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3 Names and subsets

Tongbeiquan (
tngbiqun; literally Spreading
Power from the Back Boxing, as tong means through,
bei means back and quan means st) is a school of
martial arts popular in northern China. Tongbeiquans
basic precepts are Taoist in nature and many of the training methods in Tongbeiquan are similar to those of the
internal styles. In traditional Tongbeiquan training, several parts are included: basic training (stance, arm techniques, leg techniques and conditioning), combinations,
forms training, two-person free sparring, weapons training, and qigong training.

Due to its long history, Tongbeiquan has various names

and subsets in dierent places. Baiyuan Tongbeiquan has
two subsets: Shi and Qi style. From Qi-style Baiyuan
Tongbeiquan there are also a number of subsets such as,
Wu Xing (5 Elements) Tongbeiquan and Five-Monkey
Tongbeiquan. While there are dierent names and styles
of Baiyuan Tongbeiquan all of the fore-mentioned styles
are based on the same boxing theory and have similar origins. There are also Shaolin Tongbeiquan, Pigua Tongbeiquan, and others that dier from Baiyuan Tongbeiquan in methods and principles, but bear similar names.

There are other styles, with names that are also pronounced Tongbeiquan, but are written with dierent
1 Exercise and Shen Fa
bei or bi characters (with meanings of preparing,
arm, etc.). Many books about Chinese martial arts confuse those styles with each other. Also there is another
Originally, Tongbei may not have referred to a school of style called Hong Dong Tongbeiquan, which is a local
boxing but to a way of exercise. When the exercises are version of Taijiquan and is therefore a dierent style.
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 arms length to control the
opponent. Tongbeiquan emphasizes the combination of 4 History
inner core and outward application.

According to the Boxing Chronicles by Xu Jianchi (1931),

Qi Xin of Zhejiang went to teach back-through boxing at
Gu'an County in Hebei Province in the middle and latter half of the Qing Dynasty. His style was then called
Qi-style Boxing which was later named as Tongbei or
Back-through Boxing. Qis son, Qi Taichang, improved
and developed the boxing techniques. People then divided Qi-style Tongbeiquan into an old style (represented
by the father) and a new one (represented by the 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 boxing to his followers. Xius
writings are vital materials for the study and research of
Tongbeiquan. Another of Lu Yunqings students was Shi
Hongsheng, who also created his own Shi-style Tongbeiquan.

Application of the Five Elements

to Tongbeiquan theory

Wuxing Tongbeiquan takes the ve elements as its core

and back-through as its application. Back-through Boxing takes the ve elements of traditional Chinese philosophy as its basic theory. This philosophy believes that
heaven is an macrocosm while the human being is a microcosm but the principles of the systems remains constant regardless of the size. The ve elements of the
heaven are metal, wood, water, re and earth while those
of the human being the heart, liver, spleen, lung and kidney. The ve elements of boxing are wrestling, batting,
piercing, axing and boring. The Chinese boxing philosophy believes that everything in the world nds its roots in
the ve elements while all Boxing schools are also based
on its ve elements. The following table demonstrates the
interrelations among the ve elements of the heaven and From 1910s, some Qi style masters started to teach Tongthose of the human being and boxing:
beiquan to the public. Subsequently, Qi style became


much more popular than the Shi style. Today the vast
majority of Tongbeiquan practitioners are in Qi style or
its branches. But even when they taught in public, the
masters still withheld some skills. Most masters only
taught high level skills to some disciples in their private
classes. As Qi style became somewhat more popular, a
few forms were created for teaching purposes. Compared
to Qi style, Shi style group still kept the old way. So people sometimes called the Shi style Hei Quan (Black Fist),
and their style is sometimes considered heterodox.

Abridged Tongbeiquan lineage

since the Qing Dynasty


Emperor Daoguangs Reign: 1821


Major schools and styles


Old Qi style

Qi Xins Lao Qi Pai basic training is based on 108

single methods, sometimes called Chai Quan (Divided Fists).
Qi Taichangs Shao Qi Pai variant is based on continuous using of the ve kinds of palm strikes. Each
kind of strike is correlated with one of the ve elements (earth, metal, water, wood and re), hence
Shao Qi Pai is also called Wu Xing Tongbeiquan
(Five Elements Tongbeiquan).
There are 6 basic sets of Shao Qi Pai Tongbeiquan.

not as well-known, it is considered a heterodox style and

sometimes is called heiquan (black st). The training
syllabus of Shi-style Tongbeiquan constitutes the following:
Six Primary Skills
Eight Older Fists (a short form)
Twelve Linking Fists (the number of sts may vary
depending on lineage)
Twenty-Four Posture Form
Thirty-Six Take-Apart Fist (also a form)
108 individual techniques

7 Secrecy
Baiyuan Tongbeiquan masters followed the orthodox
Chinese martial art model of keeping their teachings very
secretive. Even other traditional wushu stylists often criticize this group as too conservative. Traditionally, Tongbeiquan instructors usually did not teach in public. Because of this conservatism, it was very dicult to join
the group to study this skill. Tongbeiquan teachers would
teach only behind closed doors. The masters always felt
that the high-level skills should only be passed to morally
upstanding people who must have a good personality, be
smart enough to grasp the principles, as well as be diligent in practice. So all this prevented Tongbeiquan from
having particularly large numbers of practitioners. The
result of this lack of open teaching is seen in the rarity of
the style. However, in recent years many teachers have
become much more open and there are teachers teaching
openly throughout China as well as in the West.

Da Peng Zhang Yi (Great bird spreads its wings)

Qi Xing Hua Ji (Changing of forms and transformations of strikes)

8 Contemporary Wushu

Yi Zi Lian Ji Pao(Continuous cannon strikes of one Tongbei is present in modern wushu as well and is practiced by the contemporary wushu athletes coming out of
the Chinese sports universities (referred to in some wushu
Shi Er Lian Zhu Pao (12 continuous cannon circles and the University faction Xue Yuan Pai who study
strikes). This style does not use single strikes, all the routines in school and learn with performance being
strikes are linked together in sequences.
the key feature).
There are more advanced forms in Shao Qi Pai Tongbeiquan such as 3 Deadly Palms": Palm of Entangling the
Soul, Palm of Hunting the Soul and Palm of Chopping the Soul.


Shi style

In the 1970s, Tongbeiquan was added by the Chinese

Wushu Association as an open routine for wushu taolu
forms competition. In the 1980s it was formally classied as a Class II Other Open Hand event, which means
it is in the Northern category of traditional empty hand
forms along with Fanziquan, Piguaquan and Chuojiao.

The modern wushu style of Tongbeiquan, while having

a non-martial emphasis, is still popular in the same reSince the two Qi styles of Tongbeiquan are so widespread gions of northern China such as Shandong and Liaoning
and has many more forms, this version of Shi family is provinces.

Tongbei throughout the world

Today, the traditional style is kept alive through the efforts of practitioners throughout northern China, particularly by small groups throughout Beijing, Shandong, and
Liaoning. There are also both groups throughout North
America and Europe. Its contemporary wushu variant
can also be found throughout the caterpillar.




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