In Beijing last week I awoke super early and had the feeling I should go to the park to meet someone. I knew not who! It is important to follow your hunches in life.
After rousing my wife, off we went to Tien Tan (Temple of Heaven) Park, where I used to learn and practice with Feng Zher Chiang over 25 years ago. I also spent a lot of time in the park practicing a rare form of Northern Praying Mantis which I did with Li Jing Ru who is also known for bagua.
Back then, Tien Tan Park was one of the largest and most important parks for martial artists to practice. Don’t ask me how but I have always had a knack for finding masters in the oddest ways. Today it was extremely cold, but when you have an intuition you have to see where it leads you.
When we got there we asked and were directed towards where people are practicing some martial arts. The energy didn’t feel right. We then met an elder man who pointed us in a different direction. As we walked down the road through the park, we saw people practicing with steel whips, a traditional Chinese weapon. We were definitely getting closer.
Meeting a Fellow Bagua Practitioner
After a while in this area of the park we started talking to a gentleman named Li. His energy felt like a player in the scene. I asked him where in the park the traditional bagua and tai chi people practice. Li says Feng’s Chen style group is over there somewhere, but that Feng now has his own school and no longer comes to the park. Next it turns out Li does bagua. He and his partner do two types of Shaolin practices – the Muslim one of Cha Chuan, and Pi Kua, brought to Taiwan by Liu Wen Chiao and taught in the U.S.
Li and I then engaged in a lively conversation about bagua’s technical points and then exchange hands with the single palm change for a bit. Then he says, “You should really see my bagua brother who is much better than me.”
He makes a phone call to his bagua brother, Gao, who agrees to meet me. The theoretical 30-minute trip to meet Gao takes over an hour, due to a comedy of errors typical of Beijing but we eventually arrive near his home in a small park.
Meeting Gao Ji Wu – President of the Beijing Bagua Association
As it turned out his ‘kung fu’ brother is Gao Ji Wu, the 5th and current president of the Beijing Bagua Association. The Beijing Bagua Association was begun by his father’s close kung fu friend Li Zi Ming in the 1980s. Not only that, but when my first bagua teacher Wang Shu Jin came to Beijing to pay respects at Dong Hai Chuan’s grave (founder of the modern martial art of bagua), Gao was actually his host! That really broke the ice.
Gao asked me to demonstrate some bagua. Then his two female students did the same; one with the circular walking form, the other in a 64-hand linear form. The former had just won a national tai chi competition in the 42 national wu shu style. Then in the traditional manner, he emphasized to her the importance of intent, or mind, over the movements.
Quite unexpectedly, Gao then invited us to his home for lunch. His wife prepared a wonderful meal. While eating I interviewed him for a new tai chi website, which we are currently developing. In the middle of our conversation, while sitting down, we crossed hands lightly as he emphasized intent and the switching hand changes of ba gua’s single palm change.
Preserving Bagua for Future Generations
Gao explained that his grandfather was a close disciple of the Yin Fu style of bagua. Likewise, his father was also an expert in hsing-i, Yang Style tai chi and the Da Cheng Chuan (I-Chuan) of Wang Xian Zai, who created the eight standing postures system.
Gao’s family’s Gao Style Bagua combines all four forms. It emphasizes standing postures, forms and fighting applications, especially the switching hands of the single palm change, which I Chuan also favors.
Gao considers his prime responsibility is to help preserve this aspect of Chinese culture—bagua and the internal martial arts—for future generations. This is a personal perspective I also share and the primary reason I created the Bagua Mastery Program over the past decade. Bagua is a unique cultural treasure of China, spanning thousands of years in development that has tremendous health, martial and meditation applications.
Gao is a very kind and gracious 70 year-old individual. He showed us his photo collections, including a rare picture of his father as a youth with a muscle pose, and another with five of the greats of the Beijing internal martial arts scene, including Feng Zhi Qiang of the Chen style and Sun Lu Tang’s daughter.
There were also photos of three of Gao’s foreign students in Beiing. This included the time he was invited to New York and Thailand to teach Tom Bisio and Vince Black of the American Tang Shou Dao Association. On his bookshelf were two books in English on Gao’s circular and linear ba gua, with wonderful photographs. The books were published by Tom Bisio in New York.
The third student was Nigel Sutton, the well-known martial artist from England, who was first Gao’s student when he attended a University in Beijing. He currently lives in Malaysia and has invited Gao to teach there.
5th Generation Lineage Holders from Dong Hai Chuan
Gao repeated three times that he felt it important I understood that both of us are in a direct line from bagua’s founder Dong Hai Chuan, 5th bagua generation. In my case, the lineage derives from Wang Shu Jin and Liu Hung Chieh.
In Beijing, and throughout the traditional bagua world, it is very important as to which Bei Fen or generation you belong. The lower the generation, the greater the chance that your bagua art is pure, and the higher degree of respect to which you are naturally entitled.
As with his student in the park, Gao constantly emphasized to me the importance of intent rather than forceful muscular movement or movement alone in the internal martial arts. This is the perspective of the traditional internal martial arts of China and we both agreed.
Both Gao and his wife look very young for their ages. After about three hours, we finally took pictures of the four of us and went on our way. This was a really fortunate event and it was great to spend time with Gao.
What a great story! I wish I could meet some masters like these when I was in Tien Tan Park or in Beijing. Of course, the martial arts level of these masters will be way out of my league!
Thanks again Bruce from all that walk the path with you for your never ending dedication to the higher order of things,… please continue to light The Way…
Great article. One note though is that Vince Black’s organization is actually called the North American Tang Shou Tao Association.
Dear bruce, thankyou for these postings, they are lights on the Way/
With love, Don
Great story – thanks Bruce. I’d like to share our humble experiences of practising in parks in the Far East over a number of years, as I think it might encourage other ordinary tai chi players like ourselves. We have regularly encountered and engaged with tai chi practitioners and teachers who were at just the right level for us to further our studies and have some fun. If you happen to be in the right place, practising regularly, open to experiences but without any expectations, people at an appropriate level just seem to find you and stuff happens spontaneously. The more serious teachers and Masters may sometimes be around, just walking and taking the dawn air, quietly watching all around, occasionally curious about our practice of Bruce’s Wu style short form and wandering closer or sending someone to ask about it and then vanishing back into the shrubbery, leaving the lower eschelons to give us some teaching at an appropriate level. Every now and then a more serious teacher would pause, watch briefly, smile and exchange comments with Chinese colleagues then wander off. When we tried to find out names, a circular conversation would begin and end with ‘he’s a very old man,’ or something similar.
Great story. Funny how these things happen, just at the right time. The Dao is amazing. I’ve just bought Tom’s books on Ba Gua, mentioned in the article. Amongst the best I have seen on the subject ! I’ll be enrolling on the Mastery programme, tomorrow. Great it’s being offered again !
Thanx for doing what you’re doing. IAIN.
Feel very priveleged to have met you & practice these life enhancing arts through your dedicated instructors. Very pleased you met these influential & dedicated people like yourself.
Until more time
Amazing story Bruce! Thanks for sharing your travels and experiences.
I just started on the path of internal martial arts this year with Tai Chi, and so am very much a beginner. But, I’m actually going to be in Beijing (and China) for the first time in about 2 weeks, and I’m wondering if you could please point me in the right direction of which parks/places to visit (outside of those mentioned above) to practice and have experiences in?