Gao Style Ba Gua in Hong Kong The Life and Teaching of He Ke

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Two issues ago we announced that He Ke Cai ( ^ T ¿T), the last of Gao Yi Sheng's fii A Mt) direct lineage students, had died. In the Pa Kua Chang Newsletter (Volume 2, Number 3) we had presented an article about He Ke Cai, the majority of that article being biographical In this issue, in honor of He Ke Cai's passing, we will again present some of the highlights of his life and then discuss some of what He Ke Cai taught his students. The majority of the information presented in this article was gathered from an interview conducted with He Ke Cai's student C.S. Tang.

I consider Tang Cheong Shing (tp ^ ^ - pronounced Deng Chang Cheng in mandarin) to be a unique individual among those who have studied Gao style Ba Gua Zhang. I say this because of all those who are practicing Gao style today, he has probably had the most direct exposure to the various branches of Gao Yi Sheng's Ba Gua Zhang. Like all good Ba Gua Zhang instructors, Gao Yi Sheng taught all of his students differently, based on each individual's body size, character, and background. Thus, Gao's students each developed their own unique characteristics in the practice and propagation of their art. In order to really understand all of the aspects of Gao Yi Sheng's teaching, a student would do well to study the similarities and differences of Gao's art as taught by all of his various students. Over the years, C.S. Tang has been able to do this on perhaps as wide a scale as any other Gao style practitioner.

The main branches of the Gao style which we find being practiced today were taught by Gao's students Wu Meng Xia Zhang Jun Feng - see

Pa Kua Chang Journal, Vol. 3, No., 5) He Ke Cai (see Pa Kua Chang Newsletter, Vol. 2, No. 3), Liu Feng Cai (#'J It & - see Pa Kua Chang Journal, Vol. 4, No. 2), Li Zhuang Fei (4- At € - see Pa Kua Chang Journal, Vol 4, No. 2) and Yu Yi Shen (see Pa Kua Chang Newsletter, Vol. 2, No. 3). C.S. Tang studied directly with He Ke Cai, met Zhang Jun Feng in Taiwan in 1973 (and compared styles with Zhang's wife), was able to read Wu Meng Xia's personal letters to his teacher, and has met with, or had contact with Liu Feng Cai's student Liu Shu Hang (^'J M H - see Pa Kua Chang Journal, Vol 4, No. 2), Yu Yi Shen's student Y.C. Wong (see Pa Kua Chang Newsletter, Vol. 2, No. 3), and Li Zhaung Fei's student Fred Wu (see Pa Kua Chang Journal, Vol 4, No. 2). Additionally, he has met with many other Gao style descendants from mainland China, Taiwan, and the United States. Below we present a brief outline of He Ke Cai's life followed by a lengthy interview with his long-time student C.S. Tang.

Goa Style Bagua

Gao Style Ba Gua Zhang instructor He Ke Cai was one of the first to teach Ba Gua Zhang in Hong Kong

He Ke Cai's Life

He Ke Cai was born in Guangdong Province, China, on July 20, 1911. As a boy he had an intense interest in martial arts which was sparked by reading stories of martial arts heros. He began his study of the martial arts in 1928 at the age of 17. His first teacher was his Uncle, a Hung Gar instructor. However, he did not study with his Uncle for very long and only learned a few forms.

At the age of 26, He Ke Cai moved north to Tianjin and was employed by an American firm in the English concession. His interest in the martial arts was still intense, but he had no teacher. To occupy himself when he was not at work, he read martial arts books and practiced what his Uncle had taught him. After sometime, He Ke Cai discovered that there were a number of martial arts instructors teaching at the soccer fields in the English concession. Investigating

Mengxia Taiji

He Ke Cai's Ba Gua Zhang teacher, Gao Yi Sheng (center), is pictured with two of his students, Wu Meng Xia (left) and Wu Zhao Feng (right)

the situation, he made friends with the field manager who recommended that he seek instruction from Gao Yi Sheng. In 1938, He Ke Cai was introduced to Gao Yi Sheng and he asked if Gao would teach him martial arts. Gao asked, "Why do you want to study martial arts? So you can fight the Japanese?" He Ke Cai replied that he did not want to learn martial arts in order to fight the Japanese, but that he had always had an intense interest in learning martial arts and wanted to study with a good teacher. Gao agreed to teach He and on the spot he drew a circle on the ground with his cane and began teaching He Ba Gua Zhang's circle walk practice.

After He had been practicing with Gao for only three days, he sought out one of his senior classmates in order to compare martial applications. Gao saw this and became suspicious of He, thinking that he might be an underworld character who was out to learn applications quickly so that he could take revenge on someone. The field manager vouched for He's character and told Gao that He was just anxious to learn.

Gao Yi Sheng taught each of his students differently, based on their body size, special skills, and temperament. One of the model's he used to teach was a system of twelve "animal characteristics." The twelve animals of Gao's system were: ape, dragon, lynx, tiger, eagle, bear, snake, chicken, horse, phoenix, lion, and leopard. He Ke Cai was a Southerner and had a small frame and thus was not as physically strong as his Northern classmates. Gao encouraged He to concentrate on subtle techniques and defensive postures, which were characteristic of the "dragon" style. He spent a great deal of time practicing the detailed requirements of each palm. Because he was smaller and not as strong as his classmates, He's technique had to be more precise.

Gao Yi Sheng was keenly aware of his students special skills and abilities and trained them to learn the individual animal styles and fighting methods which suited them. Gao himself, because he was thin and flexible, was adept at the "dragon style." Dragon techniques require that one be able to bend and stretch, swoop and crouch low. Someone who was not thin and agile would have a difficult time picking up the dragon characteristics. Most of Gao's large Northern students, like Wu Meng Xia and Zhang Jun Feng, were adept at the techniques of the "tiger" style, which required a larger body and great strength. Gao had wanted to find someone to pass on his dragon style skills and he found that He Ke Cai's body suited the style of the dragon.

He Ke Cai studied Ba Gua Zhang bare hand skills every morning at the soccer fields in the English concession in Tianjin from 1938 to 1942. In 1942, Gao had gotten into a fight with a Tai Ji Quan instructor and had killed him. In order to avoid prosecution, Gao left Tianjin and returned to his home village. Although He Ke Cai had trained with Gao long enough to become proficient in the palm methods, he had yet to learn any Ba Gua weapons. In order to continue his study with Gao, He traveled to Gao's home village on his birthday, offered his teacher a gift, and asked to if he could learn Ba Gua weapons. Gao was touched by He's sincerity and agreed to teach him the weapons of Ba Gua.

He traveled to Gao's home village on weekends in order to continue his Ba Gua practice. During these visits, Gao would polish He's palm techniques and teach him weapons such as the broadsword, the straight sword, the staff, the spear, and the cane. The first weapon He learned was the broadsword. After studying for a while, He asked Gao why the broadsword methods were so different from the palms. Gao said that they were actually the same, everywhere there is a kai (opening) movement in the palm techniques, it is a thrust of the sword, everywhere there is a peng or tuo in the palm technique, it is the same with the sword. Gao went on to explain that the weapon was simply an extension on one's hand. Depending on wether the weapon is long or short, pointed or bladed would make a difference in the way it was applied and the way it was moved.

After the weekend practice session, He would spend the night at Gao's home and practice Ba Gua with Gao's son. He continued studying with Gao privately in his hometown for about 2 years, totaling 7 years of study with his teacher. By 1944, the war in the Pacific was raging. The Japanese were taking over the concession areas and He lost his job. Under the circumstances, he thought it best that he return to his hometown in Guangdong.

Upon returning to his hometown, He took up farming. To supplement his income he also collected and sold medicinal herbs. One year there was a drought and He's farming enterprise did not do well. He decided to give up farming and in 1950 moved to Hong Kong. In Hong Kong, He met a friend from Tianjin who helped him find a job. The same man also introduced He to another Ba Gua Zhang practitioner in Hong Kong named Li Xing He [^F 'fi Li was from Shandong Province and had studied with Yin Fu's student Liu Qing Fu (#1

He Ke Cai was very happy to find another person practicing Ba Gua Zhang because he had not met anyone who knew Ba Gua since he left Tianjin six years earlier. Tai Ji was popular in the South of China and in Hong Kong, however, not many had heard of Ba Gua. When they met, Li encouraged He to teach Ba Gua in Hong Kong. Li Xing He was a businessman, and being from Shandong, did not speak much Cantonese so he thought He would have an easier time teaching students in Hong Kong. Inspired by Li's encouragement and Gao's advise that "what he had learned was not something he should keep to himself, but he should share it with others," He Ke Cai began teaching Ba Gua part time in 1952

at the Botanical Garden where he had met Li Xing He. However, in 1956, the economic situation in Hong Kong took a turn for the worst and He lost his job at the factory where he worked. At this time, He decided to become a professional Ba Gua teacher.

He Ke Cai remained very active as a teacher in Hong Kong from 1956 through his retirement in about 1983. Throughout the years he taught at a number of locations. In order to understand more about He's teaching in Hong Kong, I conducted a lengthy interview with He's longtime student C.S. Tang.

I first met C.S. Tang as a result of the first article which was printed about his teacher in the Pa Kua Chang Newsletter in March of 1992. I had gathered much of the information about He Ke Cai from an article which was printed in the early 1970's in New Martial Hero Magazine. The article included a number of photos of C.S. Tang practicing Ba Gua and one of him standing with Zhang Jun Feng during a visit to Taiwan. After the issue was published, Y.C. Wong, a Gao style practitioner in San Francisco, sent a copy of

Goa Style Bagua

He Ke Cai with friends and students (early 1970's). Li Xing He, the Yin Fu style practitioner from Shandong, is sitting on the far right

Leung Eagle Claw

He Ke Cai with a group of students in Hong Kong (early 1970's) C.S. Tang is on the far right the Newsletter to Tang. Upon receiving the issue with his picture in it, Tang wrote me in order to introduce himself. This began a great friendship which has lasted to this day. In the Fall of 1992, Tim Cartmell and I visited C.S. Tang in Hong Kong and stayed with him for a few days. Tim and Tang enjoyed comparing their respective styles of Gao's Ba Gua and Tang introduced us to many of the internal style martial artists in Hong Kong.

The following interview was conducted in May of 1996 through the modern miracles of fax machines and e-mail. (All of the Chinese names in this interview are given in the Cantonese Romanization - in Cantonese He Ke Cai is romanized Ho Ho Choi).

An Interview with C.S. Tang:

When did you first begin studying martial arts?

When I was a boy, I practiced Shaolin 'Yi Jin Jing' nfj M - Change Tendon Scripture) from my father. In 1964, when I was studying in secondary school, I began my long march to Kung Fu.

What was the first martial art that you studied?

Yang Style Taiji Quan, from a neighbor, Mr. Ngai Wah. He soon introduced me to his senior classmate, Mr. Chan Yuet Sun, a herbalist. I studied Six Combination Eight Methods, Yi Quan and Ba Duan Jin (s^&L^ - Eight Section Brocade) from Chan. Their teacher was Leung Chi Pang, a very famous Cantonese who studied Chinese Martial Arts in Shanghai before World War II. He studied Eagle claw from Chan Chi Ching, Tai Chi from Tin Siu Lun, Six Combination Eight Methods from Ng Yit Fai and Yi Quan fSk from Doctor Yau Pang Hai, a senior student of the founder,

Wang Hsang Chai - Wang Xiang Zhai).

How did you first become interested in Ba Gua?

People seldom studied Ba Gua in Hong Kong in those years. It was a famous but mysterious martial art. I knew Ba Gua Zhang when I read the articles from the magazines, such as:

"Novel of Chivalry" published around 1950's: Ho Ho Choi's demonstration and photos Ng Po Cheung's articles (Sun Lu Tang's student)

Pang Chiu Kong's "Essentials of Ba Zhang" Chiang Jung Chiao's "Transcript of Ba Gua"

How did you meet your Ba Gua teacher?

My first teacher, Mr. Chan, immigrated to Portland, Oregon, in the United States, and I was eager to learn something else. I felt that for a youngster, Shaolin hard fighting would be more beneficial to help the body develop, so I studied Shaolin instead of the internal martial arts. I was working as a night shift cashier in the Hyatt Hotel. After working, in the very early morning, I took the small cross harbor motor boat to the Hong Kong side, and walked to Hong Kong Botanical Garden to the middle level of the Peak. In

Shaolin Circle Life

He Ke Cai walking the circle on a rooftop practice area in Hong Kong, 1955

the 1960's most of the martial arts masters taught here. I studied Southern Mantis here. I liked this style, its simple, straight forward, powerful and useful. Here I met some martial arts teenagers. They studied from different schools. We joined and practiced there on Sunday. We were so happy to share our knowledge with each other. Among these 13 people, three studied Ba Gua from Master Ho. I saw them practice solo training and two man set sparring. I said to myself, I must learn Ba Gua.

One night, I made up my mind to learn Ba Gua from Master Ho. I knew the address quite well, but I had never been there. Its in Wanchai, just 15 minutes walk from my home. I went there and stepped to the top floor of an old four floor building. There was no light, only darkness. I stood silently on the roof, surrounded by several tall buildings. It seemed that nobody was there. Then, through the dim lights reflecting off of the windows, I saw a man on the other side of the roof, sprinkling flowers. He soon discovered me, then climbed to where I was standing and asked the purpose of my coming. And then we sat. Ho: Why do you want to learn Ba Gua? CS: I am interested.

Ho: Don't try to teach, this cannot support your living.

Ho: Call me 'Lo See'-t^^f meaning: Teacher, (as Japanese called 'Se Say']. Don't call me SiFu. In the northern part of China, we also call my master as Lo See. We would call the driver and cook SiFu.*

He then sincerely taught me to walk a circle with single change palm. I was so glad that on my first night, I was taught the famous single change palm already.

So he taught you walking the circle and the single change right away?

Yes. Ho demonstrated the guarding posture to me first, and then walked around the circle. He asked me to follow once. Then, he

*Editor's Note: In Northern China, where the internal arts originated, the term "Sifu" or "ShihFu" is not commonly used as a way to address a teacher. "SiFu" is a term used to acknowledge that someone has skill at something, and thus in some instances it is appropriate in martial arts, however, in China people also commonly call many who have mastered a trade (cooks, tailors, drivers, etc.), "SiFu." It is not strictly a martial arts term. The term does not mean "teacher," it is not a rank or achievement level, and people in China would never refer to themselves as "SiFu." It is considered in extremely poor taste to call yourself "SiFu." However, today the term has been severely bastardized in the United States to mean "teacher" or indicate an "instructor rank." And we find many American instructors calling themselves "SiFu." Most Northern Chinese I have met find this to be extremely odd.

demonstrated how to change to other side. He said, this is single change and he held my hands and led me through the change. Ho said his teacher Gao taught him in the same way and exactly in the same manner. Gao used a stick to draw a circle on the sandy ground, demonstrated and led him through the single change on the first day.

What was it that attracted you to the study of Ba Gua?

1. The stories of Ba Gua are so many and so impressive.

2. The philosophy is so linked with Chinese culture.

3. The system is so complete from the fundamental to the top level.

4. The set sparring and push hands is a special Ba Gua form that we would always practice with each other.

5. The applications are so practical.

6. Ba Gua is simple, but the theories are so deep.

Where did you practice? a school?

Did your teacher have

Goa Style Bagua

He Ke Cai practices staff fighting with one of his students at the roof top school in Hong Kong, 1969

Roof Top School

C.S. Tang practices the Gao style Ba Gua braodsword at He Ke Cai's rooftop school in Hong Kong, 1969

24 essentials

Around 10-20 students came every night. There were about 50 active members in the class.

How were the classes organized?

They came freely at their leisure without a definite time constraint. Classes normally started at 7:30 pm to 11:30 pm. There would be no class if it was a rainy day since it was an open area, but we still came for the hope that the rain will stop or else we will sit together and listen to master's stories.

What are some of the most important fundamental Ba Gua principles your teacher emphasized in his teaching?

We practiced on the top floor of the building in Wanchai until 1975 when the building had to be removed. This building belonged to Mr. Lam Bor, one of Ho's students who operated furniture shops downstairs. He rendered this place rent free to his teacher. We called this roof the "second stage" of Ho's teaching school.

His first stage was in 1952 recalling his memories and practice in the Botanical Garden. Then from 1956, he started to teach in a senior student's roof floor in the Central district. In those years, most of the martial arts masters taught on the rooftops because the space on the roof floor was big enough and, most importantly, they could teach secretly. There were only a few students.

The second stage was the roof in Wanchai where most of students were trained. Ho was strong and energetic. He would concentrate his teaching during the night time only. He acted as a living sand bag and let students practice locking and pushing on him. We had properly registered the school in the police registrar. We also formed the "Pa-Kua Physical Training and Health Association Ltd." on April 10, 1973.

The third and last stage was after 1975, Ho moved to the third floor of a nearby building where he had a grand opening of a public school. Ho had to teach the whole day whenever the students came. Most of students were rich. He maintained that school for eight years until he retired.

Occasionally, he would teach some students on a hill behind his home district. At his later stage, he still taught some students on the lift yard of the same floor as his home.

How many students were in the classes when you were studying?

He emphasized:

1. 24 essentials, these should apply to all actions, walking the circle, push hands and two person set sparring.

2. 5 elements energy: important factor for the success of your attack.

Duck Bagua
He Ke Cai demonstrating the Ba Gua braodsword

Can you tell me more about the 24 essentials and the 5 element energy?

Five Elements 8 Diagrams

3 Basins as Body Practice as Application

1) 24 Essentials are as follows: Head

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Martial Arts An Introduction

Martial Arts An Introduction

Anytime an individual decides to learn how to protect themselves, learn self defense, or become a better person, one thing comes to mind - Martial Arts. Martial Arts are now being practiced all over the world.

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