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The origins of Liuhe Bafa (Liuhebafa (Pinyin spelling); Lok Hop Pa Fa (in Cantonese)), often referred to as Water Boxing (Shuei Quan) or Water Style (Shuei Shi), are credited to a Daoist sage named Chen Po, also known as Chen Tuan (878-989), who was associated with the Hua Shan Daoist Monastery on Mount Hua in the Shanxi province of China.
Liuhe Bafa literally translates as “Six Harmonies and Eight Methods.” It is a unique Internal Chinese Martial Art system whose roots date back to the Song Dynasty (960-1279). The chief proponent of the style was the late Wu Yihui (1887-1961) who taught it widely in Nanjin before World War II. The late Master Tao Ping-Shiang (my teacher in the art) learned the style directly from Wu Yihui in the late 1930’s.
It is said that Wu Yihui learned the art from three teachers: Yan Guoxing, Chen Guandi, and Chen Helu, and synthesized the essence and variations adding Daoyin and Qi Gong exercises to the art. In 1936 he was invited to preside over the Nanjing Central National Martial Arts Institute (Nanjing Choong Yang Guoshu Guan), where he taught Liuhe Bafa to a great multitude, including many established masters.
Wang Xiangzhai, (the famed Xing Yi student of Guo Yunshen, nicknamed Divine Crushing Fist), had achieved quite a reputation and was issuing challenges throughout China, never tasting defeat. When he met Wu Yihui and saw his skill he stated, “In China I have met only two and a half people who possess any real skill and Wu Yihui is one of these.” Such praise from the no-nonsense Wang Xiangzhai spoke volumes for Wu’s martial skill and ability. Wu Yihui died on March 29, 1961 in Shanghai at the age of 73.
Liuhe Bafa movements, while generally slow, are performed differently from Taiji (Tai Chi) movements. At times the movements are very slow and at other times slightly faster. The postures rise and fall and the demeanor of the practitioner changes with the movements. Like a running stream that is sometimes calm, meandering around rocks and eddies, only to rush forward and then slow down again, or a calm lake that is suddenly stirred by the wind, or the action of a wave as it rises and falls, so too are the movements of this form. It is likely that the analogies to water led to the popular name of Water Boxing. Even more subtle are the energy changes that occur in accordance with the changing movements.
Many modern exponents claim that Liuhe Bafa contains elements of the other three internal arts; namely, the neutralizing and redirecting aspects of Taiji, the forwardness of Xing Yi and subtle turning power of Bagua. While an argument can be made that some of these elements are contained within the system, I feel that Liuhe Bafa is unique and distinctive from the other three.
Liuhe Bafa training is guided by profound principles and theories that incorporate both internal and external concepts; these are characterized in the following formulas:
The Liuhe (Six Harmonies) aspect of the art focuses on the internal harmonization.
- The Body harmonizes with the Mind (Heart/Mind is more appropriate)
- The Mind harmonizes with the Yi (Intent or Will)
- The Yi harmonizes with the Qi (Vital Energy)
- The Qi harmonizes with the Shen (Spirit)
- The Shen harmonizes with Movement
- The Movement harmonizes with Wuji (Emptiness)
The Bafa (Eight Methods) deals with the practical applications:
- Qi (Vital Energy) – Move the Qi to concentrate the Shen (Spirit)
- Gu (Bone) – Draw strength into the bones
- Xing (Form) – Imitate the animal forms
- Sui (Follow) – Follow and adapt to the opponent’s movement
- Ti (Lift) – Lift the crown of the head towards the sky
- Huan (Return) – Shift and return back and forth
- Le (Suspend) – Wait in suspended stillness for the void
- Fu (Conceal) – Conceal your intention and look for an opening
Liuhe Bafa core training consists of Daoyin and Qi Gong methods (special internal, breathing, and meditation practices), the core of the art, the 66 Posture routine (this form numbers more than 530 distinctive movements), and its practical applications. Liuhe Bafa is wonderful to practice and beautiful to watch. It has profound benefits both as a means of maintaining and improving our health and as a superior form of martial art for self-defense.
The form is further divided into two sections, usually referred to as the upper and lower sections.
The upper section consists of 31 postures and is normally performed at a slow tempo. The lower section consists of 35 postures and is usually performed with a more distinctive tempo. This is a general classification; much depends on the individual teacher’s preference.
Master Tao insisted on performing the form very slowly. He was also a Taiji master and no doubt was influenced by Yang style Taiji theories as well as his personal preference in choosing to perform the form slowly.
Note: Master Tao insisted that “Water Boxing” was the true name of the art and that Liuhe Bafa refers to the governing principles of the art. Wu Yinghua, the son the Wu Yihui, refers to the style as “Huayue Xingyi Liuhe Bafa” or “Mind Intent Six Harmonies and Eight Methods from Hua Mountain.”