The full name of original Tongbei Quan is Baiyuan Tongbei Quan. "Bai" means white; "yuan" means ape; "tong" means open, clear, unobstructed, connected, logical, and whole; and "bei" means arms or back. The White Ape is considered a mystical animal in Chinese mythology. The only kind of ape indigenous to China commonly known as Tongbei Yuan or Changbei (long armed) Yuan belongs to the gibbon family, and it has arms that reach well past its feet when standing upright. Expressed together, the word Tongbei means "to link the two arms together". The idea related to boxing (quan) is to make the arms more extended and relaxed. This allows qi and internal force to pass more smoothly through the back and into the hands. This is the most important idea in Tongbei Quan and the reason for the name. These principals are also specific and primary features emphasized and applied to this boxing style.
Baiyuan Tongbei Quan
The Meaning of Name of Tongbei Quan
It is also important for martial arts researchers and historians to understand that the term "tongbei" is used elsewhere in Chinese martial arts. Many styles use this word to convey the concept of lengthening the arms and relaxing the shoulders. It is also used to describe a specific practice involving the back and arms (e.g., Fan Through the Back - Shan Tongbei in Taiji Quan). There are also other styles of martial arts that include Tongbei as part of their name, like the style Hongdong Tongbei. However such arts represent distinct lineages and are unrelated to Baiyuan Tongbei. Many are based on some different principles and place less emphasis on the "connected back" principle than the original Tongbei lineages. There are also newer styles that mix original Tongbei ideas with other skills such as Pigua Tongbei. Still other systems use a homonym of the name inferring something completely different. For example, Tongbei Quan, where "bei" in this context does not mean "back or arm" but rather "to prepare".
Some styles of Chinese martial arts are based on direct imitation of animal movements and internal spirit. Examples of such animals include the eagle, monkey, and tiger. In this sense Tongbei Quan could be considered an animal imitation style. In fact, it is very different from the rest of the imitation styles. In Tongbei Quan, it is the "mind" or "feeling" of the white ape that is emphasized, rather than imitation of the external physical movements. This is called "study the internal feelings, not the external movements." Many Tongbei groups vehemently deny that the style is an animal imitation style. The basic philosophical idea of Tongbei is that of Taoism. Many of its practices are similar or close to those of internal styles. Some people go as far as placing it within the internal martial art style category. Many believe at the very least, it falls between internal and external styles.
As a training system name, Baiyuan Tongbei Quan consists of two major parts; martial art application and qigong. The martial applications represent a study of the ape's attributes. These attributes correspond to a number of simple, useful, and efficient techniques. These techniques were developed primarily with real fighting situations in mind. Although the style includes some qigong practices for promoting health and vitality (e.g., Shui Gong Fa, or Taoist sleeping qigong method), it is the Tongbei fighting methods that made the style famous. Many outsiders as well as practitioners have associated Tongbei with fighting only.
The basic principles of Tongbei consist of the "four kinds of Jin", namely: Xin Yuan, Xin Yi, Xin Ji, and Xin Jin, which together mean that the heart, mind, movement, and force should be like that of the ape. It is believed that the heart or mind of the ape is never static. In fighting one must emulate this quality constantly changing and adapting. In addition, when the ape wants to do something it never reveals its intention beforehand. In fighting, one must not make it obvious to the opponent what will come next and when. The movements of the ape tend to be quick and sudden. In fighting one must do likewise. The ape is considered a clever animal with an agile and powerful mind from which all actions flow. Again, in fighting one must initiate all actions from the heart and mind. A familiar principle here is that wherever the mind goes, the physical force arrives there naturally. However, it is important to realize first and foremost that these principles are not about physical movements but about internal feelings.
The basic physical training methods of Tongbei feature twisting of the waist, relaxation of shoulders and extension of the arms. Envision the arms as whips and your waist the handle of the whip. The force starts from your feet and is controlled by your waist. Turn your waist to direct your upper back and your upper back to guide your shoulders. Allow your shoulders to lead your arms and use your arm to lead your hands. Finally qi and the force will arrive smoothly unimpeded to the tips of the fingers. In this way your arms are made to feel longer and heavier and can therefore reach further away with powerful force.
The basic movements and techniques of Tongbei can be broken down into circles, lines, and points. Most of the movements involve circles, which make it much easier than in linear movements to get qi. Force is then transmitted in a smooth, relaxed, continuous, and changeable manner. Names of typical circular movements involve the wheel arms, spinning palms, and circling hands. "Chopping Mountain" (Pi Shan) is an example of a typical circular movement skill. Linear movement is also common, including many straight-line strikes with fist and palms, which have the advantage of being quick, hard, and sudden. The hand must go straight in and straight out, as in "Center Punch" (Zhong Quan), which is one of the most important basic skills in all of Tongbei. Ingrained within the various circular and linear techniques is the idea of the "point", which involves two components: one is the actual target and the other is the timing. Together, these two components must be combined to "hit the target on time". In tongbei principle, this means "to release the force at right moment". This is trained and ingrained further by making a sound when practicing techniques but not the typical overt kiai used in various karate styles. The sound is usually made by slapping parts of the body against each other or by stamping of the foot onto the ground during stepping. The sound generated serves as a cue for further integrating the external movements and internal components. This is done at a very specific moment in time; that being the moment of impact. This training not only prepares the body for impact in general, but also assists in developing the correct inner feeling for releasing force on reaching the target.
The basic fighting skills of Tongbei are characterized by "ten qualities". They express all features of Tongbei Quan. Ten Qualities of Basic Fighting Skills are:
Leng -- cold, sudden, come from out of nowhere
Movements sudden and unpredictable, and difficult to defend against.
Tan -- spring
Internal force like a spring, even when force is released forward, a backward force is already included within.
Cui -- crisp, fragile
Techniques very clean, brief contact time abrupt, no time for opponent to react.
Kuai -- quick
Characteristic of all techniques.
Ying -- hard
Specific practices, e.g., "iron arms", to harden the body.
Suo -- to shrink
Movements minimized during fight to increase efficiency.
Xiao -- small
Smaller movements better than large.
Mian -- soft and following
Soft and able to follow opponents touch, not resisting with hard force.
Ruan -- relax as in soft and smooth
Tongbei has heavy attacks, but is not hard all the time; be relaxed, soft, and smooth most of the time.
Qiao -- skillful, ingenious, and clever
Characteristic of all techniques to be useful and efficient.
The basic application features of Tongbei Quan are quick, aggressive, accurate, changeable, and clever. To achieve this in terms of mental attributes, one's mind, eyes, and movements must be quick. Several aphorisms from oral tradition describe these as follows: On speed, "even if you can thread the needle in the instant that lightening brightens the night; that may still not be fast enough!" One's heart should be hard; thus, "if you are a softhearted person, you cannot do Tongbei". One's technique should be precise, accurate. "When you miss your target, you waste your time". One should learn how to interchange and vary the different skills during a fight. Changing according to what happens in a real situation is one of the most important skills in Tongbei; thus, "one technique changes into three, and three changes into nine" is emphasized. Finally, one should always use the best and most efficient skill to achieve the objective. This should be achieved with no wasted movements and being able to change at any moment.
The basic training in Shi style Tongbei is similar to other styles usually involving large movements but ones that are less pronounced than in the other styles. In fighting the movements clearly become smaller and are more powerful than in most other styles. The students of Shi style were trained to pay special attention to combining the hard and the soft and finding the correct balance between the two. During fighting, one kept relaxed and soft until touching the opponent's body - the specific teaching was to, "release the force only when you touch the clothes of the opponent". Developing superior internal force was strongly emphasized. Students first learned how to relax and stretch the physical body. They then learn to make qi move smoothly and harmoniously through the body and limbs. This is followed with learning how to release force in a quick and sudden manner with the whole body coordinated and integrated. The more one can relax the body, the more energy generated and the more force released.
In summary, when practicing Tongbei one should make the movements as large and continuous as possible. The transitions should be smooth and connected with slapping of the arms and body many times against each other. Stamping of the feet very hard with shoulders stretched out and the waist twisted and turned. This is done so that the force is released in a very powerful way. There are no superfluous or aesthetic movements. There are no movements that are not useful in fighting. A very common misunderstanding from the practice of Tongbei skills is that the large movements are used in actual combat. In training the large movements help to relax, stretch, move qi smoothly and generate more power. However, in fighting at the more detailed and refined levels the smaller movements are preferred.
There are several features of Shi style Tongbei fighting. The first is to be quick and continuous in a manner that "makes three skills look like only one". The second is that offensive and defensive skills are done at the same time; "Blocking and attacking are one". The third is to avoid any unnecessary movements and be as efficient as possible; "Hands and feet do not go in or out without a purpose". The fourth involves synthesis of soft and hard, insubstantial and substantial, static and dynamic; "There is hard in soft and soft in hard; there is insubstantial in substantial, and substantial in insubstantial". The fifth is no fixed patterns of change and transition from one skill to the next; "Suddenly move in and just as suddenly move back, suddenly move to left and suddenly move to right, suddenly go up and suddenly go down"; There is no predicting which direction the next movement will go. The sixth is that force should be explosive; "Release power only when your hand touches the opponent's clothes".
The punch is the most important offensive skill. The most common are the center punch, straight punch, "pouring ear punch", wrapping punch, backing over punch, planting punch, chopping punch and smashing punch. Targets include the face, center of the chest, rib cage, groin and certain acupuncture points. Palm strikes are used in several different ways including: Hard attack, luring, and harassing, with the most common including chopping, slapping down, stamping forward, flipping, brushing, and slicing. The very few kicks in Tongbei involve movements that are low, small, sudden and quick. These kicks are not usually performed in isolation. They are extremely powerful and most devastating when performed as part of a combination technique in coordination with the hands. Often these kicks are referred to as "hidden kicks".
In Shi style Tongbei the basic fighting skills are categorized into four groups: quick hand skills, hard and heavy skills, disruption and displacement skills, and controlling and throwing skills. All of these skills follow the four basic principles of being relaxed and extended, sudden and quick, nimble and changeable, aggressive and hard.
The quick hand skills are performed suddenly and not very hard. This is in order to severely harass or stun the opponent. When using these skills keep very relaxed and let the movements come out like a spring. In training this skill one does not use a lot of force, just go in for the quick "touch". In cases where practitioners have further developed their iron palm skills, even such light touches have been know to cause the opponent painful welts, loss of concentration, and loss of balance. These movements set up for the use of continuous skills to end the fight. With basic training emphasis on the reach of the arms, the quick hand skills can be used at a greater distance from the opponent. This is done for both striking the arms and bridging closer for the next technique. For example, Crossing Hand Block (Shi Zi Lan) is a quick hand skill used when the opponent punches to your face or chest with his right hand, you use your right hand to block/strike his right wrist. Your left hand also block/strikes his right elbow, and then your right hand again to hit his face. In addition to covering the distance, the other key Tongbei skill here is to make these three movements look like one movement. The quick hand skills are useful and cause immediate problems for the opponent. However, this skill by itself is not usually fatal or even disabling in most cases. Most fighters will design additional combinations involving quick hand skills for use at the start of a fight.
The hard and heavy skills can cause serious injury to the opponent. Application of these skills usually requires proper distancing relative to the opponent. When this is done it allows the force to be released in the most efficient manner. The first concern has to do with the target (e.g., head, stomach, ribs, groin, joints, acupuncture points), and the second is a mental aspect .The mind envisions the total and absolute destruction of the target. The hard and heavy skills represent lethal finishing moves in many cases. Throughout the early history of Tongbei, masters were known to use certain skills to kill opponents. For example, the "Planting Punch" (Zai Chui) is a downward punch to the stomach or ribs that is used only when very close in with the opponent. The secret here is the generation of whole body force, which starts from the foot, and goes through the legs, back, shoulder, arms and into your fist. Move your whole body downward as you imagine punching a deep hole into the ground. The main problem with this type of skill is the inability to change once committed, and so its use is limited only to a few situations.
Disruption and displacement skills destroy an opponent's root and balance. Most fights involve movement and so it is not always possible to hit the target directly with full power. When using disruption and/or displacement skills to first unbalance the opponent, their natural reaction will be to first regain their balance. During this time their movements will be slow or come to a complete stop. Learning to induce and recognize this in the opponent is another secret of developing higher level skills in Tongbei. Part of this learning is also maintaining one's own balance and position in order to best take advantage of the opponent's loss of balance and position. There are many practice skills in this category with some being simple and some more complex. Simple skills include: zhua - gripping, pao - digging, luo - pulling, and dai leading. These involve different hand skills designed to break the opponent's root and destroy his balance. A sudden and powerful strike to a weak point also can disrupt the opponent's center of balance. An example of disruption and displacement in combination with heavy skills added in includes the famous skill, "Cat Springs on a Mouse" (Li Mao Pu Shu), where one first blocks the opponent's hand to the side, hard and quick enough to make his body lean sideways, at which time you can jump in and push with both of hands, hitting the ribs. Most of the higher-level Tongbei skills involve combinations of this type.
Controlling and throwing skills lock and control the opponent or throw him outward or to the ground. This skill is not commonly used in Tongbei because the basic principle of Tongbei calls for striking the opponent hard and fast (not becoming entwined in long periods of mutual grappling.) Controlling and throwing skills require large movements and they tend to be slower and more difficult to apply directly. They can be used following disruption and displacement skills. In Northern China, Chinese wrestling is very popular and its techniques have been incorporated into many other martial arts. Accordingly, certain wrestling skills appear in Tongbei with some adaptations. One example is the throwing skill referred to as "cut off head", where the opponent is first pulled forward, and their subsequent pull-back force is followed by placing your right leg behind his legs and using your right arm to cut across his neck with whole body force. In this technique, your arm and leg act like a pair of scissors cutting cloth or paper.
All Tongbei skills are useful in real fighting. Common tactics in Tongbei fighting involve use of quick hand skills to harass your opponent first. Then seek to create a chance to either use some hard and heavy skills to finish the encounter or to use some further disruption and displacement skills to unbalance. The ending result usually ends up being a devastating throw or fatal blow.
In Baiyuan Tongbei Quan, writting down classics are not too many. But there are a lot of proverbs or sayings passed down from generation to generation by oral transfer.