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Walking Like a Chicken – My First Encounter with Xinyi Liuhe Quan

Shanghai has three styles of kung fu which are popular, Xingyi Quan, Xinyi Liuhe Quan and Wu style Taiji Quan. After reading up and watching some clips I began to feel like Xinyi Liuhe Quan is quite similar to Taiji Mantis, so I decided to check it out. I made a new friend, a guy from Iran I met on Rum Soaked Fist called Reza, who had been learning the style for several years here alongside Chinese medicine, and he agreed to take me to visit his teacher.

chicken stepHis teachers name was Xue Hong En, and he is a Hui, a Chinese Muslim. Being born into a traditional martial arts family from central China, he began learning martial arts from a very young age. He studied Jiao Men Quan (教门拳), which means the styles of the faith, referring to Islam. There are three styles included under this term, which are Cha Quan, which is a kind of long fist developed in the Ming Dynasty by a famous Muslim general and is often taught to kids in local Mosques, Qi Shi Quan, which means seven postures fist and is considered very secret and apparently not taught to non-Muslims, and Xinyi Liuhe Quan, which is a very powerful and aggressive internal system which is Master Xue’s main style.

Xinyi Liuhe Quan is often known as “the Henan Xingyi branch” or “the Muslim Xingyi” branch, as it stems from the same root as Xingyi Quan, although has some major differences. Xinyi is based on 10 animals, and does not use the San Ti Shi posture or Five Element Fists found in other Xingyi branches. Instead it begins training with Ji Bu, or Chicken Step, a very odd looking posture which is incredibly demanding on the legs and develops huge internal power. Ji Bu is practiced both standing and walking, and looks very simple, however it is the core from which the whole system is built on.

Master Xue was a very friendly and nice man. He was teaching a class of students both old and young in a parking lot, to shelter from the typhoon. He invited me to join in and taught me the famous Chicken Step mentioned above. He showed me a few applications to the movement, for example although it just looks like a step, it is hiding both a knee and a shin kick. This shin kick is called Gua Di Feng, and is a trademark movement of the style. Xinyi Liuhe people are famous for the power of this kick, which they practice by kicking trees daily! He then showed me a groin strike, with a gentle slap to my thigh, which seriously stung and left a bruise! He also showed an elbow, luckily not one me, and lastly a shoulder strike, which I didn’t expect and he knocked me flying back! I also had chance to watch him perform some techniques, and well as some of the other students, and was really impressed by their Shen Fa and power generation.

Anyway, back to the Chicken Step. It is fairly similar to Taiji Mantis‘ small mountain climbing stance, with the knees very close to each other for groin protection, and the body held in a straight line totally side on to be more powerful in a forward direction. The major difference was the the chest is hollowed the back rounded, which Mantis doesn’t emphasize, and the XYLH posture has the arms in a much more relaxed state, whereas Mantis does stance training with the fists squeezed tightly to tense up the forearms. However from the little I saw the end result seems to be similar, as I didn’t see any major differences when they did their forms, however I will need more time to really get a good picture.

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Tao Guang Wen – Master of Islamic Kung Fu

Xinyi Liuhe Quan Master Tao Guang WenI spent a few months at Yu Jiang’s school, with the hope that there would be a lot of sparring, but it just never came around. We did a lot of padwork, basic reaction drills, some good strength training and some good drills for simple fighting concepts. However, after a period of time, I felt like this was all I was going to get, nothing really progressed beyond this, and looking at the senior students, none of them really had a very high level. So I had a talk with my friend Jarek Szymanski and he agreed to introduce me to a man named Tao Guang Wen. Tao is a Hui, a Chinese Muslim, and began his training from a very young age under his father in Cha Quan, and once he became an adult began to learn Xinyi Liuhe Quan and Qi Shi Quan. The idea being that these styles are not suitable for children as they are too violent. As Tao’s skills increased, his father urged him to study with other masters, and he would often spend time at the Peach Orchard Mosque studying with many of the legends of martial arts in Shanghai. Master Tao is a very conservative man, he is mostly known for his feats of strength, such as handling heavy weapons and lifting huge weights, however his real Gongfu is his Xinyi Liuhe Quan, which he rarely teaches, and almost never shows in public. It was only through Jarek’s introduction that he agreed to teach me at all.

After a brief meeting and a chat, Master Tao invited me to his home to have my first lesson. I got off the subway at Laoximen (old west gate) and it was my first time to this area of Shanghai. I passed the Peach Orchard Mosque, before entering an area of old dilapidated houses, with fruit and veg stalls in the streets and as I got closer to the large Confucian temple a lot of book shops and calligraphy supplies. Master Tao didn’t live in one of these old houses though, he had a modern apartment, which I found by seeing the Arabic writing hung over his door.

We sat in his kitchen and had some tea while he told me about his teachers, and about Xinyi Liuhe Quan. He said he didn’t need to look at any of my forms or anything, he only wanted to see me hold some basic stances to gauge my level. I did a Mabu, Gongbu and Xubu, and he seemed satisfied. The lesson began with Yao Shuan Ba, which I had learnt already under Yu Jiang, but this was quite a lot different. Different in that Yu Jiang had broken it down into high and low blocks, but Tao taught it as a whole body movement with explosive shock power. We began by just doing the hand movements sitting down, as he explained key points, before then doing it standing, and finally doing it moving. His way of teaching is very old fashioned, just like how I trained Mantis in Yantai, no formal class, but you get one or two movements and you go away and train alone. Real Gongfu isn’t done in a school or in the park, Tao told me, it is done behind closed doors where nobody can see. People should never seen how you train, only see you beat your opponent.

Sometimes something just feel intuitively right, and after training under several Xinyi Liuhe Quan teachers, Master Tao feels like the teacher for me. My first goal is to go away and master this one movement, build up my foundations and power, and then slowly learn the system, and spar as much as I can to practice and see what works and what doesn’t.