BAGUA PALMING & QINNA PHOTOS
by Chen Weiming
[published by the 致柔拳社 Achieving Softness Boxing Society, April, 1937]
[translation by Paul Brennan, June, 2020]
Portrait of Sun Lutang
When I was young, I was enamored with boxing arts. I went to Beijing, where I met Sun Lutang, who taught me Xingyi Boxing. My body was weak and feeble, and so I could not do it justice. Xingyi is a boxing art of extreme hardness. Sun’s students were all robust northerners. Whenever they practiced the art, their shouts shook the walls. After just a month or two, the floor tiles were all broken. I sighed with inadequacy as though gazing upon the ocean. Although I was infatuated with boxing skills, I did not have any natural ability and feared it would be a hopeless endeavor. Then I watched Sun swirling around the practice space, constantly transforming in a way that was wondrous beyond words. I was overjoyed and asked him to teach me what he was doing.
He said that this is Bagua Palming. During the reigns of Emperor Xianfeng [1850–1861] and Emperor Tongzhi [1861–1875], a man named Dong Haichuan, a master of the Shaolin arts, traveled everywhere, and while wandering through the mountains of Anhui met an unusual monk who taught him his art. This art changes passive into active and converts shape into shadow, transforming unpredictably. All who challenged Dong found that their eyes were dazzled, their minds were disoriented, and their hands and feet did not know where to go. Hence Dong Haichuan’s boxing skills were known as being invincible.
Dong taught the art to Cheng Tinghua, Ma Weiqi, and Yin Fu. Sun Lutang then learned it from Cheng Tinghua. I learned from Sun for about ten years, training from dawn to dusk. He never tired of discussing the “seventy-two qinna [‘grab & seize’] methods” and the “seventy-two hidden kicks”, but he also said: “Of all the techniques I talk about in this art, the layman comprehends very few of them.” He did not keep any secrets when teaching me, but unfortunately I was just too untalented and so I was not able to grasp even one percent of his knowledge.
In 1932, I was invited to Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou, where Liang Jinyu, who was learning from me, strongly requested to take photographs of Bagua Palming and of the qinna techniques in order to show the material to students. There were altogether more than seventy photos made. Yun Zunyuan, another of my Achieving Softness Boxing Society students, then suggested that I publish these photos and also that I add a few words of introduction. For students who want to obtain the methods of Bagua Palming, there is already Sun Lutang’s A Study of Bagua Boxing , which explains the art in detail. My photos are merely for the sake of reference.
- written by Chen Weiming at the Lake & Clouds Pavilion at Mt. Mogan [in Zhejiang], 13th year of the cycle, autumn, 7th month [i.e. Aug/Sep, 1936]
In my spare time away from attending school, I loved to study boxing arts. I started by practicing Shaolin Boxing and achieved some slight understanding. In 1932, Chen Weiming of Qishui [in Hubei] came to Guangdong. I went to learn from him and he taught me Taiji Boxing, Bagua Boxing, and the sword art. Chen has a deep sense of morality and is skilled in literary matters, as well as being an expert at the three boxing arts of Taiji, Bagua, and Xingyi. This means that he is unusually qualified to explain boxing principles.
Before Chen went back to Shanghai, I asked him if I could take photos of his Taiji Boxing and Bagua Boxing postures so that I could have a constant model to imitate. In the autumn of 1933, I then went to Shanghai to study from him, seeking to pursue more advanced studies. Receiving attentive instruction from such a tireless teacher inspired me to work hard, never taking a break even during the hottest days of summer or coldest days of winter, and several years flew by as if no time had passed at all.
Chen had previously written The Art of Taiji Boxing , which has long since been popular throughout the nation. My fellow student Yun Zunyuan convinced Chen to now publish these photos, among them more than a dozen photos of Bagua qinna methods, which are especially precious because they are techniques that are rarely seen. These are skills which Chen learned personally from his teacher Sun Lutang. But Sun has since passed on, and so if we wish to examine the standard that he set and obtain the marvels of Bagua Boxing, we have to seek for it in books. Chen has made this record of the general outline of the art, which is now about to be published.
Some feel that in this era of modern scientific warfare, our boxing arts are of no use, but they do not understand the role of these arts as physical exercise. Strengthening the body is the basis of strengthening the nation. When everyone can defend themselves, they will then be able to defend the nation. The basic reason for this book is to get our compatriots to exercise in order for us to cast off the humiliation of being the “sick nation of Asia”. And thus I write this preface.
- sincerely written by your student Liang Jinyu of Taishan [in Guangdong] at the Gazing South Pavilion in Shanghai, 13th year of the cycle, autumn month [i.e. Sep/Oct, 1936]
When I was young, I loved listening to my elders telling stories about martial heroes and wanted to be one. When I grew up, I went to college, where we did military calisthenics, but this was little more than exercise. I subsequently went into business and traveled to Beijing and Tianjin, where I ended up spending all my time bent over some desk examining account books. I gradually began to feel a swelling and stiffening in my chest and my vigor dissipated further each day into fatigue. All treatments for this were ineffective.
My friends sometimes commented that “this is an illness which no medicine can cure” and that the only thing for it would be to practice Taiji Boxing. They said it builds up the body and boosts the circulation, and with accumulated practice I would be cured automatically. I deeply respected their advice and tried learning from several teachers, but I could only train from time to time because I was bogged down in everyday affairs, making my practice sporadic and inconsistent, and so I was unable to get any benefit from it. Then in 1928, business took me to Shanghai, where I heard that Chen Weiming had established the Achieving Softness Boxing Society. The school was overflowing with students, reawakening my past aspirations. I eagerly joined and sought instruction.
Chen was a student of both Yang Chengfu of Guangping County and Sun Lutang of Wan County [both counties in Hebei]. Yang was a master of Taiji Boxing. Sun had mastered Xingyi, Bagua, and Taiji. The boxing skill of both of these men was at the highest level and they had quickly become hailed as masters. Chen’s moral character exhibited in his writings had already long made him highly esteemed in literary circles, but he has also devoted himself to boxing arts for decades, having personally learned the authentic teachings of Yang and Sun. He has a thorough understanding of Taiji, Bagua, and Xingyi, a profound depth of knowledge in these three arts.
For several years, I have followed his systematic guidance, learning these arts obsessively. Even in times of oppressive heat or bitter cold, I have never interrupted my training for anything, nor have I found all the advancing, retreating, and striking to be a hardship. My illness has completely vanished and my spirit is boundless. The benefits I have obtained are by no means meager. After giving constant thought to how we deal with things in life, it seems to me that if we want to achieve anything, we have to have strong bodies and abundant energy in order to be up to the task.
Chen is a scholar who is also skilled at martial arts, so great is the depth of his achievement. Inwardly full of power but outwardly displaying calm, his behavior and bearing are like the archetypal “valiant martial man” [Book of Poetry, poem 7], his manner without equal. He enlightens the new generation through both verbal instruction and personal demonstration, presenting everything methodically. This is why students so willingly accept his instruction and so greatly admire the standard he sets.
Chen has written books on Taiji Boxing and Taiji Sword, which for a long time now have been popular throughout the nation. In recent years, he was in Guangdong at the invitation of Liang Jinyu. While there, photos were taken of him performing Bagua Palming and qinna techniques, in order to demonstrate these things for students. There were more than seventy photos made, but they remained unpublished. Since this material has not been widely spread, Liang and I have encouraged Chen to publish the photos as a supplement to reading Sun’s A Study of Bagua Boxing or as an inspiration to start reading it.
This purpose of this book is firstly to preserve a model of how previous generations performed these skills, secondly to supply new generations of students with a key to gaining access to the art, and also to establish a means of physical health that will bring great benefit indeed. Once this book was prepared, Chen told me I should write a preface to it. Accepting this task solemnly, I have here given a brief account of the genesis of this project.
- sincerely written by your student Yun Zunyuan of Poyang County [in Jiangxi], 13th year of the cycle, autumn, winter month [i.e. Dec, 1936 / Jan, 1937]
PHOTOS OF BAGUA PALMING
[Although Chen provides names for these movements, he does not supply us with explanations for how to perform them, and so what he has passed down to us here is primarily a photographic record.]
Photo 1 – RIGHT SINGLE PALM CHANGE (Part 1):
Photo 2 – RIGHT SINGLE PALM CHANGE (Part 2):
Photo 3 – RIGHT SINGLE PALM CHANGE (Part 3):
Photo 4 – RIGHT SINGLE PALM CHANGE (Part 4):
Photo 5 – RIGHT SINGLE PALM CHANGE (Part 5):
Photo 6 – RIGHT SINGLE PALM CHANGE (Part 6):
Photo 7 – LEFT SINGLE PALM CHANGE (Part 1):
Photo 8 – LEFT SINGLE PALM CHANGE (Part 2):
Photo 9 – LEFT SINGLE PALM CHANGE (Part 3):
Photo 10 – LEFT SINGLE PALM CHANGE (Part 4):
Photo 11 – LEFT SINGLE PALM CHANGE (Part 5):
第十二圖 左單換掌六 變為右單換掌如第一圖
Photo 12 – LEFT SINGLE PALM CHANGE (Part 6) (from which you can switch back to RIGHT SINGLE PALM CHANGE as in photo 1):
Photo 13 – RIGHT LION PALM:
Photo 14 – LEFT LION PALM:
Photo 15 – RIGHT TURNING-BODY PALM (Part 1):
Photo 16 – RIGHT TURNING-BODY PALM (Part 2):
Photo 17 – RIGHT TURNING-BODY PALM (Part 3):
Photo 18 – RIGHT TURNING-BODY PALM (Part 4):
Photo 19 – LEFT TURNING-BODY PALM (Part 1):
Photo 20 – LEFT TURNING-BODY PALM (Part 2):
Photo 21 – LEFT TURNING-BODY PALM (Part 3):
Photo 22 – LEFT TURNING-BODY PALM (Part 4):
Photo 23 – RIGHT SMOOTH-POSTURE PALM (Part 1):
Photo 24 – RIGHT SMOOTH-POSTURE PALM (Part 2):
Photo 25 – RIGHT SMOOTH-POSTURE PALM (Part 3):
Photo 26 – RIGHT SMOOTH-POSTURE PALM (Part 4):
Photo 27 – LEFT SMOOTH-POSTURE PALM (Part 1):
Photo 28 – LEFT SMOOTH-POSTURE PALM (Part 2):
Photo 29 – LEFT SMOOTH-POSTURE PALM (Part 3):
Photo 30 – LEFT SMOOTH-POSTURE PALM (Part 4):
Photo 31 – RIGHT DOUBLE PALM CHANGE (Part 1):
RIGHT DOUBLE PALM CHANGE parts 2–4 are the same as RIGHT SMOOTH-POSTURE PALM parts 2–4:
Photo 32 – LEFT DOUBLE PALM CHANGE (Part 1):
LEFT DOUBLE PALM CHANGE parts 2–4 are the same as LEFT SMOOTH-POSTURE PALM parts 2–4:
Photo 33 – RIGHT BEHIND-THE-BODY PALM (Part 1):
Photo 34 – RIGHT BEHIND-THE-BODY PALM (Part 2):
Photo 35 – LEFT BEHIND-THE-BODY PALM (Part 1):
Photo 36 – LEFT BEHIND-THE-BODY PALM (Part 2):
Photo 37 – RIGHT LEVEL PROPPING PALMS:
Photo 38 – LEFT LEVEL PROPPING PALMS:
Photo 39 – RIGHT LYING PALM (Part 1):
Photo 40 – RIGHT LYING PALM (Part 2):
Photo 41 – LEFT LYING PALM (Part 1):
Photo 42 – LEFT LYING PALM (Part 2):
Photo 43 – RIGHT PINWHEEL PALMS (Part 1):
Photo 44 – RIGHT PINWHEEL PALMS (Part 2):
Photo 45 – RIGHT PINWHEEL PALMS (Part 3):
Photo 46 – RIGHT PINWHEEL PALMS (Part 4):
Photo 47 – RIGHT PINWHEEL PALMS (Part 5):
Photo 48 – RIGHT PINWHEEL PALMS (Part 6):
Photo 49 – LEFT PINWHEEL PALMS (Part 1):
Photo 50 – LEFT PINWHEEL PALMS (Part 2):
Photo 51 – LEFT PINWHEEL PALMS (Part 3):
Photo 52 – LEFT PINWHEEL PALMS (Part 4):
Photo 53 – LEFT PINWHEEL PALMS (Part 5):
Photo 54 – LEFT PINWHEEL PALMS (Part 6):
Photo 55 – LEFT PINWHEEL PALMS (Part 7):
Photo 56 – RIGHT HOLDING PALMS:
Photo 57 – LEFT HOLDING PALMS:
PHOTOS OF QINNA TECHNIQUES
[Unfortunately there is again no explanation given for these techniques, nor even any names for each technique, making their connection to the postures of the solo practice less clear, and thus Chen has again left us only with a unique photographic record. This publication therefore has a diminished practical use, but nevertheless remains of historical value.]
Photo 58 – Qinna technique 1:
Photo 59 – Qinna technique 2:
Photo 60 – Qinna technique 3:
Photo 61 – Qinna technique 4:
Photo 62 – Qinna technique 5:
Photo 63 – Qinna technique 6:
Photo 64 – Qinna technique 7:
Photo 65 – Qinna technique 8:
Photo 66 – Qinna technique 9:
Photo 67 – Qinna technique 10:
Photo 68 – Qinna technique 11:
Photo 69 – Qinna technique 12:
Photo 70 – Qinna technique 13 [repeat of photo 58, indicating that a photo may have been accidentally left out]:
Photo 71 – Qinna technique 14:
Photo 72 – Qinna technique 15:
Photo 73 – Qinna technique 16:
– – –
[As a bonus to the very sparse text of this publication, below are a couple of contributions Chen made to magazines.]
A BIO OF SUN LUTANG
by Chen Weiming
[published within 國術統一月刊 Martial Arts United Monthly Magazine, Issue #2, 1934]
Sun Lutang, called Fuquan, was from Wan County, Hebei. In his youth, he was schooled by Li Kuiyuan, who also taught him Xingyi Boxing. He was then told that he should also learn from Li’s own teacher Guo Yunshen. Guo would trot along on horseback while Sun ran behind, holding the horse’s tail, and in this way they covered many miles each day. Sun then went to Beijing and also learned Bagua Boxing from Cheng Tinghua, and later met Hao Weizhen, from whom he learned Taiji. Having mastered all three of these arts, he was thus able to merge them into a single understanding. As for external styles of boxing and weapons, he knew many of those as well. He seemed to have an inborn talent for martial arts.
Xu Shichang, who governed Fengtian [now Shenyang, in Liaoning], sought to give position to Sun for protecting a county magistrate. Sun was later made an army field officer by declaration from the presidential palace. When the Nanjing Martial Arts Institute was established, he was appointed as head of the Wudang department. This made many people jealous, and so he resigned from this position so as not to upset anybody. He was later appointed as vice-director and academic dean of the Jiangsu Martial Arts Institute. Beyond his many achievements as a talented martial artist, he also had a thorough understanding of the theory within the Book of Changes, as well as astronomy, mathematics, divination, and Daoist cultivation arts.
He never lost a fight, but because he had a strong moral code, he never bragged about winning. He was curious about everything, was never tired in his old age, and had a range of knowledge that even his closest colleagues were hardly aware of. His relationship to martial arts was one of sincere devotion and purity of skill, achieving a spiritual level, responding to situations without any predictable pattern. He never showed off in public, and thus very few got to know the true depth of his skill.
Wan County once experienced a bad drought. So much sympathy did he have for the people of his native place that he donated half his money to their relief. Because he gave money to the farmers without seeking to gain anything in return, everyone was moved by his charitable actions.
He served as the vice-director of the Jiangsu Martial Arts Institute for three years. When the Japanese invaded [Manchuria in 1931], he returned to Beijing. Then in the 9th month of the 9th year of the cycle [i.e. Oct, 1932], he suddenly wanted to return to his hometown. Family members could not convince him to stay, and so they all returned with him. Every day, he ceaselessly wrote and practiced, but he ate nothing for three weeks, having foretold the day of his death. As he approached death, he had a vision of the Buddha leading him away. He told his family members to chant the name of the Buddha and not to weep. He passed away sitting up, saying: “Life and death – just a game.” Having prepared for his death to this extent, it seems like he really must have known when he was going to die.
His son Cunzhou is now in charge of passing on his teachings. Sun’s writings include A Study of Xingyi Boxing , A Study of Bagua Boxing , A Study of Taiji Boxing , A Study of Bagua Sword , and Authentic Explanations of Martial Arts Concepts , all of which have been shared with the world. I have followed his teachings for more than twenty years and know something of his life, and thus I sincerely present this brief bio of him.
A TOAST TO SUN LUTANG’S SIXTY YEARS
by Chen Weiming
[published in 國術聲 Martial Arts Voices, Vol. 3, Issue #4, June 20, 1935 (though clearly written in 1920 and thus possibly published earlier in some other form)]
I traveled to Beijing and met Sun Lutang of Wan County, who taught me internal boxing arts. He seemed to me to be like a fabled knight-errant. Having been in his presence for a long time now, I have come to know both the nobility of his character and the depth of his knowledge of Daoism, which was beyond the level of most scholars. He also had a thorough grasp of divination and mathematics, being an expert in the Book of Changes. He has authored the books A Study of Xingyi Boxing , A Study of Bagua Boxing , and A Study of Taiji Boxing .
The gist of his art is to make use of acquired tendencies to restore our inherent nature, to return from a habit of doing to a state of non-doing, to break down hardness into softness, to twist straightness into curves, to become inwardly vigorous and yet be outwardly compliant, to possess both lofty theory and earthy practicality. In this way, we will be able to empty our minds instead of being overfilled with stubborn beliefs, to adapt to circumstances instead of getting stuck in predictable patterns, to respond according to a situation as the means to gaining control over it, and to always act at the right moment.
He once said: “It is a universal principle that ‘things take different routes but return to the same place, people having countless strategies but the same goal’ [quoting from the commentary section to the Book of Changes]. The great Way is indefinable and yet it neglects nothing. Look closely and you can perceive its subtleties, from a neutral state able to observe its connection to everything. Being full of spirit, ‘all things are a part of us’ [Mengzi, chapter 7a]. A man who does not feel connected to it is surely distracted by his own obsessions.”
When I had heard of his extraordinary abilities, I decided I had to meet this man. It is often the case that those with skills cannot communicate how to achieve them, while those who are good at talking about their art often do not have the skills to back up what they say, but he can do both. Sun’s words filled me with delight. I have no sense of the size of the universe nor the true scale of the world, but he equips me with the open-mindedness to learn unfettered by preconceptions or personal opinions, and as result I am better able to serve both the greater good and my own needs without any clashing between the two.
Many learn skills in order to obtain a lucrative position. Sun thinks little of material gain and instead delights in the Way, and ever more so through the years. He has a consummate skill but never shows off, and thus very few have gotten to know the true depth of his skill. He looks thin but very healthy, amiable but very scholarly. Even when sitting among a crowd, he is quiet and reserved in speech. However, once the subject turns to Daoist arts, he becomes excited, talks more freely, and suddenly starts demonstrating, performing remarkable transformations endlessly and tirelessly.
I went Beijing to meet him, foregoing even my meals to do so, for nothing could keep me away. So moved was I by his ideas that I had to catch at least a glimpse of his methods. This year, the 57th year of the cycle, on the 15th day of the winter month [i.e. Dec 24, 1920] is Sun’s sixtieth birthday. My words are not intended as a form of birthday congratulations, only to outline his virtuous deeds and to wish him many more years to come.
Sun understands what the great Way entails, how the passive and active aspects work, how to transform between the anticipated and unexpected, and how to succeed at life. Principles dwell within his mind, but his experience is revealed through his body. Because he stores up energy within, he outwardly expresses spirit. As Mengzi said [Mengzi, chapter 2a]: “If you nurture it consistently and never waste it, your energy will fill the whole universe.” Sun works hard and never gives up, and so there could never be an end to his longevity.