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.
[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.
[Imperial Guard examination & Chang Dongsheng with a nice chin jab] Most Baguazhang lineages today use large oversized instruments such as the giant saber, for strength conditioning purposes. The foundation for this tradition descends from feudal wrestling battalions. Yin Fu and Cheng Ting Hua were both wrestlers.
Contrary to popular opinion, the Interlinking/ Weaving routines of Baguazhang as popularized in mainstream and films, contain ‘wrestling with weapons integration’ and not pure empty-hand wrestling. Grappling and takedowns with the instrument in hand, are crucial in feudal melee- often against armed opponents. It is worth noting the forms/drilling methods of Qing-era wrestling are often distinct in aesthetics from the silky/ twisting/ turning style of Swimming Baguazhang.
[David Chee-Kai Lin/ Combat Shuai Chiao in the pics]
In modern Baguazhang culture- Cheng Ting Hua is often credited for wrestling and Yin Fu is revered for his penetrating palms. While this may be a half-truth, Imperial Guards (Yin Fu) are skilled in military wrestling as well… the wrestling is the core foundational training of the elite, and the wrestling in Qing-era contained strikes and locks. To note, the Lion System of the Xie Peiqi/ Men Baozhen branch shares ancestry with the combative Baoding Wrestling schools- including all eight striking methods (from left to right, top to bottom: Sweeping, Cutting, Chopping, Hooking, Shocking, Blocking, Seizing, Grasping). Baoding is the southern gate of Beijing. There are many troops stationed there. The military academy of Manchu is also located in Baoding.
The context of Cheng Ting Hua’s Baguazhang is distorted in modern kungfu culture. Numerous 2019 articles reveal, Cheng was invited by the elites and became a member of the court’s inner guards- likely the Shanpuying (wrestling battalion equivalent to modern special forces). However, Cheng, who had just entered the palace, had not yet settled into the position… and it was during this time, he encountered the news of the invasion of the Eight-Power Allied Forces. The guards, Cheng Tinghua naturally had the obligation to protect the security of the Qing Dynasty royal family.
Scholars reveal Cheng Ting Hua became a qualified candidate in the Court Bodyguards of the Empress Dowager… quite possibly the Qing Wrestling Batallion or, the Good Camp. The inner guards (Yin Fu) and the good-fighting camp are directly under the jurisdiction of the emperor and have the obligation to serve as guards. There are about 2,000 people in the inner guards, and there are only 300 people in the camp. Regardless of Cheng’s official position, he is not a folk martial art master- but a professional with urban strategy.