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At the beginning of this century, some styles of martial arts became really famous and
popular in China. At that time, the six most famous styles, called liu da men (six big gates), in
the north of China were Taiji, Bagua, Xingyi, Shaolin, Jiaomen Tantui (Muslin Style Spring
Leg), and Tongbei.
The full name of the original Tongbei Quan is Baiyuan Tongbei Quan. Baiyuan means white
ape. There is a famous story about the white ape. According to the story, in the Spring and
Autumn time (500 BC), there was a famous martial artist named Yuan Gong. He was old with
white hair and white beard and always wore white clothes. One day he challenged another
master but lost the fight. Then he became a white ape and ran away to the forest. So people
also call him Baiyuan Laoren (Laoren means old man). Many people believed he was an
immortal ape and always taught his skill in secret. He was respected in Chinese martial arts
society. Tong means unobstructed, open, pass through, joined up, or connect something
together; bei means arms or back. Tongbei means both arms and back connect together so
that the arm can be longer, internal force can be passed through smoothly, and qi can be
developed to the hands. One kind of ape in China is called Tongbei Yuan which has very
long arms (much longer than normal apes).
The Statue of Master
Chen Tuan in Huasan
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In China, there are many of animal imitation martial arts styles like eagle, monkey, tiger etc.
Most of them imitate some animal's movements and spirit. Tongbei Quan can be considered
animal imitation style sometimes; but it is very different from the others. In Tongbei Quan,
people do not imitate ape's movements but rather imitate its mind. It is called "study inside
idea but not the outside movements". So for this reason, many people, especially within the
Tongbei group, disagree strongly with the idea that Tongbei is an animal imitation
style.Nobody really knows who was the founder and when this style was invented. The
earliest record of Tongbei in the ancient book was a thousand years ago. In this record, it is
mentioned that in the Song Dynasty General Han Tong knew Tongbei Quan. The other record
from four hundreds years ago states "Youshen's Tongbei skill is the best". These records
only prove that there is a long history of Tongbei. Usually most Tongbei groups just respect a
man named Bei Shikou (the other name is Yisan, the Taoist name was Dong Lingzi, and the
nickname is Beiyuan (white ape) Laoren (old man)) as the inventor of the style. The story
states that he lived about 2500 years ago. There is another version of Tongbei history where
the lineage is clear and there is a list of the names of all the famous masters in each
generation. It is said the original founder of this style was Chen Tuan (his Taoist name was
Fuyaozi). Chen (? - 989) was a Taoist master who lived in the Song Dynasty. He was a famous
scholar. He did a great job with his study of Taoism and developed many new concepts. The
famous Taiji logo was drawn by him. People believe when he practiced his Taoism in
Huashan Mountain, he invented Tongbei and Shuigong Fa, a qigong method.
Black Hammer Fist
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Although it is said Tongbei Quan was practiced from a thousand years ago, it was not
popular nor famous until Master Lu Yunqing, who was also a Taoist master, taught this skill
in the early nineteenth century. Master Lu had two famous disciples; one was Qi Xin and the
other was Shi Hongsheng. Later these two masters developed their own styles. From them
Tongbei became more popular and famous. People call their styles Qi style Tongbei and Shi
style Tongbei. Later some branches were developed from them. Today the basic training in
Qi style is one hundred and eight individual techniques. Sometimes it is called Chai Quan -
take apart skill. The basic training in Shi style is twenty-four postures, sometimes it is called
Lian Quan - synthesized form.
Application of Black hammer Fist
Within the Tongbei group, people always follow traditional ideas. Even outside people always
criticize this group as too conservative. Tongbei masters usually do not teach in public
much. Because of conservatism, it is very difficult to join the group to study this skill. Every
master closed the door and taught inside of the room secretly. Even though most disciples
learned a long time, their masters never show them really high level skills. The masters
always thought that the high level skills can just be passed to really good people who must
have a good personality and morals, smart enough to understand principle, and diligent in
practice. So all this limited the group from growing widely but developed this skill deeply and
kept their good reputation, especially in real fighting. From 1910s, some Qi style masters
started to teach Tongbei in public martial arts school. Then very soon Qi style became much
more popular than Shi style. Today maybe more than ninety percent Tongbei practitioners
are in Qi style or its branches. But even when they taught in public, the masters still withheld
some skills. Most masters only taught high level skills to some disciples in their private
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As Qi style became more popular some forms were created for teaching purposes.
Compared to Qi style, Shi style group still kept the old way. So people usually call it Hei
Quan - Black Fist, which means they are too mean in fighting and their skills are too fierce
so that they practice in the dark place and other people can not see what they do. Today
outside people still do not know this style clearly. Shi style masters even do not like to offer
general information, like lineage lists, to martial arts scholars.
Center Punch
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Since the basic philosophy idea of Tongbei is Taoism, and a lot of practice methods in
Tongbei are similar or close to internal styles some people think it belongs to the internal
style, or at least it is a combination of internal and external styles.
In traditional Tongbei training, several parts are included; they are basic gongfu training,
basic skills training, two person set training, two person free skills training, weapons
training, and qigong training.
Tongbei Quan is one of the most famous martial art styles in north China. The reputation of
its fighting skills is really great. Quick, hard, and skillful are its features. In YCGFA-NAH we
teach Shi Style White Ape Tongbei Quan. Master Li Shusen was a well-known Tongbei
master in Beijing. His nickname was Iron Arm Li. He and our master Master Luo Shuhuan
were very close friends. Thus some of Luo's disciples were sent to Li's home to learn
Tongbei and later became his disciples. Li was Grandmaster Li Zhendong's disciple.
Grandmaster Li taught in the army and won his reputation as Quick Hand Black Li. He was
the disciple of the most famous Tongbei master Zhang Wencheng. Zhang was Shi
Hongsheng's disciple.
Application of Center Punch
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Grand Master Wang Peisheng studied Ruyi Tongbei with Master Liang Zunbo. Ruyi Tongbei
is a variation of Shi Style. Besides receiving training from Master Li, we also received
training from Grand Master Wang, especially in principles.
The main trainings include:
Six Prime Skills
Eight Older Fists
Twelve Linking Fists
Twelve Cannon Fists
Twenty-four Posture Form
Thirty-six Take Apart Fist
Quick Hand Black Li -
Li Zhendong
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International Baiyuan Tongbei Quan Association
Iron Arm - Li Shusen
Yin Cheng Gong Fa Association North American Headquarters
Copyright © 2000 YCGF_NAH. All rights reserved.