Evolution of the Tang Shou Dao (Tao)

When I started in the internal arts, I began in the Shen Long TST lineage. I didn’t really know a lot of the unique history of the lineage, and I was curious. I asked my teacher questions, his teacher questions, and searched voraciously to learn as much as I could about the origin of this lineage of which I was now a part.

I found the TST line to be unique, it had clearly gone through an evolution of sorts that set it apart from the typical Xing Yi Quan I was seeing online and represented in books. It was subtle, mostly. A larger emphasis on the rear step to root the power, scaled down movements in terms of size to emphasize shorter power, a tighter fighting guard in the san ti shi, and some unique waist mechanics to create the power. But it also possessed some things that no other line of Xing Yi in the world had… the 8 step forms.

There were 5 forms that were used as introductory forms in the TST line, specifically the Shen Long TST line. Namely:
1. Babuda
2. Balienshou
3. Bashou
4. Batangquan
5. Meihuatui

There were a few others that were unique to this line as well that did not clearly scream that they belonged to the art of Xing Yi Quan specifically. The TST line was unique in a number of ways that I will just list:

1. the addition of forms not found in other XYQ lineages
2. the way it was organized
3. it combined the three big internals (xing yi, ba gua, and tai ji)
4. the use of uniforms and belts (sashes)

While there were other lineages that also taught all three arts, none of them did it the way that the TST line did, or not so I was aware in all my research.

The first question I wanted to know was what happened to bagua and taiji? You see, historically all three had been in my lineage, but now only the one art was. I found out that my teacher’s teacher had never learned the other two from his teacher (Xu HongJi) before he had died. After a while, I realized that in all my research – I had never found a student of Xu HongJi who had learned either Ba Gua or Tai Ji from him. It made me wonder if Xu had even learned those arts from his teacher, Hong Yi Xiang.  Alas, I will probably never know the answer to that question. My gut says, probably not, or not in their entirety.  But either way, I do not believe he chose to incorporate them into his schools curriculum. I was told by one student of Xu that Hong was not given permission to teach the BGZ or TJQ from his teacher, Zhang Jun Feng. I will circle back to this point later.

Let’s go back in time to the early 1900’s. Tian Jian, China was a popular place for the internal stylists to live and teach. We know that Gao Yi Sheng lived there, as did Li Cun Yi. They were the primary source of knowledge for Zhang Jun Feng, who was a merchant that studied privately with these two men. He learned Hebei Xing Yi from Li Cun Yi and what would later be termed Gao style (a Cheng style) Ba Gua from Gao Yi Sheng. Somewhere along the way, he learned Wu-Hao (a Yang derivative) style Tai Ji, but we don’t know from whom. In 1948, he was forced to leave China because of the Communist revolution. He settled in Taiwan with a large number of other Chinese immigrants. He didn’t have much luck with his business, so he fell back on teaching the martial arts, as he had gained some attention for his skills. He opened up the Yi Zong school, a name given to his line of Ba Gua from Gao Yi Sheng.  Doctor Kenneth Fish trained with him some time after that and reports that he taught BaShou and BaShi at that time, so we know that those 2 forms pre-dated the TST formation. From other research it was clear that many lines of Xing Yi taught a form called Bashi so that one was even older than Zhang himself. I have not found any other lineage of Xing Yi or Ba Gua that teaches Bashou, and it is a clear fusion of the Xing Yi animals and the linear Gao forms, so it is likely that it is post Gao Yi Sheng, maybe even a creation of Zhang himself.

Zhang became quite successful at teaching the martial arts, even training the Taiwanese President and some of the military commanders of the time (this becomes relevant in my Ba Gua lineage which I trained in much later). He eventually began training three siblings. Hong Yi Xiang, Hong Yi Mian, and Hong Yi Wen. Each one of them were either given a specialty by Zhang or just grew into them organically. Yi Xiang was the Xing Yi guy, Yi Mian Ba Gua, and Yi Wen Tai Ji. As far as I know, Yi Wen never taught much, if at all. But Yi Mian and Yi Xiang both taught (together and separately, I believe). It is my understanding that they all learned all three arts. At some point in time, Hong Yi Xiang began his own school, Tang Shou Dao (Tao). Literally it means “Chinese hand way”, I find it hard to believe he was not referencing Karate, which originally translated the same way before Funikoshi changed it to “empty hand way”. Hong was known to have a great appreciation for the way the Japanese arts were taught, and supposedly it was a trip to Japan that inspired him to organize his curriculum the way he did. He even borrowed the uniforms and belts as well as many exercises for conditioning.

When Hong created the TST, he was apparently very rigid in the way he progressed people through the material, at least that is what is believed if you watched the BBC documentary on him. I believe he relaxed this significantly later in his life, if not abandoning it completely eventually.

Multiple sources confirm he created several new forms to act as stepping stones for his students into the more abstract material of the internal arts. Listed below are the ones I have been told can be attributed to him:

1. Babuda
2. Balienshou
3. Meihuatui (may have been called Ba Ti, “8 kicks”, at some point)
4. Shaolin yi lu
5. Shaolin er lu
6. Wu Hu Xia Xi Shan
7. Da Peng Zhan Chi
8. Bai He Quan

Remember in the beginning of this article, where I stated there were a bunch of forms that didn’t seem to exist anywhere else but in the TST line? By now, we have seen where most of them came from. There are even some on this list I had never heard of or seen before. Namely, 4,5,7,8. But one of them was conspicuously missing… Batangquan.  We will see it later.

Now, I believe, Yi Mian and Yi Xiong taught together for a time, then split to do their own things. If my source is correct about Yi Xiang not being allowed to teach Ba Gua by his teacher, then at some point that changed. Maybe when Zhang died. I don’t know, but at some point in time he began teaching the BGZ curriculum to people. This is well documented.

Many of Hong’s senior students learned all three arts from him. And this is where an interesting wrinkle enters the equation. Zhang practiced Wu Hao Tai Ji, which was a complete system that split off from the Yang style then again from the Wu style. But when the time came for Hong Yi Xiang to learn Tai Ji, Zhang sent him to Chen Pan Ling to learn his system, while he taught the other two Hong brothers the Wu Hao system.  It is even noted that in the Wikipedia article on Hong Yi Xiang, it states he learned Wu – Hao, but he didn’t.  No one knows why. This created some confusion several generations down the lineage as it was believed that Yi Xiang did a Yang style, but he didn’t.

Then comes Xu HongJi. I don’t know for sure, but at some point, Xu broke off from Hong to do his own thing, and he created his own school called Shen Long, then later founded the International Tang Shou Tao Association. I will never know for sure if Xu learned the other two arts, or just decided they were not needed to accomplish his goals, but he basically continued Hong’s way of teaching with just a few changes.

For all I know, Xu might have taught all the forms Hong created, but they didn’t travel down my lineage after him, nor did several other students of Xu remember learning them. It is my personal belief that he did not teach the two Shaolin forms (yi lu and er lu), or the Bai He Quan or Da Peng Zhen Chi. He did continue the Wu Hu Xia Xi Shan, and he introduced 6 other forms into the system:

1. Batangquan (told you it would be revealed)
2. Shaolin 1
3. Shaolin 2
4. Shaolin 3
5. Shaolin 4
6. Bajiquan

Based on the fact that almost all of Batangquan movements are present in a different form taught by the Taiwanese military in the late 60’s, I would have to conclude that Batangquan was a re-imagining of that form.

The 4 Shaolin’s and the Bajiquan are probably either borrowed or re-imaginings of forms from the arts with their names. He also introduced some significant changes to the Tian Gan exercises from the Gao Ba Gua in the system. I have no idea if he changed them permanently or if the way he taught them was part of his own experimentation or maybe a step in a teaching progression but the ones done by people who learned them from him show a significant difference from the ones done by Gao practitioners today, and by students of both Zhang and Hong who are still alive to comment on it.

In the late 90’s, my teacher and many of his generation under his teacher went back to Taiwan to pay their respects to the family of Xu HongJi. While there, they learned a form called Shishequan (10 snake fist) from one of Xu’s class brothers who helped him to run his school. I believe he was known as Black Snake. I have no idea where this form came from originally, as I have not found any reference to it anywhere else. It may very well have been Black Snakes personal creation, I don’t know.

It is fascinating to me to see the evolution of the lineage through the years from generation to generation, and also based on when each person studied with each teacher. It is clear that it was common place to take ownership of what you had been given, to pay respect to it, but also to make it your own.

I am sure that as I continue to learn, I will learn more about my history. It’s a constant process.  Much of this information wasn’t available when I first started looking.  With the popularization of the internet and social media, it became possible to hear from people that otherwise were not an option. I wanted to write this because I realized that I had gathered information that helped me form a narrative that explained where stuff came from, but it was pulled from a vast number of sources and not all in one place. I wanted to put it down in writing while I still could. I would have cited more sources, but some of the discussions over email, or forums, or even interviews that were online at one point in time are gone now.  I don’t know how accurate my narrative is, but it makes sense of things for now.

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About Shifu Read

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