Tongbei Quan is also called Tongbi Quan, back-through Chuan or arm-through Chuan. It is one of the most popular schools in north China. Back-through Chuan is characterized by movements based on birds and animals-monkeys, eagles, cranes and cats.
Due to its long history, it boasts of various names in different places, such as the Wuxing (five elements-metal, wood, water, fire and earth), six-combinations, five-monkey, axe-hitch and the Shaolin. Although there are different names, the different styles of Tangbei Quan are all based on the same Chuan theory and have the same origin. The major schools and styles of Tongbei Quan are as follows:
1. In 1937 Wu Tianxu wrote in his book Tongbei Quanshu that this school of Chuan had been called the back-through which was later changed to the white ape school and long-armed ape school. Qing Dynasty practitioners called it the traveling, traveling Chuan or Chang Quan (long-range Chuan).
2. Some say that Tongbei Quan was created in the period of the Five Dynasties (907-960) or in the Song Dynasty (960-1279). One theory is that it was created by Han Tong, recorded in some Chuan literature as one of the 18 Chuan masters of the ancient times. Another proposition says that it was created by Chen Tuan in the early Song Dynasty and in the middle of the Qing Dynasty Lu Yunqing taught it to Qi Taichang. In his book Wushu Theory, Xu Yusheng wrote that Chen Tuan, also called Chen Tu’nan, lived in seclusion in Mount Hua during the Five Dynasties. He could sleep for 100 days without getting up. Emperor Taizong of the Song Dynasty conferred a designation of Dr Xiyi on him. Chen was said to have created 12 sitting exercises.
3. Huang Zongxi, a well-known scholar of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), wrote in his Essay of Southern Thunderbolts, that Tongbei Quan was the best among all Chuan schools. Later, Huang Baijia in his biography of Dr Wang Zhengnan said that Tongbei Quan is Chang Quan or long-range Chuan. The arm-through Chuan can thus be said to have been popular in the Ming Dynasty.
4. According to the Chuan chronicles by Xiu Jianchi (1931), Qi Xin of Zhejiang went to teach the back-through Chuan at Gu’an in Hebei Province in the middle and latter half of the Qing Dynasty. His style was then called Qi-style Chuan which was later named as Tongbei or back-through Chuan. Qi’s son, Qi Taichang improved and developed the Chuan techniques. People then divided Tongbei Quan into an old style (represented by father) and a new one (represented by son). The old style emphasizes simplicity and power whereas the new style concentrates on exquisiteness and suppleness. Many masters emerged in this school later. Tongbei Quan now in practice is generally divided into two styles. One has been passed down from Qi Xin, the father and the other from Qi Taichang, the son. Xiu Jianchi, a successor to the new style, combined the best elements of his predecessors and left his theoretical summaries on stances, methods and philosophy of the Chuan to his followers, Xiu’s writings are precious materials for the study and research of Tongbei Quan.
Originally Tongbei did not refer to a school of Chuan but to a way of exercise. “Tong” (through) means to pass through and reach, “Bei” (back) means the human back. When the exercises are done, power is generated from the back to pass through the shoulders and then reach the arms. In this way, heavy blows can be delivered at the arm’s length to control the opponent. Tongbei Quan emphasizes the combination of inner core and outward application. It takes the five elements as its core and back-through as its application. Back-through Chuan takes the five elements of traditional Chinese philosophy as its basic theory. This philosophy holds that the heaven is a big world while the human being is a small one. The five elements of the heaven are metal, wood, water, fire and earth while those of the human being the heart, liver, spleen, lung and kidney. The five elements of Chuan are wrestling, batting, piercing, axing and boring. The Chinese Chuan philosophy believes that everything in the world finds its roots in the five elements while all Chuan schools are also based on its five elements. The following table demonstrates the interrelations among the five elements of the heaven and those of the human being and Chuan:
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