100% of historians and Baguazhang enthusiasts agree- Yin Fu is the Senior Disciple of Dong Haichuan with the most elite demands for martial application [Imperial Guard Commander]. What most do not agree on is the context, and how Yin Style Baguazhang should appear aesthetically, as far as feudal routine training. In contemporary times, kungfu enthusiasts often base imagery from mainstream movies. A classic example: the Baguazhang style demonstrated in ‘The Grandmaster’ motion picture is commonly associated with Cheng Style Baguazhang (or polearm methods in Yin). However, the character in the film, Gong Yutian (Zhang Ziyi’s father) in factual history is built on GONG BAOTIAN- Gong’s system in real life is Yin Style Baguazhang, not Cheng Style. The predicament here… so is the Baguazhang fighter Gong Yutian a badass because of Cheng Baguazhang, or because of Yin Baguazhang polearm usage [the prop left out of the film]? Or is the reason simply modern enthusiasts associate high-level Baguazhang inspired by true history/ presented as fantasy in popular media- to be the most efficient method of learning feudal fighting systems in modern times? [Note: China has plenty of Qing Imperial Guard statues and toy figures as illustrated above. The rest is preference and history!!]
Medieval China is full of mystery, wonder- yet harsh with intensity. Feudal Baguazhang masters utilized the arts for real-world applications in an era which was not forgiving. The historical artifact endured to this day carries genetics often clashing with modern interests… for standard Internal Martial Art enthusiasts. Fortunately, there is something called smart, scholarly, and scientific training which is capable of preserving ancient systems while remaining practical for the modern era.
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.
Unarmed pugilism with the “chop socky” styling is often associated with Chinese Kungfu- evolving directly from the Peking Opera tradition and entertainment circles in the early 20th century. One-on-one dueling back and forth in pugilistic sports- is a relatively new concept for ancient Chinese culture. Dueling concept in western cultures contains a history far beyond modern combat sports… the pugilistic style between two willing contestants under unified rules- is a foreign concept to the Chinese. In the feudal era, practical fighting systems are geared primarily for Chinese soldiers or militia. The context of fighting is urban, essential to survival in real-world situations. Unarmed fighting in ancient times is almost always to supplement weapons applications against other armed opponents. The feudal equivalent of modern Sanda differs from the contemporary, largely due to the inherent armed strategy and angles of strikes/ approach. Bajiquan, for instance, is medieval Sanda trained in conjunction with Chen Taijiquan Lao Jia 74 ( which is sword and shield strategy in origin, not empty-hand as popularly instructed). The elbows and fists of Bajiquan generate angles of wielding medieval instruments, distinct from western boxing. However, due to the compactness and refined structures of the battlefield, Bajiquan works extremely well for modern unarmed fighting. Beijing Gongfu Jia Taijiquan 83 shares the Bajiquan elbow segmentation and compact angles, generally more efficient in modern pugilism than Chen Lao Jia Yi Lu. Yin Style Bagua Lion system contains many elements of feudal Sanda in the Cutting, Hooking, and Blocking strike categories- efficient for today’s martial arts interests.
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.
In the 21st century, Baguazhang is practiced for various reasons ranging from fitness, entertainment, to self-defense. When speaking of historical systems by founders of the method, one should acknowledge factual documentation of nuances and the technology/ strategy of the time period. In popular kungfu culture today, YIN STYLE BAGUA is universally credited for escorting the Empress Dowager/ and Guangxu out of Beijing when the city was under siege from foreign troops. The pic above illustrates the facts, 100% clarity revealing the 1900 escape (left) to the 1902 return to Beijing (right). Feudal Baguazhang exists to this modern era, lost in China fitness reforms and Kungfu vs MMA debates. Ancient systems are still practical for all walks of life, whether biomechanical calisthenics or urban self-defense… Real Baguazhang deserves accurate documentation.
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.