2 Heroes of the Central Guoshu Institute

In response to a request from one of my readers, I’ve been working on translating some information about Bajiquan, this first part of which is translated below. For a brief introduction to Bajiquan, see the wiki entry here. The original Chinese source of the extract below can be found here .

“2 Heroes of the Central Guoshu Institute, Han Huachen & Ma Yingtu

1. ‘Iron Palm’ Han Huachen (1887-1937)

Han Huiqing, styled Han Huachen was a professional martial arts teacher from Luotuan village near Cangzhou. He was extremely strong. As a youth, he studied bajiquan and piguazhang under Zhang Gongchen (aka Zhang Jingxing). In order to gain the true transmission from Zhang he was adopted into Zhang’s family and became one of Zhang’s indoor disciples.

Zhang Gongchen, aka Zhang Jingxing

Zhang Jingxing

Han practiced day and night, to the point that one of his palm strikes on a brick wall would cause the bricks to jut out on the other side by 2 inches. In the middle of cow tethering posts there used to be a square hole. Han, using baji’s advancing palm, could cause the post to break in half at the point of the hole. In practicing pigua’s ‘hungry tiger pouncing’, his right palm would hit the ice, then he would turn his body and strike it with his left palm. In doing so he could break the ice, sending shards of ice flying, hence the nickname ‘Iron Palm’. Han practiced obsessively: in practicing mud-hitting in horseriding stance, he would place mud on a wooden bench in front of him, regularly practicing one particular drill for 2 hours at a time. He would even use charging step [chuang bu] to move around while doing farm work, with the result that his waist and kua were extremely supple.

Furthermore, Han’s arm strength was incredible: after winding some water up from the well, the handle would then spin furiously as the pail dropped back down the well shaft. Han could stop the handle dead, mid-spin. After Han had finished his training, he journeyed to Beijing with ‘divine spear’ Li Shuwen. Li Shuwen would do one circuit of Beijing’s old city walls (about 20km) every morning using Baji’s ‘crane stepping’ [Lu Fu He Xing ], which shows that his speedwalking [shen xing]  had already reached a superlative level. One day, Han joined him on his morning circuit; by the end, he was lagging far behind Li, but just finishing one circuit was already no mean feat, hence Li praised Han. Han did not reach the levels attained by Wang Zhongquan and Li Shuwen, but within the baji community he was already considered a high-level master.

Han Huachen

Han Huachen

In the first year of the republic (1912), at his shidi Ma Fengtu’s invitation, Han took up a post as a martial arts coach of the Shenyang Police Academy. This was the second batch of Baji teachers to teach in the Northeast, as Li Shuwen and Huo Dian-ge had previously worked as martial arts instructors under General Xu Lanzhou in an officer training academy in Harbin. During the 1920s, while acting as Head Guard of Zhongxing mine in Zaozhuang (in Shandong province), Han took on disciples including Li Xueyi, Zhao Ronglin and others. When the Nanjing Guoshu Institute was established, the headmaster Zhang Zhijiang invited Han by telegram to take up a post as an instructor there. In 1928, Han resigned from his post at Zhongxing mine and headed south with his disciples Zhao Shude, Li Xueyi and Zhao Ronglin. Han, along with the abovementioned disciples and his shidi Ma Yingtu, all fought in the Leitai competition of October 1928.

Han defeated over 30 well-known fighters, each time with only one blow. His opponents were carried off on stretchers, hence he acquired the nickname ‘Invincible General’. Ma Yingtu was similarly unstoppable, defeating more than ten name fighters in a row. Zhang Zhijiang and Li Jinglin, fearing that this would cause bad blood in the martial arts community, did not allow Han or Ma to enter any more fights, hence Han and Ma were just listed among the 37 names in the ‘Excellent’ [youdeng] division. Zhang Zhijiang appointed Han head of teaching duties, whilst Ma Yingtu was made sectional training head. It was largely due to Han and Ma’s efforts that Bajiquan became a compulsory style at the Nanjing Guoshu Institute. Notable names who taught there such as Wang Ziping, Tong Zhongyi, Gao Zhendong, Huang Bonian and Jiang Rongqiao all had great admiration for the pure skills of Han and Ma, and would always recommend them first in any challenge match with outsiders. Tong Zhongyi’s son-in-law, Li Yuanzhi, studied bajiquan under Han and Ma, and later praised it as one of the most worthwhile things he had learnt.   

At that time, Han and Ma were mainly in charge of sparring competitions at the institute, while Wang Ziping and Tong Zhongyi were in charge of shuaijiao competitions. In the early days of the institute, Han and Ma were two of its ‘pillars’, and gained the trust of both Generals Li Jinglin and Zhang Zhijiang. Han had a great influence on the spread of Baji in southern China, to the point that there was a saying ‘bei li nan han’ meaning ‘Li [Shuwen] in the north and Han [Huachen] in the south’.

In the 1930s, when Li Jinglin and Xu Lanzhou established Guoshu institutes in Hebei and Shandong, Han and his disciples followed Li Shuwen to take up teaching posts there. At the same time, Han also acted as martial arts trainer for the militia of the Chairman of Shandong Province, Han Fuju. At the Shandong Guoshu Institute, Han met and crossed hands with Yang Chengfu. Yang praised Han’s skill, and the two became fast friends, exchanging arts with each other. In the 30s, during his tenure at the Shandong Guoshu Institute, Han died of heart disease.


Lu Baochun

Lu Baochun (L, Bajiquan teacher in Finland) with one of Han Huachen's grandsons, Han Zhenjiang, (R)

Han’s art was passed on by his sons, Han Jiequan and Han Longquan, as well as his disciples Zhao Shude, Dong Yiwen, Li Xueyi, Yao Chunfu, Wei Hong’en, Wei Hongbin and Zhao Ronglin. In Taiwan, Li Yuanzhi also taught Han’s baji. Han’s grand-daughter, Han Zhen-ge, won first place in a Baji competition in Cangzhou. Han’s descendants live and teach in Zaozhuang, Shandong, spreading Han’s baji.


‘Lightning hands’, ‘Ma the Ruthless’

Ma Yingtu in military uniform

Ma Yingtu in military uniform

Ma Yingtu (1898-1956) was from Yangshiqiao in Southeast Township, Cangzhou. He was a professional martial arts teacher, styled Ma Jianxun (some say Ma Jianxiong). As a kid, he studied pigua and baji from his brother, Ma Fengtu. Even as a young lad Ma was solidly-built, and his bravery was well known in his hometown, which was only 2km from one of the centres of Baji, Luotuan village. In 1904, the two Mas (Ma Yingtu and Ma Fengtu) became Zhang Gongchen’s disciples, learning the ‘6 great openings’ [liu da kai], ‘8 great techniques’ [ba da zhao] routines as well as the six harmonies spear. At the time the two Mas became Zhang’s indoor disciples, Zhang was quite old already. The 8 year-old Ma was a favourite of Zhang Gongchen’s, and he also received pointers from his shixiong Zhang Yuheng, Han Huiqing and Ma Fengtu as well as from Li Shuwen’s teacher, Huang Sihai. As a result, his skill improved in leaps and bounds. In 1910, when he performed baji at the Tianjin Wushi Hui (lit. ‘Association of Chinese Warriors’) , Li Shuwen praised him, saying “This kid’s even using some dingba jin [upward pressing force], he’s going to be a talent to watch.” Later events proved Li right. Ma Yingtu was incredibly powerful, he loved to fight and his techniques were fast and devastating, hence his nicknames of ‘Lightning hands’ and ‘Ma the Ruthless’ [Ma Henzi].

In 1924, the militias of Feng Yuxiang and Li Jinglin [1] fought the battle of Langfang. Ma, on the instructions of Zhang Zhijiang, who was the Commander in Chief of Feng’s militia, led a ‘kamikaze corps’ [gan si dui] mostly composed of young men from Cang county which, armed with sabres and handguns, was responsible for clearing the way for the rest of the army to attack Tianjin. He later received a commendation from Feng for his efforts.

Another martial arts instructor in Feng’s camp was not impressed and challenged Ma to a contest with sabres. The two started 10m apart holding wooden sabres, and with Ma’s opponent wearing protective gear. General Feng Yuxiang arranged that the match would start with a blast on a whistle from the referee. The referee had not even finished blowing the whistle, when Ma Yingtu closed the gap and delivered three successive blows to his opponent’s head, knocking him out.

Whilst stationed in Tianjin, Ma accidentally offended a local gang when he used his kungfu to help a passerby out of trouble. Over 100 gangsters surrounded Ma, but Ma was unruffled throughout. The gang’s fighters were thrown out one by one, with no one being able to get near Ma as he fought from one end of a street to the other. Hence there’s a saying amongst baji people ‘The second Ma [Ma Er Ye] beat a whole street’.

Founder of the Nanjing Central Guoshu Institute, General Zhang Zhijiang

Founder of the Nanjing Central Guoshu Institute, General Zhang Zhijiang

In 1927, Ma, in his guise as a military officer from the Northwest Army , accompanied Zhang Zhijiang when he went to Nanjing to establish the Nanjing Central Guoshu Research Institute , and was one of the founders of said insitute.The following year, the Nanjing Central Guoshu Insitute was officially established with Ma acting as head of the Shaolin division. Ma was quickly taken up with preparations for the first national guokao (lit. ‘state test’, an All-China martial arts competition). In order to test various rules for the guokao, the institute held internal barehand and weapons sparring competitions, in which Ma defeated many other famous masters, earning him a reputation as the representative of ‘real masters’ [as opposed to those there through connections] at the institute. During the closing ceremony of the guokao, Ma Yingtu, along with Liu Pixian and others, demonstrated sparring with spears and sword duelling  for dignitaries such as Chiang Kaishek, Lin Sen [2] and Dai Jitao [3], winning praise. After that, Ma taught Bajiquan, Piguazhang, Miao Dao, Feng Mo Gun [devil’s staff] and the spear to the teachers’ class.

miao dao

Master of miao dao, Guo Ruixiang, demonstrating miao dao usage.

In the early days of the institute, there were two famous martial artists called ‘iron head’ and ‘iron hand’ who issued a challenge. The other instructors all suggested that Ma take the challenge. Ma did so, easily defeating the two challengers, and thus saving face for the institute.At the insitute, [Han Huachen’s disciples] Wei Hongbin and Zhao Ronglin learnt piguazhang from Ma. Wei Hongbin and his brother Wei Hong’en settled in Qinhuangdao in 1937. Zhao Ronglin was an instructor at the Whampoa Military Academy. After liberation, Zhao returned to his hometown in Wen An county [which also produced bagua founder Dong Haichuan] and became a farmer. ……..

……. When the Japanese invaded China, Ma was employed as either a martial arts instructor or a military officer in the militias of Liu Ruming and Song Zheyuan. The ‘Da Dao Dui’ (Sabre Unit) that Ma trained up struck fear into the hearts of the Japanese and made a sterling contribution to the Chinese efforts toward liberation. In 1949, Ma took part in Fu Zuoyi’s Beijing revolt. Later, he was demobilised due to illness, and subsequently became a farmer in Jingchuan county in Gansu province. Ma Yingtu was a fiery but bold man, all of his students remember him with gratitude. The fact that he ended his days in poverty and obscurity is truly a tragedy.

Ma was skilled at Bajiquan, Piguazhang, Fanzi [4] and Chuojiao [5]. Amongst the weapons, he was good at the double-handed broadsword, gim and staff; there was also great admiration for his shuaijiao, weightlifting, sword sparring and archery on horseback. In his own teaching, he stressed practical usage, long- and short-range strikes, combined usage of hard and soft, hence his excellent fighting record. He was warm yet strict in his teaching. Li Yuanzhi, He Fusheng, Ma Chengzhi, Niu Zenghua and Cao Yanhai all studied under him.”

[1] This battle was part of the second Zhili-Fengtian war, which you can read more about here  The war was between two cliques, the Zhili clique led by Feng Yuxiang, and the Fengtian led by Zhang Zuolin. Interestingly, Li Jinglin and Zhang Zhijiang were on opposite sides of the war in 1924 (Li Jinglin being a commander in the Fengtian clique, whilst Zhang was CIC in Feng’s militia, which was part of the Zhili clique). And yet only 4 years later, they were both involved in the Nanking Central Guoshu Institute: Zhang Zhijiang was the principal and founder, and Li Jinglin the vice-principal.  

[2] Lin Sen was the President of the Republic of China from 1931-1943.

[3] Dai Jitao was a high-ranking member of the Kuomintang (KMT) who served as State Councillor and Minister of Information in the Republican government.

[4] Fanzi quan, or ‘rotating fists’ is a northern Chinese style of martial arts emphasising the hands.

[5]Chuojiao is another style of martial arts from Northern China that emphasises kicking and is often taught together with Fanzi quan.


About yosaku

Xingyiquan enthusiast
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5 Responses to 2 Heroes of the Central Guoshu Institute

  1. Nicrimo says:

    Formidable !!! you are great !! Deeply the sequel of this article !!! thank you very very much of all these informations… if you had articles about famous masters of the past of rare styles it will be great!! Thanks

  2. The blog and the photos are a surprise and wellcome..
    I am completing the final edition-release on the LiuHe
    BaFa exercise, history, teachers,..principles. I would like to include the photo of General Zhang as he
    is credited with inviting teacher Wu Yi-hui to join in
    the school in Nanking. While the school existed, there
    was cross-overs between Wang Xiang-zhai and Sun Lu-tang [Sun also being a teacher]. If there is further information I would welcome it.

  3. Wow! I am very happy to come upon your blog. Extremely informative and enjoyable, to say the least. From a fellow Chinese Martial Arts practitioner, I thank you sincerely.

  4. David Roberts says:

    A wonderful article. I’d love to know more about the Central Guoshu Institute!
    I read on Wikipedia that they published books ([编辑]中央國術館出版著作). Do you know any one who has them or if it is still possible to get a copy or scan of them?

  5. avidaether says:

    Just glad to be here. Much hard work. 😎🙂😎

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