Ba Gua and when he taught fighting skills, the Ba Gua techniques were there.
Shortly before he split from Zhang and started his own school, Hong Yi Xiang took a trip to Japan and was very impressed with the way martial arts instruction was organized there. He liked the uniforms, the belt system, and the systematic approach to training. Subsequently, he adopted many of the Japanese style martial arts school characteristics when he opened his own school. They had belt ranks, wore Japanese style uniforms, and Hong devised a more systematic approach to martial arts instruction than what was typical of most Chinese style schools. Hong said that he came up with the name "Tang Shou Tao" for his school because the name Guo Shu (8! #f - or National Arts), which most schools used at the time, did not suit his school as he had many foreigners studying there. He thought the name Tang Shou Tao, "Chinese Hand Way" or "The Way of China Hand" ("Tang" referring the Tang Dynasty) had a more international flavor.
When talking of the martial arts training process, Hong felt that before a student was ready to learn Xing Yi, they first had to acquire body strength and basic martial arts skill. In an interview I conducted with Hong in March of 1993 (see Pa Kua Chang Journal, Vol. 3, No. 5), he said that it was important that beginning students learned to develop power at the mingjing W1 - or obvious power) level before they could understand high levels of refined skill or technique. The system of training he developed reflects this philosophy.
Hong devised his system such that the beginning student executed many basic exercises which would develop body strength, flexibility, coordination, and balance at the rudimentary level. Many of these exercises were taken from Japanese styles such as Judo. The basic curriculum also included simple forms which Hong had put together by combining Shaolin with basic Xing Yi and Ba Gua movements and techniques. These forms gave the student a foundation in the execution of martial arts movements and technique application before they tried something as subtle as traditional Xing Yi. Hong said that he wanted students to have a basic understanding of blocking, kicking, punching, and throwing before they began to study the more refined internal arts. Hong also taught all of these basic sets with a fighting emphasis so that the student could develop courage and discover things about martial arts application and martial spirit. Without developing this martial bravery and courage, it would always be difficult for the student's mind to graduate to the more refined mental aspects of the internal arts and apply them in combat. So the basic training in Hong's school prepared both the mind and body for training in the internal arts.
The core of the basic sets taught in Hong's school consisted of various sets of eight straight line techniques. These have been known in the Tang Shou Tao schools as "eight step sets" or "fist sets." The basic sets were Ba Bu Da - Eight Step Striking), Ba
Lion Shou it -f- - Eight Linked Hands), Mei Hua Tui - Plum Blossom Kicking), and Ba Shou (/v -f -Eight Hands). Later Xu Hong Ji added another set, Ba
Tang Quart (/v /I - Eight Tang Fist) to the basic sets taught at his school. These sets formed the foundation for the most rudimentary of blocking, kicking, and striking techniques. Much of what is in these sets are a combination of Ba Gua techniques from the Gao style straight line sets, Shaolin techniques, and Xing Yi's five elements. In fact, the set Ba Shou is almost entirely made up of Gao style Ba Gua techniques.
In addition to these basic "eight step" sets, there were also a number of "Shaolin" forms that were taught as part of the basic training. These sets also included techniques from Ba Gua and Xing Yi, but have more of a Shaolin flavor than the other sets.
It was only after students had gained experience at practicing all of these basic sets that they began the practice of Xing Yi Quan's five elements. When Xu Hong Ji left Hong Yi Xiang, he taught in very much the same manner, however, he added some things that he had picked up from other teachers along the way. Xu always had a thirst for knowledge and would learn about and teach any technique or method which proved effective in the context of internal martial arts development. However, his basic curriculum was very similar to Hong's.
Whether he did it intentionally or not, by devising his system of martial arts training, Hong was bringing the training back to a progression which was similar to the way the older generation practitioners practiced in China. Hong had basic strength exercises to give present day practitioners the kind of natural body strength that the old practitioners developed working on the farms and performing manual labor. He started students gaining a martial arts foundation by learning basic sets similar to the Shaolin foundation which the older practitioners, like Li Cun Yi and Gao Yi Sheng had. Only after that foundation was gained did he allow students to progress to the practice of Xing Yi Quan. In this way, his system became very complete and it developed skill much faster than those who started out day one with pure, traditional Xing Yi Quan or Ba Gua Zhang.
Arts such as Ba Gua Zhang and Xing Yi Quan are designed to refine basic strengths and skills. Without foundation training which is designed to develop basic internal body alignments, connections, and strengths, it is very difficult to practice the traditional forms of Ba Gua and Xing Yi and develop internal skill. This does not mean that one needs to study Shaolin before Ba Gua or Xing Yi because any complete system of study, such as the Tang Shou Tao method, will contain exercises and practice sets which serve to develop the foundational skills necessary to develop in the internal arts.
Those interested in finding a Tang Shou Tao instructor in the United States should contact Mike Bingo, the President of the United States Tang Shou Tao Association at (303) 680-0592 (see article on next page), or Vince Black,, President of the North American Tang Shou Tao Association, at (520) 544-4838. Black and Bingo are currently working together to openly teach and promote the Tang Shou Tao system of martial arts in this country.
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