International Baiyuan
Tongbei Quan Association
 Around three hundred years ago, many styles of traditional martial arts in China reached a high level and won great
reputation.  However, for some, the pinnacle of fame and popularity occurred more recently between 1850 and 1900.
These included the six most prominent quan, or boxing styles of Northern China referred to as six big gates1 (Liu Da
Men), better known as Taiji, Bagua, Xingyi, Shaolin, Jiaomen Tantui (Muslim Spring Leg), and Tongbei. Of these, the first
four are probably most familiar to Westerners and martial arts researchers.

The purpose of this article is to introduce the history, styles, and principles of Tongbei Quan. Tongbei is one of the more
obscure and eclectic styles of Northern Chinese boxing, but it is well-recognized in Chinese culture as a martial art that
has produced several great masters known especially for their fighting skills. In this article, we will describe some of the
unique aspects and training methods of the Shi Style of Baiyuan Tongbei Quan, which translated literally, means “white
(bai) ape (yuan) connected (tong) back (bei) boxing (quan).

Baiyuan Tongbei Quan has achieved fame throughout China and is more popular today than ever before. However, many
of its key skills are being diminished because of increasing attention only to the outside movements, and lowered
emphasis on the traditional mindset, inner feelings, and overall fighting spirit needed to train the real high-level skills.
Those currently practicing Tongbei Quan should pay special attention to this point. As modernization advances further,
there are fewer and fewer new students interested in seeking serious study of Tongbei as a traditional art form. Traditional
conservative ideas and secrecy greatly influence the transmission of Tongbei even today, which eventually could result in
the loss of many of the higher-level skills. And so the question before our present generation becomes how to inherit and
preserve the many superb skills and art of Tongbei Quan.  
Master Zhang Yun

1.  Brief History and Lineage of Tongbei Quan

Tongbei Quan is a traditional Northern Chinese martial art.  Its precise origin, however,  is shrouded in mystery, and neither the founder or exact time of its
creation are known. The earliest written reference to Tongbei is found in texts dating back a thousand years to the Song Dynasty (960 – 1279). The text
mentions that the first emperor, Zhao Kuangyin, fought three fights ending in the surrender of General Han Tong, who had used Tongbei Quan.2 Another
reference from 1669 is found in “The Tombstone Inscription of Mr. Wang Zhengnan” by Huang Zongyi (also known as Huang Lizhou). In this article one
sentence states that “You Jun’s Tongbei skill was the best.”3 These two references suggest that a fighting method referred to as Tongbei was in existence
over a very long period.

There are several styles of Tongbei Ouan.  Over the years of development, some of these styles adapted or fused elements from other Chinese martial arts,
but the original and most famous style is Baiyuan Tongbei Quan.  In this article, the term Tongbei indicates the Baiyuan style, unless indicated otherwise.
Today in China there are several well-known branches within Baiyuan Tongbei, which all follow similar principles.
The history of Baiyuan Tongbei is not well-documented. The most popular belief among Tongbei practitioners in China today is that the art was
conceptualized and  founded around 2,500 years ago by a man named Bai Shikou, also known as Yisan, and having the Taoist name of Dong Lingzi.
According to legend, he passed his skill on to Wang Dao, Li Yi, and Han Cheng.  The story is based on the folktale of Yuan Gong, a famous martial artist of
the Spring and Autumn Era (500 BC), who was described as old, with white hair and a beard, and always wearing white clothes. The story has it that he
challenged another martial arts master, but lost the fight, and as a result, became transformed into a white ape that took up residence in the forest, and was
thereafter referred to as Baiyuan (white ape) Laoren (old man).  Folklore maintained that he was an immortal ape who taught his skills in secret, and was
highly respected in Chinese martial arts society4.  Most groups in China today that practice traditional Tongbei include Baiyuan Laoren (Bai Shikou) in their
lineage as the founder of Tongbei.
Another version of Tongbei history, popular among a few groups of practitioners, traces the art through a lineage of famous masters starting with a different
presumed founder of the style, Chen Tuan (? - 989) (Figure 1). Chen was a Taoist master and renowned scholar and teacher of the Song Dynasty, who was
credited for his contributions to Taoist theory, including the creation of the well-known Taiji diagram. During the course of his Taoist practices in Hua Shan
Mountain, Chen is said to have invented Tongbei and a qigong method known as Shui Gong Fa. While there is no direct proof that Chen actually invented
these skills, many practitioners ascribe to this traditional idea and consider Master Chen as the first generation master of Tongbei Quan.

In our group’s lineage list in the traditional family manual (i.e., the group record or the Pu),5  after Chen Tuan, the art of Tongbei skill was passed on through
several famous masters, and finally separated to two styles – Qi style and Shi style.
Statue of Chen Tuan in
the Temple of Hua Shan
Lineage Chart from Chen Tuan to Qi Xin and SHi Hongsheng

Qi Style Tongbei Quan

Although Tongbei Quan was probably developed more than a thousand years ago, it was neither popular nor well-known in China until the 1800’s because
Tongbei masters before Qi Xin did not teach in public. Most groups practicing Tongbei did so by following the usual traditional idea of keeping everything in
secret, which led to some criticism of the style by outsiders as being too conservative.  Qi Xin was one of the first masters to teach Tongbei more openly.

Qi Xin was said to be a resident of Zhejiang province, but was apparently active throughout Hebei, Henan, Shanxi, and Shandong provinces. During the time
of Emperor Daoguang (Qing Dynasty, 1821 – 1850), Master Qi apparently got into some trouble with the local authorities in his hometown and fled to Guan
county in Hebei province.  There he hid and worked privately for the wealthy and powerful Yin family in the local township of Liulihe. During his stay with the
Yin family, Master Qi did not make known his martial arts skills until the Du family, another powerful clan, fought the Yin family for the control of the local
harbor business. Using a long staff, Qi soundly defeated many opponents in the Du family, and as a result, was hailed by many as a great master, and was
asked to teach his skill. Qi taught Tongbei and became very famous in doing so. Later his students brought Tongbei to the larger Northern cities, including
Beijing and Tianjing.  They won a great reputation teaching and upholding challenges and achieved the ultimate recognition by others as Qi Style Tongbei.
Tongbei Master Zhang Ce
Lineage Chart of Qi Style Tongbei Quan
Qi Style Tongbei split into two styles called old Qi style (Lao Qi Pai) and young Qi style (Shao Qi Pai).  In the old Qi style, Qi Xin’s original methods of training
were maintained in which the movements are larger and harder. In the young Qi style, Qi Xin’s son Qi Taichang’s variation, the movements are softer and the
skills are more detailed and fluid. Subsequently, additional branches were developed from each of these styles, including Wuxing (five element) Tongbei and
Wuyuan (five ape) Tongbei.  

One interesting aspect about Qi Style Tongbei lineage is that in Qi Style group no one listed Lu Yunqing as Qi Xin’s master, and so their lineage history
starts from Qi Xin. As a result, no one in the Qi Style lineage today knows who Qi’s master was. However, according to our Shi Style Tongbei family manual,
Qi learned from Lu Yunqing, but the other practitioners doubt this claim lacking further proof. In any case, based on the inherent principles and skills, it is
clear that the two styles derived from a same source, but it is less certain when they split into two distinct styles.

Shi Style Tongbei Quan

Shi Hongsheng, the first generation master of Shi Style Tongbei, learned his skill originally
during the Daoguang Period of the Qing Dynasty (1821–1850) from Master Lu Yunqing.
According to our group manual, Master Lu was a resident of Wei County of Shangdong who
owned a fur and leather business. He often traveled to Beijing for business and stayed in a
fur and leather shop near Zengshou Si (temple) near the Guangan Gate. Shi Hongsheng,
an accountant for that shop, had attended very well to Lu when Lu once became ill at the
shop.6 Lu was very moved by Shi’s behavior so he wanted to teach him Tongbei in return.
Shi, an able-bodied man who had studied some other hard style martial arts, was practicing
one night when Lu came in and said to Shi, “your skill looks pretty good but the only
problem is your force cannot reach very far.” Shi did not know Lu was a great martial arts
master, so he said, “if you do not believe my force can reach to you, you can try.”  When
Shi attacked Lu, Lu used a quick defensive skill but did not counterattack.  After several
more attempts, Shi realized that Lu was much better than he was, and so he asked Lu to
teach him. Lu already thought much of Shi for his previous kindness and so he taught him
Shi practiced hard and became a high level master, but for many years he did not teach anyone until he began keeping company with Zhang Wencheng, a
relative and an officer at the Beijing garrison, already with good martial arts skills. Zhang learned through their conversations that Shi practiced some form of
martial art, but he could not believe that Shi, a mere store accountant, could possess any real skill, and so they agreed to a friendly match.  Shi followed the
accepted traditional idea, which was to let Zhang attack him three times without counterattack.  After Zhang missed all three times, Shi used one attacking
method and easily threw Zhang far away.  Zhang realized Shi had great skills and asked Shi to teach him and was accepted as a disciple.  Shi did not teach
many other students though, because of his conservative nature. Eventually he did teach several other disciples. Of Shi’s few disciples, only Zhang
Wencheng and Ma Xiaohe passed on their skills to a select few.
Quick Hand Black Li
- Li Zhendong
Iron Arm Li - Li Shusen
                                                                                           Lineage Chat of Shi Style Tongbei Quan
          Zhao Zeren                                                                             Gu Yun                                                                         Lu Shengli
Because of the historical conservatism among groups of Tongbei practitioners, few of the core
principles have been organized and recorded systematically.  Communication among different
Tongbei groups is usually rare. For these reasons, certain aspects of Tongbei Quan remain obscure
and confusing and could easily be misunderstood by martial arts historians attempting to research
these practices.  For example, regarding designations, the full name of Shi Style Tongbei should be
Shi Style Baiyuan Tongbei Quan, but it is usually referred to as Baiyuan Tongbei Quan.  Conversely,
when one refers to Baiyuan Tongbei, this most often means Shi Style Tongbei.  Usually, only the
insider practitioners refer to their style as Shi Style.  The opposite is true for Qi Style Tongbei, which is
designated as such, and often down to the specific sub-style (e.g., Wuxing Tongbei). However, Qi
Style insider practitioners often refer to their style using the full name of Qi Style Baiyuan Tongbei
Quan. Since Qi style is the more popular Tongbei style, it is most often referred to simply as Tongbei
Quan, whereas the Shi style, as indicated above, is referred to as Baiyuan Tongbei Quan.

In addition, although Qi style and Shi style Tongbei came from the same source, each evolved
differently over the years.  The basic training in Qi style involves 108 solo techniques, sometimes
referred to as “taking apart skill” (Chai Quan). Major training in Shi style involves the twenty-four
postures form, also referred to as “linking form” (Lian Quan). Thus, Chai Quan and Lian Quan have
also been used to designate the respective Tongbei styles, but regardless of differences in fighting
skills or training methods, both follow similar principles, as indicated in a translation of the related
classical poem: “Chai Quan and Lian Quan all follow the same principle, they are not separate and
distinct from each other, even though they have their own unique features.”
Strider Clark with Gu Yun in Beijing, 1993
2.  Teaching Traditions and the Popularization of Tongbei Quan

Starting in the 1910’s, some Qi style masters began to teach Tongbei in public martial arts schools. Soon after, Qi style became more popular than Shi style,
and today, at least ninety percent of Tongbei practitioners study Qi style or one of its branches. However, even though some Qi Style masters taught in
public, they still reserved teaching of some of the higher-level skills for a select few disciples in private classes. As Qi style Tongbei became more popular,
additional forms were created for teaching purposes. Today in Northern China, Qi style has spread widely and is very influential in many places, especially in
Beijing, Tianjing, Hebei, and Liao Ning areas. There are still many practitioners in Guan County where Qi Xin first began teaching Tongbei. Since Qi style was
taught in public, it is not too difficult to join the group and learn some skills. However, although one can find many people practicing Tongbei in these
locations, there are still relatively few people who know the complete Qi style training system and understand its higher-level principles.

The group practicing Shi style Tongbei today has remained fairly conservative, and so it remains very difficult for the uninitiated to join a Tongbei group, let
alone become an indoor disciple.  The master traditionally and often today “closes the doors” to teach secretly inside of a room, and so it is not uncommon
for most disciples to spend long years learning and practicing the skills, and never be shown the truly higher-level skills. As with many other martial arts
practices, a master traditionally passed on the truly higher-level skills only to the best students with good moral constitution.7 The student had to be smart
enough to understand the principles, but also diligent and disciplined enough to practice very hard.  This conservative approach had the effect of limiting the
group size, and contributed to the quality and depth of skill development, which, in turn, helped the group maintain a high reputation, especially for real

Shi style masters are known as some of the most vicious and feared fighters, using one attack to quickly finish a fight. Supplemental training, such as iron
arm, iron palm, are included as part of the training here, so the master emphasizes the requirement for high moral standards in students beforehand.  In fact,
the teaching was, “never fight until you definitely must fight”, and the group would punish any student severely who engaged in unnecessary fights. By
comparison with other styles, Shi style practitioners kept to the traditional way, often dubbed, Hei Quan or “black fist”, which has two interpretations: one
involves their practice in a dark place so that others cannot see what they do; the other relates to the very aggressive style adopted in a necessary fighting
situation.  Even today, outsiders and researchers do not have a clear understanding of this style. Shi style masters remain ultra-conservative, refusing to
divulge even the most general of information about their lineage and methods to martial arts scholars.

In Shi style, everything is just for fighting. Anything else, no matter how beautiful or impressive in a demonstration, is considered unnecessary.  In the Shi
Style Tongbei lineage under Zhang Wencheng, practitioners resist any change, modification, or reform of the system that was passed down.  They keep to
the traditional way, believing the older the better. Many of the masters are strict, and hold to the way they were taught and teach the same way to their
students. This regimented transmission provides more insight into the original Tongbei training methods.    
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, however, 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, then to make qi move smoothly and harmoniously, then how to release force in a quick and
sudden manner, with the whole body coordinated and integrated.   The more initially relaxed the body, the more energy
generated, and the more force released.
Today Shi Style remains willfully obscure. There are some famous masters but no one ever taught in public, and only a
few taught privately. So far from what we know there is no Shi Style Tongbei Quan book avaible yet from these masters.
The only one book was written by a Japanese. 8  Figures below show some postures from the various Shi Style Tongbei
lineages. The few practitioners of Shi style Tongbei are in Beijing. Few if any Westerners have been able to join and
study with groups practicing this style. 9

Although many of the basic principles and skills are identical between the Shi style lineages of Ma and Zhang, there are
some key differences. For example, Ma and his students made some changes and created some new skills and training
methods. Ma’s group employs more forms. But in Zhang’s lineage, traditional methods were not altered. The Shi style
group in Zhang’s lineage is more strict and conservative than most other groups. Today many martial arts history books
have been published about other styles, some have brief introduction of Ma’s lineage and yet no one mentions Zhan’s
lineage. This does not mean a total lack of information about the art, only that no one is able to get information from
group members, and it is extremely difficult to join the group. And even within the group, some things are only passed to
a few of the disciples. Recently, however, some of the practice methods on the Shi style Tongbei of Ma’s lineage have
become available on video/VCD media.10

Because of its simplicity, utility, and efficiency, it is possible for a student to gain a lot of fighting ability in a very short
period of time, especially when compared to other external and internal styles, and so Tongbei had an alternate
reputation for being easy to master. Even for many beginners, it seems like a “study-today-and-use-tomorrow”
proposition. In fact, most practitioners can achieve at least mid-level skills quicker and easier compared with other
styles. So it really attracts many people to learn it. However, because of the conservatism, only few ever achieve truly
higher-level skills that Tongbei has to offer.
Grandmaster Wang Peisheng
demonstrates Ruyi Tongbei
passed down from Liang Junbo
Takeda Hiroshi demonstrates
Baiyuan Tongbei passed
down from He Zhenfang
Zhang Guizeng demonstrates
Baiyuan Tongbei passed
down from Ma Xiaohe
Zhang Yun demonstrates
Baiyuan Tongbei passed
down from Li Shusen

3. Basic Principles of Tongbei Quan

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.11 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) then is to make the arms
more extended and relaxed, allowing qi and internal forces to pass more smoothly through the back and into the hands. This
is the most important idea in Tongbei Quan; that is, to practice making your arms more relaxed and extended, and in gaining
the feeling inside that they are more extended, hence the reason behind this name. This is the specific and primary feature
emphasized and applied to this boxing style.

It is important also 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, or
to describe a specific practice involving the back and arms (e.g., Fan Through the Back - Shan Tongbei in Taiji Quan). There
White gibbon
are also other styles of martial arts that include Tongbei as part of their name, for example Hongdong Tongbei. However, such arts represent distinct
lineages and are unrelated to Baiyuan Tongbei because they 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 and with other skills, such as Pigua Tongbei, and
still others that use a homonym of the name, like 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, such as the eagle, monkey, and tiger. In this sense,
one could say that Tongbei Quan is an animal imitation style, but in fact, it is very different from the rest. 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. Since the basic philosophical idea of Tongbei is that of
Taoism, and since 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.   

Baiyuan Tongbei Quan consists of two major parts: martial art application and qigong. The martial applications represent a study of the ape’s attributes,
which correspond to a number of simple, useful, and efficient techniques, all 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 it famous, hence many outsiders as well as practitioners have associated Tongbei just with fighting.  

The basic principles of Tongbei consist of the “four kinds of Jin”12, 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, and 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, and so 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, and in fighting one must
do likewise. The ape is considered a clever animal, with an agile and powerful mind from which all actions flow, and in fighting, one must initiate all actions
from the heart and mind. A familiar principle here is that wherever the mind goes, the physical forces arrive 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, use your
upper back to guide your shoulders, use your shoulders to lead your arms, and use your arm to lead your hands, until finally qi and the force arrives
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

The basic movements and techniques of Tongbei can be broken down into circles, lines, and points.  Most of the movements involve circles, where it is much
easier than in linear movements to get qi and force 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
(Figure 14).
Chopping Mountain
Chopping Mountain
Application Sequence
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 (Figure 15).
Center Punch Sequence
Center Punch Application Sequence
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 mean “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 at a particular moment in time, that being the moment of impact.  This training
not only prepares one’s on 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.
The basic applications features of Tongbei Quan’s 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; thus, “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, with no wasted
movements, and be able to change at any moment.  

In summary, when practicing Tongbei, one should make
the movements as large and continuous as possible, the
transitions smooth and connected, with slapping of the
arms and body many times against each other, with
stamping of the feet very hard, with shoulders stretched
out and the waist  twisted and turned, so that the force is
released in powerful way. There are no superfluous
movements, or movements that are aesthetic, or 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, especially for beginners.  However, in fighting,
at the more detailed and refined levels, the smaller
movements are preferred.

4.  Training Methods of Shi Style Baiyuan Tongbei Quan

Shi style Tongbei practitioners believe that their skills exist only for fighting, and so except for some basic gongfu exercises, each skill is developed for
efficient fighting.  Some of the techniques are not very aesthetic, and movements created for any reason other than for fighting are always ignored, even
ridiculed, and disregarded. For example, Chinese martial arts practice usually involves much practice of forms. Tongbei practitioners do not think that forms
are all that useful, and in some groups, form practice is almost ignored completely.  For example, there are some forms even in Shi style Tongbei, but they
are not taught very often.  Emphasis is placed mainly on the development of individual skills. Once a student can perform all the single skills individually, it is
possible to go on to study form. This should not imply that forms practice is for higher-level students, just that forms are not the most important, fundamental
priority in your training.  

Traditional training consists of several parts. They are: basic gongfu training, basic skills training, two person fixed set training, two person free skills training,
weapons training, and qigong training.  Today the various Tongbei groups, although they follow similar principle, have developed their own training
methods.  Since Shi Style Baiyuan Tongbei Quan is much closer to the original way, we use it as an example.  

For basic gongfu training, many exercises are taught first for relaxing and stretching the whole body, especially the arms, back, and waist.  Second,
additional methods are taught for generating increased internal force through these parts of the body, and for developing a solid root through the legs and
feet.  Third, further exercises are aimed toward balancing internal components (shen, yi, qi). Additional conditioning exercises, such as iron palm, iron arm,
and iron body, are especially emphasized in Shi style and are practiced for hardening the body and enhancing power. This requires the use of several types
of special training bags and posts, and various methods for striking them (Figure 16). This type of training is very arduous and tedious.  Masters usually
assign students to this training for the first several years because they believe it forms the foundation skills for all advanced studies. In fact, bag and post
hitting are considered the root of all skills in Tongbei Quan. In addition, it gives the master a chance to observe a student’s character and personality. If one
fails to practice these skills diligently and persistently, he would not be taught any longer.
                                                           Sequence of Iron Palm Training with Lying Bag
For basic skills training, the student studies single techniques, one by one, and repetitively. “Do it one thousand times” is the common refrain from the
masters. The student practices solo to achieve a basic understanding of the technique in terms of its meaning and to develop proper coordination.  The
technique is then practiced on a bag and/or padded post so that the student gets the right feeling for releasing force in full contact striking. After this, if the
student has practiced hard and is worthy, the master explains more about the timing and angles, how the skill should be applied in combat, with all possible
changes and variations. Once the student has progressed through these stages for one technique and is able to do it well, they are then taught the next

The two persons fixed set training enables a detailed study of attack and defense, which is a prerequisite for mastery of Tongbei fighting skill; thus, “if you
want to master Tongbei skill, you must always fight with a partner”.  There are different routines, depending on the goal of training. For hard contact training,
the partners hit each other hard in order to increase striking power and enhance defensive skill. Other sets are for training reflexes, which increase speed
and reduce reaction time. Still other sets are designed for detailed research of each skill and all their variations.  Such fixed routines are not always
standardized by famous masters; partners can make up their own according to their needs. Practice each routine repeatedly from both offensive and
defensive perspective. Generally, a single technique is practiced first, and then combinations are introduced, usually involving two to five individual
techniques in combination. These practice routines must be done very slowly and carefully at first before adding speed in order to minimize the risk for
serious injury. Body protectors are often used to avoid injury during full-speed practice with a partner, in order to get an accurate feeling of how these skills
would work in a real fight. Proper training in Tongbei develops tremendous striking power, and injuries can sometimes occur even when a body protector is

After practicing the fixed routines, the student progresses to free-style fighting with a partner. Each partner can use any skill he likes, and is not required to
tell the partner what he plans to do, which is very much like real fighting, and consistent in principle with the strategy of the ape described above. Body
protectors are essential during this type of training to avoid or limit injury.  The most important point in this training is that a student not worry about whether
he wins or loses. This is the time to focus on the skills themselves, reflecting objectively on why the encounter was won or lost, and not getting angry when hit
hard. Part of the development of Tongbei skill is understanding that one will get hit a lot before learning eventually how to win.

Weapons training is uncommon among most Tongbei groups today.  The most common weapons used in Tongbei training are the Dao (sabre), Jian (straight
sword), Da Ganzi (long staff), and spear.  Dao and Da Ganzi are famous weapons in Tongbei, adhering in use to the same principles developed in unarmed
fighting.  There are some weapons forms, but they tend to be ignored in favor of practicing individual techniques and two person routines for combat practice.

Lastly, the Tongbei qigong training is only taught in a few groups.  Shui Gong Fa or Sleeping Qigong is the most common form used by Tongbei
practitioners. Chen Tuan is said to have invented this Taoist qigong training while practicing on Hua Shan Mountain. Interestingly, most of the postures in this
qigong method are practiced lying down on a bed, and mimic the various sleeping postures, hence the name.

5.  Major Routines of Shi Style Baiyuan Tongbei Quan

The major routines and sets practiced in Shi Style Baiyuan Tongbei skills are:

Six Prime Skills: These include six single skills, each expressing a main idea of Tongbei, and representing the foundation skill for all Tongbei training.

Eight Older Fists: This is a short form including eight skills selected from among those used by Tongbei masters to quickly win fights.

Twelve Linking Fists: This set includes twelve short combinations, with each consisting of two to five individual skills. Each of the 12 combinations should
be practiced separately to develop an understanding of how combinations or continuous skills are used in fighting.

Twenty-four Posture Form: This is considered the main routine of Shi Style Tongbei, consisting of twenty-four skills, which many believe form the oldest or
original form of Tongbei. However, this form is not usually taught as a continuous form, with practitioners preferring to hone each skill separately and in great
detail. Only when every skill is done well should they be linked into a form. It is very common that some modern day practitioners have practiced each of the
individual skills for many years but still do not know the entire form in continuous linkage.

Thirty-Six Take Apart Fist: This is a combination form including thirty-six skills, which also are usually studied as individual parts for teaching and practice.  

Although there are not many sets and routines in Shi Style Baiyuan Tongbei Quan, the approach to mastery and unfolding many of the secrets requires the
guidance of a knowledgeable master, and a continuing detailed study of how to vary and change between the different skills. Unlimited skills can be
generated from these basic skills, so the ability to change and interchange is the key point for developing higher-level Tongbei skills.

6. Technical Section: Fighting Skills of Shi Style Baiyuan Tongbei Quan

There are several features of Shi style Tongbei fighting. The first is to be quick and continuous, and 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; thus, “blocking and attacking are one”.  The third is to avoid any unnecessary
movements and be as efficient as possible; thus, “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; thus, “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; thus, “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; thus, “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, and 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, hence they are often 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, but not very hard, 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, which sets up for 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 for both striking the arms and bridging closer for the next technique. For example,
crossing hand block (Figure 17) is a quick hand skill used when the opponent punches to your face or chest with his right hand and you use your right hand
to block/strike his right wrist, your left hand to block/strike 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.
Sequence of Crossing Hand Block
The hard and heavy skills can cause serious injury to the opponent. Application of these skills usually requires proper distancing relative to the opponent so
that the force is 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 where 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” (Figure 18) is a downward punch to the stomach or ribs that is used only when very close in with the opponent. The idea here is the
generation of whole body force, starting from the foot, through the legs, back, shoulder, arm and downward into your fist, all as you imagine punching a deep
hole into the ground (i.e. the opponent’s body), and planting a tree (i.e., your arm). The main problem with this type of martial skill is that the movement is big
and committed, leaving little chance to change if needed. Also, no opponent will just stand there and let you close in and strike him. So, the key for this skill is
to first unbalance your opponent before closing in and striking. For example, from the figure, before you deliver “planting punch” with your right fist, you
should use your left hand to pull your opponent slightly to your left, thus causing his body to lose balance and to lean left and back. This idea of unbalancing
comes from disruption and displacement principle.
Sequence of Planting Punch
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 which 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, some simple, 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” (Figure 19), 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.
                                                                            Sequence of Cat Springs on a Mouse
 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 so they tend to be slower and more difficult to apply directly, but 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. For example, there is the throwing skill 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. Some of the more lethal techniques common to all martial arts involve similar principles. The
most dangerous variation of this skill in Tongbei is referred to as “cut off head” (Figure 20) where your right hand hits and pushes the opponent’s chin to
forward and your the left with a downward turn, and at the same time your left hand pulls the back of the opponent’s head toward you. The force of both
hands is released from your whole body by turning to the left, and adding another force to turn the neck with downward.  
                                                                         Sequence of Cut Off Head with Turning Force
  All Tongbei skills are useful in real fighting. Common tactics in Tongbei fighting involve use of quick hand skills to harass your opponent first, and then seek
or 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,
followed by hard and heavy skills to strike, or a controlling or throwing skill to throw him out or down.  

     * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Baiyuan Tongbei Quan has achieved fame throughout China and is more popular today than ever before. However, many of its key skills are being
diminished because of increasing attention only to the outside movements, and lowered emphasis on the traditional mindset, inner feelings, and overall
fighting spirit needed to train the real high-level skills. Those currently practicing Tongbei Quan should pay special attention to this point. As modernization
advances further, there are fewer and fewer new students interested in seeking serious study of Tongbei as a traditional art form. Traditional conservative
ideas and secrecy greatly influence the transmission of Tongbei even today, which eventually could result in the loss of many of the higher-level skills. And
so the question before our present generation becomes how to inherit and preserve the many superb skills and art of Tongbei Quan.  


1.  Traditionally, each family had its own building with one main entry gate or door (men).  All family members gain access through the same gate of the
building. Reference to the same gate means that persons belong to the same family. In Chinese martial arts, each group is like a family, so each style or
group can be referred to as a gate or door. For example, when a Taiji practitioner is asked which gate they belong to, they can answer that they are in Taiji
gate (Taiji men).

2.  “Zhong Guo Ti Yu Shi (Chinese Sport History)”, “Zhong Guo Wu Shu Shi (Chinese Martial Arts History)”

3.  “Nan Lei Ji - The Tombstone Inscription of Mr. Wang Zhengnan” by  Huang Zongyi. Huang was a famous scholar and his son Huang Baijia was a student
of Wang Zhengnan.  So this reference source is highly reliable. Wang was a famous Neijia Quan – Internal Boxing master. In the article, several different
martial arts styles are mentioned, including Tongbei. From the article we do not know who You Jun was, but the phrase indicates he was a famous Tongbei
master at that time.

4.  “Wu Yue Chuan Qiu (Spring and Autumn of Wu and Yue Kingdoms)”, volume 9. This is an ancient history book that recorded the history of Wu and Yue
Kingdoms about 2500 years ago. Today we do not know who and when the original book was written. The earliest edited version we know of assembled by
Zhao Ye around 80 AC.

5.  The Pu – the group record, or the family book, is a traditional book, in which was recorded the principles, skills, history, and lineage for each martial arts
family. There is usually only one hand-written copy in each group and it is kept by the group leader. It is the most important material for each group, and
most groups keep their Pu a closely guarded secret. In the authors’ lineage of Shi Style Baiyuan Tongbei, the Pu was passed down through Zhang
Wencheng’s son, but no one in the group is sure who wrote it and when.  

6. It was common in the past for many shops to offer food and room for their customers. For many small businesses, the accountant also managed the
business. Since Lu Yunqing had business with Shi Hongsheng’s shop, Lu stayed in the shop. Lu became ill once and this gave Shi the chance (i.e.,
opportunity) to have Lu get to know him as a nice and helpful person. Then, when Li saw that Shi liked martial arts, Lu made a gift of his skill in return. A
relevant Chinese saying about this is, “you cannot find opportunity, opportunity finds you.”

7. Moral character is the most important concept in traditional Chinese martial arts training. Martial arts are very dangerous skills and can be used for good
or bad purposes, which depends on the individual. In past times, each martial arts group was like a family, and if any member did bad things, it would destroy
the reputation of the whole family. So each group “watched its door” very carefully. Each group usually has its own rules of conduct for its members. The
general content of martial arts morals demands that one respect and obey the older generations, help others in need, understand right and wrong and true
and false, be trustworthy, take responsibility, and exhibit self-control.

8.  The first book about Tongbei available in China was written by Takeda Hiroshi (Wu Tian Xi) and was published in 1936 by Shang Wu Yin Shua Gua
(Business Press Company). Takeda was a Japanese student at Peking University since 1924 who studied Tongbei with He Zhenfeng for several years.
Interestingly, although the content in certain portions of book are very clear, other parts are very puzzling and strange.  Many believe the reason is that
Master He did not really want to teach Takeda, and so he diverted the teaching on purpose. There is speculation that this happened because of the political
situation between China and Japan at that time.  

9. In 1993, Strider Clark went to Beijing and became an indoor disciple of Shi Style Tongbei. He is the first westerner to have joined this group in the
traditional sense.

10.  Most Shi Style Tongbei masters remain very conservative even today.  Thus far, the only published material on Shi Style Tongbei Quan consists of a
collection of VCD’s developed by Zhang Guizeng of Ma Xiaohe’s Muslim lineage.  
11. There are three characters for “bei”, as used in Tongbei.  One means back, one
means arm, and the other means to prepare.  The first two represent the usual meaning
in the art of Tongbei Quan.  Which of these two terms represents the original meaning is
not clear, but following Tongbei principle, either one could apply.  So far most scholars
agree to adopt the first one (back) as the standard. When the third meaning is used (i.e.,
to prepare), it does not refer to the traditional Tongbei style, but rather to a newer
system using the term “tongbei” that was created by a martial arts family in the1930s.
Although some of the movements and principles were carried through, most traditional
Tongbei practitioners consider the newer style quite different, and it never achieved
much fame or popularity.    
12.  The usual meaning of the character for Jin means “force” or “big force”, but it can also express a pattern of behavior, such as emotions, internal
feelings, or one’s disposition.  The latter is a very common usage for the word Jin in Northern China and is the meaning intended here.   


1.  Xi Yuntai: “Chinese Martial Arts History”, People Sport Press, 1985

2.  Hatsuda Ryuchi: “Brief History of Chinese Martial Arts”, translated by Lu Yan and YanHai, Shichuan Science and Technology Press, 1984

3.  Gu Shiquan: “Chinese Sport History”, Beijing Physical Education University Press, 1997

4.  Zhou Shengchun: “Edition and Textual Research of ‘Spring and Autumn of Wu and Yue Kingdoms’”, Shanghai Ancient Rare Book Press, 1997

5.  Liaoning Martial Arts Research and Sort Out Group and Shenyang Physical Education Collage Martial Arts Research and Sort Out Group: “Tongbei
Quan”, People Sport Press, 1990

6.  Ren Gang: “Secret Linking Skills of Tongbei Quan”, Beijing Physical Education University Press, 1996

7.  Takeda Hiroshi, “Tongbei Quan Skills”, China Bookstore Press, 1984


A special thanks for the photography work by Paul Keane and Chris Young, and to Peter Capell who helped Strider Clark in the technical sections.
Yin Cheng Gong Fa Association North American Headquarters

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