Huang Bai-Nien on Dragon Shape Baguazhang & Xingyiquan Striking Principles- Bradford Tyrey

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The following article is attributed to a student of Huang Bai-Nien, though the student’s name cannot be verified, what is known about him is that he worked as an editor for the Peking Historical Preservation Society during the 1920s and 1930s, and assisted Huang proofing his own writings. The information below came directly from Huang and from several boxing journal articles that he authored but was written in brief by one of his closest students. This article encompasses principles mutually shared by Wang Li-Te, Li Cun-Yi, Huang Bai-Nien, Sun Lu-T’ang, Liu Xing-Han, Jiang Rong-Chiao, Sha Guo-Zhen, and so many others who followed the old practices. Many of these teachers practiced with each other, shared knowledge, and passed teachings onto specific boxing clans through selected disciples. This article below was corrected and added to by Liu Xing-Han, stating that parts were previously deleted during revolutionary times in China because certain passages were thought to disclose secrets of Chinese boxing that might fall into the hands of invaders of China.

Master Huang Bai-Nien is at the highest level of boxing skill and knowledge. His hands possess the speed of an Immortal, and can only be seen should he decide. His swiftness in body motion can be termed as “an Immortal chasing his shadow.” Such secret skills were passed onto him by his master, Li Cun-Yi.

Among the many striking palm methods there are three with special significance. These three are: Xia P’i Zhang (Downward [Lower] Splitting Palm), Zhong An Zhang (Central/Middle Pushing Palm), and Xuan Zhang (Turning Palm). As original palm methods practiced by Master Tung Hai-Chuan these three are in accord with the Original Three Circular Palms: Dan Huan Zhang (Single Changing Palm), Shun Zhang (Compliant [Following] Palm), and Shuang Huan Zhang (Double Changing Palm) are the further manifestations of p’i (splitting), an (pushing), and xuan (turning) palms.

P’i (splitting), an (pushing), and xuan (turning) unify, exchange, cooperate, and transform to provide skill-power within each of the Original Three Circular Palms. Xia P’i Zhang is in harmony with the Earth. Its palm essence roots deeply, flowing as a stream through mountain caverns [moving with fluidity and hidden power] then, the emerging qi strikes deeply and sinks into the adversary. Sinking qi causes expansion within which in turn causes stagnation of the natural movement of the interior. Hence, xia p’i (lower/downward splitting) is the Dragon Shape method to use emptiness [an unseen/hidden movement] to create fullness [a sinking strike into the adversary]. Walk the circle while holding this posture, and embrace the qi within the palm for one-thousand days shall nurture the skill of xia p’i zhang.

Zhong An Zhang unifies the Heaven and Earth which in turn produces man. This palm is in accord with that which takes a central position. The action of zhong an (central pushing) evades the adversary’s defense and strikes using a pushing-crushing manner toward the middle [interior] of the adversary. As a central position method it is heavy as the Earth, yet conforms to the changing influences of man. That is, this action attains its great skill by practicing Di Xing Fa (Earth Element [Shape/Form/Transmutation] Method) taught by Master Li. The practice method is simple; the attainment of flourishing skill is multifarious.

In practicing this palm sink the qi, root the body, and sense great heaviness spreading throughout the body and limbs as if the Earth empties its weight into your shape. Though heaviness abounds within the body one’s movement is as if the tip of a single thread of silk [movement is lively and agile]. Heaviness begets lightness; lightness begets heaviness. The skill of heaviness is practiced in both a circle and straight [reference to straight-line bagua sets] until one has no distraction within and the river of heaviness runs into the palms and can be issued into the adversary. This pushing-crushing force is beyond a common method, it must be sought through tranquility during the time when the Earth allows the yin to escape and supernatural attainment ripples into the body [referring to practice must be done late at night when the heavy yin qi is dominate and one’s body can readily absorb this dominate essence]. This is but one secret method that Master Li passes to us. Acquiring this method must be like entering a mountain cave without fear or expectation. Its secrets shall soon be revealed with nightly practice of forty-nine nights.
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In application all palm methods, if significantly developed, possess a poison touch. Such a touch is one in which the essence of the palm method is released into the vacuity of the adversary. Connect with the adversary’s body, issue palm force, and adhere. Connect in all boxing methods refers to touching upon a single point; issuing refers to releasing internal force without using brute force; adhering is not that of the body touching upon another’s body but rather the adherence of one’s spirit to sense within the adversary’s body and direct the poison touch. This is the true way of connect, issue, and adhere taught by Master Li Cun-Yi.

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Muscular force must also be comprehended, in that it shall eventually reach its extreme at which point weakness and clumsiness await to take its place. Therefore, skill and agility must be succinctly maintained. The whole body and mind, without any hindrance, must direct one’s qi into a single finger or area on the hand. Qi must be trained to surge, ebb, and be stored where the mind selects. This is so within all standing and seated boxing methods. It is essential that such training be endeavored upon day by day without halting. Qi is the nourishment of skilled boxing masters as is food the nourishment of the common man.

Training is performed in the following manner that Master Li dictated. Hold a hand outward, assume a training posture, direct the qi to the finger or area of one’s hand that shall strike the adversary, and sense heaviness of qi entering. This is as many have said is “iron wrapped in cotton.” Such heaviness is an intense collection of qi directed and held there by the mind. Fullness of qi begets movement. That is, the great accumulation of qi stands ready and seeks to be released; it is as a tiger leaping from its lair. Such accumulation, contained by the mind’s intent, is directed from one’s finger into a single point within the adversary. The release into a single vulnerable point is termed “iron returning to liquid iron.” This means that the concentrated feeling of qi [feeling like heavy iron] is released [moving and flowing like a liquid] into an adversary like liquid iron. Such liquid iron [qi], directed by the intent of the mind enters a cave
[a cavity/dim mak point], residing as a tiger in its lair. Upon its entrance this iron obstructs the natural order of the inner water wheel of the adversary’s body. Faintness, illness, or death shall transpire.

One who has practiced the methods of Master Li for a cycle of ten years is considered adept at this secret skill. In the methods of baguazhang, xingyiquan, and taijiquan the movement of the “inner iron” is a practice of the highest order. My master taught that in xingyiquan linking movements can only be practiced once standing methods with the movement of iron is achieved. Two to three years is required for most. To stand in any xingyi or bagua posture is to touch upon the spirit of that posture. To stand in longxing (dragon shape) is to evoke the spirit of a celestial dragon within the confines of the human form. Man [an earthly being] thereby unites with dragon [a celestial being]. Such unification produces true attainment within boxing practices.

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Master Li expounded that each posture must be held 36 breaths for yang qi and 36 breaths for
yin qi, resulting in harmonious interplay of the wuxing (five phases [elements]). The 72 breaths produce the germination of movement which in turn pulls with it the iron, sending it throughout the body. This iron must be directed to the intended striking hand from beginning to completion of the 72 breaths. If the iron, once accumulated in greater mass, is not properly directed it shall improperly reach one’s own heart, causing unstoppable illness.

Externally, one’s xing (form [shape]) must be as unmoving as a deeply rooted stump. Internally, the liquid iron moves by shun (compliance). That is, iron must comply with the mind’s intent of leading it into the hand as a general commands his troops. As the hand fills with iron [firmness] the body attains a state of softness. This is the way of the Great Teachings; it is the interaction and exchange of firmness [yang] and softness [yin].

Beginning students endeavor to learn movement and fighting within the first days, but this is contrary toward skill development and is without purpose. True studies and practice must begin when yang qi is ascending in the springtime. In Qiu Chuji’s “Treatise on Health Preservation and Cultivation” [written in the Yuan dynasty], it states: “When spring fills the air with warmth, man should look at gardens and pavilions and into the wilderness to relieve the stagnancy of the heart and invigorate himself, though not sit alone in depression.” Qiu Chuji’s teachings are essential to maintaining seasonal health and harmony while studying the secret methods of moving iron. Each of the four seasons contain their special teachings and must be contemplated and followed. For example, in the midst of the summer’s heat one must soften the breath to reach a tranquil state and envision frosty snow within the heart as to ward-off the Great Interior Heat. Without knowing the secrets of each season one can only touch upon general skills, never immersing into the breadth of the Yangtze River.

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Ming dynasty’s most distinguished physician and pharmacologist, Li Shi-Zhen, wrote “Wine is pure yang in nature and pungent and sweet in taste, and thus has the effectiveness of invigorating vital function and dispersing pathogens. Wine is dry and hot in property, and is thus used to expel dampness and cold.” These words must be heeded by those who practice the art of Poison Hand Touching. Such touching methods require knowledge bestowed by our scholarly ancestors. In the text Plain Questions (Chapter 23) it is written: “Spirit is stored in the heart, the soul in the lungs, mood in the liver, idea in the spleen, and the will in the kidneys.” Within these words lie profound secrets contemplated by great boxing masters.

All knowledge of training culminates within the ability of hand methods. When striking with the fist qi is to be directed through the wrist and into the region of softness [the center of the palm]. To achieve this it is essential that the fist be only lightly clenched. The four fingers curl inwardly as if embracing and halting the escape of a cricket. The thumb, in turn, curls with roundness [instead of stiffly bending] until finding rest upon the forefinger. This is the proper manner to hold the fist, qi can now pervade. From the wrist, past the pulses, held within the reservoir of the palm [the palm’s center], the qi is drawn into the knuckles. The knuckles curl and extend as if the four claws of an earthly deemed dragon.

Qi swells within and one’s sprit is elicited. The hand prepares to strike. Force, qi, and will unite thereby moving into the knuckle(s) which now hit deeply into the adversary. Upon contact, the fist clenches slightly more, squeezing out the qi as if wringing water from a cloth. This method is most apparent in the unity achieved between hand and sword.

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Without the mind directing the qi, this immortal force shall disperse as if horses in a herd were each running separate paths. The mind is the lead horse which the herd shall follow. Spirit rises to the extreme [crown of the head]; the spine swells with the vital elixir [qi]; the hands now prepare to discharge the force of the inner dragon [the merging of one’s qi, spirit and mind-intent]. Striking [the physical manifestation of one’s spirit] forms exact movement which seeks guidance. Guidance is found in the boxing maxim “to diverge by a single hair’s width, ten-thousand miles are lost.” This maxim points the way toward the acquired skill of ‘exactness.’ It is the exactness of whole-body motion, the exactness of a strike, and the exactness of one’s mind-intent to direct qi; all unifying to produce immortal skills found within unseen-forces.

What is the meaning of Longxing (Dragon Shape) hidden within baguazhang and xingyiquan postures?
It has been explained by many ancient masters in both complicated and simplistic terms. Most agree that
進退 jin-tui (advance-withdraw) represents profound aspects of a heavenly dragon’s movement. Movement of a dragon is obscure, coiling and thrashing during both outward and inward movement. Like the yin and yang, a dragon shall 進 jin (advance) through its use of 退 tui (withdrawing). In all boxing arts this is likened to the principle ‘to fiercely strike outwardly with overwhelming force requires withdrawing into one’s central root, from which advancement [outward movement] finds its origin.’ Tui (withdrawing) into one’s root heralds 進 jin (advancement), conversely 進 jin (advancement) heralds tui (withdrawing). Master Li Cun-Yi taught that to study a dragon xingyiquan set opens the doorway to all fistic sets: p’iquan now becomes long p’iquan (dragon-splitting fist), bengquan now becomes long bengquan (dragon collapsing-fist), and so forth. Such skills harmoniously unite with the actions of 起落 qi-lao [luo] (to rise and fall), transforming into 進起退落 jin-qi tui-lao (advance [expel] while rising, withdraw [draw inward] while falling); its existence within baguazhang and xingyiquan creates movement that is without absence or peer.

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