THE ORIGINS OF THE BA GUA ZHANG METHOD OF LU SHUI-TIAN

By Bok-Nam Park
Adapted and re-edited by F. Hriadil

Lu Shui-Tian (1894 – 1978) was born in the town of Ching Tao, which is located in Shantung Province. When he was young, Lu Shui-Tian studied the “farmer style” martial arts that were prevalent in his village at that time. The term “farmer style” refers to the various “family style” martial arts that were practiced in the remote towns and villages scattered throughout China. Because there was no police protection throughout much of China’s history, a village would often hire an experienced martial artist to live there for a time and teach the young men the skills of fighting. Once a group was sufficiently trained, the martial artist would move on and the initial group would continue to train others in the village. Over time, the original system that was taught would evolve and change, and the village or town would make the art their own.

After practicing the “farmer style” for a number of years, Lu wanted to learn more. He had heard that the best of the fighting arts being practiced in China was Ba Gua Zhang (Pa Kua Chang). So, when he was still a teenager he began to search the countryside for a Ba Gua Zhang instructor. The teacher that Lu Shui-Tian found was Li Qing-Wu (Li Ching-Wu).

Li Qing-Wu (1894 – ?) lived in a town north of Ching Tao which was about a two day ride away by horse. Lu Shui-Tian would frequently make the journey to Li’s village to train with him, and would remain there for months, and even years at a time. Studying and practicing Ba Gua Zhang became the whole focus of his life.

Not much is known about Li Qing-Wu. And so far, no one has been able to determine who his teacher was. This is an area of ongoing research. Lu Shui-Tian did tell Master Park that Li Qing-Wu was not part of the well-recognized and historically documented Dong Hai-Chuan lineage.

What is also known is that Li Qing-Wu was so selective about who he taught that he only had ten Ba Gua Zhang students throughout his entire life. Li taught each student individually and felt that ten students was all that he could handle. Because Li and his students kept to themselves, his Ba Gua Zhang did not spread very far. Also, Li and his students were so secretive that Li once severely reprimanded Lu Shui-Tian for bringing a Xing Yi Quan acquaintance to meet him without first asking his permission.

Most of Li Qing-Wu’s students did not come from his home village. So like Lu Shui-Tian, they had to travel to Li’s village to study with him. They would train for a while and then return to their own towns and villages to practice what they had learned. Based on the student’s body type and aptitude, Li would teach each student the one aspect of the art to specialize in that suited him best. After Li was certain that the student had reached a certain level of proficiency in what had been taught, the student would be sent back to his home to practice for a year before returning for more instruction.

Periodically, Li Qing-Wu would invite all ten of his disciples to his home to train together. At these gatherings, he would have each student teach all of the other students those aspects of the art that they had specialized in. He would oversee their practice and would instruct each student on what aspects of the art they needed to focus on next. Li Qing-Wu felt that it was extremely important for his students to research the art independently and then meet together to teach each other what they had discovered. After Li Qing-Wu died, Lu Shui-Tian sought out other Ba Gua Zhang instructors.

Lu Shui-Tian in the Giraffe Posture

There is evidence that he spent some time with a Fourth Generation practitioner from Dong Hai-Chuan’s lineage. Master Park does not know the name of Lu Shui-Tian’s second teacher because Lu Shui-Tian seldom spoke of his background. Whenever Master Park happened to ask a question that related to Lu’s background, Lu Shui-Tian would always respond “That question will not help your practice.” Since Master Park knew that Lu Shui-Tian’s Ba Gua Zhang was very good, he was not particularly concerned about where his Ba Gua Zhang had come from and did not press the question. Unfortunately in 1978, Lu Shui-Tian died in a tragic accident, when he was overcome in his sleep by a malfunctioning gas heater, before his early history was completely revealed.

Master Park assumes that his teacher, Lu Shui-Tian, shared his Ba Gua Zhang knowledge with many of his martial arts contemporaries, as Lu traveled widely and enjoyed visiting other martial artists wherever he went.

It is also known that Lu Shui-Tian practiced, refined, and utilized his Ba Gua Zhang fighting skills during the Sino-Japanese War (1931-1945) as a member of a band of expert guerrilla fighters. Lu Shui-Tian killed many Japanese soldiers. He and his band of Chinese martial artists would hide in the mountains during the day and infiltrate Japanese encompments at night. Because their operations had to remain covert, the group had to kill the enemy without the use of firearms. Only traditional bare hand techniques and weapons techniques were utilized since it enabled the guerrillas to move in and out of the Japanese camps without being noticed.

Eventually, Lu Shui-Tian became so well known for his fighting skill that the Japanese put a price on his head, forcing him to seek safe haven for himself and his family in Inchon, Korea. Lu and his wife would venture back into China repeatedly to carry on the fight. However, after his wife was killed on one such incursion, Lu never returned to China again. He remained in the Chinatown community of Inchon for the rest of his life, where he began teaching his Ba Gua Zhang method and eventually took on Park Bok-Nam as his student.

In Beijing today, the name of Lu Shui-Tian is well known among practitioners from the Yin Fu branch of the Dong Hai-Chuan lineage. They know he was from the village of Ching Tao and they know that he left the country during the Sino-Japanese War. Several Yin Fu style practitioners stated that they believed Lu Shui-Tian’s second teacher was Lou Shou-Kui, who is known to have studied under He Jing-Kui, the son-in-law and student of Yin Fu. While this connection has not been conclusively verified, it does make sense since elements of the Ba Gua Zhang method of Lu Shui-Tian are characteristic of the Yin Fu style. A stele* was erected at the memorial burial site of Dong Hai-Chuan in Beijing, China in June of 1991 acknowledging the spread of Ba Gua Zhang into Korea by Lu Shui-Tian. [*Editor’s Note: Pictures of the stele can be seen on the Park Bok-Nam bio page]



Though only peripherally connected to the Dong Hai-Chuan lineage, Lu Shui-Tian told Master Park that his first teacher, Li Qing-Wu, taught a more complete and comprehensive method than his later teacher because it combined both straight line methods and directional footwork with circle walking forms and maneuvers. He further mentioned that the method of his second instructor only contained practice that was based on circle walking. Lu Shui-Tian credited the development of his fighting skill primarily to the training he received under Li Qing-Wu.

In keeping with the tradition and views of Lu Shui-Tian, Master Park does not place much emphasis on the lineage of his Ba Gua Zhang method other than to acknowledge what is known and what is not known.

Master Park often tells his students that knowledge of lineage, while of some historical value, does little to promote the training and development of the Ba Gua Zhang practitioner. It is more important to study the principles upon which the art is based and to carry out the training that the art demands.