Interview with Mr. Liu Jingru, Cheng Style Baguazhang expert from Beijing

by Jarek Szymanski

Text&photos - Jarek Szymanski; J.Szymanski 2001


Mr.Liu Jingru in Pushing and Grinding Palm posture (also called Green Dragon Stretches Claws)

Mr.Liu Jingru was born in 1936 in Gaoyang County in Hebei Province. In 1947 his whole family moved to Beijing where he has been living since then. In 1957 he started to study Baguazhang and Hebei Xingyiquan from Luo Xingwu, the disciple of Li Wenbiao (Cheng Tinghua's student) and Hao Enguang (Li Cunyi's student). Later he also learnt Yin style Baguazhang from He Zhongqi (Yin Fu's grandson) and Liuhe Tanglangquan (Six Harmonies Praying Mantis Boxing) from Shan Xiangling (student of Ding Zicheng) and Baguazhang as well as Luoxuanquan (Spiral Boxing) from Qiu Zhihe (student of Zhang Zhankui and Wang Xiangzhai). Mr.Liu has won many Baguazhang championships in traditional martial arts competitions since 1979. He gave instructions on Baguazhang in China Central TV programme "Lectures on Baguazhang" in 1997. In 1998 he released an instructional video tape and video CD on Cheng Style Baguazhang and in 1999 his book on Bagua was published. Both video CDs and book are available through this site. Mr.Liu also plans to write books and publish video tapes on two other arts he learnt - Xingyiquan and Mantis Boxing.

In October I had to spend few days in Beijing again so I took the opportunity to contact Mr.Liu Jingru and ask whether he had time to meet and talk about Baguazhang and other martial arts he practiced. Mr.Liu agreed and we met at the Taoranting Park in the southern part of the city. October is nice and warm in Beijing so we decided to sit in the outdoor teahouse located in the park, ordered green tea and seeds, and talked. Below is what Mr.Liu said:



This is not just an ordinary physical strength (Li). Martial artists when they get older can hardly lift heavy objects, but are still able to push the opponent flying. So-called Jin (often called power) is the strength of the whole body that was transformed and developed in the process of martial arts practice. It is used for certain purpose - self-defense and fighting. It is also very closely related to technique, the method of using power.


Internal martial arts (Neijia) are based on Taoist internal exercises - Taoist Qigong (breathing exercises) principles are used in martial arts. Martial artist discovered that through Taoist Qigong practice they can develop very strong waist. If one has strong waist then lower and upper parts of the body will be connected and power coming from feet can pass to the upper part of the body smoothly. Neijia classics say that "Waist is the governor". All neijia styles have certain requirements that help to connect body - tongue should touch upper palate, anus has to be lifted, buttocks smoothed, Qi has to sink into Dantian, waist collapse.

Mr.Liu Jingru in Santi Stance of Xingyiquan


Famous Xingyiquan master, Guo Yunshen, defined a power development theory that can be used to classify Neijia styles. According to Guo, one should first develop Obvious Power (Ming Jin), then proceed to Hidden Power (An Jin) to achieve the highest level - Neutralizing Power (Hua Jin).

Xingyi practitioners start from Obvious Power, that's why Xingyi can be succesfully used in fighting already after three years of practice. Taiji from the very beginning works on highest level power - Neutralizing Power. Since it is not preceded by Ming Jin and An Jin stages, it is so difficult to find proficient Taiji practitioners who have fighting skills. As the saying goes, "Taiji does not go out for ten years (e.g. only after ten years one is able to use it in fighting)". If Xingyi can be compared to elementary school and Taiji to university, then Bagua is high school.


Bagua starts from Hidden Power, which is neither as hard as Obvious Power of Xingyi nor as soft as Neutralizing one of Taiji. While walking in a circle, the most basic and important of all Bagua exercises, one should not be stiff, because then Qi cannot sink down. Besides, this kind of  practice would develop a stiff, physical strength rather then Jin (Power) required in martial arts. One should be relaxed, but not to the degree as in Taiji - some strength should be used.


Xingyi applies mainly straight lines in fighting - moves and strikes along straight lines. Taiji uses circles and clever, small power to overcome power of "thousand pounds". The most characteristic feature of Bagua is that it strikes in movement, while shifting the center of gravity.


Walking along a circle and practicing different footwork methods is the root of Bagua. The true martial skill does not come from routines, but from single movements practice. One should practice single movements first, understand and master powers within these movements, know their applications. Only then one can proceed to routine practice.


There are two main branches of Baguazhang - one developed by Yin Fu and one by Cheng Tinghua. Since Yin Fu practiced Shaolin-derived boxing prior to his Bagua studies, his palm shape (Niushe Zhang, Ox Tongue Palm) is very similar to that used in Shaolin. It differs from palm shapes of other Bagua branches where Tiger's Mouth (space between thumb and forefinger) is round and four fingers separated. This is probably the original palm shape used by Dong Haichuan, while Yin Fu's was modified by his Shaolin boxing studies. Yin style walking method hardly applies Kou Bu (Toe-in step) and Bai Bu (Toe-out step) typical to other branches. Cheng Tinghua's Bagua uses Longzhua Zhang (Dragon Claw Palm) with round Tiger's Mouth and separated fingers. It uses a lot of Bai Bu, which is related to Cheng's studies of Chinese wrestling (Shuai Jiao), where this kind of footwork is widely used for throws and sweeps.


The most popular Baguazhang classics known nowadays, e.g. 36 Songs and 48 Methods, that were revealed by Li Ziming of Liang Zhenpu's line, were not originally from Dong Haichuan. They were compiled and written by Zeng Xingsan, Yin Fu's Bagua practitioner.


Originally there were only three techniques to be found in all Cheng Tinghua's Baguazhang branches - Single Change Palm (Danhuan Zhang), Double Change Palm (Shuanghuan Zhang) and Smooth Posture Palm (Shunshi Zhang). They were called Three Old Palms (Lao San Zhang), and this is what Cheng passed to all his disciples before his tragic death in 1900.

Mr.Liu Jingru in one of kicks from Six Harmony Praying Mantis (Liuhe Tanglangquan) style

Only Cheng Tinghua's Bagua has all these three Palms and if they can be found within other branches, this means these branches exchanged techniques with Cheng's branch exponents. Neither Yin Fu's nor Shi Jidong's branches have Lao San Zhang.

Prior to 1949 (when People's Republic of China was proclaimed) Cheng style exponents used to practice mainly these three techniques, but after liberation many started to add other movements and create new techniques so that now every branch coming from Cheng Tinghua's tradition not only has complete set of eight basic Palms, but also many other routines. I also compiled some routines (Linked Palms, Lianhuan Zhang, is the example) for demonstration and competition purposes. Originally there was nothing like Eight Animals Palms (Ba Xing Zhang) and this is one of typical examples of later inventions not only within Cheng Tinghua's branch, but also others, including Yin Fu's.

End of "Interview with Mr.Liu Jingru, Cheng style Baguazhang expert from Beijing"; J.Szymanski 1999



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