Raw feudal weaponry and tactics are often underappreciated in modern kungfu culture- stemming from the rise of unarmed pugilistic sports (borrowed from the West) and Peking Opera interpretation of history (further standardized by the Chinese State Commission for Physical Culture and Sports). Historical weapons melee is hidden in the empty-hand routines of lineages, remaining virtually unexplored in most kungfu schools… Aside from lost of ancient knowledge or a practical concealed carry point of view, ancient weapons benefit the biomechanic framework of an athlete- enhancing empty-hand boxing in the absence of the instrument. As an example, the sledgehammer and tire are popular conditioning tools amongst fighters in modern combat sports. Sledgehammer training will undoubtedly improve an athlete’s ability to maintain explosive power, improve grip strength, develop core control, and enhance alignment. A Chinese Halberd descending from the warring kingdoms will do just fine in the modern era.
Lethwei or Burmese boxing is a full-contact combat sport from Myanmar that utilizes brutal elbow strikes along with various headbutts and clinching techniques. Lethwei is considered to be one of the most aggressive and brutal martial arts in the world- known as the Art of Nine Limbs. The unique close-range striking of Lethwei is reminiscent of those of Bajiquan, both descending from stick/polearm methods of feudal dynasties.
The method of clenching fists in Bajiquan is unlike standard boxing in origin. The four-finger curves and hollows, in a shape similar to a “palladium” or fork-like instrument. The ancients named it “Palladium Fist/Baziquan” during the Ming Dynasty. The system excels in close-in boxing, stick melee/polearm applications and shares technology similar to Yin Style Baguazhang (Phoenix Curling-In) and Escrima (Snapping Strikes). The fist hollows and clenches in intervals, or with a whip-like fashion before impact- designed for speed, rapid succession, and delivery of power with polearms or batons.
The Tiger Fork/Palladium is standard equipment of Imperial Guards during the Ming and Qing Dynasties- the melee cold weapon is often used in tiger hunts, military, and law enforcement applications. The Tiger Fork remains a versatile tool to this day in Asia, still utilized by armed police for control and capture. The modern fork is more humane with only two rounded prongs- the sharp center point is removed entirely. [feudal Tiger Fork technique is contained in Yin Style Bagua, most apparent in the Rooster System]
[Xu Xiaodong’s coach Mei Huizhi, demonstrates principals of the circle]
In any era, self-defense requires standards and context relevant to its environment. Feudal Baguazhang strategies nowadays are often adapted for combat sports, fitness, or holistic routes in training, to cater to the modern man. For instance, ancient polearms/ instruments are adapted for body alignment/strength conditioning, to benefit the everyday person. Unarmed techniques are now used in conjunction with compact carry weapons of the 21st century. Mei Huizhi is a pioneer of Sanda sport in China, while remaining a dedicated practitioner of old school Baguazhang. He has integrated principals of Bagua footwork and grappling into Chinese Sanda and MMA.
In the 19th century, armed and unarmed methods are often trained within the Four Point footwork pattern of Yin Style Baguazhang. The same is true for other close fighting systems of that era, such as Savate in the Anglo/French divisions. The YSB Dragon Carrying methods contain not only wrestling and control tactics- the Miao Dao strategy is apparent. Dragon is known for its ‘Long’ internal force and rotations which in turn, complements the long saber. The weapons work pre- 1928 Reform were direct, precise, and advantageous.
Baguazhang, regardless of branch, is known for practicing with extremely large weapons. The Big Broadsword is the most iconic, yet often it is portrayed as the giant Oxtail Saber in modern schools. The famous Big Saber, in truth, is the military Pudao/Halberd of the Qing Dynasty. Yin Fu’s son Yin Yu Zhang represented large saber in his book ‘Practice Methods For Cleaving Saber Techniques’ in 1933. The cleaving saber in feudal times is attached to a wooden staff (true Big Saber) for patrol duties, allowing for versatility and longer reach. The westernization movement in the mid 19th century gave rise to the popularity of bayonets and refined pistols. Modernized/compact carry of the cleaving blade portion separate from the wooden staff became standard. The ‘Swimming Body’ style of Baguazhang caters directly to the Pudao/Halberd in conjunction with close-in wrestling tactics of Qing era bodyguards- it is unfortunate many have forgotten the original context. The Men Baozhen/ Xie Peiqi branch has always viewed the ‘Swimming Body’ method as a subsystem of the Yin Style Bagua Dragon System.
[The Warlords Film/ Jet Li, and Xie Peiqi]
The exotic bone strikes of YSB Phoenix System descends from the era of Cotton Armor in feudal dynasties. The composite armor is cotton lined with iron or hardened leather. The cotton-lined steel sheets protect the torso, the arms and back of the hands- which provides a very strong, heavy, and dominant surface to strike with during close-quarters melee. Jet Li demonstrates the bone strike in the Warlords motion picture, a battle scene amidst the Taiping Rebellion.
The YSB Dragon System is underappreciated in today’s kungfu culture, partly because Snake symbolism is often attached to Yin Fu’s personal fighting style. The popularity of the Luohan Penetrating Palms styling in most Yin Style branches is the primary reason for the ‘snake’ characteristics- snakes are a symbol of SPEARS. The Luohan Penetrating Palm sets cater to instruments such as the short spear. It is worth noting William E. Fairbairn’s Baguazhang teacher (Cui Zhendong/disciple of Yin Fu), represented Shaolin Dragon & Tiger methods in the early 20th century. The system at the time was not labeled as ‘Baguazhang’. Dragon and Tiger symbolism in northern Shaolin styles trace back to General Qi Jiguang and Yu Dayou, renown as the Tiger and Dragon of the Ming Dynasty. The most iconic palm in mainstream Baguazhang is represented by the tiger mouth- the Shaolin stick method is represented by the Dragon… Dragons have significance to the Beiyang New Army towards the later part of Yin Fu’s career. The most prominent feature of the new army saber is the enamel ornament on the shank. The saber distinguishes the ranks of the officers and military ranks with the number of dragons/in the knives/on the knives: senior officers are sorghum Dragon pattern, five dragon claws; intermediate officers are Pingyi dragon pattern, three dragon claws; lower-level officers do not have patterns, no dragon claws. The dragon was the symbol of the imperial power of the Qing Dynasty and the symbol of the emperor. It was hoped that this new army at that time would become an important force for the maintenance of the imperial rule of the Qing Dynasty. [Yin Style Bagua Dragon System contains officer saber methods, bayonet, cudgel, and restraint/close quarters strategy of Imperial Guards]