Cheng-School Gao-Style Baguazhang comes to the NATSTA through Wang Shusheng, Liu Shuhang, Ge Guoliang, Li Xueyi, and other members of the Tianjin Gao Bagua family. Wang Shusheng and Liu Shuhang were both students of Liu Fengcai, one of the most accomplished students of the art’s founder, Gao Yisheng, for whom this style of baguazhang is named. Ge Guoliang and Li Xueyi are two of Master Wang’s most outstanding students, and also studied directly with Liu Fengcai. Liu Shuhang, Ge Guoliang, and Li Xueyi are three of the most senior practitioners of Gao Bagua in Mainland China, and are recognized by the Chinese Martial Arts Research Institute as the official lineage descendants of orthodox Gao Baguazhang. Since Wang Shusheng’s death in 1996, they have redoubled their efforts to spread the art of Gao Bagua, actively teaching in China, Japan, Taiwan, Australia, and the U.S.
For almost two decades, NATSTA has worked closely with these masters to research and disseminate their art. In April 1995, a small group of NATSTA Instructors were invited to Liu Fengcai’s hometown to attend a grave sweeping ceremony and witness the raising of a stele to honor Liu Fengcai and his contribution to baguazhang, and in 2003 Masters Liu, Ge, and Li designated the North American Tang Shou Tao Association as their official representative body in the U.S. for teaching and researching Cheng-School Gao-Style Baguazhang.
Our training and research in Cheng-School Gao-Style Baguazhang currently consists of four elements:
Local bagua classes and seminars – after more than a decade of active research we have a core group of dedicated and proficient instructors who run classes at schools around the country and abroad, and who conduct seminars at various locations.
Local shuai jiao classes and seminars – In the past few years our teachers have asked us to spend time researching the sport of shuai jiao and its connections to both Gao Yisheng’s Bagua in particular and traditional gongfu in general.
Research trips to China – NATSTA sponsors groups to train in Tianjin frequently, providing members with the opportunity to experience training in a focused and intensive environment, and to increase appreciation of the cultural heritage of which we are a part.
Research seminars in the U.S. – NATSTA hosts our Gao instructors to visit the U.S. to conduct seminars across the country. Liu Shuhang and others have generously shared their knowledge with members of all skill levels six times in recent years, and will again tour the U.S. in 2012.
About the Lineage
Born in 1866 in Shandong Province, Gao Yisheng began his martial training with the Hong-style Boxing taught by his family. In 1896, at the age of thirty, Gao moved to the north, where he was defeated in a fight by bagua practitioner Zhou Yuxiang. Realizing the unique quality of Zhou’s art, he immediately asked to be accepted as Zhou’s disciple. Zhou, however, was nearly the same age as Gao and thus refused to accept him as his own disciple. Instead, he introduced Gao to his own teacher, Cheng Tinghua, the renowned student of Dong Haichuan. Gao was shortly thereafter officially accepted as Cheng’s disciple and began learning Cheng-style Bagua. For three years, Gao traveled to Beijing several times a year to learn directly from Cheng, while also supplementing his training through lessons with Zhou. By the time of Cheng’s passing in 1900, Gao had acquired the fundamentals of the art, and began to teach Bagua that year.
Over the following several years, Gao continued his study with Zhou Yuxiang to further refine his art, and it was during this time that he also met and studied with noted Xingyi practitioner Li Cunyi. In 1911, at the age of 45, Gao returned to live in his hometown in Shandong Province. At this time, the custom in his village was that anyone who had studied martial arts elsewhere and then returned home should test their learning against that of the local practitioners. Gao easily defeated several famous local martial artists, firmly establishing himself as a skilled Cheng-style Bagua practitioner, and subsequently began teaching Bagua there. For the next five years, he transmitted the Moving Posts, Pre-heaven palms and weapons forms, yet his art was, at this time, very similar to that of Cheng Tinghua. In 1916, Gao again moved north, where he continued to teach and refine his art.
In 1926, at the request of his grandnephew Liu Fengcai, Gao returned for a second time to live in Shandong. From 1926 to 1936 he lived and taught at Liu’s home, imparting his complete bagua system. The art that he now taught, however, was far different than anyone had seen before. Not only did his Pre-heaven circular palms and other forms have a much more distinct style than before, Gao now also taught sixty-four linear Post-heaven Palms and accompanying two-person exercises known as Separating Palms. In addition, Gao had adapted his forms to accord completely with the theory of the Book of Changes in several ways. Like other bagua styles, both Gao’s Pre- and Post-heaven Palms were arranged according to the Fu Xi and Wen Wang Pre- and Post-heaven Bagua diagrams. Now, however, each of his Pre-heaven Palms, known as the Eight Big Palms, was comprised of eight moves each, corresponding with the sixty-four hexagrams, and each of the sixty-four Separating Palms was comprised of six movements, corresponding to the 384 individual lines of the sixty-four hexagrams. Gao now also taught his students that “The Pre-heaven Palms are the basis of the Post-heaven Palms; the Post-heaven Palms are the application of the Pre-heaven; without the Pre-heaven Palms, baguazhang has no foundation; without the Post-heaven Palms, baguazhang is incomplete.”
In 1908, the 15th of the first month by the lunar calendar, Liu Fengcai was born in the Liu-family Yellow Dragon Bay Village, Dashan Township, Haifeng (Wudi) County, Shandong Province. He was not only from the same town as Gao Yisheng, but also a relative, and later became one of the most famous fourth-generation bagua practitioners.
Born into a poor agricultural family, from his youth he studied martial arts, first learning baguazhang at age nine with his uncle (a disciple of Gao Yisheng). At age nineteen, he was accepted by Gao Yisheng as an inner-door disciple and, for the next nine years, received instruction from Gao in his hometown. Because he was naturally intelligent and always a diligent student, Master Gao was extremely fond of Liu. In his last days Gao passed on orally his complete experiences and understanding of this art, allowing Liu to completely grasp the essence of Cheng-School Gao-style Baguazhang.
Because he received Gao’s true and complete teaching, his skill advanced very quickly, and he attained high reputation in his hometown after only a few years. Liu often traveled abroad with Gao assisted in teaching bagua to Gao’s numerous students. When Gao moved to Tianjin to transmit his art, Liu again followed his teacher and remained in Tianjin continually until 1983 when, at 76 years of age, he retired and returned to his hometown.
For over sixty years, Liu’s connection to bagua was profound; there was not one day that he did not practice, not one day that he did not teach. Aside from his time spent at work and in day-to-day activities, he was active morning and night without cease, and the whole of his spare time was devoted to the practice, teaching, and research of baguazhang. In 1981, at the invitation of Li Ziming and Kang Gewu, he attended Dong Haichuan’s tomb-moving ceremony, and his name was carved on Founding-Master Dong’s tomb as a permanent record.
Not only Liu’s achievements in bagua were outstanding. He had also attained considerable skill in and continued to train Wu-style Taiji, San Huang Pao Chui, Night-Fighting Sabre, Wudang Sword and Double Short Cudgel. Liu’s temperament was amiable and good, and not only was his art refined, but his virtue was exceptional. He never used force or threat of violence to coerce others, often stressing that “Today, martial study is mainly for building health; fighting is secondary.” In contrast to those who would seek violent confrontations, in his many sparring encounters Liu always stopped upon reaching his target, and in his entire life never injured an opponent.
Liu did not struggle for notoriety, seldom making his presence known, and almost never attending martial arts competitions or performances. Neither did he maintain a separation between schools and styles, believing that “all martial arts under Heaven are one family.” He stressed that “Compassion and righteousness are the foundations of being a teacher; An empty mind and perseverance are the foundation of being a student.”
During his nearly fifty years in Tianjin Liu taught well over a thousand students, from all classes and all walks of life, and today they are “spread everywhere like fresh blossoms.” In his later years, Liu concentrated his efforts on compiling the essence of his understanding and experience, producing in 1985 the first draft of the Cheng-School Gao-Style Eight Diagrams Palm Manual. On February 10, 1987, at the age of eighty, Liu Fengcai passed away in his hometown, and was laid to rest in the ancestral cemetery outside his village.
Wang Shusheng was born in 1920 in Anxin County, Hebei Province. In his early years he studied both Shaolin and Eight Poles Boxing. In approximately 1948, he became a disciple of Liu Fengcai and concentrated on the study of Gao Bagua, quickly attaining a complete understanding of its principles. Wang was skilled not only in demonstration of the bagua forms, but was also skilled in fighting. He never once lost a match, and his quick hands and clever technique earned him a wide reputation in martial arts circles. He began accepting bagua students in 1960, and in 1983 began teaching bagua at the Nankai Martial Arts Academy, where he continued to teach until late in life. In 1987 he was also invited to Japan to teach Gao Bagua. Wang Shusheng passed away in 1995, at the age of 76. His students are numerous and, among them, his most outstanding disciples are Ge Guoliang and Li Xueyi.
Liu Shuhang was born in Tianjin in 1947. In 1962, at age fourteen, he moved to the residence of his granduncle, Liu Fengcai, and began his bagua training along with Liu’s own grandson. After Liu’s grandson died in his late teens, Liu Shuhang became the sole member of his family to carry on the Gao Bagua lineage. He trained intensively with Liu Fengcai until 1976, and has taught bagua in Tianjin since 1984. In addition, Liu has conducted extensive research into the origin, development, and synthesis of Gao Bagua. With the aid of Professor Kang Gewu of the Chinese Martial Arts Research Institute in Beijing, he has exhaustively traced all branches of the Gao-style Bagua family within Mainland China. He assisted his granduncle Liu Fengcai and Wang Shusheng with the publication of Gao Yisheng’s baguazhang boxing manual, The Cheng-School Gao-Style Eight Diagram Boxing Manual [in Chinese, 1991] and, in 2006, along with Ge Guoliang and Li Xueyi, he expanded and revised this for re-issue. Liu currently resides in Tianjin, where he continues to research and teach Gao Bagua.
Ge Guoliang was born in 1947 in Tianjin. As a youth, he studied Springy Legs Boxing for two years, and Cha Boxing for one year. In July 1964, at age seventeen, he began studying shuai jiao and, three months later, placed first in the Tianjin Municipal Shuai Jiao Tournament. He continued to train shuai jiao for four years, achieving the recognition and approval of many in the local martial arts circles. In 1968, he was introduced to Wang Shusheng, and began training bagua shortly thereafter. Impressed by the directness and sophistication of Gao-style Bagua, Ge gave up shuai jiao, and devoted all his energy to training with Wang Shusheng. In 1984, Wang Shusheng was invited to teach bagua at the Nankai and Zhenhua Martial Arts Academies in Tianjin, and Ge began to assist Wang in teaching classes. In 1999 Ge was invited to teach martial arts at Nankai University, where he continues to teach today.
Li Xueyi was born in 1948 in Tianjin. In his teens, he began his martial arts training with Eight Poles Boxing, Shaolin, and Pi Gua Boxing. In 1970 he was introduced to bagua through his classmate, a student of Wang Shusheng. From this time on, he trained exclusively with Master Wang until the latter’s passing in 1996. In 1984, Li began assisting Wang in teaching bagua at the Nankai and Zhenhua Martial Arts Academies in Tianjin. In 1999 he was invited to teach martial arts at Nankai University, where he continues to teach today.