written by Li Baohua
translated by Andrea Falk
Liu Wanchuan epitomized the styles of Yin and MaGui baguazhang. He directly inherited and carried forward the essence of both styles. He is truly worthy of the title ‘master of great learning and integrity’.
[Translator’s note: I use Ma Gui when referring to the person, and MaGui when referring to the style of baguazhang. Just saying Ma style could be confused with Ma Weiqi.]
This commemorative article was written for the Ma Gui Baguazhang Promotion Centre website with two goals. Firstly, to express our respect and admiration, and to cherish our memories of Liu Wanchuan. Secondly, to introduce others in the lineage who have been directly connected with him. We believe that ‘when you drink water, you should think of its source’ – this article expresses this generation’s highest respect for our master.
[Translator’s note: Here are some people and dates to help keep things straight. Dong Haichuan (c 1813- 1882), Yin Fu (1840 – 1909), Ma Gui (1852-1942). Li Shao’an (aka LiMengRui,1888 – 1982) Three brothers: Liu Qingfu (c 1862-1952), Liu Qinglu, Liu Qingli. Son of Liu Qingfu: Liu Xuehai. Son of Liu Qinglu: Liu Wanchuan (aka Liu Yihai, 1905 – 1991).]
1. Early learning in a martial family, our teacher comes from a famous family
The Liu family contained more than one famous baguazhang master.
Liu Qingfu was from Haiyang county in Shandong province, the eldest of three brothers. He moved to the Mosheng district of Beijing in the late 1800s, and started a rice store on the ‘grain store street’, hence his nickname Rice Liu. He became an apprentice of the baguazhang master Yin Fu, whose skill surpassed most. Liu’s younger brother, Liu Qinglu, followed him to Beijing and also became an apprentice of Yin Fu. Their youngest brother, Liu Qingli, stayed at home to mind the family business.
After the two brothers had completed their apprenticeship they returned home to Haiyang, Shandong, to teach baguazhang. Liu Qingfu taught at Yantai, Qingdao, and other places for many years, teaching many students. Some of them were skilled enough to be considered true inheritors of the Yin style, and they have worked to pass on this tradition.
Liu Qingfu’s main apprentice was his son Liu Xuehai (also called Yishan). Liu Xuehai later moved from Shandong to Lanzhou city in Gansu province, and lived to 102. His best apprentice was Cong Jinggao.
Liu Qinglu had eight sons, among whom Liu Wanchuan was the fourth. Among the eight, only Liu Wanchuan was infatuated with martial arts. He started training baguazhang with his father and uncle when he was eight or nine. By adolescence he was already well known in the county for his skill.
Photo of Liu Qingfu (c 1862-1952), master of Yin style baguazhang. Liu Qingfu was Liu Wanchuan’s uncle and his first baguazhang teacher.
2. Moved to Beijing to make living, learning from a famous teacher
When he became an adult [translator’s note: 17 or 18 years old, so approximately 1922] Liu Wanchuan, already with some success in his training, moved to Beijing with his family to make a living.
He lived at the heart of Beijing – the ‘grain shop street’ at Qianmen. Beijing was the birthplace of baguazhang, so there were many talented players and many ‘hidden dragons and sleeping tigers’. The most famous baguazhang styles in Beijing at that time were the Yin style and the Cheng style. The most famous teacher of Yin style was naturally Yin Fu’s son Yin Yuzhang. With his uncle’s introduction, Liu Wanchuan was able to take up advanced studies with Yin Yuzhang.
Eight years passed in a flash, training without cease. Liu Wanchuan walked every morning from Qianmen to Yin Yuzhang’s courtyard in Jihuamenwai (present day Chaoyangmenwai) and back – about 10 miles each way.
Photo of Yin Yuzhang, master of Yin style baguazhang. Yin Yuzhang was Liu Wanchuan’s second baguazhang teacher.
3. Inheriting the skills of Ma Gui together with Li Shao’an
When one talks of baguazhang one naturally talks of Ma Gui. Ma Gui was a special person in the baguazhang world. Although he was considered an apprentice of Yin Fu, he actually learned his skills directly from Dong Haichuan. Ma Gui was from a rich family, and fell in love with baguazhang ‘from birth’. He did not need to teach martial arts to make a living, so did not have an apprentice. In his later years, however, his family declined in wealth and position and he had difficulties making ends meet. This taught him a harsh lesson in the fickleness of human relationships, and made him even more reluctant to spread his baguazhang.
At this time we must speak of Li Shao’an (also called Zhanggui). Li Shao’an also came from Haiyang county in Shandong province. He had a dignified appearance and superlative kungfu.
In his youth he gained an introduction to Yin Fu through Liu Qingfu, and trained for over a year with Yin Fu. When Yin Fu had a celebration to accept apprentices, however, Li’s name did not appear on the list, and Li left Yin Fu in a fit of anger. He then went to train in Cheng Tinghua’s courtyard and with other students of Dong Haichuan.
Li Shao’an was well respected in the baguazhang community. One reason was his character: his conduct was always honest and frank, he was willing to act, and he was generous in aiding the needy. Another reason was his martial skill. He ran a large restaurant called the Yuchun Restaurant in Qianmen district, and this restaurant had become a hangout for baguazhang players and people from Shandong.
So, of course, as both a baguazhang player and a fellow Shandong native, Liu Wanchuan received special attention from Li Shao’an. Liu became the cashier at the front counter. Since Liu Wanchuan was at the Yuchun Restaurant all the time, he of course got to test out and verify the skills of almost all the baguazhang players in the city.
By a fortuitous chance, Li Shao’an met Ma Gui when he was aging and poor, and started to help him out and provide for him. The goodness and magnanimity of Li Shao’an would move heaven and earth, so it is no wonder that it touched Ma Gui. To put it another way, at that time, only Li’s goodness and magnanimity touched Ma Gui.
One day, Li Shao’an had invited Ma Gui to the restaurant, and they were sitting at a table in the back courtyard drinking tea and chatting. Liu Wanchuan was particularly excited because his uncle Liu Qingfu had often told him, “In Beijing, old Ma’s skill is the best, no one can compare to him.” Liu Wanchuan hurried from the front desk to the washroom in the courtyard, walking as fast as an arrow. As he came out of the washroom, hardly taking the time to arrange his clothes, he unwittingly crossed the courtyard doing changing steps threading palms (chuanzhang).
Ma Gui noticed him and said to Li, “Who is this young man? He’s not bad.” Li said, “You don’t know him? He’s Rice Liu’s nephew.” And he called Liu Wanchuan over to introduce him.
Ma Gui took a look at Liu Wanchuan’s manner and said, “He could really succeed at training the deep skills of baguazhang!” At this word, with one lucky chance, the history of one hundred years of baguazhang was settled.
The two of them started to learn the lineage of Ma Gui. The place where Ma Gui often taught was called White Cloth Nunnery, an empty temple where very few people ever went. The two of them systematically learned what we now call MaGui style baguazhang.
Once Li Shao’an learned from Ma Gui he became like ‘a tiger who has grown wings’. His drawing palm (daishou) was practised to perfection. He became known as Iron Arm Li.
What is drawing palm? It a technique used in a fight to grab and pull the opponent so he falls behind you. Why did Li Shao’an prefer this technique? Because drawing palm does not injure the person. It is a way of winning a fight without injury – a high level technique.
Why was he called Iron Arm Li? Many of Dong Haichuan’s students could have been called Iron Arm. The training of baguazhang circle-walking gradually changes the arms to be hard as iron. Yin Fu had arms as hard as iron staffs. But there was only one Iron Arm, and that was Li Shao’an. Why? I’ve heard two interesting stories about this from old masters.
One day the restaurant delivery boy had taken a meal to Bada alley, and they refused to pay, preferring to give him a beating. Li Shao’an went to talk to them, but they still refused to pay. This was a gang of bodyguards, not afraid of anyone or anything, and certainly not afraid of Li Shao’an.
How could Li Shao’an allow this?
In his youth he had come through the hails of bullets of the Boxer Rebellion. In his young adulthood he had been a sword carrying bodyguard for many years. Now he had matchless martial skills. He was one who looked on wealth as so much garbage, but he could not allow anyone to beat his people for the price of a meal.
The thugs surrounded him. He said that he didn’t care if they didn’t pay, but he wanted to have a sparring match. In an instant Li had tossed these big thugs on the ground like so many chickens. They looked at each other in blank dismay, and finally asked his pardon with hands folded in front.
This affair was as simple as that. But these big bodyguards had worked for so many years in such a rough world and had never met anyone so tough [translator’s note: and, as professional’s probably needed to emphasize how tough he was to save face]. They spread the word that the Yuchun Restaurant owner had amazing kungfu, that his arms were as hard as iron, that you couldn’t grab him. This is how Li Shao’an came to be known as Iron Arm Li.
Here is another story.
Some children were fighting amongst themselves, at first just kicking and punching, but then biting. Li Shao’an went to stop them, and to amuse them told them to bite his arm. No matter how hard they bit, there was not a trace of toothmarks on his skin. This also became a much told tale.
Liu Wanchuan’s skills improved tremendously once he received teaching from Ma Gui. Of course he also received teaching from Li Shao’an. In his life, Liu Wanchuan most respected Ma Gui and Li Shao’an. His kungfu came from Ma Gui and Li Shao’an.
Photo of Li Shao’an at 84, taken September 1, 1972. Liu Wanchuan has two photos of Li Shao’an that he treasured all his life. One is the photo of Li Shao’an in a martial pose, which is posted online. The other is this portrait, which I now give to everyone.
4. A remarkable character will develop remarkable kungfu, and even more so when he lives through remarkable times
[Translator’s note: It is hard to overstate the difficulty of the times China went through. Consider their dates, and think of what experiences they must have gone through. Dong Haichuan (1813-1882), Ma Gui (1852-1942), Li Shao’an (1888-1982), Liu Wanchuan (1905-1993). The Opium war 1850s, Opening to the West, Boxer rebellion 1900, fall of the Qing dynasty 1911, 1920s student movement, Japanese occupation and the war of resistance 1930s through 1940s, war of Liberation to 1949, Great Leap Forward (famine) mid 1950s, Great Cultural Revolution 1966-1976.
When we remember Liu Wanchuan we of course remember his kungfu. But his superlative martial skills were based on the remarkable quality of his character.
As they say: “Those of good character will gain [what they want], those without character will lose it.”
“Fame comes to people who are great. Most who seek fame will not gain it. One with superlative skills who lives in retirement and hides himself, will usually stand out from the crowd and his fame will become apparent. Our teacher Dong Haichuan was this sort of man.”
These words was written on Dong Haichuan’s memorial stele by his students. They succinctly sum up the second half of Dong Haichuan’s life.
If we look carefully at Dong Haichuan’s baguazhang and the descendants of baguazhang, many have the same sort of background and have gone through the same sort of life. Liu Wanchuan is no different.
As a child he learned the martial arts from his family members. By twenty he had gone all over Beijing learning baguazhang and other martial arts styles. He had learned from many famous masters, was completely infatuated with the martial arts, and trained constantly and diligently.
By thirty he had developed considerable skills.
The times that he lived through were among the most turbulent in China. How many people with lofty ideals lost their lives for no reason? How many people just because of a quarrel had regrets all their lives? But Liu Wanchuan as a child had already learned to ‘eat bitter’ and work patiently. All his life he experienced hardships, worked to make a living for his family, was a filial son and a considerate brother. Although he excelled at the martial arts, he treated people well, and was a peaceful man. So he was able to avoid disaster. In this way he was able to safely preserve his well honed body and the tradition of baguazhang.
“Dong Haichuan was reserved and yielding in nature. This being the case, however, he shouldered the responsibility of peerless martial skill. Hundreds of men came to his door. His reputation will be honoured for years.”
This was written on Dong Haichuan’s memorial stele by his baguazhang descendents. These words summarize Dong Haichuan’s history of teaching baguazhang. This is the same history as that of Liu Wanchuan.
By the time China had gone through wartime, then gone through its most turbulent times, then gone through its most poverty striken times, and finally reached a period where the people started once again to openly train the martial arts, Liu Wanchuan was already over seventy years old.
He welcomed the new times together with other baguazhang masters. Together they built Dong Haichuan’s memorial, established the baguazhang research academy, and set up a centre to propagate baguazhang.
[Translator’s note: The Great Cultural Revolution ended in 1976 and things gradually opened up. Dong Haichuan’s remains and memorial were moved in 1980. In 1980 Liu Wanchuan would have been 75.]
He openly taught baguazhang in Taoran Pavilion park in Beijing. He was modest and prudent, and willing to help out later generations, support fellow baguazhang teachers, and he enjoyed high prestige and commanded universal respect. But Liu Wanchuan’s skill could not be hidden, so students flocked around him. There could be a thousand people surrounding him as he taught.
We commemorate his teaching at that time, his wonderful skill, and respect his unfaltering daily training over eighty years. With this sort of model in our past we can hold it in our hearts. The baguazhang that he gave us forms an important part of our lives.
Photo of Liu Wanchuan and his wife when he was twenty (1925). Take a look and think of his life. This is the earliest photo that we have of him. He already excelled in Yin style baguazhang. He moved to Beijing at around seventeen or eighteen. With his baguazhang and hometown connections, he had started working at the restaurant of Li Shao’an, and was already meeting a lot of people of baguazhang and other styles.
Photo of Liu Wanchuan at about forty years old. By this point his skill was already mature. He had already, together with Li Shao’an, received teaching from Ma Gui. After many years of hard training he was already highly and deeply skilled. This point in Chinese history was among its most turbulent, and Liu Wanchuan had lived through his most difficult times.
Photo of Liu Wanchuan at sixty-something years old (c 1965). He had moved his family from Dajijia alley in Qianmen to the neighbourhood of Taoran Pavilion park. He finally started a relatively peaceful life. During the twenty years after this move, he went to the park to train twice a day, every day.
Photo of Liu Wanchuan at eighty-four (1989)
In the spring of 1990 I was fortunate enough to meet teacher Liu. Under the shade of a towering scholar tree in Taoran Pavilion park, he told me: “Train hard at your baguazhang, at the very least it will add ten or twenty years to your life.” He also said: “Our kungfu comes from Ma Gui. It uses low basin, small steps, and particularly heavy power and strength.”
Then he instructed me on how to train the waist turning, how to step with the feet flat, and other details. The is the only time in my life that I saw Liu Wanchuan. I will always remember his kind, amiable face and vigorous, gentle voice.
5. Spreading baguazhang in his late years
In his late years Liu Wanchuan started openly teaching baguazhang in Beijing’s Taoran Pavilion park. He immediately had many students, some from all parts of the country.
Below is a memory from Li Shou, his son-in-law.
“Liu Wanchuan was a gentleman, generous to people, and gave no thought to personal gain or loss. He always did things wholeheartedly, and excelled at ‘eating bitter’. He told me many times; ‘You must not study martial arts randomly, you must seek its essence. Training martial arts is not to show off, but to use appropriately. You must be ready to use your skills if necessary, but you must not go looking for a fight, and certainly must not injure anyone without reason. You must not use your skills lightly or randomly, must be modest when sparring, and know the proper limits in a sparring match.’ When he taught he always encouraged students to develop their characters so that they always behaved properly and always did the right thing. Liu Wanchuan was a true role model, he was as good a character as he was a fighter.”
6. Valuable photos of Liu Wanchuan training.
Please go to members/ pages
7. Some memories of Liu Wanchuan’s baguazhang skills.
Below are some memories of Liu Wanchuan’s kungfu by his nephew, Liu Enmin.
[Translator’s note: The three brothers Liu Qingfu, Liu Qinglu, Liu Qingli are the generation of ‘grandfather’. Liu Qinglu had eight sons: Liu Enmin is the son of one of them. Liu Wanchuan, as the fourth son of Liu Qinglu, would be Liu Enmin’s ‘fourth uncle’.]
Our household was a martial arts family. From my grandfather’s generation on someone was always training martial arts, and this was well known throughout our district of Yantai. My grandfather, Liu Qinglu, was the second of three brothers.
The eldest was Liu Qingfu, and the youngest was Liu Qingli. At that time the family was poor and their life was hard, so when quite young the eldest and second sons went to Beijing to learn business to make a living for the family. While they were learning and starting business, they also sought out famous martial arts masters to learn from. Of the two, Liu Qingfu’s kungfu was the better. He was known as Rice Liu because he ran a rice shop in Beijing.
He apprenticed himself to the baguazhang master Yin Fu (Dong Haichuan’s eldest closed door apprentice, also known as Thin Yin and Twisted Doughnut Yin). He received personal instruction in baguazhang from Yin Fu and developed deep skills.
The two brothers ran the business for many years and eventually moved back to their hometown of Haiyang. They started teaching in Yantai district. Their best apprentice was Cong Jinggao.
My fourth uncle Liu Yihai, also called Wanchuan, was Liu Qinglu’s fourth out of eight sons. He grew up in a martial arts family so saw martial arts being done all about him from a very early age. He started learning baguazhang with his uncle Liu Qingfu and gained a solid kungfu. By ten he had already fought with all the boys in the villages within range. He had no rivals among boys his age.
My fourth uncle also went to Beijing at a young age. He has, as have most others of his age cohort, passed away, so there are few in Haiyang who remember him. The few stories there are can’t be confirmed or placed in time. The best I can do is to learn a few scattered remembrances chatting with the old men.
When I was small my grandmother often old me that when he was young my fourth uncle would come back from Beijing to visit from time to time. Every morning he would rise early and train. There was an old well in front of the household’s door, and he often trained around the well. He would often hit the well. There was a drought around this time so there was very little water in the well. You’d only hear a hollow echo from within the well. After only a few hits the water within the well would splash out and hit his fists.
From this you can see how deep was his strength.
My father told me that my fourth uncle didn’t just have great baguazhang. He was also really great in iron palm and seven star staff. When he visited at home he would daily hit a bag filled with iron sand, to train his iron palm. They say that he could put mung beans on a flat stone and turn them all to powder with a light slap.
One day as my third uncle was leading his ox out to work he passed his brother training. He laughingly said, “I see you training all the time, but don’t really know if you’ve really got kungfu or not. Why don’t you hit my ox to show me?” My fourth uncle lightly slapped the ox, at which it moaned and shook all over in pain.
My third uncle exclaimed, “Wow, I guess you have real kungfu after all!” My fourth uncle said, “If I really slapped it I would have broken its bones.”
[translator’s note: I guess it is ok to show off to your brother, and it shows he had a sense of humour.]
Once my father was returning home after a visit in Beijing. My fourth uncle was seeing him off. There were so many people trying to squeeze onto the bus that my father couldn’t get on. My fourth uncle lightly blocked the crowd with his umbrella to allow my father to get on,cauing some in the crowd to cry out in pain. My father asked what kungfu he had used, and he replied, “seven star pole.”
My fourth uncle would often go for a stroll after supper. If he saw children out playing he would take a rock and make a wheel for the children to play with – tapping with his bare hands. They would play with the wheel, singing ‘chop a wheel, chop a wheel.’
My fourth uncle would often play with a huge broadsword when he was young. Dressed in a white gown he would fly between haystacks – the villagers likened him to a butterfly.
Memorial tablet to Liu Wanchuan
We are preparing to erect a memorial tablet in order to commemorate Liu Wanchuan and thank him for his teaching, to memorialize his spirit and culture, and to promote the baguazhang that he gave to us. We have the support of his daughter, Liu Weiyan, and his son-in-law Li Tao.
At April 5th, 2009, the memorial tablet was built up.
Due to the forcement from the local government, the old tumbs and tumb stones of Liu Wanchuan and his uncle, Bagua master Liu Qingfu had to move to a new place, therefor Liu Wanchuan/s daughter Liu Weiyan and son in law Li Tao had to do this in the time of chinese tumb sweeping in 2009. Along with high respects of all his students both Yin style Bagua and Ma Gui style bagua, the new tumb stone has been erected.
Grandmaster Liu Wanchuan’s epitaph
Our teacher Grandmaster Liu Wanchuan, also called Liu Yi Hai, was from Lugubu village Haiyang County, Shandong Provence. Born on November 1st, 1906 and passed away on November 6th, 1991 in Beijing at the age of 86.
As a child he was well cared for. He received instruction in martial arts from his father and uncle, Liu Qingfu, who was a Yin style Bagua master. Even as a child he was famous throughout the area for his sublime martial skills. Around twenty years of age he moved to Da Qi Jia Alley, Qian Men district, Beijing city.There he met many masters of Bagua and other martial arts.
He also studied with Yu Yu Zhang and was helped by Li Shao An. Later he received direct instruction from Bagua Master Ma Gui. Because of his skill and training he was able to combine all the best of Bagua within himself. He trained hard his entire life without stopping; this allowed him to reach the highest levels of martial arts and made him stand out among his peers.
Master Liu was a very compassionate and honest person. Throughout his life he always sought out the truth of all things without care about his own reputation. In his later age he lived and trained in the east corner of Tao Ran Ting Park this is where he would teach his students. He had many students but never sought out fame or fortune. He embodied the best of one thousand years of Chinese quintessence and endeavored to pass this on to later generations. Because he passed on this quintessence without seeking fame or fortune he showed great righteousness, virtue, and grace. His name will be praised forever.
From the Liu family every generation has had high-level individuals. Liu Wanchuan’s Bagua will spread throughout the world.
Written and inscribed by Li BaoHua (student of a student of Liu Wanchuan) in 2009
Yu Zhiming, Peng Guangzheng, Fan Yaohua, Bi Jie, Li Lianchang, Han Jingui, Gu Tanzhao, Liu Yanchang, Xun Peihe,Li Wenling, Xie Xiaotang, Fu Huihe, Li Liancheng, Ding Zhen, Fan Xiuming, Li Tao, Xing Wenhua, Wang Zhehua, Guo De, Liu Shengli, Zhang Ming.