Wujiquan: The Alchemy of Kungfu

Wujiquan charactersWujiquan:origins

In a poem ascribed to Zhang San Feng who is believed by many to have been the person who invented Taijiquan and is accepted as the founder of the Wu-Dang Temple he writes;

Taiji comes from Wuji and is the Mother of Yin and Yang

 

No one can be absolutely certain he wrote the words that are ascribed to him if at all, but they are accepted lore in the Tai Chi Community. It cannot be proven that Zhang Sanfeng is the founder of the Wu-Dang Temple even though almost all Chinese believe this to be true.  It is unlikely for the mere fact that there more than a few temple complexes and locations on the “WuDangshan” mountain range i.e. on the mountain called Wu-Dang with one of the main temple complexes being built during the Ming Dynasty (14th to the 17th centuries) and other structures being built earlier during the Song and Yuan Dynasties. Still the words are poignant and filled with meaning. Zhang Sanfeng is said to have been born variously in the Song, Yuan, and Ming Dynasties the most favored interpretation being the late Yuan Dynasty on or about the 13th Century.  For more specifics one is encouraged to consult authoritative historical articles and publications. The purpose of this article is to provide context rather than specific detail as there is scholarly controversy about almost every detail as would be expected.

Wujiquan as the “Original” Wushu

Wujiquan by definition is the original and archetypal Wuyi or “Lao Wushu”.  When the controversy originally came to the attention of many in the mid-1980s, Grandmaster Cheng, who at the time was considered one of the top masters in China and the headmaster of International Suaijiao, confirmed what Dr. Harkins had claimed, that Wujiquan was the “original” martial art.  But at the time it is likely that most people in the Wushu world did not entirely understand what he was really saying.  It is a fact that in the mid 1980s the name of Wujiquan was coined and introduced to the Martial Arts world as a concept and reference first in America by Dr. J. E. Harkins.  Wujiquan gradually gained in acceptance through the efforts to teach the art  and private demonstrations of the art by Dr. Harkins which including periodic visits with his friends who were professional Wushu players in Beijing.  In addition the name of Wujiquan became widely published by means of a newsletter entitled the Wujido News in the 1990s and publishing on the Internet which drew interest from martial artists world-wide at the time. Prior to this there was no public mention anywhere in print or on the net, it was not on the lips of anyone.  In point of fact there was substantial resistance to the very idea of Wujiquan and attacks came from all points from those vested interests in their “traditional” martial arts.  However, without a doubt it was through the efforts of Dr. Harkins that a spark of interest was ignited.  After many years others emerged primarily from 2008 and on with more and more individuals now claiming Wujiquan heritage.

Dr. Harkins provided the genesis of Wujiquan as reference to a conceptual template of Chinese Wushu. Therefore it should resolve to him the task and responsibility to restrain others from corrupting this exceedingly profound system and send out a call to all that it will not benefit the legacy of Wujiquan to devise claims or stories of masters who never existed or invent false histories, myth, or mysterious but non-extant secret manuscripts in order to cloud minds and mislead others away from the truth. There are many important manuscripts that do use the terminology of Wuji, these are important and I will make some reference to these, but these manuscripts are of an alchemical nature and none make a direct connection or specify a particular martial art or system of methods and techniques of martial skill. The terminology of Wujiquan was chosen by Dr. Harkins in the mid 1980s for philosophical reasons; but without a doubt, the physical basis of the art as is, are the very martial skills attributable to the oldest of Chinese martial arts, known as the Wuyi. these belong to the ancient dynastic epochs  inclusive of the former Han up to the Ming dynasty as both vast and profound and happily for all of us, provide ample room for expansion and development by those of us who have chosen this path because of its incredible appeal.

All skill sets imaginable can and ultimately should be applicable under this premise, but in order to prevent an obvious danger of losing one’s way, there has to be a basis. Without the basis, it truly will become a chaotic form of “boxing” without basis or rule or rational trajectory. Therefore,contrary to what some may claim; our aim should be to build upon a sound and profound physical basis for technique that will provide for the infinite possibilities and derivations according to the principles of reversal, balance, unification and so forth, of the core philosophy of yogic methodology and martial movement. It should be utterly rejected that Wujiquan is some sort of chaos boxing as there is no meaning or utility in dispensing with structure. The basis of Wuji is identical with the central truth of reality and cannot be otherwise. Wujiquan therefore embraces the foundation of the primordial order, not the Taiji (strictly translating the concept meaning “too extreme or great extremes”) of the pairs of opposites which has nothing to do with the absolute but only with the relative. For those who abide by modernity may claim that order comes from Chaos but in fact Chaos does not exist without order and is a man-made often political phenomenon.  What is seen as chaotic in the Universe is merely an expression of a supremely higher order. The Order of nature arises out of the primordial truth of reality and exists arising out of a deep and profound law manifest in the pattern of our DNA, in our Life-Force, in the quantum transcendent reality ever beyond the pairs of opposites. Consciousness and mind is our link to this reality without which there would be nothing.

Wujiquan is Wuyi.

Because more and more wushu men and women are embracing Wujiquan not only here in America but also in the great centers of Wushu in China; the hope is that individuals will not just make up styles without a unifying basis.  Unfortunately there is a tendency at this point for this to happen because the individuals and groups are scattered in their ideas and as a result one will do a kind of simplified and watered down Baguazhang, another does a kind of combination of Taekwondo and Taiji, another group actually shows evidence of having observed or obtained photographs of Dr. Harkins performing Wujiquan while in Beijing on numerous occasions.  In this way it seems all are trying to “invent” some kind of version of Wujiquan, put the name Wujiquan on it and then by making up their own system using some kind of combination of the above, these individuals whether in ignorance or sincere action are in effect trying to invent or reinvent Wujiquan without reference to the founder of the system.  Not all of these efforts are entirely negative and conceptually it is a good thing to integrate the universal concept of unification whenever and wherever one can.  However, divorced from its true roots as established by the modern founder of this lineage, such efforts lead down an errant path.

It is time to clarify the issue and hopefully encourage those, who in some cases seem quite genuine in their efforts. It is this author who is the Wujiquan lineage and at this date of publication the only master of the Wujiquan lineage who can provide the template for further study in order to avoid the chaos that seems to be arising from independent efforts to create a system of Wushu that is already established for more than 25 years and based fully and scientifically on the ancient Chinese system of Wuyi.  Such disparate efforts will only end in the lineage collapsing for a variety of reasons.  Outside of one system that is known as Xingyiquan that is extant today and based on the Wuyi of the Song dynasty and invented by a master of Wuyi, based on Wuyi; there are no other systems so directly connected to the Wuyi of the former times.  Bagua has its origins in the Sumerian regions and owes its evolution to a combination of Taoist religion and The Zoroastrian and Islamic influence of whirling combined with the 8 palms almost precisely similar to the palm method of the Chen family. It origins are clearly in the Qing, even perhaps the late Qing dynasty. There is no Wujiquan Bagua; however, it can be said that the practice of Bagua can be infinitely useful in extrapolating and informing the jitui method of baoquan stepping and running skills.  This is also true of the Chinese branches in Beijing and Tianjin although the Tianjin comes the closest and appears to attempt to re-engineer some of the basic concepts but without knowledge of the footwork, the body method, and thus the core methods of the art and as such just demonstrates little pieces without any coherent logic or congruent principles.

We who choose to follow this path of Wujiquan must be determined to developed and pursue the martial wisdom on a scientific and historically accurate foundation and always base our work and efforts on fact and sound principles going forward.  So it is necessary to understand that Wujiquan is not based upon Wudangquan, as one individual in particular claims adding a ridiculous assertion of a secret Wujiquan manual that no one is allowed to see. Wuyi-Wujiquan predates Wudang historically and especially in its modern expression.  It should also be noted that much of the earlier work which is already lost to history so much so that much of Wudang system is a modern re-engineering effort by a committee of wushu professionals precisely because most of the Wudang system was lost in the early chaos of the Mao era. The former had its origins far too late to have any claim or influence of invention or recension of the Wuyi practices which resided solely in the martial side the Chinese military. It was the art of the Soldier.  It is there where the physical template resides; not Shaolin, not Wudang.  Make no mistake, both Shaolin and Wudang both in their origins have a core of Wuyi as the foundation but neither has or ever claimed such and no claim ever in all their history was or has been made to be a source of the style known as Wuyi or Wujiquan.

Are their common principles?  Of course this has to be true and there are also to a philosophical principles that can be integrated multilaterally as an extension of the core principles of Wuyi-Wujiquan.  In this way the practice of a different system such as Wudangquan can of course provide illumination and expansion to the core of the Wuyi-Wujiquan.  However, if anything were to be claimed it would in fact be the other way, however such a claim would be impossible to maintain beyond a particular philosophical perspective. It would also be disingenuous to make such a claim as this would have little to do with the actual historical forms.  Wudangquan is a unique and exceptional martial arts based upon Taijiquan and Baguazhang and a mere few elements of Xingyiquan to a lesser degree but not limited to any of these three; that means Wudang represents the principles and philosophical concepts based on Taoism expressed within the martial family of well-known “internal arts” developed in the Qing dynasty and not limited to but encompassing a unique expression of same.  Xingyiquan has a long history prior to current Wudang usage. Taijiquan also seems to have been originated from Chenjiagou, Bagua history is somewhat more nebulous.  Taijiquan in the past may have been based on a more ancient system having its origin in Wudang at least in part, but the use of Bagua and Taijiquan as method in the current syllabus is basically a modern, post Qing dynasty contrivance with only a small set of routine having heritage dating back to the origins of Wudang.  However disappointing this is to some, it is a historical fact.  As per comparison with Wuyi-Wujiquan, The footwork of Wudang does depart from the more formal and disciplined steps of Bagua but the inherent idea is certainly embraced enthusiastically. As compared to Wujiquan the footwork and body work is vastly differentiable based on the inner shapes and steps necessary to execute each distinctively.

Wujiquan’s physical basis has its origin in Chinese military arts, skills, including strategy, inclusive of body movements, principles of warfare, logistics, war technology and so forth.  Wuyi is the original indigenous Chinese martial arts.  Wuyi-Wujiquan (a civil martial arts expression) is the original Chinese martial arts and must not depart from this template however much one might be tempted to put a modern wushu or mystical face upon it.  There is both an internal (yogic) aspect and an external (dynamic martial expression) aspect to the art with a definite template of body formation used as the foundation of all movements and remnants of said template is found everywhere in part in many systems of Wushu/Kungfu but is definitely not derived from them in any portion, physically or philosophically.  This must not be ignored otherwise those who have commitment to and sincere interest in furthering the conceptual groundwork of Wujiquan will wander off into a forest of arbitrarily mixed forms and be reduced to merely picking and choosing some combination of Taijiquan or Baguazhang not really understanding the true basis of those exceptional systems individually.  Taijiquan is worthy of a lifetime of study and is not easily mastered so as to think to combine with something else, the same is true of Bagua.  The authors 39 years of study in Taijiquan informs him that there is absolutely nothing similar between Taijiquan and Wujiquan and their principles are a universe apart.  The same can be said of comparisons of Baguazhang and Wujiquan.  The author’s 42 years of practicing Bagua with great enjoyment and enthusiasm teaches him that although there are aspects of Baguazhang that illustrate certain principles and the study of it does add to the basis and variability of body method and expression, Baguazhang also is not and can never be Wujiquan; the footwork and core body work is too different. Wudang already exists as a combination of Taijiquan and Baguazhang as do such styles as liuhebafaquan and so forth.  Wujiquan is not these.

Wuyi

Wuyi is a vast study and for the purpose of this article refers to the military skills of the before-modern era of the Ming Dynasty going back in history to the former Han and belongs to the military, not the civil side of martial arts.  Conceptually we could take it further back in history but truth be told, the Shang patterns, often attributed to that era are a hoax and in truth, there is very little evidence the Shang Dynasty even existed except for a few obscure and vague references in a couple of histories.  Shang dynasty should be relegated to the same world of legend and myth that is Troy.  We are of course mostly convinced Troy was a historical city-state but we have no proof.

After years of research and considerable effort, this author adapted what are a recoverable set of Wuyi strategies consisting of 48 linear styles, a set of body and movement principles and developed these into a coherent “Civil Martial Arts”.  However, Wujiquan is practiced with a philosophical balance of maintaining its military context so as to maintain the lethal reality of these methods in a theoretical battlefield format.  Still it was important to apply the theory and practice of ancient combat and to also pierce the arts of battlefield application and military strategy.  It must be remembered the modern battle-space is a far different matter.  The name Wuyi was in general use from the Han through the various dynasties inclusive of the Sui, Tang, Song, Ming dynasties and more and when available methods and techniques that reach further back are uncovered the research continues. The author at a certain point in time made the decision to change the characters of Wuyi meaning “martial skill” in common usage referring to the vast array of martial strategy, method, technique, usage and so forth, and transform them to the characters of Wuji meaning the Infinite, boundless, eternal, primordial source, the deity (for some people) or primal agent, before change.  He then added the character for quan which means” fist” or “system of martial arts”.  In the human body this conceptual framework refers to the infinite basis of potential physically, the expansive open clarity and basis of the mind in consciousness, in terms of Wushu it must consistently be placed at or before the beginning so the appropriate physical expression is the primal basis for all Chinese Wushu historically, that can only be Wuyi.  Modern Wushu systems have a different purpose, a different idea.

Wujiquan breaks onto the world scene

In 2001 Wujido Institute launched its first website http://www.wujidomartialarts.com with the generous help of his students.  The purpose was to promote the philosophy and methods taught at the institute and to provide educational articles on a number of interesting topics. The website created a great deal of interest and controversy and resulted in individuals from all over the world having keen interest in Wujiquan.  Emails came from all over the world, from Germany, China, South Africa, France, England, California, Florida, Colorado, Australia and pretty much everywhere the website could be found.

The author was also invited to Beijing University and met with many wushu professionals, competitors and students in order to share his art and to also learn from them their ways of the modern wushu system, its methodology, its rules and customs, and over time was generously given the opportunity to meet with professional staff and department heads and ultimately with one of the co-founders of the Wushu department. During those visits the author was invited to monitor and view many training sessions and invited also to become part of a pilot program outside the University that was started by a co-founder of the Wushu department there and for the purpose of promoting and spreading the Wushu taught there at Beijing University through the Wujido Institute.  the author declined the invitation in 2004 for the purpose of maintaining his own independence. However, during that time he grew to respect and appreciate the professionalism and scientific approach to building China’s new national martial arts systems.  I believe much has been accomplished and have the highest regard for their professionalism and scholarship.

The various claims on the web

All of this could explain why prior to the author’s own public articles, teaching and demonstration there being no trace of the name of Wujiquan outside of its use by the author and the school known as the Wujido Institute. The name of Wujiquan being a reference to Wuyi and to the nature of first principles implied and explored by the term Wuji.  There is no “secret book” hidden in the Wu Dang Temple complex under lock and key in the way such claim is made by a certain person. History and fact are unforgiving with regard to these types of hoaxes and claims. It is known that the libraries of the temples were destroyed in the change over from the beginning of the communist regime under Mao from 1949 and subsequent cultural revolutions and great leap forward.  Wuyi predates Wudangquan (the martial arts of the historical Wu Dang Temple) by  more than 1000 years.  What is not appreciated by most of the martial arts world is that Wudangquan currently is being re-engineered by a committee of dedicated wushu professionals (highly educated and skillful) based on a very limited inventory of person to person traditions, very few manuscripts and writings, an absolute dearth of taolu (forms, sets, sequenced sets of movements) possessing actual ancient pedigree and further, much of the Wu Dang System became nearly extinct due to the change over in Maoist China. This fact alone makes the claim patently false and clearly impossible that there is a secret Wujiquan book under lock and key.  Wudangquan is essentially based on Taijiquan, Baguazhang, and to a lesser extent Xingyiquan with its own brand of more practical footwork comparably different from each as they are expressed separately.

The Beijing and Tianjin group promoting Wujiquan for the last few years actually seems to be attempting to perform movements and techniques that could have been observed while the author was abroad in Beijing and taking early morning wushu training, but there is no way to prove this as they are busy fabricating an entirely fictitious history that cannot be historically true. These assertions in print make a miss-mash of combining principles of acupuncture, Traditional Chinese Medicine, Taoist concepts, radically confused verbiage concerning torso methods, yoga, alchemy and the like; all of these demonstrate no real knowledge of any of those well-defined and established principles and disciplines thus showing their purported manuscript to be a knock-off fake (which China is famous for doing being that China is the undisputed knock-off capital of the world).  It is possible there is a design to mislead the uneducated into believing there is some deep kind of esoteric philosophy unintelligible to those unfamiliar with the language. This is a kind of negative proof of its lack of historical and philosophical underpinnings and possible intent to mislead the public of the true origins of their ideas. Also known as wushu politics.  These same individuals also claim Marshall Yuefei invented Wujiquan during the Qing dynasty, which is patently false, non-historical and a laughable claim containing absolutely no basis in fact and is pure “wushu politics”.

Let us examine the claim of Yuefei authorship of Wujiquan.  The Qing dynasty is 1644 to 1911 however Marshall Yuefei lived during the early Song dynasty which is from 960 to 1127 and as such Marshall Yuefei would have to manage the impossible feat of living 600 to 900 years old to invent Wujiquan! It becomes even more ridiculous to contemplate since it is historical fact he was murdered during the Song dynasty at the age of 34 by the emperor at the time.  His tomb is located across the street from the west lake in Hangzhou, China.  We must avoid this kind of imprecise thinking and lack of dedication to the truth.  One of the reasons I have high regard for my wushu brothers and sisters is not just their athletic prowess but also their university training, testing, and scholarship.

The approach to our art must be one of due diligence and rational scholarship and open research much the same as those obtained at the universities.  It is rare for a bogus claim to be made at the Universities, even if one finds an unwillingness to provide some detail that allows a foreigner to misapprehend the truth.  it is not so different here at our Universities. After all, it is your responsibility to find the truth and not the responsibility of others. As for the presentation from Tianjin, to anyone versed in alchemy, Taoist terminology, acupuncture, and the internal systems along with the available manuscripts, such a person would immediately recognize the fraudulent nature of claims made by the teachers in Tianjin concerning Wujiquan.  The only consideration really is the question of whether they do so knowingly or out of ignorance.  One can be overlooked and forgiven, but the other cannot.

 

A New Paradigm

A New Paradigm for an overview can make the whole process more simple to understand and with it give a person the ability to cast away the myth as well as the fraud and mistaken superstitions and examine more accurately and objectively the subject matter.  Such approach can be applied universally as well.  This is the Wujiquan approach. Follow each of the 10,000 things back to their origins.

To understand the use of terminology, range and basis of methods and technique, as well as the selection of which families of disciplines to include and which to exclude is the method of following basic framework. The paradigm is the template.

What is not well-known is that most of what is called “traditional” Wushu or Kungfu is actually quite modern and surprisingly so.  If we capture the pure spirit of Wushu/Bushido we will not be discouraged by this.  Only you can become a master by your own hand.  Teachers are but a guide.  We should first establish a few basics to have an understanding of this.  The last dynasty in China before the modern era was the Qing dynasty.  So Qing is a transition period and represents a corruption of the Chinese ethos and therefore a cultural rejection by the people. It is not necessary to make commentary about its politics and history since there are copious volumes written that obtain to a great deal more insight than I can provide.  For our purposes we will concern ourselves only with the dates that are applicable.  The Qing dynasty is generally agreed to have been from 1644 to 1911.  After this was the Republic of China which lasted from 1911 to 1949. subsequent that was of course the Mao period which we will call the modern era or New China.  During the Mao period both the Shaolin and the Wudang wushu became virtually extinct for all intents and purposes. What is now produced at those temples is actually the result of individuals and committees (wushu professionals) trying to recover the respective arts with one important detail to remember.  That detail is that what is developed must be consistent with the standards of the wushu committees, boards and directors who have standardized and set modern standards of performance and these are adopted generally by the individual teachers and masters that occupy those temple complexes. Only a few taolu (forms or sets of sequenced movements) have survived and what we see today are the result of the efforts of many wushu professionals and others to restore those systems, not as they were; but consistent with the modern standards established by officials of the Chinese government, who of course are educated wushu professionals.  It’s a separate issue as to whether this is a good thing or bad thing, personally I believe it is mostly good.  No one is preventing me from pursuing my research but the standards for scholastic physical culture has it’s requirements. Further, it can be observed that there are some impressive results even if the wushu art has drifted away from actual combat and fighting arts.

As for the “traditional” non-modern wushu, there are some systems with a strong lineage going back maybe 5 or 6 generations. Often the individuals are steeped in Chinese Culture but not always particularly well-educated and therefore often believe in superstitious myths.  We don’t have to go further into detail about that.  But there are also some very brilliant and well-educated professionals as well.  The standards are uneven when taken as a whole and that is one of the things modern wushu is attempting to address. There are other systems that are accepted, even respected that are actually based on hoax and there are also some fraudulent claims having to do with originating from non-existent temples and so forth.  This is not common so much in the great population centers of china but it does exist more so outside and in the non-Chinese world wherein there are a lot of things the general public and even some martial artist are ignorant about and believe that are not actually very tenable.  We try to be accepting and non-judgmental about such things. It is not the purpose of this article to explore those issues further as our intent is only to clear away the divide in Wujiquan and establish a truthful and scientific basis going forward for those who have room for it. It is also important to illustrate with fact how the reality is often quite different from how things appear on the surface. A basic text in Taoist practice is the 24 essentials.  The first in the list of twenty-four essentials says the following…

See through the things of the world. If you cannot see through the things of the world, you will sink into an ocean of suffering. How can you get out? All Samsara (illusory existence) will control you since you will only be able to react to the outer world and have no real control of yourself.

We need to look through things and perceive the deeper reality that is often hidden from us by means of our limitations and sense perception.