Archive for the Baquazhang Category

10 Questions with John Painter (Part 2)

Posted in 10 Questions, Baquazhang, Internal Arts, Internal Development, Martial Arts with tags , , , , , , , , , , on May 18, 2017 by Combative Corner

starting with Question #6…..

If you had the opportunity to train with 3 masters (living or dead) who would they have been and why?

As far as “no longer living” teachers I suppose that I would have been interested in studying with Sun Tzu the author of The Art of War, with Lao Tzu author of the Daodejing and with Wei, Boyang author of the Can Dong Qi. As far as living contemporary teachers not to insult anyone, but I have no interest in studying with any martial artist alive today. The reason is simple. My teacher gave me a lifetimes worth of material in which to try and attain skills.

The Li family arts are so rich, deep, unique and profound that it is far and away more than I can comprehend let alone master in one lifetime. Their methods are complete arts for mind body and spirit. They have been tested in the fire of reality, and they work in everyday life and in real world combat. There is no reason to clutter it up with other concepts and ideas as Shifu Li used to say, “No put legs on snake, he just fine way he is!”

Today I see so many martial artists studying a laundry list of arts and methods from different teachers, magazines, YouTube, books and videos and few if any of them seem to be as proficient as those individuals that began studying before this onslaught of information was available. Most of the truly knowledgeable and highly skilled in the Chinese martial arts that I have know have been those who focus on just one method from one teacher or at least they gain a high level of proficiency in one system before trying to learn another. I suppose flitting from one art to another provides some feelings of accomplishment for others but it is not for me.

My personal view is that to strive for perfection one needs to devote a majority of time to that one method. For me as I am a loyal student and also a slow study. So it is important to train in ones chosen method 24/7 that is, in the traditional school setting (Wuguan武館) for formal training at least two hours or more six days a week.

Next it is important to take the art out in the real world to practice the philosophy and the physical movements so they become your way (Dao) in this way ones art will never become stale or boring. The art becomes who you are not something you do when you dress up in your uniform to play Gong Fu Wushu in the Wuguan or on the tournament floor. Training in this way the arts will not desert you in even the most stressful battle situations and yes, as a former bodyguard and law enforcement tactical instructor there has been more than ample opportunities to “test” the Li family methods in the real world.

My old Gong Fu friend and Baguazhang cousin Johnny, Kwong Ming-Lee used to call the art developed by people who flit from one teacher to another platypus Gong Fu. When I asked him why he called such training by that name he replied, “Has beaver tail, fur, pouch like kangaroo, web feet, duck bill no one knows what the hell it is!” For me his platypus Gong Fu line about sums up my attitude on training with too many teachers or in too many arts.

During my career in Chinese martial arts I have met and become good friends with many high level practitioners and teachers some who really had or still have great skills. I have shared many happy hours with Master Jou, Tsung-Hwa, Master B.P. Chan, Master Henry Look, Master Liang, Shouyu, Dr. Yang, Jwing Ming, Dr. Daniel Lee, Shifu Johnny, Kwong Ming-Lee, Bruce (Kumar) Frantzis and many others.

Let me be clear not one of these people mentioned were my teachers they were friends and colleagues many of whom possessed or currently have great knowledge and skill. I have had only one teacher of Chinese martial arts, Daoism and Philosophy and that was Li, Long-dao and that is far and away enough for me. My other teacher or Asian descent was for a brief period with Lama Trangu Rinpoche of the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. He interested me in the deeply spiritual and crazy wisdom of Dzogchen practice which fits nicely with Li family philosophy called acceptance of the way (Xinfu Dao信服道) based on Daoism and Buddhist philosophy.


How often do you personally train and what does it entail?

Today at age 72 I am still training six days a week. I believe in a combination of mind, body and spirit training to stay healthy and vital into my “middle” age. The martial routines listed below will be carried out for two months then the art will be changed to Taijiquan as the focus for two months and next Xingyiquan for two months then back to Baguazhang. Here is my basic routine.

Monday – Wed – Friday

6:00 am

Meditation from Tibetan Dzogchen tradition

Daoyin (Chinese Yoga) for flexibility and circulation of vital body fluids.

Yixingong Still Standing (Li family Yiquan)

Bag work striking heavy bag or speed bag with various palms or Xingyi fists

Nine Dragon Baguazhang Circle Walking (aerobic fast walking)

Select weapons training

2:00 pm

Progressive Resistance Exercise

I am aware of the ridiculous myth that some internal martial artists still cling to from the days of the Boxer rebellion that weight training (progressive resistance) will inhibit your Qi and is bad for internal power. This is a myth based on ignorance of correct exercise physiology. So Yes, I work out to gain good muscle tone, strength, speed and power. There is nothing wrong with being strong!

For this type of exercise I prefer using the Baguazhang stone spheres (Da shi qiu 大石球) along with resistance Rubber Cables. Mostly this consists of core exercises and then isolation exercises for problem areas.

Whole body core moves are first then isolations exercises for:







Tues – Thurs

6:00 am


Daoyin (Chinese Yoga)

Yixingong Slow moving to feel the connection from ground to palm (Li family Yiquan) Nine Dragon Baguazhang Circle Walking (attention on structure)

Light body training on balance beam and posts in our Bagua garden

Select weapons training


7:00 am

Meditation – Daoyin – Yixingong

Teach instructors class which includes practical applications of each art often with full protective equipment. We train locks, throws, projections, strikes, kicks, and defensive tactics for each. We also work on weapons training and defensive tactics against weapons as well as spending some time at the police shooting range with our handguns. I often take along my antique Broom Handle Mauser guns commonly used by my teacher and his father in their work as Baobiao and trainers for Chiang, Kai-shek’s army during the Second Sino-Japanese War.

Another practice we observe is inviting guest martial artist and fighters of other methods to share with us their concepts of attack. In this way we are able to study how our methods can function when confronted western boxers, grapplers Karateka, Jujitsu players and everyday street fighters.


Most masters of the martial arts train not only bare hand but with weapons. What weapons do you train with and why should (or shouldn’t) weapons be included in ones training?

First off please do not call me master. William C.C. Chen once scolded me for calling him Master Chen at a demonstration at The Tai Chi Farm, he said the title was for someone who was dead and had nothing else to learn. Later I think his students insisted on using this title for him and he in his Daoist way just let it be. For me I am just a student who is always learning and evolving. Some call me teacher (Shifu) but in my heart I am just John Painter from East Texas.

For me combat weapons’ training is important. I believe it should not be taught to beginners until they have developed a solid structure and foundation. The Li family weapon training consists of classical and modern weapons including firearms. There are no contemporary forms routines within Li family training. It is all based on their free flow concept derived from an understanding of the Five Circles and Six Stances methods created by the founder of their family system.

So this is realistic weapons fighting with simple direct concepts for use of each weapon as a means of defense and offence. Mr. Li was fond of saying, “If you can move the hands and body you can understand the steel.” What he meant of course was that the fist and palm methods of the families Taijiquan, Baguazhang and Xingyiquan could be translated into weapons use. These are the weapons I was taught to fight with as a boy by Shifu Li.

Saber (Dao)

Double Sabers (Shuang Dao 雙刀)

Double Edge Sword used with sheath (Jian Yiji Jianqiao劍以及劍鞘)

Double or Twin Swords (Shuang-Jian 雙劍)

Bagua Big Saber or knife (Bagua Dai-Dao 卦大刀)

Eight Diagram Palm Twin Needles (Bagua Shuang Zhen 八 卦雙針)

Twin headed spear of Baguazhang (Shuangren Mao 雙刃矛)

Twin dragon (elbow) knives (Shuang Long-dao雙龍刀)

Long spear (Changmao 長矛)

Long pole saber of General Guan Yu (Guan-dao 關羽刀)

Cudgel or staff (Gunbang 棍棒)

Three section staff (San Jie Gun 三節棍)

Iron Folding fan (Tie-Zheshan 鐵 折扇)

Leather-thong whip (bull whip) (Pibianzi 皮鞭子)

Broom handle Mauser pistol (Zhouba Huoqi 帚把火器) yes they used guns!

Flying Dragon Fist (flexible rope weapon) (Feixing Long Quan 飛行龍拳)

Walking stick / Cane (Quaizhang 枴杖)

Chain Whip: three or nine section (Lianbian )


What story most strongly comes to mind when you think your previous Master/Teacher?

There are three main stories. The first was when I was first introduced to him and he claimed he could make me healthier after reading my Qi pulses in my wrists. He told me to come next door to see the special exercise. When I showed up in his back yard he put me five feet from a huge lodge pole pine tree, adjusted my feet, legs and torso with my arms held out as if embracing the tree. Then he told me to just stand there which I did for about one minute until I noticed he had gone into his screened in porch and was drinking tea and reading the paper. I objected to this ridiculous assignment and he said, “Fine you not want to be better go home!” which I did.

The next day he comes over and invites me to his house saying he wanted to show me something special. Reluctantly I followed him to the steps on his back porch where he had stacked three solid red bricks one atop the other. He says to me, “You watch this please!” and he places his palm about six inches over the top brick. He gave me a big smile then, bam his palm slaps the top brick and the center one shattered as if someone had hit it with a sledge hammer. My jaw hit the floor, eyes big as saucers what I had just seen seemed impossible. The reader should remember this is in 1957 and there was almost nothing on television or in film about Asian martial arts especially in a small Texas town.

I said, “Mr. Li how did you do this. I want to do that too. Please show me how!” He says to me, “Ok very hard exercise takes much training for very long time you sure you want to work this hard?” “Yes I will do anything” I responded. “Fine you go over there look at that tree like I show you yesterday.” On reflection Tom Sawyer tricking his friends to white wash the fence comes to mind. I did become enthused to train in standing, Zhan Zhuang for a long time and by the time I realized the potential for my health problems I had forgotten or found the brick breaking of lesser import. Later he did teach us Iron Palm and we learned to break all sorts of things but that is another story.


How important do you consider Qigong and should it (in your opinion) be included in all martial arts? Why or why not?

To circulate the breath is not the way!

The body’s fluids are not a magical water.

To ‘Guard the thoughts’ is not the Way!

How can you eat a picture of a cake?

Sexual practices are not the Way!

When the seed is gone life passes.

The newly born spirit fetus is not the Way!

What is unclean has nothing to do with true Energy.

To stop eating salted foods is not the Way!

Your food then lacks stimulating flavors.

A vegetarian diet is not the Way!

Going hungry only injures the stomach and spleen.

Abstaining from sex is not the Way!

Yin and Yang then lose their honored positions.

Let the soul be at peace and the body will right itself..”

  • Zhuang Zi

First let me say that these are my own personal opinions derived from years of practice, using what some Asians call Qigong concepts to heal injuries and overcome illness. What I have come to understand is backed up by an enormous amount of research and study of traditional Chinese medicine from its earliest times to the modern era. My goal is not to insult or offend anyone, but you asked me this question so I feel I must be honest in my response.

If used as an exercise for learning how the mind influences the body, what you term Qigong training can be very important for the health and vitality of students in everyday life and martial arts. However, if viewed as some mystical power source for the development super-natural abilities that are not in line with scientific reality it can in my view be a detriment that slows down real martial attainment. It is all predicated upon the understanding of how and when to use such methods by the teacher for the benefit of his or her students and for what purpose it is employed.

My understanding of this word Qigong is perhaps quite different from the traditional concepts bandied about today especially in the martial arts world. In my view there is a great deal of misinformation and fantasy being proliferated in books and on line about Qi and Qigong. I do believe that teachers can only teach what they know or understand, but that does not make the teaching accurate or correct. Much of what is passed off as Qigong is derived from tradition, superstition and is not based on sound science.

The traditional Chinese character for Qi is really a symbol for vapor, air or steam (). The radicals or parts of the Chinese character form an illustration of rice cooking in a stove with the invisible steam raising the pot lid. Hence the concept of an unseen force animating a material objects. The term Gong is a character that means a skill (Gong). Combine the two terms and you have air skill, steam skill, vapor skill. In the earlier times this word was simply used to mean breathing exercises that developed health. Some were stationary accompanied by visualizations or recited mantras and others were combined with moving callisthenic exercises.

Most people are not aware that the term Qigong is a relatively modern one and was not used in ancient times to describe forms of exercise for longevity and health or martial art concepts unless they were specifically breath control methods. One of the earlier terms used was, to lead and guide (Dao-yin導引) a reference to controlling the body with the mind. Dao-yin has been described as a form of Chinese therapeutic yoga or movement exercise. Today most all of these forms of movement and breathing regimens have been lumped under one term and are classified as Qigong. Frankly I prefer to use the older term Dao-yin because it more closely fits what I was taught by my Shifu.

There is also another older term which refers to healing, removing stress and improving longevity that translates as, nothing too much on fire (Wuhuo無火) this was a method of learning to dissipate inner fire (anger, frustration) through meditation or calming movements which could also be a form of moving meditation. Because this also used breathing methods it could be classified as an early form of Qigong.

A most important point that is often missed by modern day students is how much these exercises depend on using intention (Yi ) and imagination to produce desired results. One of the earliest Dao-yin aphorisms was control body with mind (Kongzhi Shenti Yi Tounao 控制身體以頭腦). Ancient Daoist master Wei, Boyang author of the “Can Tong Qi” also known as Akinness of the Three. The title is often I believe erroneously translated as the “Secret of Everlasting Life”, It is a manual for developing longevity and internal power written around AD 142 and sums up the practice of what is today called Qigong in the first chapter with the following statement.

In the end whatever you call it; it is no more than the mind and heart (Yi & Xin) and the breath (Qi) becoming as one. It is simply the Yin and the Yang influenced internally with their spirit energy entwined.”

Although it is not found in the book and I first heard this from my own shifu, Wei, Boyang is also attributed with another popular Chinese Qi aphorism about mind, body and Qi, “The mind commands the body respond and the results (Qi) follow” (Shenti qi xianghu gensui 頭腦、身體、氣相互跟隨). The very clear implication here is that one does not need all sorts of fancy rituals, forms or actions other than sincere meditation used as a form of auto-suggestion practice.

Modern neuroscience is proving that when we calm outer distractions and begin to repeatedly feel and think deeply about a specific result our unconscious mind, the control center of all internal physiological processes attempt to manifest our desires. In truth when we distill most Qigong training methods we find they all depend on using our mind to direct this energy for our benefit.

In the Li family system there are two methods that incorporates this concept. The first is, Health of Fitness Air Skill (Jiankang-qigong健康 ) here one is using the mind and breath to influence the healing, strength building and longevity of ones body. This has some bearing on martial arts as if one is not healthy it is difficult to engage in combat.

The second is combat focused breath skills (Zhandouli Qigong戰鬥力 ). This category includes meditation, Zhan Zhuang and Yixingong training. There is no circulating illusory energy through invisible lines of energy reputed to exist in the body. In reality this is an ancient version of auto-suggestion for developing speed, strength and power. This subject is very deep and not easy to fully explain in this short answer. I hope the reader is able to derive some benefit from my explanation. And as we see from the poem by Zhuang-Zi (Chuang Tzu) at the beginning of this question the true way is to “sit and forget” meditation is the most powerful Qigong for all practices including martial arts in my considered opinion.


Bonus Question

As a former bodyguard and combat specialist, what exercise drill, technique (from your studied systems) or human skill/quality do you consider to be the most important for self-protection and why?

Our company American Rangers Martial Law Enforcement Institute® (ARMLETI) has been instructing the instructors for corrections officers, law enforcement, military and private bodyguards for over 25 years. We specialize in tactics ranging from hand to hand, baton, Taser, Pepper Spray and knife as well as PKC Pistol craft, small arms and long arms. So we have some practical experience in realistic street survival.

For self protection there is no question, the first thing one must develop is situational awareness. Next one has to understand the terrain that is, what are the advantages and disadvantages to the area where you are at the moment. How many escape routes are available, where is cover available, what things around you can be used as a weapon. These two concepts should be trained and drilled until they are second nature they should become your first line of defense. These things are right out of Sun Tzu’s The Art of War. One should make a careful study of his methods and apply them to single and multiple combat not just large scale military maneuvers.

Next you must have the will to survive no matter what the cost in injury or pain to yourself. Not everyone has this ability. I have seen some tournament fighters in street fights fold to the ground after having a finger or arm broken as if waiting for the bell. There is no bell in the street or in an alley so you have to learn to keep going, you have to learn that it is all on you to survive. Without that mindset no methods, tricks or martial tactics will serve you when the enemy is bent upon your demise. So mental toughness must be the first thing one develops and then fighting technique in my estimation.

After this physical fitness in terms of stamina, reaction speed and the ability to generate explosive power are very important. Aerobic training, progressive resistance exercise should all be a part of the regimen for the professional bodyguard or LEO. All the techniques in the world will be of no avail if the body is not properly conditioned to move with speed and power. Qi will not save you from a good butt whipping in an alley full of skin heads. If you believe otherwise please be my guest, test it and then let me know how that works out for you!

In Closing

Let me say it has been a privilege to be asked to participate in the activities of The Combative Corner I hope my answers have been clear and instructive.

Thank You.

John P. Painter PhD. ND

Captain American Rangers Martial Law Enforcement Training Institute

Director of The Gompa center for internal art studies

For more information on John Painter, visit The Gompa.


10 Questions with Dr. John Painter [Part 1]

Posted in 10 Questions, Baquazhang, Internal Arts, Martial Arts with tags , , , , , , , , , on May 10, 2017 by Combative Corner

If you were anything like me, you were a big-time reader of Inside Kung fu Magazine.  That is where I was first introduced to the likes of many martial artists whose passion and dedication was to bring the arts of the Far East (particularly) to North America.  People like B.K. Francis, Erle Montaigue, Paulie Zink, and Dr. John Painter (just to name a few).  These Hall of Famers helped to pave the way for many of the instructors teaching today and it is truly an honor to receive Dr. Painter’s 10 Questions.  So detailed and generous his response – I decided to break the interview up into a part one and part two. Enjoy!

When did you get started in the martial arts?

I knew nothing about any martial arts when I began training in post standing (Zhan Zhuang 站 樁) and Breathing Skill (Qigong 氣功) with Shifu Li, Long-dao in East Texas about 1957. The Li family claimed to be from Sichuan province China having lived there for many generations. For reasons unknown to me Li, Long-dao and his father Li, Zhang-Lai moved to Beijing. During the final days of the war according to stories they worked as combat trainers for soldiers fighting for Chiang, Kai-shek 蔣中正 in the Second Sino-Japanese War (July 7, 1937 – September 9, 1945).

The war was a military conflict fought primarily between the Republic of China and the Empire of Japan. The Li family seeing that there was little hope of being victorious left the area and within a few years immigrated to the United States first to New York City and then to a small Texas town where they opened a restaurant and found me and two other young boys whom they chose to learn their art. They found their way to Texas after not finding a happy reception in New York’s Chinese community. Li, Long-dao took his family by train headed for San Francisco California.

On the train from New York a strange set of circumstances caused The Li’s to end up in Longview Texas instead of San Francisco quite by accident, providence or fate. When the conductor called out “coming to Looongview” (the name of the town) Shifu Li thought the man was saying dragons view town as the word for dragon (loong 龍) in Chinese is pronounced long.

Thinking this an auspicious sign he ushered his family off the train and set out to make a home in “dragon view village” Texas. He persisted during our association to insist the town of Longview was a place with great wind water energy (Feng Shui 風水) even though it was explained to him that the town was named because of a very high hill near the center of town where the founder in the 1800’s had say, “there is a very long view from here.” One should be wary of trying to change or correct a high level Gong Fu masters opinion!

My studies began around 1957. Shifu Li thinking his family system would become extinct made the decision to teach me and two other neighborhood boys his traditional arts after his son rejected the “old school” teaching in favor of playing Texas football. So you might say this was Shifu’s way of being passive aggressive towards his sons abandonment of their traditions. We trained every day after school and on weekends for at least two hours per session. This lasted through my first years of college. Then in 1969 Li, Long-dao wrote two letters one in Chinese and the other in English naming me his adopted son and the heir to their family system.

In truth I had no thoughts of teaching martial arts in 1969, as I was busy studying psychology and theater at Texas Tech University with plans to be an actor in film and on stage. My boyhood hobby of stage magic and escapes like Houdini became my profession after college. During the early 1970’s I went to work performing in the Dallas night club scene and also at Six Flags Over Texas as a magician and western stunt show gunfighter.

After an episode in a night club where I was able to stop a shooting incident, the intended victim a very wealthy Dallas socialite hired me as her bodyguard and this began another twist in the long and winding road of my career. It seemed as if my martial arts training kept surfacing as part of my life that I could not ignore. Word got around at Six Flags about the occurrence in Dallas and from time to time I was asked by the security department to guard celebrity guests. These included Jerry Lewis, Bill Cosby, Kenny Rogers and Helen Reddy.

In 1972 things had become difficult at Six Flags. I formed a partnership with a stunt man from Six Flags who was into Japanese Jujitsu but also learning the Li family methods from me and we opened the Kung Fu Tao Training Center in Arlington Texas, the first Chinese martial arts studio in Texas. Within the first year my partner and I had a falling out over moral issues and I bought him out taking the school over as head instructor.

Working as a bodyguard continued for a couple of years. I worked for many Dallas elite and two prominent night club owners, both Italian and well connected if you get my inference here! There were many adventures in the USA, Caribbean and Mexico that allowed me to hone my martial skills with hand, knives and guns plus developing a high level of threat awareness.

But finally after being hit in the neck with a pool cue in a waterfront bar in Pensacola, shot in the left hand in Texas, stabbed in the side in Mexico (you should see the other guys) and after the birth of my daughter my wife convinced me that while I was very good at my job protecting some rather dubious characters, taking a bullet for someone else might not be the best choice for a new father. She kept quoting the line from a Dustin Hoffman film “Little Big Man” “You better watch out Mr. Merryweather they are whittling you down, quit before you loose all of your parts.” After some consideration on losing body parts or leaving a fatherless child behind I chose to begin concentrating on teaching the Li, family system full time giving up the life of a bodyguard.

The protective work did help me come to understand the reality of street combat survival which is quite different from what goes on in the sports world or martial sparring ring, and for that knowledge I will be forever grateful. Later this same skill set stood me in good stead when in 2002 some law enforcement friends and I formed the American Rangers Martial Law Enforcement Training Institute (ARMLETI) to train the trainers for law enforcement, corrections officers and private bodyguards in combat shooting and defensive tactics.

Over my years my Gong Fu school has undergone three changes. First it was called the Kung Fu Tao Training Center where we taught traditional Chinese martial arts, Daoist yoga and Qigong along with weapons training, massage and herbal classes. This stayed open from 1972 to 1983 when we needed to move to a better location. We opened the Wholistic Fitness Center in 83 to take advantage of the new age movement which pretty much fizzled out in the South. The 1,400 foot center was state of the art with meditation rooms, library, training hall, student lounge, offices and a photographic development studio (pre-digital).

The center ran from 1983 to 1995 when we moved to our current location The Gompa Center which is the ideal setup. We have a secluded area not in a commercial building with an indoor training hall outdoor Baguazhang training garden, light body training area, Baguazhang nine post and Yin Yang Bapanzhang ten post areas plus a large Taiji deck and a bunk house for our out of town guests. We named it The Gompa, as Gompa is a Tibetan word that loosely means place of quiet study and that is exactly what it is a place for serious internal art students to learn and grow in the Li family arts.

What particularly drew you to the art of Baguazhang?

Although in later years it became my favorite internal martial art and health exercise I was not particularly drawn to Baguazhang in the beginning. As a part of my earlier health training I was given the assignment of walking in circles around a big pine tree in the back yard while practicing breathing exercises (Qigong氣 功) to help what Shifu Li called my dark mood (Qingxu情緒) a Chinese word for depression. At 13 I had been diagnosed by western doctors with what for want of a better term they called bio-chemical depression which was contributing to my immune system problems.

So after hearing this and examining my meridian pulses I was given a special diet by Shifu Li and the edict to walk around the big pine tree in a circle every day for one hour. As mentioned in a previous answer this was the dancing dragon breath energy skills (Long Wudao Qigong 龍 舞蹈 氣功). That was the beginning of my introduction to the Li family style of Baguazhang called nine dragon eight diagram palm (Jiulong Baguazhang九龍八卦 ). It was not long after starting Li family Bagua Qigong and then the martial training that I began to see a vast improvement in my health and energy levels from which I attributed to this strange practice of walking in circles.

I believe I began studying Li family combat methods of Jiulong Baguazhang in 1959. The system is unique in that there are no formalized forms to memorize. It is based on practical proven combat principles executed while walking in straight lines and then around a circle. Later the student learns to maneuver around nine circular patterns based on the Yijing magic square design. At the time we were learning these methods I am pretty sure there was nothing written in English on any Chinese martial arts and absolutely nothing on Baguazhang especially not in a small East Texas town.

Unlike some other Bagua styles in Jiulong Baguazhang each of the eight “palms” is not just a hand position but incorporates whole body attitudes of mental energy and movement related to the book of changes (Yijing易經). Palms are studied individually for their ability to express neutralization force and defensive actions including locking, throwing and striking. When each palm is understood then the eight are combined and used interchangeably. This allows them to produce hundreds of defensive and offensive combinations for every type of conceivable attack.

The reader should note that this was and is a method used by protective agents and as such is a truly martial system never meant for aesthetic or tournament display. Although there is a method of what one might call Qigong within the system it is for health and longevity not martial prowess. Within the combat methods (zhandouli Bagua) anything esoteric or mystical was discarded as being too impractical for combat applications. In later years when I became a bodyguard these methods saved my life in more than one altercation dealing with multiple opponents both unarmed and armed.


I’d like to know more about the Li family, where they came from and how Taiji came into their family.

I make no claim as to the authenticity or historical accuracy of the stories told to me as a boy by my Shifu. So if there are mistakes it is entirely due to my faulty note keeping. According to the information I was given by my Shifu Li, Long-dao the family lived in Sichuan province for many years. Mr. Li his father Li, Zhang-Lai and grandfather Li, Ren-ma had been highly respected bodyguards / wagon masters (Baobiao 保鏢) in Sichuan Province.

Here is what I was told as to the background of the family and their arts. As to Taijiquan the first incarnation created by Master Li, Ren-ma was based on the founding principles of the Taijiquan Classics as written by the creators of the art. After studying Chen and Yang styles master Li distilled their essence into a single form blending them with concepts already practiced in their family arts into a method containing nine moves. Li, Ren-ma used the following nine moves from classical Taijiquan in his form: Ward Off, Roll Back, Push, Press, Shoulder Stroke, Elbow Stroke, Slant Flying posture, Punch Below Elbow and Dragon Stamping Kick. His form was called Willow Taijiquan (Liushu Taijiquan柳樹太 ).

Master Li, Zhang-Lai introduced a different idea and became famous for his ability to use only the four pearls (Ward-off, Rollback, Press and Push) AKA grasp the birds tail, as his combat methods. These were what he called the four treasures with void standing (Wuji Zhan Zhuang無極站 樁) being the fifth treasure. He called this Five Treasures Grand Ultimate Boxing (Wu-Bao Taijiquan五寶太 極 拳). In this form there are five separate pre-form opening movements to awaken the relaxation energy (song) and prepare for whole body power movements (Zhengti-jin整體) and five core movements repeated on both left and right sides. They are Ward Off, Roll Back, Press and Push.

I learned both the willow and five treasures methods, as a boy but it was the Wu-bao Taijiquan that became my primary focus. As a judge for international Chinese martial arts competitions during the 1980’s I have been obliged to make some study of every know system of Taijiquan although I cannot say I have any deep level expertise. I also briefly studied Chen style from Chen Xiao Wang to examine the Chen method of generating pulsing force (Fa-jin發勁) and Yang style from Yang Zhenduo to understand the pushing force (An-jin按 勁) from that system. These were explorations so as to help me better understand the roots of the Li family concepts derived from both styles. For myself I have come to the conclusion that the Wu-bao Li style is all I need for health and self-defense applications.

As a student, was there anything within the internal martial arts system that posed problems for you or that you had to adapt to?

I suppose it would be the rigors of learning under the tutelage of a stern task master who brooked no back chat. With Shifu Li failure was never an option, in any form. He was a strict disciplinarian. You received few compliments for things done correctly. You heard quite a bit when things were done wrong. Ask a question once, it was answered politely, ask it again a short answer with perhaps a demonstration was given, ask a third time and you possibly would be picking yourself out of the dirt. He seemed to believe that he was preparing us for life or death survival and took the training very seriously. If you look in a Western dictionary under “Tough Love” there would or should be a photo of Li, Long-dao. Although at times he had what Tibetans call a streak of “Crazy Wisdom” in that if things got too intense he could break the tension by doing some pretty strange antics. So I would say that in dealing with him there was a bit of culture shock.

It was all new to us and very foreign even perhaps a bit exotic, but we did not question what we were learning and not so much from fear of the third question rule, but more from awe and respect for our teacher. I feel the reader should also realize that during the 1950’s there was a different mind set than what we see in young people today.

Children were taught to be seen and not heard, there were no computers, video games, cell phones or other distractions. We had books and television for entertainment in those days and these along with our parents, teachers and church instilled in us a sense of etiquette and good manners. Television shows modeled polite children, violence was not graphic.

The adventures of Superman (one of Mr. Li’s favorite shows) with George Reeves taught us about, “Truth justice and the American way!” We had heroes who righted wrongs, protected the weak and innocent, they took care those who could not help themselves. There were no anti-heroes. There was a clear sense of good and bad like Yin and Yang. That was the American or at least Texas way in those days and it fit right into the concepts of the Li family bodyguards’ adherence to martial conduct or martial virtue (Wude武德).

What do you say about Bagua (or any of the “internal styles”) in regards to it’s effectiveness in combat?

This is a difficult if not tricky question to answer. As far as Baguazhang goes in modern times in my view it has become a splintered art divided up into many incarnations. Some versions of the art have become so watered down by modern sport Wushu interpretations designed for tournament form demonstration that they are practically useless for true self defense. This is also true of Taijiquan and Xingyiquan where the demonstration versions and compulsory routines often contain wide stances and movements that biomechanically cannot generate much in the way of true whole body power or kinetic force.

Some of my friends in China tell me that when martial arts was for a short time outlawed during the reign of Chairman Mao there was such a hue and cry a sports ministry was formed to allow a watered down state approved version of martial arts to be used as artistic expressions but not true martial arts. Stances were deepened and changes were made by the then governing body to insure that these arts were aesthetically pleasing but of little real combative use. Over time it proved that many of these alterations were particularly damaging to the knees and especially to Western players as the Caucasian bone structure in the knee is a bit different from that of our Asian brothers and sisters.

Over time much of the original prowess of these arts diminished, traditional masters took to the hills to hide out others fled the country to South America, Canada, Europe and some to the USA others threw in the towel and joined up with the governing body. Over dinner one night I asked my good friend Madam Wong, Ju-rong daughter of the famous Wang, Zi-ping one of the most skilled fighters in all of China, why she was teaching the watered down Wushu methods to Americans, surely she was free to teach what she liked now that she was in the land of the free.

She looked at me for a long time, leaned across the table and whispered, “Because I still have family living in China!” So today the major players in the West of Chinese martial arts are from the contemporary Wushu group and another group only plays for health concerns while the smallest number of Chinese Gong Fu mavens concentrates on the old school methods for health and realistic fighting skills. We are few in number but I think those numbers are growing.

As to Baguazhang, Dong, Hai-Chuan the alleged originator of the art Rotating Palm (Zhuan zhang ) later to be named Eight Diagram Palm (Baguazhang八 卦 掌) was purely interested in combative methods especially during his tenure with the Emperors palace guards and later when he taught outside the walls of the palace. Although some sources say he did not teach the palace guards his Baguazhang reserving that for inner door students on this the historical jury is still out.

As far as fighting efficiency it is said that Dong would only take students who were proficient in other martial disciplines and had experience with combat methods. Each of his students would then be taught to use the palm as a main weapon along with circle walking and rapid turning methods called single and double palm changes. As his students came from different disciplines each was taught to adapt his previous fighting skills to three main concepts. The first was using palms as a main weapon instead of the fist. The second was in applying these methods while circling and turning to make the practitioner a hard target.

This was introduced in the methods called single and double palm changes and the third was in walking around facing inward on a large circle to create very adroit footwork. Even with these similarities the art took on different characteristics as some specialized in throwing (Shuaijiao摔跤) tactics while others focused on locking and holding skills (Qinna擒拿) and still others on specialized striking skill (Da-gong打功) and so on.

For this reason there are many variations or interpretations of Dong’s methods. However originally all interpretations were about realistic combat methods and they involved many levels of training that one might call cross-training today. Early Dong Baguazhang students learned the circle walking and palm changes but there were no long memorized forms. The forms were based on principles and were often a series of martial tactics linked in a certain order then re-linked in another order over and over again until the student could move freely and spontaneously. There was no such thing as a compulsory routine which is not conducive to learning free flowing self defense tactics.

There was also some light body training (Qing-gong輕功), Stone Sphere training (Da shi qiu 大石球) a type of progressive resistance exercise using stone spheres of varying weights and sizes for developing what we call core power today. More advanced level students graduated to the Nine Palace training (Jiu Gongdian九宮殿) where one walked or ran around nine posts set in the earth representing multiple opponents. There were also forms of combat drills with Baguazhang push hands exercises, application drills and eventually some sparring methods were also employed.

Although there are exceptions to everything in my view a majority of today’s modern so called internal martial arts seldom contain much more than some elaborate dance like forms to be memorized, push-hand games, mysterious often unintelligible instructions about the invisible Qi energy and through all this the students are given the erroneous impression that this is enough to defend oneself against a serious physical assault.

The old school training was far more than a long set of dance routines and some push-hands and Qi magic. These old masters were rough and tumble men who used such methods to survive life and death altercations. Today in my opinion there are less than a handful of people who have had these old school methods passed down to them from teachers who were real fighters not tournament jocks, but men who paid their dues on the streets of Beijing, Hong Kong, Canton and other cities in the golden age of Gong Fu in China.

I would like to point out also that these modern day keepers of the “old school” flame are working to preserve the spirit of these arts for future generations. It is from them that anyone who really wants to understand how to use Taijiquan, Baguazhang or Xingyiquan should study. This is because you cannot learn to swim from someone who has never been in the water! Many attempt to teach what they call self-defense with these arts with no more practical experience of real combat than push-hands games or some tournament sparring.

The gap between a controlled environment and a deadly attack on the street is a huge yawning chasm. To try and teach such methods without practical experience is teaching theory based on belief not reality. This is my view is a reckless and dangerous attitude that could possibly cost a student dearly in a real attack.



10 Questions with Master Hai Yang

Posted in 10 Questions, Baquazhang, Internal Arts, Taijiquan, Xingyiquan with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 25, 2011 by Combative Corner

Master Hai Yang is an amazing martial artist and teacher from Montreal, Quebec, Canada.  The CombativeCorner got to know of him through his videos on YouTube.  What caught our eye was his strong, fluid and explosive Xingyi forms.  Little did we know that he’s well-versed in Chen Taijiquan and Baquazhang as well!  He has been running the Center for Wudang Internal in Montreal since 2001.  To learn more about Master Yang and his school, visit his website at InternalStyle.Com.  To view is YouTube Channel, simply click on the graphic above.

What was life like when you were younger? Did you always know you were going to be a martial artist?

I was born in 1968. When I was a child life was totally different compared to now in terms of lifestyle and living conditions. I was born in the city of Tianjin (beside Beijing), which had been a hot bed for development of internal martial arts, especially for Xingyi and Bagua. So, I had much more opportunities to experience direct teachings from some famous masters. Also I had the chance to learn some styles and practices which have begun to disappear.

China was very poor back then. We did not have many choices for entertainment. There was no Internet and no big screen TV (i.e. there was TV but only 2 channels). There were a lot of movies, but mostly communist revolution related. So in Tianjin, it was very popular to practice martial arts. I still remember clearly that during the summer time in my living area (Hedong district, many famous Xing Yi master lived there), you could see martial art demonstrations on the street every night, which is like summer music festival in North America.

In my family, there is a tradition in which each generation would have one person practice these arts in order to maintain the family practice. I was the only child who was chosen by my grandparents. So, I did not have any idea of why I had to practice and what I would do with this training in the future, because all I could do was follow what they told me to do.

With time, I found out that there’s so much fun in practicing. Therefore in my 20’s, I began to have the dream of having my own martial art school.

If martial arts and teaching hadn’t been such a big part of your life what would you probably have done for a career?

In China, I have obtained two degrees at two universities; one was in engineering and the other one was in Chinese medicine. Teaching martial arts was my hobby. I began teaching when I was 18 years old, but still, it remained as a hobby. After I moved to Canada, I realized that my life would be much more interesting if I had worked as a martial arts teacher. So instead of trying to find a job in IT or Chinese medicine, I just opened my own martial art school in Montreal.

So, what would I have done if I hadn’t devoted myself to teaching martial arts as a career? I think that I’d probably focus on Chinese medicine. I still am currently practicing Chinese medicine as part of my “hobby” here. I do not think we can separate these two practices totally because they are from the same fundamental root.

What is your favorite aspect of teaching others Xingyiquan, Taijiquan & Baguazhang?

I like the straightforwardness of Xingyi, the subtlety of Taijiquan and the fluidity of Baguazhang. More importantly, I like the diversity of each style and the common characteristics of them as a whole.

When I practiced in the beginning, I was told to maintain the distinctive characters of each style and I did exactly that. Lately, I realized that it is very beneficial and helpful to combine some basic principles of these 3 styles together. This idea is very useful during teaching. So, I always tell my students what the manifestation of the other styles are in order to realize the same result through the one they are learning.

So, simply speaking, I can say that I love all of these three styles equally. It is not because that I lost myself in front of the richness of these arts, I try instead to abstract the essence from these three styles and apply them into my teaching.

As a student of the martial arts, is there an area in which you feel you excel more? (and do you give equal attention/time to each style of your martial arts training?)

As I mentioned in question 3, I love them equally.

In chronological order, I started Xingyi training first, then as a teenager, I began my Baguazhang practice. Finally, in my late teenage years, my grandfather taught me Taijiquan (Yang style first, then switched to Chen style under my uncle’s tutelage). Right now, I mainly focus on the Chen style Taijiquan practice.

What do you think is important that other teachers know about teaching the internal arts?

-I have some students who teach martial arts in different cities and countries. I always feel very happy to share my experience and I would like to learn from their teaching experience as well. There are many important aspects to martial art teachers. I would like to talk about this based on my own experience.

-Learn how to teach. Teaching is an art. Some teachers are good at combat or demonstration, but they lack teaching experience. Teaching is not for showing how good he/she is, but also, the teacher should be able to make the learner master the content, which they are teaching. Sometimes, transferring knowledge is more difficult than gaining the knowledge alone.

-Combine physical practice and theoretical study together. Some teachers focus greatly on physical practice, but they do not put enough attention on the theory, the concepts and the principles. Teaching martial art involves physics, philosophy, psychology, history, culture, medical knowledge, strategy and so on.

-Focus on details. I always tell my students: there are only two type of teaching in the martial art field. One is good teaching and the other one is bad teaching. The difference between them lies on the depth of understanding the details of each movement. Our ancestors created these arts with detailed thinking, researching and testing. Focusing on details of each movements will help us to be able to follow their path of practice.

-Be open to other styles and arts. Any style’s existence offers an opportunity for us to learn from. Martial art teachers should not be restricted by their own style. Concentrating on our own style does not prohibit the martial artist from borrowing useful principles from other styles. Most of my students have a certain training background. I found that most of the time their former training experience can be helpful in learning internal styles.

How important is spirituality or meditation in martial arts you practice?

Theoretically, martial art practice should combine spirituality and meditation.
Technically, practitioner should know how to differentiate these practices to each other.

They are related to each other, but one cannot replace one for the other one.

Who in your life has had the most impact on your development as a martial artist/teacher and why?

I have the fortune to study from many prominent masters. Among them, I think my grandfather gave me the most impact on my development as a martial artist. He taught me not only the form, routine, application, but also he helped me understand how important and beneficial it is to practice these arts.

I had experienced some very hard times in my life, and my practice helped me overcome these difficult periods.

So, I appreciate him greatly from the bottom of my heart.

When a beginning student comes to your school, what is the most important thing for them to concentrate on?

Mastery of basic practice of the style.
Then, understanding the basic idea of timing, angle, speed, concentration and related topics.
Adapt a healthy life style and apply training concept in real life.

Teaching and martial arts aside, how does Master Hai Yang have fun?

I love painting, calligraphy, Beijing Opera, Chinese Poetry and technology.

All of them are related to martial arts if we talk about it from a broad level..

This month’s discussion is on goal-setting. Seeing as though it’s the New Year, do you find it important to make goals for yourself? What kind of changes or aspirations do you have for this year and/or years to come?

I totally understand that without a proper goal, we will lose our target in life.

I setup my personal goals at every New Year’s season. It has been my personal “tradition” for years.

In the Year of Rabbit, I have two goals. One of them is to polish my Taijiquan teaching, in order to help more and more students go master this style in a systematic way. The other goal will be more interesting. I will try to combine modern technology with traditional Kungfu training together, in order to more efficiently promote what I have learned.


10 Questions with Frank Allen

Posted in 10 Questions, Baquazhang, Taijiquan, Xingyiquan with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 9, 2010 by Combative Corner

The Combative Corner had the great privilege to interview the legendary bagua, xingyi, and taijiquan teacher, Mr. Frank Allen.  Allen “Laoshi” has practiced the internal energy arts since 1973 and is the founder of The Wu Tang Physical Culture Association of New York City (with a brother branch in Frankfurt, Germany).  Along with his partner, Tina Chunna Zhang, Frank Allen is the co-author of two great books, “Classical Northern Wu Style Tai Ji Quan: The Fighting Art of the Manchurian Palace Guard” and “The Whirling Circles of Ba Gua Zhang: The Art and Legends of Eight Trigram Palm.” Mr. Frank Allen teaches workshops throughout the United States, Europe and holds regular classes in New York City. [Click the above picture of Mr. Allen to visit his homepage]


You’ve been a student of the internal arts for over 30 years.  What experience/emotion/etc pulled you to study the internal martial arts rather than the external?

When I began studying martial arts in the early 70’s, my first teachers, Jan “The Iron Man” Lang and “Irish” Jimmy O’Mara were East Village fighting legends and instructors of Chinese Internal martial Arts … I was properly impressed … Then I met B. K. Frantzis in 1975 and at that time his fighting skills were phenomenal… and … there was also the arrival in New York City of Master B. P. Chan, the first person here to teach Ba Gua & Xing Yi to non-Chinese … The example of these four men led me into studying the Chinese Internal Martial Arts as a complete system of fighting, health improvement and meditation.

Many martial artists talk about becoming a master of only one style.  You, however, have deeply studied Bagua, Xingyi, Taijqiuan, Qigong, Western Boxing and Wu Style? What is your take on learning a particular system or systems?

The constant thread through everything I teach and practice is the Internal Principles which join the arts of Ba Gua, Tai Ji and Xing Yi and are applied to everything I study and teach.

How frequently do you train (outside of teaching) and how strongly is meditation/qigong a part of your training?

I train daily, but with varying amounts of training time depending on the day. Personally I run the principles of Qi Gong through my forms practice, augmenting this with a few Qi Gong exercises. I have periods where I meditate daily and periods when I don’t.

Do you (your school) place much emphasis on the martial aspects of each art form? (or does it vary on the class/participant)

I try to ALWAYS teach the martial aspects of everything in our martial arts classes. Obviously this doesn’t apply to Qi Gong and Meditations sessions.

I understand that you take annual trips to China to continue your training.  Do you feel that you get a deeper understanding of the martial art by being in China? And/Or do you feel the quality of teaching/information is better there?

My partner Tina Zhang leads annual training trips to Beijing as she is from there. I’m extremely pleased to get to study with Cheng Style Ba Gua Grandmaster Liu Jing Ru (who Tina and I are formal disciples of) and Grandmaster Li Bing Ci of Northern Wu Style Tai Ji Quan. These men are the absolute top of their fields and training with them is a major opportunity and a complete joy.

As someone who is quite recognizable for his long hair, beard and tattoos,… where you ever discriminated against in martial art circles?

I have never been discriminated against in any martial arts circles … when I started my look was fairly common in those environments.

Now that you’re in your 60’s, I understand that you are taking on disciples? Did you never take on disciples before your 60th or are you following a martial art tradition of teaching?

I am following the Chinese martial arts tradition that says that no one is actually a master until they have passed their 60th birthday … and are a formal disciple of a Grandmaster whose teachings they are obligated to pass on to their own disciples…. therefore I began accepting disciples at the age of 61 and a couple years after becoming a formal disciple of Grandmaster Liu Jing Ru.

In many of your pictures, I see you have lots of fun sparring with boxing gloves.  Is this just to practice your love of western boxing or do you implement your various styles into each session?

I DO love western boxing… but I teach boxing in my Fighting for Health classes With all the Internal Principles inserted into Boxing … as well as kickboxing.

A century from now, when we remember Mr. Frank Allen, what would be the main thing you’d like people to remember about you?

A century from now I would like people to remember Frank Allen as a competent teacher who lead many students into a study of the Chinese Internal Martial Arts.

Any future hopes or aspirations…  Any dreams that remain unfulfilled for Mr. Frank Allen?

All of my hopes and dreams are in place and working and I simply hope for more of the same.



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