|Yin Style Baguazhang
Great Grandmaster Ma Gui
River Crabs of Chinese
ink style painting
The Crown Prince Pujun
Ma Gui led Baguazhang family to upright the third memory stone tablet in Dong Haichuan's
graveyard in 1930
Grandmaster Wang Peisheng teaches Bagua broadsword Eighteen Interceptions, passed down from his master Ma Gui
Grandmaster Wang Peisheng demonstrates Yin Style
Baguazhang, passed down from his master Ma Gui
Ma Gui (马贵), also known as Ma Shiqing (马世卿) (1857-1941), was the earliest disciple of Yin Fu (尹福). Born in
Beijing, he practiced several hard styles like Tiangangquan (天罡拳) and Shaolin Shiba Luohanquan (少林十八罗汉
拳) before starting his Baguazhang training as a teenager.
Although small and short in statue, Ma had a genuine love for fighting and practiced diligently. Consequently, Yin
often brought him to meet other masters to try out his fighting skills. For many years, Ma also followed Yin in
working security for King Su (肃王). It is said that when he was first introduced to the other palace guards,
everyone thought this small boy could not possibly be good enough to do the job, and that the only reason he was
there was because of his relationship with Yin. Very soon however, no one would belittle him anymore, as he beat
many of them severely in challenges. Ma always practiced hard. While working for King Su, Ma was required to
patrol the area around the palace at night under the high palace wall which had big stones around its base. It is
said that on his patrol, he would kick the foundation stones of the wall with every step he took. After years of this
practice it was found that the foundation stones were badly damaged.
Dong Haichuan (董海川), founder of Baguazhang, took a liking to this grand disciple. It is said that for many years
while working at King Su’s palace, Dong would supervise intensive daily training for Yin and Ma. Since Dong had
no family, when he retired from service at the King Su’s palace, he initially lived at Ma Gui’s home for several
years, before finally moving in with Shi Jidong (史继栋). So even though Ma belonged to the third generation of
Baguazhang family, most likely he received more direct training from Dong than most second generation masters.
It is a common confusion that many people think Ma was in the second generation of Baguazhang family.
Ma won his reputation as a great master from his fighting skill and was highly respected in the martial arts society of those
times. He had several nicknames: Mu Ma (木马) - wooden Ma, his most popular nickname, because he owned a wood product
business; Tiegebo Ma (铁胳膊马) - iron arm Ma, because he could hit so hard with his favor technique Wanda (腕打) - wrist
strike; Pangxie Ma (螃蟹马) - Crab Ma, because he loved to paint crabs in the traditional ink brush style; and Ma Cuozi (马矬
子) - short Ma, because he was short.
During this period in Chinese history some nobles favored the martial arts and frequently invited great masters to teach them.
Duan Wang (端王) – King Duan (1856-1926), a fanatical lover of martial arts, invited the Taijiquan master Yang Luchan (杨露
禅) (1799-1872) and his son Yang Banhou (杨班侯) (1837-1890) to teach in his palace. It was in his palace that Ma Gui had
his legendary encounter with Yang Banhou.
One day, a young Ma Gui delivered some wood to the palace for a renovation project, and he saw the king and Yang Banhou
practicing pushing hands. He stood there watching for a while, and let out a laugh. Curious, the king asked him if he
understood martial arts. Ma said yes, and added that he “does not push but rather fights.” The king said “if you can fight, do
you want to try with my teacher?” Ma said “I can fight, but do I dare do it in this palace should it result in any trouble?” The
king said “you have my word that I would absolve you of all consequences from this fight.” Ma was happy and stepped in the
room to face Yang. Yang Banhou by that time already established his own reputation as a great fighter. And judging Ma Gui
by his youth and small statue, he became a little bit careless. As soon as the fight started, with a blinding burst of speed Ma
got inside, and struck Yang Banhou in the chest with a wrist strike. The impacted knocked Yang uncontrollably backwards
several steps, finally knocking down and destroying a huge vase. The vase happened to be a gift from the emperor, so this
constituted a grave crime. King Duan yelled at Ma Gui angrily, to which Ma Gui replied in an almost childish manner “But you
promised there’d be no trouble and you’d forgive me no matter what…” Hearing this explanation, the King laughed and let the
Since that time, Ma was always invited to the king’s palace to practice with the king
together. Years later, King Duan would appoint Ma Gui to be instructor to his young son
Pujun (溥隽) (1885-1942), who for a brief time was the designated heir to the throne.
King Duan*, whose full name was Aixinjueluo Zaiyi (爱新觉罗 载漪), is a familiar name to
modern day Chinese martial arts enthusiasts because he was a student of Yang
Luchan and Yang Banhou. He was a strong man and learned martial arts from very
young age. The Dowager Empress Cixi (慈禧太后), the most powerful person in China
at that time, liked him very much as well, so he obtained a very high position in the
government from an early age. King Duan was a commander of Shenjiying (神机营) -
Firearms Brigade of the Capitol Garrison, where Yang Luchan and Yang Banhou taught
Taijiquan as well. Finally he became the Prime Minister. Because the Dowager Empress
Cixi trusted him, his second son Pujun was appointed Crown Prince – heir to the throne,
King Duan - Zaiyi
King Duan’s younger brother Lan Gongjue (澜公爵) – Duke Lan, abbreviation for Fuguo Gong (辅国公) - the Ruler
Assisting Duke Aixinjueluo Zailan (爱新觉罗 载澜), was one of the trusted advisors of the emperor. He too loved the
martial arts and in particular Ma Gui’s skills. For years he treated Ma Gui as his most honored guest in hope of
learning Ma’s famous Eighteen Interceptions broadsword skill. Ma Gui started out as his martial art instructor, but in
time grew to be the Duke’s most trusted aides.
By 1900, decades of unresolved conflicts between the Chinese and foreigners reached a critical point. Among
Chinese civilians, these problems caused many farmers to join Yihetuan (义和团) - the Corps of Righteousness and
Harmony, or simply Boxers to fight against foreigners. In the government, many officials were sympathetic and
supported them, including King Duan and Duke Lan. They even believed the Boxers’ claims of invulnerability to
modern firearms. At that time the Dowager Empress Cixi hated that the foreigners often interfered in Chinese affairs.
King Duan, Duke Lan and other high-ranking officers suggested that Cixi promote the Boxers and use them to fight
against foreigners. War broke out soon after.
In response, eight foreign nations sent their allied armies into China. On August 10, 1900, the troops of the Eight-
Nation Alliance (八国联军) took Beijing. The empress, the emperor, and some high-ranking officers managed to
escape. As retaliation, the allies killed more than 100,000 civilians in the city. Since they regarded King Duan as one
of the major instigators of this conflict, the king’s palace was one of the major targets. Although the king
and a few members of his household managed to get away with the empress, more than a hundred other
family members and servants were trapped in the palace. The allied army surrounded the palace, and
had orders to kill everyone inside. Finally, the palace was burned down completely. Today we have an
independent, non-martial-artist’s account of Ma Gui’s exploits during that historical moment. In an article
written decades later, one of King Duan’s granddaughters recalled “Of everyone in the palace that day,
Ma Gui was the lone survivor. He broke through, carving a bloody path out of the siege...”
Foreign Allied Armies in Forbidden City
* About the title of King Duan: During Qing Dynasty, the highest rank of nobility under the emperor is wang (王) – king, which could only
be given to the emperor’s sons. There were four levels within the rank of king – Qinwang (亲王), Junwang (郡王), Beile (贝勒), and Beizi (贝
子). When a person was given a rank, it also added a name in front to form a title, such as Duan Junwang, Su Qinwang. Some titles could
be inherited directly, for example if the father’s title was Qinwang, then his eldest son could inherit this title, rank and all of its privileges.
This direct inheritance of rank gave only eight kings during the Qing Dynasty. These kings made great contributions in the war for
establishing the new dynasty. In other cases, the rank was reduced in subsequent generations, where for example, the Qingwang title
became Junwang, with corresponding reductions in status and pay.
Zaiyi was the second son of Dun Qinwang (惇亲王), therefore he could not inherit the title (the eldest son would be Dun Junwang惇郡王). As in feudal societies elsewhere, if a noble
dies without issue, the title would be canceled. In year 1860, Emperor Xianfeng (咸丰) (1850-1861) promoted Zaiyi to the vacancy of Junwang of Rui (瑞郡王) for avoid the
dissolution of the title of King Rui. However, on the official document describing the title it was mistakenly transcribed as Junwang of Duan (端郡王). Chinese characters Rui and
Duan are similar. The document left the Forbidden City without anyone catching the clerical error. Since the emperor is infallible, he was known from that point on as the Junwang of
Duan. It was always simpler to refer to him as Duan Wang (端王) – King Duan.
So there was a minor controversy years ago when Professor Ma Mingda (马明达) questioned the very existence of Duan Wang as told in Taiji Quan history. He pointed to the fact
that, if we examined the all the titles held by sons of Qing emperors, we would find only one Duan Wang. That was Honghui (弘晖), the eldest son of Emperor Yongzheng (雍正), who
died at age of eight. Obviously in that case, there could be no descendants inheriting that title. The logic here is correct, but as we shall see, history is just as often shaped by
accidents and errors.
After the failure of Boxers Rebellion, both King Duan and Duke Lan were sent into permanent exile in
the remote province of Xinjiang. Some records said that King Duan kept practicing martial arts
everyday until the end of his life.
After the Republican Revolution (1911) finally overthrew the Qing Dynasty, Ma Gui worked at the office
of the President of China. Eight years after that, he became a martial arts instructor at the National
Ma Gui was the leader of the Baguazhang family in the third generation. In 1930, he led other disciples
to erect another memory tablet in Dong Haichuan's graveyard. There are a total four tablets.
So it is that Ma Gui had seen and experienced many
history-making changes in his lifetime. He himself
was famous before he was even twenty years old.
Besides Yang Banhou, he bested many other great
fighters of his era, like Li Ruidong (李瑞东) (1851-
1917). He was particularly well-known for striking
with the back of the wrist. Ma always practiced with
two iron wrist rings, about ten pounds each, on his
wrists. He was very fast and nimble. His basic
gongfu skill was very strong and he often
demonstrated this fact by performing the Bagua
circle walking underneath a Baxian Zhuo (八仙桌) -
Eight immortal table, the most common dimension of
which is about 3 feet X 3 feet X 3 feet. His favorite
weapon was the broadsword. Dong Haichuan and
Yin Fu helped him create the famous broadsword
set known as Shiba Jie (十八截) – Eighteen
Although Ma received full transmission in Baguazhang and reached the highest level in his skills, he was a very
conservative person. With the exception of the skills he learned from Dong Haichuan and Yin Fu, he was not interested
in learning from others. He also opposed the idea of modifying the traditional way he was trained. Consequently, Ma
taught the sixty-four palm changes according to the way he was taught without making any modifications himself.
Basically, he hated the idea of changing the traditional way, even if it represented a better teaching method that made
learning and understanding Baguazhang easier. He simply felt most people were not qualified to make changes for any
reasons, and thought that anyone who felt the skill was too difficult to learn should not be taught in the first place.
It is not surprising then he taught relatively few students seriously, saying that he did not want to “waste time teaching
anyone who could not be great”. This conservative attitude tarnished his reputation as a teacher, and gained him
many critics who felt that he should be freer with his teaching. Although he taught many years, most his students may
just learned small part of his skills. Only a few students learned the complete sixty-four palm changes from him. One
example of how hard Ma was in his teaching is that he taught one of his sons the first palm change, and left him to
practice it for about seven years without teaching him anything more. He didn’t think his son's skill was good enough
yet to move to the next palm change. This is how Ma was remembered as a teacher.
Ma's attitude changed somewhat when he reached his seventies. On a chance encounter, he met and accepted a
twelve year old boy as a disciple, teaching this boy directly for many years. During the first three years, he taught this
boy for several hours each morning. Later, this youngster became an outstanding martial artist in his own right. We
can see how great that Ma’s premonition and foresight on this young boy. He probably felt this boy could be great and
so he taught him seriously. It is because of this student - Wang Peisheng (王培生), that the original Yin style
Baguazhang lineage, as transmitted from Yin Fu to Ma Gui, remains unbroken.
In his 80’s, yet another youngster would cause him
trouble at the end of his life. When he was 84 years old,
everyday he took his usual walk in the morning. Then a
young boy started to shadow him everyday; sometimes
ahead of him, sometimes behind. When he walked faster,
the boy walked faster. When he walked slower, the boy
walked slower. If he stopped, the boy stopped. Ma called
him, but the boy would not answer. Ma wanted to catch
him but the boy would run away and then return in a few
minutes. Nobody knew who he was and why he did it.
Most likely he was just some youngster playing prank
against an old man that he thought looked funny.
Ma was angry, thinking that somebody wanted to test his
gongfu. He thought he needed more practice and he
really went all out practicing. Unfortunately as one ages
there is a need to adjust martial training according to the
changing body. One simply cannot do all-out training in
basic conditioning at a late age without serious risks to
health. Ma’s friends warned him and tried to dissuade
him from practicing this intensely at his age, but he simply
would not listen. He thought that a good master should
never lose. Sadly, his friends’ warning came true – Ma
became sick and passed away very quickly after. To the
rest of us this seems like an absurd and incongruent
ending to an extraordinary life, however, his attitude
would be understandable to us considering the fact that
this was a man who knew no defeat since before reaching
full adulthood at hands other than Dong Haichuan and
The wood product factory Ma owned was called Yongyi Muqichang (永义木器厂). He did not pay enough attention to his business as he was mostly
preoccupied with martial arts. The business was bad, and finally Ma had to sell it. When he got old, Ma's life was difficult. He often needed financial
and other assistance from friends. Ma had nine sons of which eight died before he died.
Ma Gui won his great reputation as a great martial artist for his excellent fighting skills. At the same time, he was criticized as a conservative teacher.
Actually one great student is good enough to prove he was a good teacher no matter how conservative he was in regards to others.
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Wrist Striking of Baguazhang,
paeeed down from Ma Gui