Wong Kar-wai’s 2013 film, THE GRANDMASTER, features elegant cinematography and artistry of Baguazhang. In the movie, Gong Er’s (Zhang Ziyi) father is Gong Yutian who is an elite Yin Style Baguazhang fighter. Gong Yutian’s character is inspired by Yin Fu’s (right on pic) disciple GONG BAOTIAN (left)- who served as the royal bodyguard of the Dowager Empress Cixi (middle). The style of Baguazhang in the movie is Yin/Cheng Baguazhang Interlinking Body- characterized by smooth coiling and uncoiling actions, dynamic footwork, close-in wrestling, bone strikes, and most importantly Polearm methods of Qing era Bodyguards… An interesting note, Gong Baotian’s LUOHAN Style of Baguazhang is cross-trained by Wutan Bajiquan carrier, Liu Yun Qiao. The Bajiquan fighter (Razor’s character) in The Grandmaster film is based on Liu Yun Qiao’s journeys.
According to Chinese Scholars, the Qing Dynasty retained the cold weapons strategy (polearms, sabers, non-firearms etc.) from the Ming Dynasty armed treatise… which would be the strategy of Feudal Shaolin. The core of all Shaolin systems is the polearm/staff- essential and the first line of defense for most armed escorts and militia without access to Chinese Gun-fu. Close-in wrestling is essential during polearm melee, with a refined/scientific approach which exists in raw lineages today. The methods descend from an era when Kungfu masters still fought in life or death situations with a medieval weapon- contrary to most modern Opera-fu (it’s also pretty and silky without the polearm). Cheng Ting Hua is at the minimum, reserves/ militia in the Qing Dynasty. Being drafted by the Empress Cixi personally during the 1900 escape from Beijing- is no easy task for the average Mcdojo in ancient China. Yin Fu is skilled at the polearms also… it is a pre-requisite for tax collecting in Inner Mongolia with the founder of Baguazhang.
Cheng style Baguazhang specializes in close-in wrestling and joint locks- the whole body generates smooth coiling and uncoiling actions, utilizing palm techniques and dynamic footwork… Sure sounds similar to Yin Fu’s smooth and graceful FEUDAL SHAOLIN polearm strategy for Qing Imperial Guards. According to scholars and this pic, it does appear the Pudao/Horse knife is quite commonly utilized during AIRBENDING!!
Kungfu movies and folk novels post-1920s have emphasized the mysterious “lightskill” or Qinggong of feudal Baguazhang experts- (often over exaggerated and out of context) with the kungfu man flapping around like a hot potato. Feudal Academia reveals Dong Haichuan and Gong Baotian may indeed utilize such dynamic footwork and agility… it’s called Parkour-fu. Parkour in the modern sense is French influenced and grew out of military obstacle-course training. Yin Style Baguazhang contains elite feudal Chinese martial strategy integrated with the French westernization movement in the mid-19th century. The iconic “Four Faces” footwork of Napoleonic era is adapted into the Manchurian fighting methods of Yin Fu- unparalleled against multiple opponents.
The First Baguazhang motion picture ‘THE HONOR OF DONGFANG XU’ (1983) became the inspiration for Wang Kar-Wai’s ‘THE GRANDMASTER’ film (2013). Li Junfeng’s character is based on Han Muxia, a Baguazhang expert in the early 20th century. The unarmed pugilism and martial context, against the Hercules character in the film- is a fictional representation of factual history. China after the mid-20th century experienced the second wave of sports modifications by the Chinese government- pugilism in a sporting context is borrowed from the west. Han Muxia’s Baguazhang context, in reality, is fighting for the war. Muxia trained the Broadsword team (actually called “pistol team”) providing the most practical big knife skills and close-in wrestling. Modern combat sports and the battlefield always have a world of difference. [Master Li Junfeng is an old mentor and family friend of IRFS- a noble individual who stands for accurate documentation of Baguazhang history, regardless of commercial interests in the 21st century. Li has a strong connection with old Cheng Baguazhang masters, especially Sun Zhijun]
Often in cinema, the Baguazhang presented is elegant and silky- with a larger diameter eight step circle. The popular Baguazhang movements employ the whole body with smooth coiling and uncoiling actions, utilizing palm techniques, dynamic footwork, and close-in wrestling. In feudal era, the larger circle radius is necessary for polearm-fu against multiple opponents- a characteristic strategy of Qing footsoldiers and militia. In modern times, there are raw lineages which maintain the polearm structures in the empty-hand routines… some more so than others. According to feudal Shaolin Armed Treatise, pure Yin/Cheng artifact of Interlinking Body methods without heavy modification in modern times- should indeed retain the polearm structures with transitions intact. Close-in wrestling integration, with the primary weapon dominant, is standard- and not the other way around. Pre- 1900s, unarmed pugilistic systems as portrayed in popular Baguazhang films would be viewed as an impractical self-defense system for urban applications.
The Baguazhang Horse Stance is used for generating torque/ power during sparring, as well as strengthening the lumbar and leg muscles. The feudal stance training enhances tendon strength and an overall understanding of feeling grounded. It is a wide, stable stance with a low center of gravity. Advanced and dedicated stance work develops “Movement in Stillness”- the Baguazhang expert achieves stillness and relaxation, while the horse treks around the tree!!
Kungfu vs MMA is certainly the hot topic in modern martial arts culture. Traditional Kungfu has received quite a beating in recent years- due to inaccurate documentation of history and faulty commercial promotions. Many in the west do not understand the Chinese language and current events in Asia- headlines are often a fraction of the whole story… A less appreciated fact is, feudal Chinese Kungfu mechanics and principals are integrated within the China MMA Sport Promotions… Most are familiar with MMA Xu Xiaodong, however many do not know he is a student of Mr. Mei Huizhi. Mei Huizhi served as the coach of the Beijing wrestling team, the head coach of the Beijing Sanda team, the head coach of the Beijing Armed Police Corps Sanda team, and the head coach of the Central Guards. Mei Huizhi is a practitioner of Baguazhang and a disciple of Wang Rongtang (Cheng Style) in Beijing. Xu’s teacher made important contributions to the creation and popularization of Sanda. Mei is a pioneer in the integration of traditional martial arts in modern combat sports. (Note: China is promoting MMA-fu, not quite the MMA as viewed mainstream). Mei’s teacher, Wang Rongtang emphasized feudal Cheng Baguazhang- an advocate of the perfection of self and actual combat.
Bruce Lee sought to develop abilities in all areas of accomplishment: intellectual, artistic, and physical. Bruce has often been described as the archetype of the Renaissance man in modern kungfu culture. Bruce is also known by feudal historians to have a profound interest in Qing and Ming Dynasty military arts- as illustrated by his silky Imperial Dragon t-shirt.
The Shaolin Stick Method is the foundation for Cheng Style Baguazhang and certain categories in Yin Style [Silky Pudao or Dragon Capturing, which is cudgel methods- it’s not empty-hand as commonly presented]. The Shaolin Stick descends from the Ming Dynasty- the stick is interchangeable with polearms ranging from pudao to tigerfork. A short polearm (around the height of the person wielding it) is more focused on melee-fu for foot soldiers or militia. Cheng Ting Hua would possibly use a cudgel or tigerfork for city security and a pudao/ spear for militia duties if required. The Shaolin long staff is commonly represented by the Dragon in ancient literature. It is said that the stick has the unique skills of being flexible and changeable, with the skills of the vertical and horizontal forces. The use of the force must be soft and silky during the transition of the stick method. The force must be smooth- described in ancient treatise as Moving with the Force. The mysterious secrets of Dong Haichuan’s Single, Double, and Moving with the Force Palms are foundationally FEUDAL SHAOLIN POLEARM [priceless artifact near extinction in modern times].