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Tongbeiquan (literally “Spreading Power from the Back Boxing”, as tong means “through,” bei means “back” and quan means “fist”) is a school of martial arts popular in northern China. Tongbeiquan’s basic precepts are Taoist in nature and many of the training methods in Tongbeiquan are similar to those of the internal styles. In traditional Tongbeiquan training, several parts are included: basic training (stance, arm techniques, leg techniques and conditioning), combinations, forms training, two-person free sparring, weapons training, and qigong training.
Originally, Tongbei may not have referred to a school of boxing but to a way of exercise. When the exercises are done, power is generated from the back to pass through the shoulders and then reach the arms. In this way, heavy blows can be delivered at the arm’s length to control the opponent. Tongbeiquan emphasizes the combination of inner core and outward application.
Wuxing Tongbeiquan takes the five elements as its core and back-through as its application. Back-through Boxing takes the five elements of traditional Chinese philosophy as its basic theory. This philosophy believes that heaven is an ecosystem while the human being is a small one but the principles of the systems remains constant regardless of the size. The five elements of the heaven are metal, wood, water, fire and earth while those of the human being the heart, liver, spleen, lung and kidney. The five elements of boxing are wrestling, batting, piercing, axing and boring. The Chinese boxing philosophy believes that everything in the world finds its roots in the five elements while all Boxing schools are also based on its five elements. The following table demonstrates the interrelations among the five elements of the heaven and those of the human being and boxing:
Due to its long history, Tongbeiquan has various names and subsets in different places. Baiyuan Tongbeiquan has two subsets: Shi and Qi style. From Qi-style Baiyuan Tongbeiquan there are also a number of subsets such as, “Wu Xing” (5 Elements) Tongbeiquan and Five-Monkey Tongbeiquan. While there are different names and styles of Baiyuan Tongbeiquan all of the fore-mentioned styles are based on the same boxing theory and have similar origins. There are also Shaolin Tongbeiquan, Pigua Tongbeiquan, and others that differ from Baiyuan Tongbeiquan in methods and principles, but bear similar names.
There are other styles, with names that are also pronounced “Tongbeiquan”, but are written with different “bei” or “bi” characters (with meanings of “preparing”, “arm”, etc). Many books about Chinese martial arts confuse those styles with each other. Also there is another style called “Hong Dong Tongbeiquan,” which is a local version of Taijiquan and is therefore a different style.
According to the Boxing Chronicles by Xu Jianchi (1931), Qi Xin of Zhejiang went to teach back-through boxing at Gu’an in Hebei Province in the middle and latter half of the Qing Dynasty. His style was then called Qi-style Boxing which was later named as “Tongbei” or Back-through Boxing. Qi’s son, Qi Taichang, improved and developed the boxing techniques. People then divided Qi-style Tongbeiquan into an old style (represented by the father) and a new one (represented by the son). The old style emphasizes simplicity and power whereas the new style concentrates on exquisiteness and suppleness. Many masters emerged in this school later. Tongbei Quan now in practice is generally divided into two styles. One has been passed down from Qi Xin, the father, and the other from Qi Taichang, the son. Xiu Jianchi, a successor to the new style, combined the best elements of his predecessors and left his theoretical summaries on stances, methods and philosophy of boxing to his followers. Xiu’s writings are vital materials for the study and research of Tongbeiquan. Another of Lu Yunqing’s students was Shi Hongsheng, who also created his own Shi-style Tongbeiquan.
From 1910s, some Qi style masters started to teach Tongbeiquan to the public. Subsequently, Qi style became much more popular than the Shi style. Today the vast majority of Tongbeiquan practitioners are in Qi style or its branches. But even when they taught in public, the masters still withheld some skills. Most masters only taught high level skills to some disciples in their private classes. As Qi style became somewhat more popular, a few forms were created for teaching purposes. Compared to Qi style, Shi style group still kept the old way. So people sometimes called the Shi style Hei Quan (Black Fist), and their style is sometimes considered heterodox.
There are 6 basic sets of Shao Qi Pai Tongbeiquan.