History & Philosophy
The creation of Bagua Zhang as a formalized martial art, is attributed to Dong Haichuan (董海川), who is said to have learned from Taoist and Buddhist masters in the mountains of rural China during the early 19th century.
Bagua Zhang has a deep philosophical core, with concepts central to Taoism, such as Yin and Yang theory, the I-Ching and Taoism's most distinctive paradigm, the Bagua diagram. The art contains an extremely wide variety of techniques as well as weapons, including various strikes (with palm, fist, elbow, fingers, etc.), kicks, joint locks, throws, and distinctively evasive circular footwork. As such, Bagua Zhang is considered neither a purely striking nor a purely grappling martial art.
Bagua Zhang practitioners are known for their ability to "flow" in and out of the way of objects. This is the source of the theory of being able to fight multiple attackers. Baguazhang's evasive nature is also shown by the practice of moving to take the back of an opponent, reducing the opponent's response options. Although the many branches of Baguazhang are often quite different from each other (some, like Cheng style, specialize in close-in grappling and joint locks, while others, like some of the Yin styles, specialize in quick, long-range striking), all have circle walking, spiraling movement, and certain methods and techniques (piercing palms, crashing palms, etc.) in common. Baguazhang's movements employ the whole body with smooth coiling and uncoiling actions, utilizing hand techniques, dynamic footwork, and throws. Rapid-fire movements draw energy from the center of the abdomen. The circular stepping pattern also builds up centripetal force, allowing the practitioner to maneuver quickly around an opponent.
Dong Haichuan is believed to have been born on 13 October 1813 in Zhu village, Ju Jia Wu Township, Wen'an County, Hebei Province, China. As a child and young man he intensely trained in the martial arts of his village. The arts were probably Shaolin-based and may have included Bafanshan (a possible precursor to Fanziquan), Hongquan, Xingmenquan, and Jingangquan. These were the arts being taught in and around Dong’s village at this time. Alternatively, Dong is sometimes said to have learned and practiced Erlangquan, Luohanquan, or other arts. His family is thought to have been so poor, at some point around 1853, Dong left Hebei Province to seek work elsewhere. By many accounts he is described as spending his youth travelling, penniless, and often getting in trouble. But he, even by his own claims, continued to study martial arts intensely during his travels. Where, by whom, and what he was taught, varies depending on the source. But it is generally accepted that, during this time, Dong studied Taoist training methods that included some kind of circle walking practice. He synthesized his previous experience with his village arts, what he had learned in his travels, and his Taoist studies to create a unique art originally called Zhuan Zhang (Turning Palms). Zhuan Zhang in later years became called Baguazhang.
Around 1864 Dong arrived in Beijing and was hired as a servant at the residence of the Prince Su. The Prince, an avid practitioner of the martial arts, recognised Dong's martial skill as he swiftly navigated through a crowd at an official event. Upon revealing his high level skills in a demonstration for the Prince, Dong was employed as a martial arts instructor and bodyguard of the Imperial Court. Later Prince Su gave him the job of tax collector. Dong and his top student Yin Fu went to Mongolia to collect taxes, where he spent ten years. Upon his return he left the prince's employ and began to teach publicly, giving up all other occupations to fully devote himself to developing and teaching Baguazhang.
The nature of what he taught is generally disputed. Some believe that he consistently taught only the first three of eight palms (Single Change Palm, Double Change Palm and Smooth Body Palm) and that he would vary the last five depending on the individuals’ previous martial arts experience. Others believe that he taught considerably more material. It was also in his public teaching period that the art was given the name Baguazhang (Eight tri-gram palm). Baguazhang became popular in Beijing and surrounding areas. In his later years he was poor and lived with Yin Fu's student Ma Gui. Ma owned a lumber yard and Dong lived on the premises. He died on 25 October 1882 in Beijing. By the late 19th century, Baguazhang had become a well-known fighting style in Beijing and northern China, and Dong Haichuan and his students became famous.
Famous disciples of Dong Haichuan to become teachers were Yin Fu (尹福), Cheng Tinghua (程廷華), Ma Gui (馬貴), Song Changrong (宋長榮), Liu Fengchun (劉鳳春), Ma Weiqi (馬維棋), Liu Baozhen (劉寶珍), Liang Zhenpu (梁振蒲) and Liu Dekuan (劉德寛). Although they were all students of the same teacher, their methods of training and expressions of palm techniques differed. The Cheng and Liu styles are said to specialize in "pushing" the palms, Yin style is known for "threading" the palms, Song's followers practice "Plum Flower" (梅花 Mei Hua) palm technique and Ma style palms are known as "hammers." Some of Dong Haichuan's students, including Cheng Tinghua, participated in the Boxer Rebellion. In general, most bagua exponents today practice either the Yin (尹), Cheng (程), or Liang (梁) styles, although Fan (樊), Shi (史), Liu (劉), Fu (傅), and other styles also exist. (The Liu style is a special case, in that it is rarely practiced alone, but as a complement to other styles). In addition, there are sub-styles of the above methods as well, such as the Sun (孫), Gao (高), and Jiang (姜) styles, which are sub-styles of Cheng method.
Born in 1848 in the Cheng family village, Shen County, Hebei (now in Shandong), he was the third of four brothers. Cheng Tinghua was fond of martial arts and in his youth he gained skill at wielding a nearly 4 foot long broadsword and a large heavy staff.
Shuai Jiao learning in Beijing
When Cheng was still fairly young, he left his hometown and went to Beijing to apprentice with a gentleman who made eyeglasses. Intent on improving his martial arts skill, Cheng also began to study Chinese wrestling (Shuai jiao) when he arrived in Beijing. In the late 1800s, two wrestling styles were popular in Beijing, Manchurian/Mongolian wrestling and Pao Ting “fast style” wrestling. The Pao Ting style was quicker than the Manchurian style. As soon as the opponent came in contact with the wrestler, he would be thrown. There was not any grappling, struggling, or tussling as seen in Western wrestling. This wrestling also combined punching, kicking, joint locking and point striking with its throwing techniques. Cheng Tinghua was an avid wrestler and studied both of the popular wrestling styles when he was a young man in Beijing. He practiced hard and made a name for himself as a wrestler. He was not a big name in the martial arts world yet, however, most martial artists in Beijing knew of him and knew he was skilled at Shuai jiao.
Learning with Dong Haichuan
By 1870, Dong Haichuan had become very well known in Beijing (research indicates that Dong first arrived in Beijing around 1865). When Cheng was approximately 28 years old (1876), he sought out Dong in order to improve his skill. Some say that Cheng had become friends with Yin Fu and Shih Chidong (two of Dong Haichuan's first Bagua Zhang students) and that they had encouraged him to go and meet Dong. When the two first met, Dong asked Cheng to use his shuai chiao against him. Cheng made several attempts at attacking Dong but was never able to even lay a hand on him. Cheng knelt down and asked Dong if he could become his student. At this point in time, Dong had not accepted many Bagua Zhang students. Although Dong had taught many people martial arts in Prince Su's residence, it is said that he had only taught Bagua to three people prior to teaching Cheng Tinghua. The large majority of his students in the palace were said to have learned something other than Bagua from Dong.
If those who say Dong's original tombstone had his students listed in the order in which he taught them are correct, then Cheng was indeed Dong's fourth disciple, as his name appears fourth on the list. The first name listed on this stele is Yin Fu, followed by Ma Wei-Chi, Shih Chi-Tung, and then Cheng Tinghua. The year Cheng met Dong was approximately 1876. Dong died in 1882, so at best Cheng studied with Dong for 5 or 6 years. Dong Haichuan was known to have only accepted Baguazhang students who were already skilled in some other style of martial art. It is said that after laying a Bagua foundation with the circle walk practice, single palm change, double palm change, and smooth changing palm, Dong would teach the student Bagua zhang based on what the student already knew. Taking this information to be true, we can assume that Dong would have taught Cheng using Cheng's knowledge of shuai jiao as a base.
Sharing his learning
The Bagua styles which most notably display a Xingyi Quan flavor are the styles which were taught by Cheng and his friends Li Cunyi, Liu Dekuan, and Zhang Zhaodong. Although all three of these Xing Yi Quan masters are recorded as being Bagua Zhang students of Dong Haichuan, there is evidence that suggests Li, Liu, and Zhang learned their Bagua from Cheng Tinghua, not from Dong Haichuan.
The link between Xingyi Quan and Bagua was most likely forged when Cheng Tinghua and his friends Li Cunyi, Zhang Zhaodong, Liu Dekuan, and Liu Wai-Hsiang got together to compare styles and learn from each other (Li Cunyi, Liu Te-Kuan, and Zhang Zhaodong were all Hsing-I boxing brothers under the same teacher, Liu Chi-Lan. Liu Wai-Hsiang was a Xingyi Quan student of Zhang Zhaodong).
Cheng Tinghua was a very open martial artist who would teach his Bagua to anyone who cared to learn it. He enjoyed meeting other martial artists to compare styles and share the techniques and theories of martial arts. He also enjoyed sharing his Bagua Zhang skill with other martial artists. Cheng is said to have been the person responsible for teaching Bagua Zhang to Liu Dekuan, Li Cunyi, and Zhang Zhaodong, however, since they were very skilled in Xingyi Quan and thus were Cheng's peers, he did not feel right calling them his “students.” Therefore, Cheng said that they should say they learned their Bagua from his teacher, Dong Haichuan.
Cheng Tinghua was killed during the Boxer Rebellion when the Eight-Nation Alliance invaded Beijing (1900). It turns out that a group of German soldiers were forcefully recruiting locals for a work detail near Beijing's Chung Wen gate, were Cheng's shop was located. Cheng was on the street at the time and the Germans stopped him and tried to put him in line with the others. Cheng resisted and wanted to fight. He may have beaten a few soldiers during the struggle, but when he pulled out a short knife, the soldiers drew their guns. Cheng tried to run and leap over a nearby wall. As he was jumping over the wall, he was shot and killed.
Partial list of his students
Cheng Yulung (eldest son, 1875–1928), Cheng Youxin (2nd son), Cheng Yougong, Feng Junyi, Gao Kexing, Gao Yisheng (1866–1951), Geng Jishan, Guo Tongde, Han Qiying, Hon Mu Xi, Kan Lingfeng, Li Cunyi, Li Hanzhang, Li Wenbiao, Liu Bin, Liu Zhenzong, Qin Cheng, Sun Lu-t'ang (1861–1932), Liu Dekuan, Yang Mingshan, Zhang Changfa, Zhang Yongde, Zhang Yukui, Zhou Yu Xiang, Zhang Zhao Dong (1859–1940).