The Origins of Ba Gua Zhang – Part 1

Written by Dan Miller, et al, Pa Kua Chang Journal Volume 3, Number 1, November – December 1992, Edited by Dr. Troy Schott D.C.

The following blog posts will be selected articles from the illustrious Pa Kua Chang Journal.  The Journal ran for about seven years, initially as the Pa Kua Chang Newsletter, it was a refreshing look into the actual current and historical state of baguazhang.  I will do my best to give credit where credit is due, however, in some cases, the translator of material is not immediately known unless stated in the article.  Also, I have edited the article in many places for relevance and have left notes here and there. If I make any grevious mistake in the rewriting of this material, please let me know. – Troy Schott, D.C. grounddragonma.com

Stories abound about how the art of Ba Gua Zhang was originated. The only clear lineage that exists is that of Dong Hai Chuan and so many feel that Dong was the founder. Dong rarely spoke of his own background.  His relationship with his students was very strict and thus none of them dared to ask. Whether or not Dong invented his this art on his own or learned it from another is a common topic of debate in the Ba Gua Zhang community.  Although there are dozens of stories and anecdotes, the various theories of Ba Gua Zhang’s origins can be boiled down to the following four:

  1. Dong Hai Chuan developed Ba Gua Zhang after learning Yin Yang Ba Pan Zhang from Dong Meng Lin. This version of Ba Gua’s origin was published in the 1937 text Yin Yang Ba Pan Zhang Fa written by Ren Zhi Cheng.
  2. The Unofficial History of the Indigo Pavilion (1818) talks about eight direction stepping, Li Gua and Kan Gua as Ba Gua that was popular prior to Dong Hai Chuan (pre-1813). From the writing in this text, some have deduced that this Ba Gua was the predecessor to the Ba Gua Zhang taught by Dong.
  3. Dong Hai Chuan learned his art from Bi Cheng Xia on Qiu Hua (Nine Flower) Mountain. A discussion of this theory would also include any of the various stories about Dong learning from an “unusual person in the mountain vastness.”  When the Bi Cheng Xia theory is examined, we will include popular theories regarding other Daoists that Dong might have learned from.
  4. Dong Hai Chuan was the founder of Ba Gua Zhang. The individuals who subscribe to this theory believe that Dong spent his youth learning other martial arts and invented Ba Gua Zhang based on his early experience combined with circle walking meditation practice he learned from a Daoist.

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Professor Kang Ge Wu, a well-known martial arts researcher and historian in Beijing, thoroughly investigated Ba Gua Zhang’s origins for his Master’s degree thesis.

            In addition to the theories mentioned above, some take Ba Gua Quan (other styles which have the name Ba Gua) that were not taught by Dong as Ba Gua Zhang; for example, there is a Shaolin-like art in Henan called Fu Xi Ba Gua and another in Shandong called Shaolin Ba Gua.  Then there is also the other arm of Ba Gua (Tian Family Ba Gua), which the practitioners claim was hidden for 400 years and such other versions of Ba Gua’s origins.

            Since the exploration of each of the theories listed above will be in-depth, this post will be presented in serial over the course of several postings. The primary source of this information is taken from the work of Professor Kang Ge Wu of Beijing.  While working on his master’s degree in 1980-81, Professor Kang wrote his thesis on the “Origins of Ba Gua Zhang.” When I visited with Kang last year in Beijing, he gave me a copy of his findings and the translation of his report forms the foundation of this article.

            Professor Kang’s research was extensive and involved close examination of over 650 documents from the Qing Palace history books and over 230 papers written on martial arts.  He also examined the situations of 413 teachers in 24 provinces and cities, personally investigating in 16 cities and counties, and 9 provinces.  Kang interview over 256 people resulting in over 274 documents.  Many of the people he interviewed were elderly boxers of the older generation who spoke openly about their martial art.  While conducting his research, Jang was a motivating force in the effort to restore Dong Hai Chuan’s tomb and participated with over 400 others in the unearthing and moving of the tomb.

            Although the research conducted by Kang Ge Wu was fairly thorough, there are some conclusions he arrives at in his final analysis that I would not be so quick to make. In his summary, Kang concluded that it was Dong Hai Chuan who originated Ba Gua Zhang (theory 4 above).  His reasons for discounting some of the other theories (theory number 3 in particular) are weak in terms of the standards of scholarly logic we are accustomed to in the West.  When these points arise in the article, I will discuss why I think Kang has jumped too hastily to his conclusion. My own research into Ba Gua’s origins, which includes examination of documents written by those with an opposing view to Kang as well as interviews with Ba Gua Zhang practitioners in the United States, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Mainland China leaves me with unanswered questions and thus no conclusion concerning Ba Gua Zhang’s true origins.  Throughout this article, I will try to present both sides of the story and let the reader decide on their own how Ba Gua Zhang originated. The first theory we will examine is the one which claims that Dong Hai Chuan learned Yin Yang Ba Pan Zhang from Dong Meng Lin, and then created Ba Gua Zhang.

Regarding the Veracity of Yin Yang Ba Pan Zhang as the Precursor of Ba Gua Zhang

            In recent years, there have been books published on martial arts in both China and abroad which rely on the account of Ba Gua Zhang’s origin given by Ren Zhi Cheng in the forward and preface of his 1937 publication Yin Yang Eight Basins Palm Method. Ren’s version of Ba Gua Zhang’s origin claims that Dong’s Ba Gua Zhang was developed from Yin Yang Ba Pan Zhang.  In his study, Prof. Kang researched this claim thoroughly and found it to have no basis in fact.

            Kang began his investigation by looking into the source of the information found in the forward and preface of Ren’s book.  Yin Yang Eight Basins Palm Method contains five forwards given by five associates of Ren, and then Ren provides a preface which gives an account of his teacher and origins of his method.  The first preface, by Wang Xiang Dong states that, “This past summer, I met Ren Zhi Cheng at the home of Lu Yu Ding.  Ren told me, “I learned Li Zhen Qing’s system from the time I was young.”  Ren Zhi Cheng was a second generation student of Dong Meng Lin and the method was called Ba Pan Zhang.”

            The second forward was by Yang Dong Yuan and it reads, “In the summer of 1936, I was studying in Tianjin and was introduced to Ren Zhi Cheng of Wen An County by Zhang Li Cun.  We met at the Fu Xing guest house where I saw his book Yin Yang Ba Pan Zhang Fa. We spoke on several occasions about the history of martial arts.  It was then that I learned that his teacher was Li Zhen Qing and Dong Han Qing were both students of Dong Meng Lin.”

            Prof. Kang points out that these two forwards tell us that the authors did not know Ren until the summer of 1936 and they did not write the forwards until February of 1937.  In Wang’s forward, he takes care to place quotation marks around Ren’s description of his own lineage.  Yang, in his forward, mentions that it wasn’t until speaking with Ren on several occasions that he learned the lineage of Ren’s art.  It is easy to see this lineage was supplied by Ren himself.

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Ren Zhi Cheng, author of Yin Yang Ba Pan Zhang Fa. Did Ba Pan Zhang precede Ba Gua Zhang or did he invent the story?

            The other three forwards to Ren’s book were written by Li Yu Ding and Zhang Yu Cen, the two individuals who introduced Wang and Yang (the authors of the previous two forwards) to Ren, and by a friend of Ren’s named Yang Xiang Bu.  Yang Xiang Bu’s forward does not mention the origins of Yin Yang Ba Pan Zhang.  If we look at this five forwards, we are struck by two points.  The first is that the old friend does not mention the origins of Ba Pan Zhang in his forward and the second is that all of the mentions of lineage are from people who have recently come to know Ren.  This cannot but raise suspicion.

            If we want to conduct a closer examination of the origins as stated by Ren, we have only his own preface to go by.  In Ren’s preface the story of the origin of his system rest on two key people, Dong Meng Lin and Li Zhen Qing.  In order to validate Ren’s claims, Prof. Kang investigated the background of both these men.

            The first of Ren’s claims, which Prof Kang investigated, was the age of his teacher, Li Zhen Qing. In his preface, Ren states, “I enjoyed studying martial arts since my youth. When I was 13, my father ordered myself, my brothers, and cousins to kowtow and take as a teacher Li Zhen Jing, who was from Wei Jia Ying in Ba County.  At the time I started studying, Li was extremely old.”  Kang spoke with Ren’s grandson who told him that Ren Zhi Cheng died in 1967 at the age of 89.  This would place his birthdate in the year 1878. Thus, Ren would have been 13 years old in 1890-91. Assuming that a man who was “extremely old” would not be less than 70, Kang proceeded to investigate the true age of Li Zhen Jing.

            Prof Kang visited Li Zhen Jing’s hometown in Ba County and spoke with the daughter-in-law of his nephew, Gao Cai Yi (who was 83 when Kang visited her in 1980), his grandnephew, Li Bao Chen (who was 60), and his clansman Sun Feng Ding (who was 83). Kang discovered that Li Zhun Jing and his younger brother Li Zhen Shan were about three years apart in age and his younger brother had a wife who was three years younger than her husband.  Li Zhen Shan’s wife died in 1945 at the age of 84, which would have placed her year of birth at 1861. From this we can formulate that Li Zhen Jing was born in 1855. In 1890, when Ren Zhi Cheng was 13, Li Zhen Jing was 36, not an “extremely old” age by any standards. This indicates that Ren’s statement in the preface to his book concerning his teacher’s age was a great exaggeration. It is worth noting that in 1890, when Ren was studying from Li Zhen Jing, Dong Hai Chuan had been dead for eight years and by this time Ba Gua Zhang had already found wide popularity and appeal in Beijing and areas south of the city.

            Another claim that Ren Zhi Cheng makes in the preface to his book is that Li Zhen Jing’s uncle had been the manager of a security company and Li, when he was 16 years old, began working with his uncle as a bodyguard. Ren goes on to states that when Li was 17, he went with his uncle to the south of China and during his travels they came to Dong Meng Lin’s homestead. When Li met Dong, he begged to be accepted as a student. After studying with Dong, Li traveled all over China in the employment of the security company and made martial arts acquaintances where ever he went.

            When Prof Kang asked Li’s three relations in Ba County about this story they admitted that although Li and his younger brother were both well-known for their martial arts skill, Li Zhen Jing was killed in 1900 during the Boxer Uprising.  The story they told was that Li had been extremely near-sighted since his youth. During the Uprising, he joined forces with the Boxers against the foreigners. One day a group of soldiers entered Li’s village, and thinking them to be a Boxing Regiment he yelled out “Brothers!” and ran forward to greet them.  Unfortunately, the group he approached were foreign soldiers and as Li approached, they shot him.  He was only 46 when he died.

            Professor Kang could not find any evidence that Li had an uncle who owned a security company or that Li himself ever worked for a security company. Ren’s claim that Li worked as a bodyguard and traveled throughout China seeking martial artists of mutual interest seems to be without foundation. Although Li was a boxing teacher, he died at the age of 46 in his home village.

            The next of Ren’s claims that Prof Kang investigated was the story that Li had received his name “Zhen Jing” from his teacher Dong Meng Lin.  Ren said that after Li left his teacher and went back to the north, Dong Meng Lin said to him, “Several years ago, there was another person from Wen An, a relative of mine, who studied with me his name was Dong Han Jing.” With this said, Dong gave Li the name Li Zhen Jing.

            According to Gao Cai Yi, Li’s personal name was given to him by his family. His younger brother’s name was Zhen Shan and they were of the same Zhen generation in the Li family. Another villager, Jiang He Feng (64 in 1980), who supplied Kang with a portion of the village history, verified that Li was given his personal name by his parents.  Additionally, it was insinuated that the Dong Han Jing who Dong Meng Lin mentioned was supposedly another name for Dong Hai Chuan. Kang conducted a thorough investigation of martial arts literature and found no reference to anyone named Dong Han Jing who practiced Ba Gua prior to the appearance of Ren’s book.

            Convinced that Ren Zhi Cheng had exaggerated heavily when providing accounts of his own teacher, Prof kang’s next course of action was to investigate Dong Meng Lin.  In all of the research he conducted, Kang did not run across any mention of a man named Dong Meng Lin other than the stories told by Ren in his book.  However, Kang did find three sources mentioning the name Dong Meng Lin: one from Xu Yong Xiang who was a student of Ren Zhi Cheng, one from Xu Yu Zhen of Nan Bu, and one from Guo Xu Fan who had taken part in the 1911 revolution.  All three of these gentlemen stated that Dong Meng Lin was the real name of a man who was called Bi Cheng Xia (also called Bi Deng Xia) of An Hui Province. As stated in the introduction to this article, one of the four major theories about the origins of Ba Gua says that Dong Hai Chuan learned his art from a man named Bi Cheng Xia. This theory will be covered in detail in the next installment of this article.

            In summarizing his research, Prof Kang gives some strong evidence as to what may be the factual history of Yin Yang Ba Pan Zhang and who Ren Zhi Cheng’s real teacher must have been. When Kang was conducting his research (1980-81) Ren Zhi Cheng had since passed away, however, the man who actually wrote the book for Ren, Gao Zhi Kai was still living in Zhen Jiu County in Hebei at the Liang Zhao Commune.

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Ba Gua instructor Sun Xi Kun, a student of Cheng You Long, published his book The Genuine Ba Gua Zhang Maneuvers in 1934.

Gao provided Kang with the following story. In 1934, Sun Xi Kun’s book The Genuine Ba Gua Zhang Maneuvers was published.  Ren Zhi Cheng read this book and noticed that the postures in the book resembled the art that he practiced. Ren asked his student Gao Zhi Kai to write a letter to Sun for him (Ren was probably illiterate). He thought that Ba Gua Zhang practitioners should be all as one family and his intent was to meet Sun and discuss Ba Gua Zhang in order to investigate the differences between Sun’s style and his own. Sun never wrote back.

Ren Zhi Cheng, who was 60 years old at the time, took his student Gao Zhi Kai, who was then 30 years old, to Tianjin to visit Sun Xi Kun. Sun studied Ba Gua Zhang with Cheng Ting Hua’s eldest son, Cheng You Long. When Ren arrived, Sun mistakenly thought that Ren was there to challenge him and without waiting for Ren to state his business, Sun began to change his shoes and prepare for a fight. Gao states that Ren did not square off with Sun, but beat a hasty retreat.

At the urging of his friends, Ren dictated details of the art that he practiced to his student Gao. Gao compiled the notes in order to write Ren’s book. Prof Kang received a letter from Gao Zhi Kai, dated 12 December, 1980 which stated that because Sun’s book was already out, in order to avoid competition, Ren decided to name his book Yin Yang Ba Pan Zhang Methods.

Ren took the name for his book from an old saying “Pan Quan Guo Shou,” which is a statement made to indicated two martial artists squaring off. Kang explains that martial artists train to make their strength a unified entity, the feet following the hands, the vision clear, the mind settled, etc. When the practitioner has reached this unity he has “trained to fruition the six harmonies” and can then cross arms the enemy.  If a martial artist crosses arms with another martial artist it is called “Pan Quan Guo Shou.” There are four upper Pan and four lower Pan.  Kang states this is where Ren got the term Ba Pan.  Additionally, Ren used the Yin Yang theory of Ba Gua which divides the hands into yin and yang and force on either side into yin and yang. From this, Ren called his art Yin Yan Ba Pan Zhang. Kang states that when Ren published his book in 1937, it was the first time the term “Yin Yang Ba Pan Zhang” had ever been used.

            Having collected an overwhelming amount of evidence to indicate that the entire history of “Yin Yang Ba Pan Zhang” was fabricated by Ren Zhi Cheng, the next question Kang had to investigate was, “Where did the art depicted in Ren’s book come from?” In order to answer that question, Prof Kang again went back to examine the story Ren told in his book’s preface. In the preface, Ren listed others who he claimed had learned from his teacher Li Zhen Jing.  Three students listed were: Liu Bao Zhen of the Red Temple area in Gu An, who was the most senior student; Jiao Yan Zhi, of Yun Jia Gou village in Ba County; and Su Jing Dian who were junior to Ren.  Investigating these names, Kang uncovered the following information.

            Liu Bao Zhen (1861-1922) was from Red Temple Village and as a small boy he had studied Chuo Jiao (a martial art that employs a lot of kicking methods). Later, Liu took Dong Hai Chuan as a teacher and studied Ba Gua Zhang from Dong. On occasion he brought Dong to his home village to teach. This information was supplied by Liu’s grandson and four others from Liu’s home village. Not one to rely solely on word of mouth, Kang turned to written records. In 1942, in the records of Gu An County, Volume 3, there is a notation which states that Liu Bao Zhun (Ed. Note: This maybe a typo.) was a native of Red Temple Village and a skilled martial artist who had learned his martial arts from the famous Dong Hai Chuan.  In order to finally put the subject of whom Liu learned from to rest, Kang turned to the original stele erected at Dong Hai Chuan’s tomb in 1883. Engraved on the back of this stone among a list of Dong’s students is the name Liu Bao Zhen. From this evidence, Kang concluded that Liu Bao Zhen had not learned his art from Li Zhen Jing, but from Dong Hai Chuan.  Through further investigation, Kang discovered that the two students listed in Ren’s preface as being younger classmates of his under Li Zhen Jing (Jian Yan Zhi and Su Jing Dian) were in fact Ba Gua Zhang students of Liu Bao Zhen.

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The back side of the stele erected at Dong’s tomb site in 1883 has a list of student names which includes the name Liu Bao Zhen.

(Some of the variations in tone on this photo do not appear on the stone but occur here because this is a composite of 4 separate photos. Since the lighting and angle was slightly different for each shot, shading occurred.)

            At this point in his investigation Kang wondered what Liu Bao Zhen’s Ba Gua Zhang might have looked like. His research indicated that the characteristics of what Ren Zhi Cheng practiced were very much the same as what Liu Bao Zhen taught as Ba Gua Zhang. For example, Ren’s walking posture was the same as Liu Bao Zhen’s “tying up the ankles” leg maneuver. Ren’s “Yin Yang Palm” is the same as Liu Bao Zhen’s free fighting posture which he practiced as a basic palm.  Additionally, it was known that Liu Bao Zhen was especially skilled at broadsword.  Ren stated that in his book that there were 18 weapons and each had their own characteristics. He went on to say that, “…as for weapons, I do not know well, with the exception of the broadsword, which I am well-acquainted.”

            In summary, Kang explains that Dong Hai Chuan passed away in 1882, Liu Bao Zhen lived from 1861-1922, and Ren Zhi Cheng from 1878-1967. Ren said he started learning martial arts when he was thirteen (1891). At this time, Liu was 30 and had already been teaching the art he learned from Dong. In addition, at the time when Ren was studying his martial arts, his father Ren Jing Shan, was working in Ren Jiu County in the constabulary. Liu Bao Zhen was working in the Gu An constabulary. The two certainly saw each other frequently and had good relations.

            Kang established that Ren’s classmates Su Jing Dian and Jiao Yan Zhi were students of Liu Bao Zhen and drew the conclusion that Ren also learned Dong Hai Chuan’s Ba Gua from Liu Bao Zhen. Ren took the Ba Gua he knew and changed its name when he published his book in 1937. Kang ends the section on Yin Yang Ba Pan Zhang by stating that the theories proclaiming that Yin Yang Ba Pan Zhang preceded Ba Gua Zhang or that Dong Hai Chuan studied Ba Pan Zhang and then invented Ba Gua Zhang are baseless.

            The next theory we will examine states that Ba Gua Zhang originated long before Dong Hai Chuan was born and bases this theory on a dialog which appears in the Unofficial History of the Indigo Pavilion. Although this theory, like the last, is probably not valid, it does bring up some interesting point regarding the secret societies in China and how one may easily confuse Ba Gua Zhang with another art or organization which shares the name “Ba Gua.”

Regarding the Veracity of Eight Direction Stepping, Li Gua, and Kan Gua

            In the 22nd year of the Jia Qing Emperor (1818), the Unofficial History of the Indigo Pavilion was published with a section on an individual named Feng Ke Shan. It states that Feng was from Henan, Hua County. As a youth, he was strong and fierce and he had learned martial arts from Dang Heng Dong of Zhu Zhao Village. A native of Shandong, Wang Xiang, also taught Feng boxing.  Feng learned all that Wang Xiang had to teach.  There is a dialog recorded in this volume which reads:

“In the spring of Geng Wu, Niu Liang Chen saw Feng practicing his boxing, which had a method of eight steps, and Niu said, ‘Your stepping is in accordance with Ba Gua.’ Feng queried, ‘How do you know?’ Niu replied, ‘I practice Kan Gua.’ Feng said, ‘I practice Li Gua.’ Niu said, ‘I am Kan, you are Li, together we are the intersection of Li and Kan.’”

            In recent years, some believe that references to eight steps, and Li and Kan Gua are early references to Ba Gua Zhang.  Others claim that what he was practicing was Ba Gua Quan (some other form of Ba Gua boxing, not related to Ba Gua Zhang) and have mistakenly placed him in the Ba Gua Zhang histories.  What then are Ba Gua, Ba Fang Bu, Li Gua, and Kan Gua? Professor Kang Ge Wu provided some theories.

Researching Ba Fang Bu (Eight Direction Stepping)

            When Prof Kang investigated the history of Ba Fang Bu, or eight direction stepping, he concluded that this method originated with the Mei Hua, or “Plum Blossom,” boxing system.  In his report he states, “What Feng Ke Shan practices as Ba Fang Bu is from the Mei Hua boxing system.” As we’ve seen from the above, Feng had learned from Dang Heng Dong from Zhu Zhao Village, Hua County. This is documented in the records found in the palace museum library, 16th day, 12th month, 18th year, Jia Qing Emperor. According to this record, “Dang Hu Zu, also known as Dang Heng Dong, was a native of Zhu Zhao Village, 62 years of age, sells medicine, no particular religion, and spends his free time practicing Mei Hua Quan.  He is a student of Qi Da Zhuang from the same village. Qi passed away in the 51st year of the Qianlong Emperor.” The record also states that Feng Ke Shan was a student. This record is in the military region records under the peasant rebellions (records from the peasant uprising which the Ba Gua Jiao, or Ba Gua Religion, took part in).

            In 1981, Prof Kang went twice to Hua County accompanied by the Hua County Athletic Committee Wu Shu director Zong Jin He to conduct a local investigation.  One of Dang Heng Dong’s descendants Dang Qian Guang was present as were old boxing teachers of Zhu Zhao Village.  They attested that what Dang Heng Dong practiced was Mei Hua (Plum Flower) Boxing.  In a book on Plum Flower Boxing written by Wang Nai Hu of Hebei Teacher’s College, the content of Plum Flower Boxing is quite abundant. Among the forms are five postures, Ba Fang Bu, and so on.  Kang concluded that the above information proves that what Feng practiced was Mei Hua Boxing.

            Additionally, in 1981, Kang received a report from Zong Jin He that said a special characteristic of the low, powerful, stepping set that is done in the “ding” step (ding bu). In the same year, July, Kang went to Zhu Zhao Village to institute a confirmatory investigation and saw that what Zong had reported was true. The elder boxer Wu Jing Yun performed Bai Bu, Gen Bu, Zhong Quan with follow step, punching while retreating and turning the body (Ed. Note: I find this sentence to be particularly interesting.  I think it is possible that what was meant to be written was “bai bu, kou bu, zhuan quan/zhang,” but since it was originally written in Wade-Giles, it’s hard to say.  Pinyin is far easier to interpret between Chinese and English, and it’s no wonder that the Journal eventually switches to it down the line.  Plus, on a personal note, I find it amazing that more westerners haven’t adapted to the system.). While executing these movements he continuously turned to four corners and eight directions.  Kang said that this is not the same as walking the circle as a basic training device as in Ba Gua Zhang.

Li Gua and Kan Gua

            According to historical records, in 1813 there was a peasant uprising in the area of the capitol led by the Heavenly Justice Religious Sect in Beijing, who were led by Li Wen Jing and Lin Jing.  The Tian Li Jiao (Heavenly Justice Religion) which draws its philosophy from the arrangements of the Ba Gua (Eight Trigrams) is also called Ba Gua Jiao (Eight Trigram Religion) and, utilizing the terms of the Ba Gua, divides the religious teaching according to the eight trigrams.  Reliable documentation indicates that Feng Ke Shan and Niu Liang Chen were important leaders of the Tian Li Jiao uprising. According to documents in the palace museum, Qing dynasty records (military area records regarding peasant uprising) in the 18th year of the Jia Qing Emperor, 10th day, 12th month, Feng provided the following information about himself:

“Gao Er, who was from Dong Zhang prefect in Shandong, was the teacher of the already deceased Wang Zhong.  Wang Zhong was Wang Xiang’s teacher, Wang Xiang was my teacher.”

            Additionally, on the 12th day, 1st month, 19th year of the Jia Qing Emperor, Feng said that he became a member of the Li Gua Jiao (Li trigram sect of the Ba Gua religion) in Hua County, Henan in the 16th year of the Jia Qing Emperor (1812). When the former head of Li Gua, Wang Xiang passed away from illness, Feng was appointed head of the sect. Feng states, “Because people who followed me were numerous, they made me the head of the Li Gua.”

            The third salient point which this documentation revealed was found in an interview with Niu Liang Chen in the 1st month, 12th day, 18th year of the Jia Qing Emperor (1814). Niu said:

“In the first month, 13th year of Jia Qing, I entered the sect in the Inn of old Mrs. Ma. It was then that I made the acquaintance of Lin Jing, and I heard him discourse on the true nature of the religion and I wanted to join his sect. In the 8th month, Lin Jing closed up shop and went home.  I went with him to his home in Song Family Village and he passed his transmissions on to me. I thereupon entered as a disciple of Lin Jing.”

            As we can see, Feng practiced Li Gua and had studied under Wang Xiang to enter the Li Gua sect of the Ba Gua religion. Niu practiced under Lin Jing entering the Kan Gua sect.  What they spoke of as Li and Kan Gua was not related to boxing.

            In China, during the Ming (1368-1644) and preceding dynasties, a number of religious sects arose which became “secret societies.” These societies, made up primarily of poor merchants, artisans, and peasantry were sources of opposition to the ruling dynasty. Their popular religious beliefs opposed the orthodox beliefs and their political efforts were directed against the dynasty. One original secret society that was well-known was the White Lotus, or White Lily (Bai Lian Hui), Society who led the Boxer Uprising (Ed. Note: This is not completely correct.  It was actually the Yi He Quan, or the Boxers United in Righteousness, that led the boxers against the foreigners in Northern China, please see Escherick and Ross.). Others were the Hong Men, the Red Eyebrows, the White Turbans, the Red Spears, the Small Sword, etc. (Ed. Note: I am unsure if the original author was actually referring to the Big Sword Society here.)  A number of these secret societies were involved in leading peasant revolts against the Qing Dynasty during the early to mid-1880s.

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A Qing Dynasty-era cartoon shows two Tai Ping rebels arrested in Shanghai with a document concerning Tai Ping activity on Jiu Hua Mountain.

            Interestingly enough, the Qing Dynasty-era cartoon shown above depicts two Tai Ping rebels being arrested in Shanghai with a document which concerns Tai Ping activity on Jiu Hua Mountain. The theory of Ba Gua’s origin which states that Dong learned from Bi on Jiu Hua Mountain. This fact, combined with Li Zi Ming’s Theory (see The Life of Dong Hai Chuan and the History of His Tomb) that Dong went to Beijing as a covert operator for the Tai Ping is an interesting coincidence. Other sources also claim that Dong was involved in peasant rebellions and worked to help overthrow the Qing. The majority of these uprisings were led by the secret societies and thus Dong could very well have had a connection with one or more of these sects. I do not claim that any of these theories are valid, but the coincidence is interesting to note.

            The philosophical and religious precepts which the majority of the secret societies followed came from a mixture of folk religion, Daoism, and Buddhism. Some societies leaned heavily to the Daoist side, while others had more of a Buddhist orientation. In their book, The Hong Society (1925), J.S.M. Ward and W.G. Sterling describe in detail the intricate, ritualistic, and ceremonial hand and body movements performed at meetings of the Hong Society. All of the early societies had similar ritualistic movements and it would seem that this is what Niu Liang Chen and Feng Ke Shan were referring to when they discussed practicing the Li Gua and Kan Gua.

            The Ba Gua Society is still active today and thus there are students who confuse the philosophy and practice of the Ba Gua Jiao with Ba Gua Zhang because they hear the name “Ba Gua.” Since the Ba Gua religion includes meditation techniques and Qi Gong, as well as hand postures and body movements which are associated with the eight trigrams, it is perhaps easy to become confused.  Any system which does not include combat forms and training for martial application is probably suspect.

            In his conclusion to the section on Ba Fang Bu, Li Gua, and Kan Gua, Professor Kang Ge Wu stated that they were not related to Ba Gua Zhang and thus we cannot take these as evidence of Ba Gua Zhang’s early origins.  While I agree with his overall conclusion, I am disturbed by his statement that the eight direction stepping is exclusive to Mei Hua boxing and is not part of Ba Gua Zhang because it “is not the same as walking the circle as a basic training device as in Ba Gua Zhang.” Prof Kang does not take into account the systems of Ba Gua Zhang which do include eight directional stepping and straight line sets, Hou Tian Ba Gua Zhang, as a basic training device. The systems which do practice straight line sets will be discussed in detail in the next installment of this article in the section which examines the theory of Dong Hai Chuan learning from the Daoist Bi Cheng Xia.

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