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By Loriano Belluomini

English version kindly revised by J. Freitas, Portugal

I admit that the first time I ever saw the Bagua of Xie Peiqi (in the distant year of 1993, if I recall correctly) I was disappointed. It didn't have anything in any way of the Baguazhang to which I had been accustomed, which was the one with the beautiful movements typical of Liu Jingru, my teacher. Also the presenter of the style, Doctor Xie, didn't have a particularly attractive look and I have to say that some of the qualities that had struck me in Liu included his elegance and his beautiful aspect. Disappointments succeeded one another. Liu Jingru had showed me some Yin Fu Bagua coming from the lineage of He Zhongqi: at the time, I had only a vague understanding of it, and had been impressed with the small, quick, natural footsteps. Nothing of the kind in Xie's Baguazhang (BGZ) . The footsteps were strange: since Xie had decreed that the Dragon Form was the most adequate for me, I was then subject to an improbable form of bai bu in which the tips of the two feet literally went in opposite directions. Another disappointment was the scarce consideration that Xie had of Liu (but, I have to say, also of other teachers). A third disappointment was the revelation that there wasn't any Single Change in the BGZ of Yin Fu (Danhuan zhang) or Double Change (Shuanghuan zhang) - I would discover subsequently that although the name existed in the system, there wasn't even the classical Shunshi zhang, or "Palm that follows the direction [or 'the strength']" . This made me find myself again with an impoverished experience which made me feel uneasy. Even the formalities of payment for the lessons left me feeling uncertain. Xie Peiqi didn't want to be paid! Naturally this implied that a possible future gift was owed and needed to be equivalent in value to what I had learned: expensive as well as uncertain due to what he might or not have deemed to be worthy.

The grave of Xie Peiqi

It was not therefore the nice summer I had expected, in the modest apartment of Dongzhimen lu where Xie had drawn on the floor the circle with the Eight Trigrams. The most beautiful thing I remember was a brief demonstration by two other teachers who came to call on Xie, one whose name is unknown to me and one who was no less than the 'great' Yang Kun! Anyway, every day that passed I felt more and more uneasy, an uneasiness that reached its peak on a Sunday during which, I remember with some anguish, I didn't succeed in getting to the core of a certain movement. This happened in front of a small crowd of friends, relatives, neighbours, even a dentist who was supposed to take care of the disastrous mouth of  Doctor Xie, and the height of humiliation and unsatisfaction was reached when a guy named Ren Shoutong (who subsequently published a book, Baguazhang neigong yangsheng, printed in 1994) became angry and performed on me the application of that said movement, almost dislocating my shoulder.'Ah!' I shouted. A few days later I found an excuse and I interrupted the training with Dr. Xie. I have to say that in any case I had worked a lot, performing (and documenting with my videocamera) all the keywords of the Dragon style which are precisely, as many know, tui, tuo, dai, ling, ban, kou, pi, jin, as well as two or three forms and applications for each of these keywords. However, I have to say that Xie had been generous: he had let me see also some qinna and health practice exercises.

In substance: I had not known how to positively value the things that had been precious in the experience. I had gone there with 'a full cup' and I could not put inside the cup the new things that I had found there. Years later, I would look back with interest at all the things I did not succeed to appreciate then, and I would thank the forces that led me to that experience

Loriano, He Jinbao, Stockholm, June 2006

After I returned home I practised for some time what I had learned. Subsequently I met Zhu Baozhen (in 1995, again if memory doesn't fail me) and I started to study the Yin school with him, with great satisfaction due to its beautiful springing and dynamic BGZ. With Zhu I studied in 1995, 1996, perhaps also in 1997 and in 2000. I practised all the palms of the Yin school of the 'Small structure' and also some parts of the ?Great structure'. I don't know if this distinction is recognized by everybody in the Yin school, but anyway I understood that the school of Xie belonged to the 'Great structure' (wider positions and an very obvious expression of strength) while Zhu's school was mainly based on 'Small structure' (shorter positions, the expression of force much less obvious and more springing up). I was happy to practise the forms of Zhu for all these years and the forms of Xie gradually ended up in oblivion (even if I preserved recordings of it and drawings - generally I draw the things that I learn). In one of the years when I went to teach in Jasnieres, in France, it happened that I met some English guys who, to my surprise, were students of the Xie's school, via He Jinbao. I felt quite curious, but that was all. Then I happened to buy some videos of the Lion style of Xie's school. I was interested in basics. I remember that when I saw them I was struck at structuring of the basics but, substantially, everything remained as before. However, I subsequently bought some videos of the Phoenix school and it was love at first sight. There were some practical considerations that made me love this school. It used a wide armed position (which you can see in the homepage of this site) which resembled notably kaizhang, one of the techniques most used in Zhu Baozhen's school, as well as Wingchun's bongsao . The idea of being able to find a practical integration of this technique (more so because at that time I had also gone through some dissatisfaction with Zhu - almost exclusively 'forms' training in his school) pushed me to purchase the whole series and subsequently other series as well. I tried to perform the first form of the Phoenix and it seemed me, from my self taught point of view, I had achieved a satisfactory performance. But it was only in 2005 that I could practise in Beijing with He Jinbao, the best student of Xie (who had died in the meantime). This workshop lasted about ten days with a intensive work every day up to night. I could verify that if I I had been able to remember the movements, I hadn't gotten some of the finer points of the practice of the Phoenix.

The participants to the 2005 Beijing Workshop

We practised, as is the routine in this school, mainly the Lion style but also parts of the Phoenix and the Bear. In 2006 I have been able again to practise with He Jinbao in Stockholm (however, we practised only the Lion at this time) and I asked him if I could have lessons in China. There I have been able to practise again the Phoenix, correcting many errors, and I have started the Snake (Shexing) in which am particularly interested (and of which, He told me, I am currently the only apprentice!).
He Jinbao uses a technique of the "Snake" (Shexing) against a technique of Loriano (June 2006)

Characteristics of the Xie / He school .


When Yin Fu (1841-1911) went to Beijing, he was already a skilled martial artist known for his snake-tongue hitting techniques. For a living, he worked as a seller of bread at the Palace of Prince Su, where Dong Haichuan lived; Dong's fame had grown in the capital as the representative (and we know now: founder) of the Eight Diagrams Palms or Baguazhang. After insisting a lot with the guards of Su's Palace, he finally succeeded in being introduced to Dong. There, after a brief but intense clash with Dong (in which Yin Fu lost two teeth), he became his primary and accompanied him subsequently in the long years of travels in Mongolia where he had been sent as a tax collector the Court of the Manchus (the sinized Qing dynasty ). In those 15 hard years spent together in the middle of the nomads of Mongolia - in addition to the six years spent at the Palace - Yin  obviously learned everything there was to learn. In that territory full of bandits and of dangers and sourness of every kind, they were, as Xie Peiqi said, "responsible for each other's lives" (Laurie Cahn, article, see later). Dong was interested in fully developing Yin martially. Subsequently, when they returned to Beijing, a dissension rose between student and teacher and Yin Fu started to teach by himself. It was then that Cheng Tinghua became the new student of Dong, receiving a somewhat different teaching because his background was different: he came from Shuaijiao, the style of wrestling that we could compare with Judo or Jujitsu, while Yin Fu came from the Shaolin tradition. Dong Haichuan taught his students in a personalized way, therefore the two styles, Yin and Cheng, although having a lot of things in common, are also different. The school of Yin Fu, being hidden inside the Imperial Palace, was practiced by few persons and almost secret (during the Boxers Rebellion, Yin was the bodyguard of the Manchu empress while escaping from Beijing), while the school of Cheng Tinghua operated openly and had therefore a wider diffusion.

 In fact, few today (a privileged few, I would say) are the people who practise the Yin school while there are many, perhaps a full 90%, who practise the Cheng school. The differences among the two schools are: Cheng school uses tangnibu, the typical long footstep; the Yin school uses ziran bu, a natural footstep. In fighting, the Cheng school is winding, at least in theory aiming to throw the adversary, while the Yin school, in its more common versions, makes wide use of Penetrating Palms and is more straightforward. In the final analysis, however, both schools in real practice resemble each other (the penetrating palms are also a characteristic of the Cheng school and throws are abundant in the Yin school too!). This has also been expressed by Xie Peiqi when he said, during a visit to the United States, that Baguazhang was "just bagua. It all comes from Dong Haichuan, so all of the names and different styles are really unnecessary. There shouldn't be any divisions or separations between us. Really, we are all doing the same thing" (article by Laurie Cahn, Journal of the Traditional Wushu Association 6 / 4, August 1, 1998, p. 7).


He Jinbao uses kou in the second form of the Phoenix (Shunshi)

Although the schools that make reference to the Yin Fu tradition are different (one of these is probably Fu Zhensong's one - in fact, that summer with Xie made me recognize many movements similar to those of the Fu Dragon-school - in the techniques of the Dragon taught by Xie), a rule that I was taught by my Xingyi teacher Yu Yongxi, regarding BGZ is that 'the more it is far from Beijing and the less it is pure." Therefore I believe that the schools of He Jinbao, Zhu Baozhen, Wang Xiangzhi (very similar to that of Zhu even if less dynamic) and Xu Shixi are the best. Also, they may have suffered different influences and changes, however in the milieu of the capital, with the normal comparison and mutual control among different tendencies, they could have reduced the influxes of spurious intrusions. You can see, for instance, how different the school that is headed by Zhang Dugan in Italy is: it doesn't almost seem a Yin school, seeming very 'flowery' and in fact its center has been Shanghai (with this I don't want to make some judgment of its value; I am simply poiting to the difference in execution in comparison to the Beijing schools ).

He Jinbao in Fengxing zhang

The school of He Jinbao has the following genealogical tree: Dong Haichuan, Yin Fu, Men Baozhen, Xie Peiqi, He Jinbao. Another student of this school that recently acquired a certain notoriety is Liu Shichang (from whom we had a lot of lessons in 2005). He is more an expert in the Lion form. He is incredibly vivacious, I would almost say spirited for his age (which I don't know, but he certainly is an old madn). We have practised with him a long Lion form .

The participants to the 2006 workshop with Liu Shichang (to the center)


Personally I don't like too much the Lion forms, even if they are practical and I will practise them. They have an abundance of techniques of fist, qinna, etc., everything performed with strength.

How does a training session proceed?

Not all times are really equal, however as a rule they start in the morning with the practice of the static positions that are held for various minutes each. He Jinbao generally tells that after having held a position for about thirty seconds you would start to feel pain and that this is an indication that we are practising in a correct way. After this stance work he goes on to the training which tries to express, from this static position which is that of the horse (mabu or qima shi), the strength of every movement. Typically since usually the Lion palms or fists are practised (Shixing zhang) the first technique is xue or xiao in which the arm, with the open palm, makes an upward arc from the lower part on the side of the horse stance, a typical movement of interception and removing of the adversary's arm . It is always impressive to see that indeed the adversary's arm, as strong as it may be, is really removed leaving him open. " The Lion" Xie said, " represents the pure Yang energy " and you can see in the practice that it has indeed a lot of yang. The difficulty for the beginners is to start to use the waist and not to simply make a mechanical gesture with the arms”. For me it took some time to understand how it worked!

After having practised the long series of movements from the static position of the horse stance, we start to move on an imaginary square repeating all the techniques in movement. The important characteristic of the Lion is that arms and feet have to reach the point at the same moment. Said in this way, it seems easy but it takes some accumulated practice before you succeed in it indeed. In this training work we expend a lot of energy (but we do learn, for instance, to save energy in the moment of loading a hit) and entire morning goes by. After a couple of hours devoted to lunch and some rest, we start working again. This time we walk along the circle maintaining a single posture (generally the Lion, but it can be the Phoenix or any other) and we practise for a period that seems much longer than it really is (from three quarters of an hour to an hour). I believe this is the moment when everybody actually ends up thinking: " But what the hell am I doing here? " But everyone knows that walking is an essential part of improving in BGZ and so all submit themselves to do it. After this long walking session, the forms start, each repeated over and over. Subsequently we play two man practice. After supper, the practice begins again. Generally this is the moment devoted to the study of new materials, but not without first having walked the circle a lot and repeated the forms.

In the Xie / He style, there are 8 animals: Lion (Shixing zhangfa) is the first one, representing the Qian trigram, the Sky; following we find in order the Unicorn (Linxing fanshi zhang), the Snake (Shexing shunshi zhang), the Rooster (Jixing woshi zhang), the Dragon (Longxing pingtuo shi zhang), the Monkey (Houxing baoshi zhang), the Bear (Xiongxing beishen shi zhang). Each of these animals has 8 keywords (for instance the Dragon, as I said above, has tui, tuo, dai, ling etc.; the Phoenix has SHAN (to dodge even if, to answer my question, He Jinbao as explained that really the techniques of this keyword force the adversary "to dodge" our attack!), ZHAN, 'to extend', PI 'to break', ZHEN 'to shake', HUA transformation / to transform', XIE 'to Remove, to contract ', QUAN 'to twist, to roll up', CHA 'to strike with the tip.'

This school is very precise and asks for precision. Xie Peiqi was used to saying: "Something neglected in the beginning, a huge amount neglected at the end." As I previously said the footsteps are entirely natural and the practiced circle is generally very small, thus helping with a greater torsion of the waist. Every technique has its applications so we see here a Bagua system where it is evident that every form derives from single techniques: then the applications are very effective. He Jinbao is able to transform every situation in which you react to a technique and he demands that we train with a view to transform the technique according to the situation. In short this is a school that teaches your to perceive, to use and to transform the force and to apply it in the single techniques. I don't believe there is a lot of other schools of Bagua so structured. Generally in a Bagua school the emphasis is on going around the circle and on the various forms but few have structured the appearance of strength inside the single techniques. Liu Yunqiao, also him of the Yin school but from the line of Gong Baotian, for instance, said in 1991 that in BGZ "bu fajin", there is no expression of strength!

I want here to thank He Jinbao, a man in his fifties who has so much skill and as much strength as gentleness. At his home I felt really at ease and I believe there developed between us, at least at that moment in time, a sort of calm friendship.

He Jinbao uses Shexing against Loriano