The History and Characteristics of Zhaobao Taijiquan
1. A Brief History
In the garden of Taijiquan (Tai Chi Chuan) blossoms a wonderful flower, that is, Zhaobao Taijiquan. Zhaobao Taijiquan was originated in Zhaobao town in Henan province of China. Zhaobao practitioners believe that Zhang San-feng, a famous Taoist of the Ming dynasty (1368-1644 AD), was the creator of Taijiquan. The art was passed down by Wang Zong-yue to Jiang Fa, who was a native of Zhaobao town and was held as the first-generation master of Zhaobao Taijiquan. After Jiang Fa finished his apprenticeship with Wang Zong-yue, he returned to his hometown and taught what he had learned to a fellow townsperson, Xing Xi-huai. Since then the art of Taijiquan has been passed down from generation to generation in Zhaobao town and is thus called Zhaobao Taijiquan. It is also known as He Style Taijiquan because the eighth-generation master He Zhao-yuan had made valuable contributions to the improvement of the art. Zhaobao Taijiquan can be divided into big frame and small frame according to the degree of compactness and extendedness of the form. It can also be performed in different heights (high, medium, or low) and different speeds to suit the purposes of different practitioners.
Zhaobao Taijiquan had long been unknown to the people outside Zhaobao town because Wang Zong-yue ordered that “the disciples of this art should be carefully selected so that it would not fall into the wrong hands”. So there was a saying: “No Zhaobao Taijiquan outside Zhaobao town”. The first people broke this tradition were Zheng Wu-qing and Zheng Bo-ying, both were the tenth-generation masters of the art. The duo was also known as “Two Zhengs of the Northwest”. They left their hometown and settled in the northwestern city of Xian in 1930s because of the outbreak of the Sino-Japanese War (known as the War of Resistance against Japan in China). Since then Zhaobao Taijiquan has begun to spread and flourished in Northwest China and Xian has became a mecca for the aficionados of the art outside Zhaobao town.
Zheng Wu-qing was born in 1895 and passed away in 1984 at the age of eighty-nine. He suffered from poor health or chronic illness when he was young. After he learned Taijiquan from his friend Li Jun-xiu, his illness was cured and his health greatly improved. Later he became a disciple of He Qing-xi, the ninth-generation master of Zhaobao Taijiquan. Zheng’s skills were perfected under He’s instruction. Zheng moved to Northwest China when Henan province was occupied by the Japanese invaders. He was appointed martial arts instructor by a number of government institutions, including the Seventh Branch of the famous Central Army Officers Academy (generally known as the Whampoa Military Academy). Zheng Wu-qing was a highly-respected martial artist. He had taught Taijiquan in Northwest China for over forty years and made tremendous contributions to the spread and promotion of the art. Many well-known contemporary Zhaobao masters are his disciples. One of Zheng’s most brilliant disciples was Song Yun-hua.
Born in 1949, Song Yun-hua was barely fifteen when he began to learn Taijiquan from Zheng Wu-qing in early 1960s. Song was a gifted and assiduous student. He learned a lot from Zheng and was especially skilled in throwing and Qin Na (Chin Na, literally means seizing and locking) techniques. In the mid-1980s Song’s disciples Zhao Jun and Sun Jin-dou won prizes in a pushing-hands competition in Shaanxi province. Song Yun-hua absorbed the strengths of other martial arts and revolutionized the teaching methodology of Taijiquan. He pioneered a nine-level grading system and founded the International Taiji I Quandao Association to promote Taijiquan. Now the association has branches in China and other countries. His passing in 2006 is a great loss to the martial arts communities in China and the world.
In early 1990s Song Yun-hua introduced Zhaobao Taijiquan to Hong Kong. Kwan Wing-kwong was one of Song’s earliest students. Kwan has been a great enthusiast of martial arts since he was young. He has been exposed to a broad spectrum of martial arts and earned his fifth dan in Korean Taekwondo when he met Song Yun-hua. After he experienced the wonders of Zhaobao Taijiquan, Kwan was greatly amazed and became a keen believer in it. Later he founded the Hong Kong Zhaobao Taijiquan Association to promote this gem of martial arts in Hong Kong.
The set of Zhaobao Taijiquan passed down by Zheng Wu-qing belongs to the small frame and consists of 75 postures. Its characteristics are described as “as hard as steel, as soft as cotton, as slippery as fish, as sticky as the swim bladder of fish”. Zhaobao Taijiquan can suit both the people looking for good health and those interested in its aspect of self-defense because the techniques of combat and pushing hands are incorporated into this set of 75 postures. That is why it is sometimes referred to as a “three-in-one” style. Being part of the integrated system of Taijiquan, pushing hands is a tool to understand, examine and correct those postures in the set. It is also a linkage between the solo set and “real life” fighting.
When practicing Zhaobao Taijiquan, you are not supposed to move as slow as some other Taijiquan styles require. It normally takes five to six minutes to complete the whole set of Zhaobao Taijiquan. Throughout the whole set of Zhaobao Taijiquan, the body should be maintained central and upright posture and the movements should be level, even, circular, light, soft, and flexible. The torso, hands, arms, elbows, shoulders, hips, legs, knees, and footwork should rotate or move in a circular way. The whole set is made up of countless large, small, horizontal, vertical, and oblique circular movements. These circles are three-dimensional instead of two-dimensional ones. They are the sources of power. Because of this characteristic, Zhaobao style is also called the circular form of Taijiquan.
Zhaobao Taijiquan is a close-quarters fighting art with particular emphasis on Qin Na and throwing techniques. It is also well-known for its techniques of body strike (kao). In Zhaobao Taijiquan, every movement is initiated from the hips and the power of every technique is generated from the hips. That is why there is a saying: “The key to flexibility lies in the hips”. The combat theory of Zhaobao Taijiquan holds that if you want to “move a thousand pounds with a force of four ounces”, you should first make yourself “a standing log that can hold the weight of a thousand pounds”. That means you must first keep a good centerline and maintain your balance. Only by maintaining a good axis and a stable posture can you effectively use all kinds of circular and spiral movements to cope with the opponent’s attacks. By using the centripetal and centrifugal force, you can break the opponent’s balance and bring him down.
3. Forms, Techniques and Auxiliary Training
Stance: Bow Stance, horse stance, half-horse stance, drop stance, empty stance, cross stance Hand: punch (vertical punch, upward punch, downward punch), palm (vertical palm, upward palm, downward palm), hooked hand
Body: straight head, upright body, vertical shanks, relax and flexible hips
Footwork: step forward with the front foot, step forward with the rare foot, step backward with the rear foot, step backward with the front foot, jump and switch steps, stomping step, cross step Leg Techniques: thrust kick, snap kick, sweep kick, stomp kick, leg tripping Hand Techniques: ward off (peng), roll back (1u), press (ji), push (an), pluck (cai), split (lie), elbow strike (zhou), body strike (kao)
III. Auxiliary Training:
Standing Meditation: Known as zhanzhuang in Chinese, standing meditation is an introversive training of Taijiquan. By doing standing meditation, you can train your breathing, stamina and mentality when keeping a still and relax posture. A number of postures in the set can be used to do standing meditation.