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tong bei quan kung fu wushu qigong

The art of Tong Bei Quan is first recorded as being practiced during the Hong Ming Dynasty, in Shan Xi Province in about 1372.

It continued to be practiced throughout the Ming and Qing dynasties, and in fact an emperor during the Qing Dynasty, was so impressed by one Tong Bei expert, Master Guo Yong Fu, that he declared this system to be at an almost mystical level.

"Tong Bei", which means the power is generated from and through the back and spine, is not to be confused with another art called "Yuan Quan" or "Monkey Fist", and has a very high reputation in China for having some of the fiercest and most skilled fighters.

It is said that the founder of Chen Style Taiji (Chen Pu), also learned Tong Bei Quan, and in fact the two styles have some close correlations.

Master Wu explained that the original Chen Style Taiji was in fact called LONG FIST, which incorporated some aspects of Tong Bei, and then later became Chen Style. (Similar to Yang Lu Chan who studied Chen Style, and later created Yang Style).
Many Taiji masters that I have met in China also studied Tong Bei in their youth.


One of Tong Bei's traditional teaching methods is that the teacher usually only has two - three serious indoor students, which ensures that the students can absorb all aspects of the training fully, and so be able to reach a high level. He said a good teacher wants his students to get the real flavour of Tong Bei, and too many indoor students will dilute the information.

Master Wu explained that he became interested in Tong Bei Quan, after he had studied other martial arts for several years.

tong bei quan kung fu wushu qigong
Master Wu Mao Gui - Shanghai
 
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Representative of Tong Bei Quan in Shanghai, his "San Da" or sparring applications are crisp, clean, relaxed and effortless, but extremely powerful and penetrating!
His instruction is always very clear and precise, and his speciality is to make sure that students fully understand the information taught.

Master Wu recently held several very successful and well received seminars in Germany and has many international students and will be returning to Germany again this October.

Master Wu follows the teaching methods laid down by his teachers and seeks to keep the traditions and specialities of his art intact and endeavours to pass genuine skills and understanding onto his students.
 
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As a young boy he had been quite weak and small, as well as being from a very poor family, and was often bullied or discriminated against at school. So at twelve years old he took up gongfu, after seeing one of his neighbours training.

During the 60's, a very turbulent time in China's history, it was not considered "politically correct" or acceptable to train martial arts. So much training was done in secret.
Master Wu would get up at midnight every night and go to his teacher's house and practice till about 3am, after which he would return home, sleep, and then go to school.

In 1964 his neighbour, who felt that his gongfu was now pretty good, challenged Master Wu's current Tong Bei teacher (Bao Guan Yuan) and lost. At that time, Master Wu thought that his neighbour's martial arts' skill was tremendous, so couldn't believe that he had been defeated, and by a much smaller man. So, when Master Wu found out that this teacher worked at the same factory as himself, he sought him out and asked to be taken on as a student.

Master Wu trained for about four hours everyday, but, after three years he had learned just one complete form. His teacher would only teach him one or two movements per week, to make sure that he had fully understood the principles and usage of each one.

After studying for about ten years, his teacher began to review the material already taught, from the beginning. His teacher explained that it was important for Master Wu to start all over again and look for new information and feelings in the movements. To reach a new level, he said, one must always go back to the beginning, as all the secrets are contained within what we already know.
tong bei quan kung fu wushu qigong
Master Wu said that in reviewing a second time he saw the same movements and information in a completely new light, and his practice entered a higher level. He felt not only his Tong Bei was new, but that he as a person had changed too.

His teacher told him that whatever one undertakes, whether it be in martial arts, work or life in general, one must do everything to one's best ability, so that others' feel at ease around you and will trust you.
Master Wu says that he still follows his teacher's advice, and imitates many of his habits, like keeping a diary about his practice and progress or even any regression, so as to continuously try to improve himself.
In Chinese they have a saying:
"Yi sui wei shi, bai sui wei tu, neng zai wei shi."

This means that even if somebody is only one year old they can be a teacher or have great knowledge, whereas somebody who's 100 years old may still just be a student or not have a very high level, because it's ability that counts, not the length of time someone has been practicing.
Master Wu said that when somebody practices over a very long period of time with the correct methodology and instruction they will become very skilled, clever and natural. In Chinese they have a sentence which expresses this: "SHU NENG SHEN QIAO."

This cleverness is very deep within the player's mind, body and spirit, and is not related to intelligence, rather a natural cleverness and intuition as displayed by animals. When you see a mature tiger hunting its prey, this is what the sentence epitomizes.

The old adage, "Practice makes perfect", is also an apt translation.
Master Wu told me that after 20 years of study he had reached a point where he almost gave up, because he felt that he was not getting anywhere in his practice. Although he could overcome most people, he found sometimes he couldn't cope with others' power and would himself be uprooted, or be unable to issue power against somebody cleanly or effectively. He felt perplexed and frustrated about how to overcome this problem, and just felt like quitting.

He eventually decided however, that after so much investment in his training he couldn't in all conscience give up, but would not take it seriously anymore and just practice for fun. He said as soon as he changed his own way of thinking, and stopped trying so hard, he suddenly found and understood the principle of "song" - relaxed. Excited, he immediately told his teacher who advised him that he had now just started to learn martial arts, and his practice could truly begin!
Master Wu went onto explain some of the facets of Tong Bei in more detail.
Tong Bei has three steps: -

1. BASIC TRAINING - DAN CHAO
There are 24 Dan Chao or "single strikes", which are to train Fa Jing (the issuing of power) and Nei Jing (internal energy training).

2. MOVING STEP TRAINING - XING BU
Xing Bu Training also has 24 movements, and within this stage there are also 3 types of training method.

3. THE TONG BEI FORM
All components of the Tong Bei system are incorporated in a linked series of movements, which now comprise a full form.

The Dan Chao includes all kinds of single movement strikes, including palm strikes, punches, elbows etc, and each strike must be practiced for blows coming in from or going out to any direction, eg: left/right/up/down/centre, and for delivering the strikes to the upper, middle or lower body.
This teaches the student to be flexible physically and mentally, and teaches them to react naturally and without "conscious" thought. This trains true relaxation in movement.

The hand in Tong Bei can strike from wherever it is positioned, so there is no waste of energy by striking and withdrawing and then striking again.

In Dan Chao one cannot use strength, or "LI", one's arm and body must be relaxed, so that one can use the intention and Dan Tian power. The aim of the Dan Chao single strike training is to be able to get the Dan Tian power to extend out and be expressed through the hands and feet.

The Dan Tian in Tong Bei is very powerful, moveable and alive, but most importantly relaxed. One must not hold the breath or tense up to create power, as this will hamper the expression of energy to the extremities.
During dinner with Master Wu I got to experience his "Fa Jing", when I went to grab his arms and was sent flying backwards by about 10 feet, before crashing to the floor, much to the astonishment of the other diners in the restaurant!

Before I even made proper contact with Master Wu's arms, he "met" my force and absorbed it before returning it to me. He appeared not to move, but took my force and returned it to me along with the earth's force and his own added on!

The power and momentum was like being picked up and slammed down by a monstrous ocean wave, but at the same time, I have to say it was absolutely exhilarating to really be struck by such an overwhelming force.
Dan Chao issuing power (Fa Jing) has five specialities, which are:
"Song" (relaxed) "Kuai" (fast) "Cui" (crisp and clean) "Tan Xing" (springy) and "Yin" (hard).
He explained that the strike in Tong Bei must have all these qualities, and he stressed that the quality of "hard" does not mean that the practitioner is rigid or uses strength, rather it relates to the force of the blow that the opponent will receive.

Master Wu said that when a bird flies into the engine of an airplane, the plane may crash, but is the bird tense? He said this concept epitomizes the meaning of "hard" in Tong Bei.
Every bone has marrow inside, and during the single movement strikes, one trains the Fa Jing (issuing power) so that the marrow flows freely through the centre of the bones.This also has the result of making the arms more powerful and more resilient than ordinary people's. Therefore Tong Bei fighters suffer fewer injuries during a fight as their arms etc, are firmer. Additionally it teaches the student to have "tou jing" or penetrating power.

The practitioner will train the Dan Chao for up to one hour everyday, so as to maintain and hone the reflexes and body power.

The second level of training, "Xing Bu" or moving step training also has three types of training method:
The first is slow separate movements, which are performed in a sequence, but the emphasis is on doing each one separately to get the correct posture and energy flow.

The second step is to join these 2 or 3 movements together to make just one movement.
The last step in this phase is to put all the series of movements together into a running form, so that it comprises one long series of continuous attacks and strikes.

When Master Wu practices the "xing bu", his footsteps are both light and springy, without any sensation of heaviness or "plodding", despite his large frame.

One is reminded more of a cat's running or slinking movements, with a soft and lithe power contained within the body, where the footsteps are harmonized with the body's movements and the result is a movement of flowing purpose.

In the Tong Bei form itself there are also 3 steps to the training.

1. Gong Li Tai Zhu Quan: - The form is practiced like a series of standing postures.
Each posture within the form is held for the count of at least three breaths, in order to get the qi to flow and to be able to relax into the postures. This way, the form can last for over fifteen minutes.
The main aim of this step is to harmonize the flow of qi and the breathing with the postures, to increase the stamina and to build the root (hips and legs), so that one can utilize the earth power.

2. Wen Tai Zhu: - This next step is to practice the intention (or Yi) and the energy.
To make sure that in every movement one has a sensation that the potential force, spirit, energy and the intention are all working in harmony and the correct sequence of the spirit striking the opponent, followed by the energy and the intention, is achieved. And that all postures are practiced correctly.

3. Wu Tai Zhu: - This last level is to practice the martial applications of each posture.
Master Wu stressed that the main aim in all the stages of the training is to make staying relaxed throughout, the natural state of the practitioner.

The other features of Tong Bei training, he said, are body conditioning and two-person training drills.
In body conditioning, Master Wu said, many people strike their arms against trees etc, to try and toughen them and make the bones hard. But, he said that this was actually damaging to the practitioner's health, and just deadens the nerves. And especially, as people get older, it can precipitate arthritis in the joints, and indeed many older practitioners of so-called "hard "styles, are often unable to walk or use their limbs properly because of this kind of destructive training.

tong bei quan kung fu wushu qigong

I have seen evidence of this, especially among 70 - 80 year old practitioners of external styles, who although still maintain a very firm "iron" grip, if they grasp you, need help climbing stairs, or have even developed conditions such as Parkinson's Disease.

In Tong Bei, they have several methods of arm/leg conditioning, which involve rubbing and massaging the arms with either the hand or chopsticks. A bundle of chopsticks are fastened together and firmly rolled up and down the forearms or over the shins, which, with time, will result in a thick but pliable layer of muscle over the bones, thus strengthening them, whilst maintaining sensitivity and suppleness.

Master Wu's shins and arms are amazingly powerful but also soft and relaxed too.
And having felt his force, when he lightly smacked my palm, I can vouch for the power and energy contained within his body. Not only was his force penetrating, it felt like it struck to my core, but I could also recognize the potential power that was not unleashed, which was very frightening.
The two person drills have three stages to them: -

1. Dui Da: Here, two people have specific tasks to adhere to, one person strikes and the other person defends and tests them, they take it in turns to be the striker and strikee.

2. Ban Da: This keeps to the same principles as the first step, but now the practitioners can issue power against each other. (Fa jing) This starts to train the intention of real fighting, whilst providing a safe environment for the students to train in.

3. Meng Da: This final stage, which is only practiced when practitioners have already reached a very high level, is natural fighting, without any rules or restrictions. So the strikes will be natural and free with proper intention and the full force of the spirit unleashed. However Master Wu reiterated that this does not mean a descent into chaotic brawling or grabbing, as often happens in competitions or street fights; this level must still adhere to the principles contained within Tong Bei Quan. The practitioner's own art must never be compromised or degraded.

Master Wu said they have a saying in Chinese, which aptly describes the stages of the two person training:
"Shu neng sheng qiao; qiao er neng jing; jing er neng shen; shen er neng hua; hua er neng mo".

tong bei quan kung fu wushu qigong

That is, when one becomes familiar with the art and the form's movements, one begins to understand the principles of how it works; when you understand the main points, you can begin to refine the movements and your own knowledge; at this time you will come to understand yourself and the art at an even deeper level; once you understand the principles deeply, you can change and move freely, the practitioner becomes alive and all movements and applications are possible; when you are truly alive and free, practice becomes natural, and the player can really use their art, the form becomes part of them.
Push hands and san shou also have several important requirements that a practitioner must adhere to, if they're to reach a high level.

In Chinese they say:
"Xu shi qing, qing zi ling; ling zi bian, bian zi dong."

This means that when a player clearly understands emptiness and fullness (yin and yang), then they can be light, flexible and nimble; when a player is light and nimble, they can move and change and adjust their posture/application freely, when they can move and change, they can be alive and free.

Master Wu explained that this principle is extremely important in push hands or two person training.
He said many people are stuck or "dead" and are unable to move freely or react. Or else they only pay attention to one place or direction when they're pushing hands, and so are too one-dimensional. Consequently, they are easily controlled or manipulated by an experienced master.

When somebody pushes you, he said, you must be alive and listen to everything the opponent does, and be ready to react or adapt to whatever force comes and from whichever direction.
Over the last twenty years or so, he has taken on many challenges, and is always ready to put his art and his good name to the test.

He says one must always take every challenge seriously, as there are people who would take advantage of any weakness or "politeness" on his part. Therefore he treats each challenger with respect and strives daily to maintain his own practice and raise his level.

Master Wu said that being a martial artist, one must constantly be aware of one's own conduct. He feels that in some ways being a well-known teacher and practitioner, is a bit like being a famous actor. They are always in the public eye and their actions are subject to everybody's scrutiny; therefore he said a martial artist, especially a teacher, should constantly strive to better themselves and never do anything that would bring shame or dishonour on their own name or system.

Master Wu is very famous in Shanghai, as a highly respected martial artist and fighter, but he is equally well-known for his candour, fairness and integrity. On a personal note, I would add that he is also one of the nicest and most generous people that I have met in Shanghai, and somebody that I feel honoured to call my friend.
With regards to the future of Tong Bei, Master Wu said that the future of Wushu now rests with foreign students and practitioners.

He explained that nowadays in China, less and less young people want to practice Wushu, and certainly do not want to expend the same amount of energy or suffer the hardship of truly learning a martial art. But, he said, he has seen many foreign students who are not only prepared to "eat bitter" as they say in Chinese, but dedicate their entire lives to learning the art. Thus he hopes that teachers of martial arts will honour the love that foreign people have for Chinese Wushu and will teach them the true aspects of their art and be both clear and generous in their instruction.

Master Wu says:
"Lian gong rong yi, de dao nan; de dao rong yi, chuan dao nan; chuan dao rong yi, shi dao nan."

"It's easy to practice an art, but it's very hard to be good at it; it's easy to become accomplished at an art, but it's hard to pass on the information so another person can become good at it; it's easy to teach another person your art, but it's hard to become a great person with integrity and honour."
He said to really be a great martial artist one must have a sense that one is working one's way to the top of a mountain, maybe you will never reach the top, but you must keep trying to raise yourself higher, and to help others along the way.

One should never be satisfied with just getting part the way up, or with only helping somebody superficially.
Wushu, he says has no country, it is a Chinese speciality and a part of Chinese culture, but it belongs to all people.

His aim is to share this priceless treasure with the world, so that everyone can enjoy the great and very real benefits of Chinese martial arts, and all may have a real understanding of traditional Chinese culture.

Text: Rose Oliver, Shanghai

Rose Oliver bor och tränar i Shanghai sedan 6 år tillbaka. Hon arrangerar årligen träningsevenemang runt intern kung fu med mästare i Shanghai. Under året arrangerar Rose även andra klassiska kinesiska konstformer så som tecermonier, kinesisk medicin och kaligrafi.
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