regularly in the Chinese army under the different emperors. Wu Zhueng was found to have had anti-Ching dealings also. The style of fighting had internal Taoist chi gung aspects coupled to strong military type of fighting applications. A Chinese wu shu proverb states: " For ministers, Tai Ji Quan is used to run the country and for generals, Ba Ji Quan is used for defending the country". Ba Ji consists of short, menacing moves that are forceful, powerful, and abrupt. Explosive power is generated through breath control. The Pi Qua (axe splitting) style was also originated around this time and is often practiced by Ba Ji practitioners. Little is known of its origins, other than that in ancient times it was called armor wearing boxing. It features open hand strikes with devastating attacks with abrupt starts and stops, with very low and very high stances.

The Moslem Cha Quan and Tan Toi styles were developed around the turn of the Ming and China dynasties by Cha Mir. Cha Mir was soldier in the Ming army and took ill near Shan Tung. To repay the people who nursed him back to health, he taught them his Moslem fighting techniques, which were based on 10 vanities of kicks with boxing methods in support. The body is kept in a low crouching position, which works on developing the leg muscles and overall conditioning of the body. The style was picked up by the monks of the Long Tam Monastery (and later by Shaolin) and Cha Mir's 10 Routines were changed to 12 Routines. The style is widely practiced by many martial artists as a training form.

During the late 1800s/early 1900s, the Bei Shaolin style was developed by monk Yan Xi Wan, and its forms were further fashioned into a cohesive system under Gu Ru Zhang. There was great concern by this time that the techniques in the Henan Shaolin system would soon be lost as the years past and Shaolin continued to decline. They combined various techniques from many forms at created ten sets of forms that contained the whole body of techniques that made up the northern Shaolin system. To these forms they added training forms from the various other northern martial arts styles.

Many countless of obscure styles of Chinese Boxing were developed during the Ching dynasty from all areas of China, both internal and external in nature. But, the most important development of the Ching period was, besides the flowering of the internal styles in the North of China, the development of many important Southern Chinese styles of boxing. These styles arose as a direct result of anti-Ching rebellion and were developed in the hopes of overcoming and removing the Manchurians from the southern provinces of China.

Revised 2/8/2007

Bibliography here.

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Sal Canzonieri -

(c) 1996 / 2007 BGT ENT / Sal Canzonieri