A bridge between "external" and "internal" arts

The Tang Shou Dao (ie. "karatedo") system of the late Hong Yi Xiang in Taibei, Taiwan was reknowned in its day for producing full-contact fighting champions including such luminaries as Luo De Xiu and Su Dong Chen. Hong himself was a formidable street fighter and friends with the equally legendary Wang Shujin. Hong's school taught the 3 internal arts of xingyiquan, baguazhang and taijiquan; strictly in that order. It taught them as "no-holds barred" fighting methods rather than for health or meditation.

While many people are aware of Hong Yi Xiang's internal arts systems, very few are aware that Hong taught a series of forms that were "half external and half internal". These served as a vital "bridge" to the internal arts, introducing techniques and a form of movement based on an entirely different set of principles in a paradigm that a senior external student could readily understand and apply.

These forms were the creation of Hong Yi Xiang and incorporated elements of Shaolin, xingyi, bagua and taiji. They were passed down to me via my principal instructor Laoshi Bob Davies.

Luo De Xiu1, a former student of Hong has said: "At the T'ang Shou Tao school Hong Laoshi created some forms as a program for beginners... We started at the beginning with what looked like Shaolin forms, but weren't really Shaolin. They were modified Xing Yi and Ba Gua forms, changed into a more Shaolin style. At the higher levels we learned the traditional Xing Yi forms."

Luo de xiu demonstrates the 5 elements of xingyi as taught by Hong Yi Xiang

One of Hong's students, Abi Moriya, has told me that these forms consisited of the following:

1. Shaolin Yi Lu
2. Shaolin Er Lu
3. Bai He Quan: white crane fist
4. Da Peng Zhan Chi: great tai bird spreads its wings
5. Wu Hu Xia Xi Shan: 5 tigers descend the western mountain
6. Ba Bu Da: 8 step striking
7. Ba Lian Shou: 8 linked hands

Luo's designation of these forms as suitable for "beginners" is however a matter of perspective: while they mark the beginning of internal arts, they are highly sophisticated forms in their own right. It would be a mistake to regard these half external / half internal forms as somehow "inferior" to the purely internal arts such as taijiquan, baguazhang and xingyiquan (or, for that matter, purely external arts such as karate).2

As Hong's taiji teacher, the famous martial arts master Chen Pan-Ling, said: "Shaolin goes from hard to soft and wutang [internal]... goes from soft to hard. The final goal for both styles is the same: to train people to use a combination of soft and hard strokes to fight."3

Hong Yi Xiang's "bridging forms" can be viewed as such a combination. It is possible that, as the creator of these forms, he accorded them a lesser status than older forms, partly out of custom (ie. to elevate knowledge that is older) and partly because they marked the beginning of his particular teaching sequence. In the end, the various types of external and internal martial arts are best presented as points in a circle (neither superior nor inferior) rather than points in a linear progression. A "soft" external artist is as effective as a "hard" internal artist.

Of the bridging forms the one that I consider the "jewel in the crown" is one named "Da Peng Zhan Chi" (colloquially called "Shaolin Peng" - demonstrated on the right by one of teacher's most senior students, Nick Nell). A "peng" (also known as tai) is a mythical bird of gargantuan proportions. The name of the form means "great tai bird spreads its wings" and presumably refers to the large "swooping" movements of the arms. While the movements seem to be somewhat grandiose at times, the applications are so subtle, simple and clearly effective that they are as astounding as they are devastating. It is this form that reveals to me Hong's true genius - even if he played it down as "lesser" given that it was his own creation, it contains many of Hong's trademark fighting techniques from Shaolin, xingyiquan, baguazhang and Chen Pan-Ling taijiquan.

Da Peng Zhan Chi as performed by me earlier today - I'm a bit rusty but you get the idea

Some internal artists have speculated that the Shaolin component was inserted purely for the sake of conditioning. This is possibly true; the form might not look it, but it is very exhausting and certainly conditions the body for lunges, turns and other movements used in combat. In fact, the form is vigorous enough to take even a fairly fit athlete beyond his/her VO2 max after just one performance. On the other hand, the Shaolin techniques (eg. the triple punching in gong bu (zenkutsu dachi)) are really quite effective in their own right as stated previously. I don't see them as having a mere "exercise" function; this smacks to me of "internal snobbery" (and I speak as practitioner of the external and internal arts).

It is my view that the Shaolin component in the bridging forms is very likely taken from Hong's father's art, a school of Taiwanese white crane, considered by some to be among the "softer" external arts. The white crane heritage is not only identifiable in the techniques and principles of the bridging forms, but also in the names: for example a counterpart to the form Wu Hu Xia San exists in White Crane Silat's Wun Fie Loa (which also means "5 tigers coming down the mountain"). Although this form might look radically different at first glance, a closer observation reveals the same "embusen" (lines of movement) and corresponding techniques, indicating that Hong Yi Xiang may have used an ancestral crane form as a template for the creation of his hybrid.

The bagua and taiji moves reflect Hong's favourite applications of those arts; the elbow smash with the knee from Chen Pan-Ling's taiji and the "kou bu" (hook step) knee twist/breaks from his bagua via Wang Shujin.

The modified xingyi which dominates the forms is however the most intriguing aspect of them. It is possible to extract 5 elementary moves from these forms that correspond generally to the 5 elements of xingyiquan; however while they are clearly related to xingyi I believe they constitute an entirely new art and extremely powerful one at that. In the video below I demonstrate these elements as one would the 5 elements of xingyi. To avoid confusion with xingyi I have called them "wu shou" (5 hands) rather than "wu xing quan" (5 forms of fist - as per xingyi).

I demonstrate the extracted "5 hands" of the bridging forms


1. From Jess O'Brien (2004) Nei Jia Quan, North Atlantic Books, Berkeley, California

2. Laoshi Bob Davies has told me that the first 3 forms namely Shaolin Yi Lu, Shaolin Er Lu and Bai He Quan were purely external (Shaolin), however the third form manifested the softer form of white crane as taught by Hong's father.

3. Chen Pan-Ling (1963) taiji Chuan Chiao Tsai translated by YW Chang and Ann Curruthers, Blitz, New Orleans Louisiana

Copyright © 2009 Dejan Djurdjevic