The destiny of inheritor is with the destiny of Chinese dynasty declining down
While there has already been a lot of information written on the second generation Baguazhang masters, Ma Gui is a special case. He is a Bagua master who is normally considered a member of the third generation, but he was actually a true second generation master. Ma Gui was Dong Hai Chuan’s best lineage holder.
Ma Gui (1851-1941), also named Ma ShiQing, was the owner of the Yongyi lumber company, which was his family’s business. His company had the honor of supplying wood for the emperor’s palace. This gave him the chance to visit the palace frequently. Because of his family business, his martial arts peers came to call him by the nickname ‘Wood Ma
When he was young, the family business did well and they were prosperous, which in turn allowed him to receive a good education. At twelve years old, he started to learn Baguazhang with Dong Hai Chuan. Since his father was a sworn brother with Yin Fu (at this time in China it was common for men to become sworn brothers and support each other no matter what), to keep with proper Chinese customs and respect, as well as to maintain the proper generation order, Yin Fu was listed as his teacher instead of Dong.
In Dong Hai Chuan’s later years, Baguazhang was very popular in Beijing. Many wanted to make a living teaching it. But since most of his apprentices came from the lower levels of society, they were always trying to prove themselves by dueling. At the time, this was a means by which martial artists could make a living and a name for themselves, but it was difficult to avoid injury or even death. This went against the wishes of Dong Hai Chuan, so he decided to teach someone literate, did not get into fights, and had no problems of livelihood. Therefore he chose Ma Gui as his lineage holder.
People have many different opinions surrounding how and why Dong Hai Chuan chose Ma Gui to be the true Bagua inheritor. But one of the most important facts is that Dong Hai Chuan spent most of his rest life living with Ma Gui and his family after he left the palace. It was only a couple years before he passed away that Dong he adopted a daughter, who was the wife of one of his students Shi Ji Dong and moved to live with his daughter’s family.
Ma Gui’s natural talent surpassed many, and with Dong’s attention and diligent training, he became the instrument for recording and preserving the art of Baguazhang. He received the most systematic development in Baguazhang compared to Dong’s other students. His deep skills eventually surpassed all of Dong’s apprentices, as well as future practitioners still yet to come.
Once Ma Gui’s skills were fully developed, his arms were said to be like an ape’s, hanging to his knees. While his abdomen and back were thick and strong, his body light as a swallow and his eyes shone out from a benevolent face. He participated in many challenge matches and was never bested. Countless martial arts masters all fell in defeat from Ma Gui’s outstanding abilities.
Ma Gui was the only one to gain Dong Hai Chuan’s internal training, such as lightness skills, hard palms, wrist hitting, fire wheel palms, pressure points, joint controls, controlling, grabbing, and meridian path manipulation. He became famous for these. He was also well known for his crab posture zhuangzhang (ramming palms), which were heavy, full, hard, and fierce. His skills were truly superlative. Ma Gui alone gained all the best aspects of Baguazhang. He treasured the teaching of Dong Hai Chuan his entire life.
He was high-minded and loved the martial arts so much so that he was unwilling to transmit his learning lightly. He would advise other students of Baguazhang but respected his teacher’s wish of ‘do not transmit to those unworthy,’ and was known for being stingy about passing on skills or taking students of his own.
Because of Ma Gui’s upbringing and education, as well as the relationship he developed with the Imperial, he was possessed of refined tastes and interests. One example is that he enjoyed the act of painting, a common literati pursuit in imperial China. He would often paint crabs, and because of his skill in the crab postures and crab style of circle walking, he earned the new nickname of ‘Crab Ma.
Third generation masters in 1930 met together to memorialize Dong Hai Chuan and erect another tombstone. With it, they wrote down some very important words. Ma Gui was the top master who led the Bagua community in China at this time.
The above image shows Ma Gui in 1930 at the gathering in Beijing to erect Dong Hai Chuan’s memorial stele.
Because of his position as leader of Baguazhang at the time, he gathered together as many other practitioners as he could to erect the memorial stele.
He also had these twenty words written on the front side of the stele:
“Hai Fu Shou Shan Yong, Qiang Ding Guo Ji, Ming Guang Da, Dao De Jian Wu Ji”.
While Ma Gui’s young life was full of prosperity, the latter half of his life (1910-1941) was full of hardships. He lost his family business due to the fall of the Qing dynasty. Since he supplied wood for the Imperial family when power changed hands, his business collapsed. In the end, he lost everything and became destitute.
At this time, allow me an aside to describe some major historical events in China, which had an important impact on Baguazhang and Taiji Quan.
As I described above, the emperor passed away before Dong Hai Chuan was able to fulfill his mission of killing him. The emperor’s wife, Empress Dowager Ci Xi, then rose to power and controlled China for nearly half a century.
She anointed her son as the emperor, but just four years later, her son died at the age of 19. She then chose her sister’s son to be the new emperor. While there was an emperor, Ci Xi had the most power over the country at this time.
During that same time, a king named Duan Wang also possessed a lot of political power. He also loved martial arts and organized a special force that consisted of great martial artists.
Earlier in his career, one of his officials recommended martial artist to him, who was very educated and did internal martial art. The king ordered his soldiers to test this man by competing against him.
But no one could win over him and that person was given the nickname ‘unbeatable.’
That man’s real name was Yang Lu Chan. He taught a style of martial arts that became widely practiced by those of the royal classes. This was the beginning of Taiji Quan.
After this meeting, King Duan Wang also started to learn and practice Tai Ji Quan with Yang.
About ten years later, Dong Hai Chuan appeared and began teaching; Baguazhang also became as well known as Tai Ji Quan.
Many years later, Taiji Quan’s Master Yang and Baguazhang’s Master Dong passed away. It was Baguazhang maser Yin Fu, who was Dong Hai Chuan’s top student, taught Baguazhang in the palace.
One day the king asked Yin Fu, who was the best in Bagua, Yin Fu told him it was Ma Gui. The king ordered Ma Gui to his palace and when he arrived, asked one of Yang Lu Chan’s best students, named Wan Chuan, to compete with Ma Gui.
When Ma Gui prevailed, the king was very surprised, but also happy. He regretted that he was too old, as he would have liked to learn from Ma Gui. But he instead ordered his son to become a student of Ma Gui.
Remember the king’s son, Ma Gui’s Baguazhang student. This Bagua student of Ma Gui, just a few years after becoming his student, became the most important person in the late history of China.
Chinese history changed completely around the year 1900. Year after year, China’s young emperor became more and more independent and Ci Xi, who was above the emperor, was unhappy with him. She decided to replace him with a new emperor, once she could better control.
The newly anointed Emperor was the one learning Baguazhang from Ma Gui.
This attempt to replace the old Emperor became the main reason for the Boxer Rebellion in 1900.
After this event, Ma Gui’s life as he knew it began disappearing. The dynasty he served was vanishing, and by 1911, the Qing dynasty was gone.
The second half of Ma Gui’s life was much like the destiny of the Qing dynasty, desperate and heavy with a fear that it would soon be gone.
Ma Gui did not use his great ability as a Baguazhang’s true inheritor to make his life better. Rather he chose to shut the door on that part of his life. Many may not understand that when it is the destiny of a nation to fall and disappear from the world, there is nothing one man can do to save it.
In Ma Gui’s later life, due to his extraordinary ability, he was able to prosper once more. He was well known for being the formal anointed Emperor’s Baguazhang teacher. And many others from different backgrounds wanted to learn from him.
In the 1930s, the top commander and governor of several states of China named Tang Yu Lin, as well as his two sons, started to learn from Ma Gui. For Ma Gui, teaching one of the most powerful people in China might have greatly increased his reputation and changed his life. But Ma Gui did not take these kinds of opportunities.
For whatever reason, this was Ma Gui’s decision. And it was one that would shape the destiny of his country, his life, his family, and his community.