Beijings Indestructible Ba Gua and Xing Yi Instructor Liang Ke Quan

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The information in this article was obtained during interviews with Liang Ke Quan in October 1992, April 1993, and September 1993. Special thanks to my translators Tim CartmeVi, Bill Tucker and Xu Yu Hong. The information about Liu Feng Chun was from an article in Martial Spirit magazine translated by Bill Tucker.

"Go ahead, you can hit me anywhere. Hit me here as hard as you can, right in the throat. You can try and strangle me if you'd like. Do you have a rope? I'll hang by my neck for you. I've had special training, you can't choke me. Go ahead and try," Liang Ke Quan ) said during our first meeting in a voice as rough as snow tires on a gravel road. After watching him bang his body into a 3 foot diameter, 40 foot tall tree a dozen times and seeing the leaves rattle with every thud of his shoulder, I didn't doubt that he could actually do what he was saying. But what the heck, I wanted to see it done, so we gave it a try. However, try as we might; punching, poking, and strangling did not phase the man. But I suppose that after living a life as a dedicated Ba Gua and Xing Yi practitioner, fighting the Japanese during World War II, fighting against the Communist as a Guo Min Dang ^ It - Kuo Min Tang) Army officer and then subsequently spending fifteen years in a Communist prison, it would take more than a punch in the throat to hurt this man.

Liang Ke Chuan, a native of Zhuo Zhou City in Hebei Province, started his martial arts training in the 1920's when he was only six years old. His first Xing Yi Quan and Ba Gua Zhang teacher was Zhou Lu Quan (^'IMl). Zhou studied Ba Gua Zhang and Xing Yi Quan with Liu Feng Chun (#1

Liu Feng Chun was born in Zhuo County, Hebei Province in 1855 and died in Beijing in 1922. As a child his family was poor and Liu was sent to apprentice in a factory in Beijing that manufactured "auspicious jade flowers." Being a quick learner and hard worker Liu soon had a high level of skill in the art of jade flower making.

Just beside the factory where Liu worked was an eyeglass shop run by Cheng Ting Hua pS^i^). Cheng, a student of Ba Gua's originator Dong Hai Chuan was known throughout the capital for his expertise in martial arts. Early one morning Liu happened to see Cheng practicing Ba Gua. Fascinated by what he saw, Liu became interested in learning martial arts. Liu repeatedly asked Cheng Ting Hua to teach him, but seeing Liu's thin, reedy body Cheng

Bagua Martial Arts Poses

Liang Ke Quan performs his Cheng style Ba Gua Zhang in a park near his home in Beijing, April 1993

assumed that Liu could not take the hardship of training and so was not willing to teach him. Later Cheng noticed Liu practicing on his own and came to know Liu's honest, straight forward, hard working nature and agreed to teach him.

From the very first day of practice with Cheng Ting Hua, Liu Feng Chun was unstinting in his dedication, and his hard work brought him great progress within one year. Cheng was happy to see Liu's fast progress and thought, "Although Liu is young, he has a lot of talent and practices hard. In the future he will go far

Liang Quan

Liang Ke Quan (right) with fellow Cheng style Ba Gua practitioner Wang Rong Tang in Beijing.

with this art. I should introduce him to Master Dong to receive further instruction." Dong Hai Chuan was advanced in years by this time and was not accepting many new students, however, after Cheng told him about the young Liu Feng Chun, Dong considered accepting Liu as a disciple. After Cheng's repeated requests, Dong agreed to meet Liu. The next day at dusk Cheng Ting Hua took Liu to visit Dong Hai Chuan and Dong ordered Liu to demonstrate what he had learned in one year with Cheng. When Liu finished his demonstration, everyone watching praised him and Dong nodded his head and smiled. Dong stood up, walked over to Liu and in a serious manner said, "There is a lot of hardship in practicing martial arts!" Liu answered, "I am not afraid of hardship." Dong happily patted Liu on the shoulder and said, "Right, right." Then he turned around and said to Cheng Ting Hua, "Fine jade can become a good vessel. Choose a day for him to pay his respects. I will take him as a disciple."

Soon after Dong met Liu he held a disciple admittance ceremony at the Auspicious Temple in Beijing at which Liu bowed to Dong and became a student. His name is the 46th of 68 students listed on Dong Hai Chuan's original tombstone. After the disciple ceremony Liu practiced with even greater determination and after two years was becoming strong of build and full of energy. Dong Hai Chuan took a special interest in Liu's progress and taught Liu the best of his Ba Gua knowledge acquired over a lifetime. In order to do justice to the generous teaching he was fortunate enough to have, he practiced "diligently and unceasingly without regard for rain, snow, frost, or wind."

When Dong Hai Chuan died in 1882 Liu had not yet begun teaching, but continued to practice with his first teacher Cheng Ting Hua. Later Liu studied Xing Yi with the famous Xing Yi teacher Liu Qi Lan ($1tt). It is said that through hard work with the Xing Yi he "got a deep understanding of the secrets of Xing Yi." By his middle age, Liu Feng Chun was known throughout the capital as a martial artist of the first order. His movements were quick like that of a cat and he earned the nickname Liu Feng Chun "the Racing Cat."

Liu Feng Chun's gong fu was of a very high level, but he was not arrogant. He took martial arts ethics seriously and did not speak badly of people. In a lifetime of comparing skills with others he seldom lost and he never seriously injured any of his opponents. Once a Hebei boxer named Ma Mou (J^^) paid a visit to Liu and asked to compare skills. Ma was very skillful and was especially good with "tiger head" double swords. Liu Feng Chun used a long staff against Ma, however after two attempts at attack with the staff, Liu was unable to penetrate Ma's defenses. This spurred Liu into action. He put down his staff and attacked Ma empty handed. Stepping forward with his right foot, his right palm shot out toward Ma's face. Ma quickly brought up the hooks to block, but Liu had already stepped to the side and struck Ma in the waist area. Once inside Ma's defenses Liu utilized his agile Ba Gua movements to follow Ma's retreat and continue striking. Ma finally dropped his weapons, held his hands together, bowed and said, "Admirable, admirable."

After friends repeatedly persuaded Liu, he gave up the work at the jade factory and finally began teaching Ba Gua and Xing Yi in Beijing and he was hired as an instructor at the Beijing Martial Arts Academy in the Northwest area of Beijing City. His well known

Hsing Techniques

Liang performs one of his favorite Xing Yi techniques, "Tiger Embraces its Head"

Wan Sheng Taiji

Liang Ke Quan practicing Calligraphy (Sept 92)

students were Xu Wan Sheng ffi^hi), Li Jian Hua ( k-M Zhang Guang Ju and Zhou Lu Quan

Liang's Ba Gua and Xing Yi Training

Zhou Lu Quan started teaching Liang Ke Quan Xing Yi first because he felt it was easier to use and learn how to apply. Zhou started Liang's training with Xing Yi's San Ti (-S- ft standing practice. Liang said that his teacher would make him stand in this posture for hours and would not let him take a break even when his legs would start shaking uncontrollably. Liang studied with Zhou from the time he was six until he was thirteen and learned Xing Yi's five elements, the Tiger and Snake forms of the twelve animals, and Ba Gua Zhang's single and double palm changes. When Liang was thirteen, Zhou died (1934) and Liang's family sent him to Beijing to go to school. While in Beijing, Liang continued to practice on his own. However, he states that his training with his first teacher was not very exact. His teacher would show him something and then go sit and drink tea and let Liang practice on his own without paying much attention to what Liang was doing. Liang said that naturally he made mistakes. He states that when training internal martial arts the four things one must guard against are as follows:

1) The breath must not be held or forced.

2) The shoulders must not be hunched up or held tightly.

3) The stomach should not be sucked in.

4) The chest should not be stuck out.

Liang says that because his first teacher did not teach him in great detail, he made some mistakes when practicing on his own and thus he did not make much progress. When Liang finished his school studies in 1939, he returned home to Zhuo Zhou and found his second martial arts teacher.

In 1939, Liang started studying Ba Gua Zhang and Xing Yi Quan from Cheng Ting Hua's youngest son, Cheng You Xin tit ). Cheng was a bodyguard for an official in Zhuo Zhou for three years during the Japanese occupation. When the official lost his position and left Zhuo Zhou, Cheng You Xin was out of a job and fell on hard times. Since Liang Ke Chuan's family was wealthy, Liang offered to take care of Cheng and help him financially. Cheng stayed in Zhuo Zhou for three years teaching Liang and a small group of students.

Liang says that Cheng was a very skilled martial artist and his understanding of theory was deep. Much of Liang's extensive knowledge in martial arts theory came from Cheng. Since Liang's foundational training was in Xing Yi, Liang spent most of his time studying Xing Yi from Cheng, however, he also learned much of Cheng's Ba Gua. Liang states that Cheng first cleaned up the Xing Yi forms Liang had learned from his first teacher and then taught him the Xing Yi forms that Liang did not know. Cheng then taught him Ba Gua's basic eight palms and sixty-four changes. Cheng You Xin had studied Xing Yi from Li Cun Yi A) and most of his Ba Gua from his uncle, Cheng Dian Hua Cheng You Xin was very young when his father died and so he only studied Ba Gua a short time with his father.

In 1942, the well known Xing Yi and Ba Gua practitioner Lo Xin Wu came to Zhuo Zhou and offered Cheng a teaching job in Beijing and so Cheng went to Beijing to teach. Even though Cheng moved to Beijing, Liang continued to study with him until the Japanese surrender in 1946. Liang's hometown, Zhuo Zhou, is only about 40 miles from Beijing City.

After the Japanese surrender, Liang joined the Guo Min Dang (Kuo Min Tang) Army and started studying with his third teacher, Zhang Yin Wu (Sfc Zhang

Yin Wu, who was also known as Zhang Tong Xuan ( MIT) , was a General in the Guo Min Dang Army and had been a Xing Yi Quan and Ba Gua Zhang student of Li Cun Yi. Liang was introduced to Zhang by a friend who was Zhang's aide-de-camp. When Liang demonstrated his Xing Yi, Zhang recognized that Liang was already very good and offered to teach him. Liang said that Zhang taught him how to be a good soldier, explained deep principles of martial arts tactics and

A few of the dozens of handwritten Ba Gua and Xing Yi books Liang has collected

Xingyi Fists

Liang Ke Quan discusses Xing Yi fighting theory with Henan style Xing Yi practitioner Li Xing Gong in Beijing, April 93

strategy, and helped him refine his skills.

In 1952 Liang Ke Quan was arrested by the Communist government for his involvement with the Guo Min Dang during the war and put in jail for fifteen years. While he was in jail he had nothing to do but practice his martial arts. He says that he practiced every day from early morning until noon. Liang says that while many of the prisoners in jail were in very poor health, he remained healthy because of his practice. In 1967 Liang was released from prison, however, because of his background he could not find work. The only job he could find was the same job he performed while in the prison, so he stayed at the prison of another 15 years working there as a laborer and a "free" man. Liang left the prison, which was near Tianjin, and moved to Beijing in 1982.

After refining his Ba Gua and Xing Yi skills on his own for 30 years at the prison, Liang began traveling to areas of Hebei, Shanxi, and Hunan which were known for their boxing. He met with as many of the older generation instructors that he could find and discussed Xing Yi and Ba Gua practice, training, and theory. Liang is a virtual catalog of Xing Yi Quan methods. He can demonstrate nine or ten different ways that each of the five elements are practiced by various Xing Yi branches and styles and tell you why they were practiced that way and what unique aspect each different method trained.

Liang Ke Quan's Xing Yi and Ba Gua Book Collection

Almost every generation of Xing Yi Quan and Ba Gua Zhang practitioners has left behind written material which recorded their experiences for future generations. The majority of this material was never published publicly and was only shown to the most dedicated students. These students were allowed to hand copy the material to use for their own reference and to hand down to their descendants. Liang Ke Quan, who is an incredibly skilled calligrapher, has spent his whole life hand copying such manuals, recording the instruction he received from his teachers, and recording his own experiences. The amount of material he has recorded is astounding. His library includes hand copied manuscripts by such notables as Liu Qi Lan and Han Mu Xia (W 3M&) and an original version of Sun Lu Tang's (ffi ^ it) Xing Yi book, which was published in 1915. He collected and copied anything he could get his hands on.

Liang Ke Quan's Teaching Methods

When teaching students, Liang emphasizes the basics. He starts most of his students practicing Xing Yi first and his Xing Yi students practice nothing but San Ti Shi (Trinity standing posture) and pi quart (splitting fist) for the first six to eight months of practice. Liang has a rule which states that when practicing his students have to sweat three times. He says, "They have to practice San Ti Shi until they sweat, then they practice pi quan (# - splitting fist) until they sweat again, and then they practice two-person sets until they sweat again."

Although Liang knows various styles of Xing Yi Quan, he says that all styles of Xing Yi adhere to certain basic principles. When teaching his students the san ti standing posture he emphasizes the following points:

1) The length of the stance is such that if the practitioner were to assume the standing posture and then kneel down on the back leg keeping the toes of back foot in place, the knee of the back leg would touch just behind the heel of the front leg. In other words, the stance length is approximately the length of ones shin from knee to ankle.

2) The hands press forward and the elbows seek the centerline.

3) The body has five bows: the two arms are bows, the two legs are bows and the spine is a bow.

4) Han Xiong Ba Bei W ^) or "hold the chest and lift the back" and Chen Jian Zhui Zhou (2fc or "sink the shoulder and drop the elbows." These two principles are very common to all internal martial arts. Liang says that when one adheres to these principles correctly, it helps to open up the Ren Meridian {iitifc) in the front of the body.

5) The head presses up and the buttocks are relaxed downward. Liang says that this alignment helps to open up the Du Meridian [it ffl) which runs from the crown of the head to the perineum down the back. He emphasizes that the buttocks do not "tuck under" they simply relaxes downward.

6) The back hand is held against the body just under the navel and the front hand is at the height of the shoulders.

7) The front hand, front toes, and the nose are along the same line.

Liang Quan

Liang Ke Quan demonstrates his Ba Gua for the students at the school which he founded in his hometown, Zhuo Zhou

8) The Three Upliftings - the head presses up, the tongue touches the roof of the mouth, and the fingers point upward.

9) The Three Roundings - the arms, legs, and back are rounded. The legs are rounded such that the groin area has a feeling of being round while at the same time the knees have a feeling of closing in.

10) The Three Hollows - the soles of the feet are hollow, the chest is hollow, and the palms are hollow.

11) The Three Quicknesses - the eyes, heart, and hands are always prepared to move quickly.

Liang says that he views Ba Gua's basic standing posture as having similar requirements to the san ti posture in Xing Yi except that the Ba Gua posture has the "three links:" the finger of the bottom hand is just under the elbow of the top hand; the elbow of the bottom hand is next to the ribs; and the eyes are watching the index finger of the upper hand. When Liang teaches Ba Gua, he first teaches his students to walk the circle while holding this basic posture. When walking, Liang says that the body should never waiver and he teaches his students to walk slowly before they learn to walk fast. Liang emphasizes that when practicing Xing Yi or Ba Gua the whole body must be connected so that the jing (&1) is fully expressed at the "tips."

After students have familiarity with the basic walking, he has them practice the walking at all three levels or

"basins." After building this solid foundation he then has the students practice the changing postures. The changing postures are practiced at two levels. They are first practiced in a "fixed step" manner whereby the student does not continue walking the circle while executing the change and the movements of the change are executed very distinctly. The next level is called you shen or "swimming body." At this level the student continually walks the circle while executing the changing postures. Liang says that eventually the correct way to practice Ba Gua is to move fast while maintaining balance, coordination and a smooth, continuous flow in the execution of every movement.

Liang's Fighting Experience

When I asked Liang if he had ever used his martial arts skill in a real fight, he quickly replied, "Fight? I love to fight. I'll fight anybody!" and then proceeded to tell me several stories about fights that he has had. He even produced several newspaper and magazine accounts of fights that he had been in. Several accounts are retold below.

When Liang was young his family was wealthy and they owned several homes in Beijing which they rented to others. Unbeknownst to the Liangs, one of the tenants was a spy for the Japanese and had sublet

Dong Zhi Ying Xingyi

Liang Ke Quan practicing his Xing Yi Quan his home to a Japanese translator who was living in Beijing. The Japanese man would then rent the house out to others at a very high price. He was making money renting the house, however, he was always late paying rent to the Liang family. One day Liang's mother went to ask the Japanese man for back rent. The man refused to pay and threatened Liang's mother. When his mother returned home she was sad and silent. Liang asked her the reason and she would not answer. He then understood what had happened.

Liang went straight to the residence of the Japanese man to try and get the money, however, the Japanese man became angry and threw a teapot at Liang. Liang dodged the teapot and it broke on the wall. Liang then jumped at the Japanese man and beat him to the ground with Xing Yi's splitting fist. As this event occurred during the "anti-Japanese" war, the Japanese man had Liang arrested. However, Liang's family bargained with the police and he was let free.

Later Liang had some more trouble with the Japanese. On the eve of the Spring Festival in 1940, a celebration was scheduled at an experimental farm training school which was sponsored by the Japanese. On the playground the Japanese gave a judo performance on a large wooden platform. A Chinese student was used for the demonstration and was thrown off of the platform during the execution of one of the techniques. When he landed his head hit the ground and he was knocked out. The Japanese coach, a short, strong man, proudly stood in the middle of the platform. When Liang saw his countryman thrown off the platform in such a manner he became furious and jumped onto the platform. The Japanese coach immediately sprang forward to attack Liang. Instead of backing up or side stepping the attack, Liang stepped forward and executed a throw from Xing Yi's snake style. The Japanese coach picked himself up and attacked again. Liang again used a technique from the snake style and threw the coach on the ground. When the coach stood up this time he said, "What technique is this?" Liang replied, "This is Xing Yi Quan. A Chinese style!" The Japanese coach let out a laugh to hide his embarrassment, but he did not try to attack Liang again.

Another coach of the Japanese judo team approached Liang and wanted to use the "twisting skill" from judo to hold Liang's neck. The Chinese in attendance were worried that Liang would not be able to escape from this hold, however Liang was calm. Just before the challenger was about to apply the hold, Liang used a technique from Xing Yi's tiger form to escape and then threw the man to the ground. The Chinese spectators burst into applause.

More recently Liang had some problems with a few martial artists in his hometown. Eight years ago Liang Ke Quan started a martial arts school in his hometown, Zhuo Zhou. One of his students had the idea and Liang helped him make the arrangements.

Famous Buildings Chang Zhou

Liang Ke Quan (far right) with famous Ba Gua instructor Li Zi Ming (seated right) and Xing Yi instructor Li Gui Chang (seated left)

The school is located on the site of an old truck repair facility. There is a large dirt lot (football field size) surrounded on all sides by long one-story buildings. The buildings are used for dormitories, the school office, guest rooms, kitchen, and classrooms. There are approximately 50 students, ranging in age from 6 to 16, who live at the school and practice full time.

When he started the school, the school gave the district mayor some furniture as a gift in order to insure good relations with the local government. Liang gave his student the job of managing and running the school on a day to day basis. Although Liang lives in Beijing, he serves as the chief advisor to the school and visits frequently. The school is administered by Liang's student, however, all tuition which is paid by the students' parents must first go through the local government. The government keeps a share and then is supposed to give the rest to the school to pay the instructors and feed the students. Evidently the mayor was taking more than his share of the money and Liang found out about it. Liang confronted him and the mayor made it worse by trying to cut a deal. He told Liang that he would split the profits with him and fire the school administrator. Evidently the mayor did not know that the school administrator was Liang's student. Liang became even more upset and told the mayor he was going to do something about this situation.

A few days later, 20 August 1991 to be exact, the mayor sent a famous Shaolin practitioner and two of the Shaolin teacher's students to the school. One of the students was a local thug who frequently did the mayor's dirty work. When the men showed up at the school Liang was practicing calligraphy in his office and heard a commotion outside. When he went out he saw the men beating up the school administrator and two of the school's students. When Liang came out, one of the men asked him what he wanted. Before Liang could confront the man, another grabbed him by the shoulder from behind. Liang spun around quickly and hit the man who had grabbed him in the nose with Xing Yi's drilling fist, followed by a smashing fist to the throat and an elbow to the solar plexus. The man fell to the ground unconscious. The Shaolin instructor then came at Liang. Liang avoided the attack and hit the man in the ear with a chopping palm from Ba Gua and then came back with the same hand and struck his opponent in the jaw. He too was knocked out cold and lay on the ground next to his student. Seeing this, the third man ran away. The first two men were put in the hospital and it took one of them 24 hours to regain consciousness.

A local official who had a higher position than the mayor heard of the incident and told the mayor to make amends with the school. The mayor would not admit to sending the thugs to the school, however, he returned all of the gifts that the school had given him and asked that they call it even.

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