Six Harmonies and Eight Methods

By Gigi Oh with Gene Ching

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Kung Fu Tai Chi magazine March + April 2015The Chinese martial arts have a penchant for numbered groups of concepts.  There are the three gates, the five elements and five animals, the eighteen weapons, and countless more.  The Six Harmonies and Eight Methods are commonly coupled concepts cited by many different schools of Kung Fu.  Called Liuhe Bafa (六合八法) in Mandarin, these are universal principles, useful to any fighting system.  They are also embodied in a stand-alone internal style sometimes referred to as “Water Boxing.”  Grandmaster Wu Yinghua (吴英華), the current lineage holder of one of the dominant Liuhe Bafa sects, offers his insights on this distinctive style.

Grandmaster Wu is the son of the late Grandmaster Wu Yihui (吴翼翬 1887–1958), who founded Wu Yihui Huayue Liuhe Bafa Quan (吴翼翬华岳心意六合八法拳).  Huayue refers to the Hua mountain range, believed to be the source point of the style.  According to legend, Chen Tuan (陈摶 872–989 CE) created Liuhe Bafa Quan in the later Tang (618–907) and the Northern Song Dynasty (960–1127).  Chen Tuan, also known as Chen Xiyi (陳希夷), was an expert in Daoism, Yijing (a.k.a. I Ching 易經), and alchemy.  His sleeping qigong allegedly extended for several months per practice session, earning him the title “Sleeping Immortal (睡仙).”  He rejected invitations by emperors of both dynasties to serve as an official.  Instead, he spent sixty years in seclusion on Lotus Peak in the Hua Mountains.  Observing nature – the changing clouds, the waterfalls and pine trees, and the wild animals – inspired Chen to create Liuhe Bafa.

Grandmaster Wu Yihui
Noted Grandmaster Wang Xiangzhai (王薌齋 1885–1963) once said, “Among thousands of martial artists I’ve visited, there are only three people could be called ‘Master’: Xie Tiefu (解鐵夫) from Hunan, Fang Yizhuan (方怡莊) from Fujian and Wu Yihui from Shanghai.”  Among the Four Diamonds named by Wang, three were the disciples of Wu Yihui: Zhao Daoxin (趙道新), Han Xingqiao (韓星樵) and Zhang Changxin (張常信).

Speaking in Mandarin, Grandmaster Wu Yinghua recalls his father’s early training.  “My father was born in 1887 in Tieling, northeastern Liaoning, and grew up in Beijing in a scholarly family.  He loved to practice martial arts as a youth, against his parents’ wishes.  When he was twelve, he followed my grandfather when he relocated to Kaifeng for a work.  My grandfather finally relented and sent him to a renowned master, Yan Guoxing (闫国兴).  Under him, he learned Liuhe Bafa, Wei Tuo Gong (韋陀功), Three Dishes and 12 Postures (San Pan Shier Shi 三盤十二勢), 24 Daoyin (導引), Sleeping Qigong and weapons.  Two years later, Grandmaster Yan sent my father to Chen Guangdi (陈光第) to learn his Liuhe Bafa.  Although Yan and Chen are from the same lineage, they had different interpretations of Liuhe Bafa.  My father trained intensively, day and night, under both teachers for five years.  By the time he returned to Beijing, his Liuhe Bafa was very skillful and he knew all the inner changes well.

“In 1903, Wu Yihui was admitted to the Northern Military Academy.  During his leisure time, he practiced Liuhe Bafa outside of a monastery located at the outskirts of the area.  Grandmaster Chen Helu (陈鹤侣) spied him and, recognizing his skill, accepted him as his disciple.

“In 1936, the former Central National Guoshuguan director, Zhang Zijiang (中央国术馆张之江馆长), admired my father’s calligraphic and brush painting skills as well as his superb martial arts.  [The Guoshuguan was an important academy for the martial arts at the time – ed].  Zhang deemed my father to be a true master, a combination of scholarly and martial arts, and employed him as the Director of Academic Affairs Committee (中央国术馆教务长) and Chairman of the Compilation Committee (编纂委员会主任).  Liuhe Bafa became a mandatory course at the Guoshuguan.  My father advocated an inclusive policy of teaching all martial arts systems.  He opposed contradiction among martial arts styles.  Later, due to the war, the Guoshuguan moved to Yunnan and other places, which spread Liuhe Bafa across China.  My father produced many outstanding students such as National Sports Commissioner Wu Jianping (吳江平), Beijing Sports University Professor Zhang Wenguang (張文廣), Yunnan Wushu Association Chairman He Fusheng (何福生), Shanghai Fudan University Professor Li Xien (李錫恩), and Boxing Champion Jiang Haoquan (蔣浩泉).  In Taiwan, he taught Fu Shuyun (傅淑雲) and Han Xingqiao.  In Hong Kong, he taught Liang Zipeng (梁子鵬) and Chen Chufan (陳楚凡).  And in Shanghai, among his students were Zhang Changxin, Li Daoli (李道立), Liang Qizhong (梁啟忠), Lu Guiyao (盧桂耀), Wen Ximing (溫錫銘), Liu Yuhua (劉玉華), Guo Ruixiang (郭瑞祥), and Zhao Daoxin.  There were many more.”

In 1948, Zhang Zhijiang again appointed Wu as Associate Professor of National Sports Martial Arts Teachers College and Wu also served as Dean of the Martial Arts Department (国立体育师范专科学校副教授兼国术系主任).  In 1957, Wu was hired by Shanghai’s mayor Chen Yi (陈毅) as the Shanghai Museum Cultural and Historical Librarian, specializing in historical martial arts research in charge of martial arts aspects and recommendations.  “It was during that time that my father had chance to read and research many ancient manuscripts, enriching his martial arts knowledge of different martial arts systems’ theory and fighting techniques.  He mastered the xinfa (heart method 心法) passed down by the generations of masters and consolidated into a set of highly practical techniques, the most representative of the style: Wu Yihui Huayue Xinyi Liuhe Bafa Quan 66 Movements (吴翼翬華岳心意六合八法拳 66 勢).

The Six Harmonies and Eight Methods Defined
Today, Wu Yinghua is in his 80s but looks to be two decades younger.  Of course he credits Liuhe Bafa for his longevity.  “My father said Liuhe Bafa Quan is internal mind cultivation and external body training (內養心性, 外修形體), an advanced martial arts exercise.  It has esoteric martial theory that includes the profound philosophy of Heaven and Man united as one.  Liuhe Bafa Quan has 4 characteristics: fitness (健), preservation (衛), attack (攻) and defense (守).  Learning Liuhe Bafa Quan will keep the disease away.  Living longer shows the effectiveness of its health benefits.   While Liuhe Bafa Quan practitioners don’t advocate engaging in fights, we can at least use it for self-defense.”

The Six Harmonies is an old Daoist philosophy that perceives the human body as a microcosm of the cosmos, the unity of Heaven and Earth.  Each Harmony is expressed by the unity of two Chinese characters.  Translating these from Chinese to English tends to detract from their meaning, as each character expresses a much deeper concept.  The terms used are poetic, used symbolically to allude to more profound ideas.  In Western terms, the Harmonies might best be viewed as visualizations, although this is a simplification of the notion.

The 1st Harmony is Body and Heart (ti he yu xin体合于心).  Your body actions harmonize with your heart, or more succinctly your thoughts.  At the beginning of training, when your thoughts give a command, either your action will be delayed for an instant or it cannot fully deliver the action.  In order to fully harmonize your body and heart thought, you need to train all your voluntary and involuntary muscles.  After thousands of repetitions, your body will react to a situation without even thinking.

The 2nd Harmony is Heart and Mind (xin he yu yi心合于意).  Your heart (again, thoughts) harmonizes with mind, or your consciousness and level of awareness.  You have to open your awareness to fully receive your heart’s command.  Sometimes, your thoughts tell you one thing, but you are unconsciously pulled in the opposite direction, resulting in hesitation.  Until this harmony is achieved, bad habits will proliferate and slow you down.

The 3rd Harmony is Mind and Qi (yi he yu qi意合于气).  Between Heaven and Earth, there is no vitality without qi.  No qi means no life and no li (strength or power 力).  You must consciously use you mind to direct the qi flow to certain points.  When your mind is set so, your strength follows.

The 4th Harmony is Qi and Sheng (qi he yu sheng 气合于神).  In this context, sheng means focus (zhuanzhu 專注), to control a singular point.  Sheng is also the reflection of your thoughts and mind upon your external appearance until it reaches an ultimate state such as yansheng (spirit from the eyes 眼神).

The 5th Harmony is Sheng and Action (sheng he yu dong神合于动).  Your mind and action become completely coordinated.  When you practice, you must focus on each miniscule detail.  After a period of dedicated practice, your action will become instant and instinctive.

The 6th Harmony is the most abstract: Action and Kong (dong he yu kong 动合于空).  Kong is a Daoist concept usually translated as “emptiness.”  Here it implies arbitrariness or freedom (隨心所欲).  Kong is not empty; it contains everything yet appears empty.  This "emptiness" or "inaction" is the meaning of silence, when an apparent motion refers to the movement of non-stationary state.  Ultimately, this is a gradual transformation into the expression of spontaneous instinctive movement.  This emptiness stage comes after thousands upon thousands of repetitions.  All actions do not require thought.  Reactions are unconscious and instantaneous.

The Six Harmonies are like six levels that can be reached one by one after years of practice.  According to Master Wang Hui (王輝), Chief Instructor of Huainan Wu Yihui Huayue Liuhe Bafa Quan Headquarters, “It will take 10 hours a day for 200 days to learn the frame of the 66 movements… It takes 3 to 5 years of diligent training to achieve to the 3rd Harmony.  The last 3 Harmonies depend upon individual understanding.  Very few can reach the 6th level.”

The Six Harmonies are the xinfa; it is said, “Six Harmonies are your internal body training, Eight Methods are the external usage (liuhe wei ti, bafa wei yong 六合为体, 八法为用).

First of the Eight Methods is Energy (qi气).  It is said, “Circulate qi, collect spirit (xing qi ji shen 行气集神).”  Focusing on qi circulation and breath brings internal calm and stillness.  This focus also ensures you are on the correct path and adjusts your body and mind to ultimate coordination.

Next is Bone (gu骨) where the saying goes, “Bone power collects internally (gu jing nei lian 骨劲内敛).”  In Western terms, this could be defined as bone adduction, moving the frame towards the midline.  It combines relaxation and calmness, or song (鬆).  Power release (fajing 發勁) only comes when you are relaxed, but not too loose.

The 3rd Method is Shape (xing形); “Change image, copy and imitate (hua xiang mo fang 化象模仿).”  This refers to imitating animals, a common method in Chinese martial arts.  For example, the name of the classic technique, Hungry Tiger Grabs Food (餓虎扑食), suggests the ferocity.  You must imitate the spirit of a furious hungry tiger or retreat like a deer being chased by a hungry tiger.

The 4th Method is Follow (sui随); “Must circle, pass through and scheme (yuan tong ce ying 圆通策应).”  Yuan tong is a term used by Buddhism and Daoism.  It means smooth without edges or fluidity without hesitation.  After you practice a thousand times, you will automatically react without stopping to think.

The 5th Method is Lifting (ti 提); “The peak hangs on emptiness (ding xuan xu kong 顶悬虚空).”  This means your head is suspended in emptiness.  The human spinal column can support more weight.  Ti is to suspend your head to extend your vertebrae, straightening the neck and the nape to increase your strength.  Ti also helps calm and empty your mind.

The 6th Method is Return (huan还); “Go, come, return, repeat (wang lai fan fu 往来返复).”  Practice moving back and forth repeatedly.  With movements or fajin, one follows the next without stopping.  Never expend all the energy in a single action or fajin.  Internal energy transmits and accumulates like a wave, ebbing and flowing.

The 7th Method is Withhold (le勒); “Still, settle, guard humbly (jing ding shou xu 静定守虚).”  Le is holding back, reining in and controlling.  Keep still and relaxed.  Greater strength emerges from relaxation.  Ding and shou also refer to “returning to the center.”  In this context, xu implies humility; only when empty can you learn more.

The last Method is Conceal (fu 伏); “Hide appearance, conceal moment (yin xian cang ji 隐现藏机).”  While practicing, never show off.  Martial arts are hidden and subtle.  They do not reveal their intentions.

According to Grandmaster Wu, understanding the Six Harmonies and Eight Methods can change your previous learned martial arts principles.  He believes that by implementing Liuhe Bafa principles on any given martial technique and changing the frame structure and fajin, force can be increased by at least 50%.

Intangible Cultural Heritage
In 2003, China set out to protect her rich traditional culture through government support.  The first list of National Intangible Cultural Heritages was formally announced in 2006 and three more lists have been announced since then.  All intangibles must possess distinctive Chinese ethnic characteristics and go through a three-step approval process from municipal to provincial to national.  Among these 1700+ projects, over 50 were sport-related.  For Wu Yihui Huayue Liuhe Bafa Quan, the campaign for Intangible Cultural Heritage went from July 2013 to May 2014.  It was first approved as a Huainan City Intangible Cultural Heritage, and later as both an Anhui Province Intangible Cultural Heritage and China Sports Intangible Cultural Heritage Protection and Promotion Project.

“Since Wu Yihui Huayue Liuhe Bafa Quan was approved by all levels of authority as the Intangible Cultural Heritage Protection and Promotion Project, we own the intellectual property rights.  We are trying to unite all who could be united, both persons and groups.  We are requesting that our members to add Wu Yihui into their title to differ to the other styles of Liuhe Bafa.  All the promotional materials must include Wu Yihui as well.  First, we need to attract people to come.  Second, we see if they are willing to sit down.  And third, we see if they willing to listen to what we offer.   After passing these three gates, and everyone is in harmony and understands each other, then we can talk about the steps to take to promote.  Otherwise, martial artists are not going to listen and work together.  People must be willing to join.  We can’t force anyone.  The important thing we have to do is to build up ourselves and provide all the necessary material.  We can’t criticize other forms if they are not correct.  Instead, we will wait other people’s recognition.”

Despite Wu’s modesty, Wu Yihui Huayue Liuhe Bafa Quan is making tremendous progress.  In Huainan, four colleges now have programs: Anhui Industry and Trade Technological Institute (安徽工贸职业技术学院), Huainan United University (淮南市联合大学), Huainan Normal College (淮南师范学院), and Anhui University of Science and Technology (安徽理工大学).  “Wu Yihui Huayue Liuhe Bafa Quan moving into colleges is a very good thing because the age of the college students are younger and college student have higher education and deeper understanding of traditional martial arts on the theoretical level.  After graduating, they will be sent to all over the country and will bring Wu Yihui Huayue Liuhe Bafa Quan to bloom in different parts of country.”

Today, more than half of the 400 Huainan fitness centers practice Wu Yihui Huayue Liuhe Bafa Quan.  It is circulating in Guangdong, Hebei, Henan, Hubei, Jiangxi, Shaanxi, Shandong, and Jiangsu Provinces, as well as in Foshan, Jiujiang, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Xuzhou, and other regions.  Outside of China, there are now recognized schools in Australia, Brazil, Britain, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Malaysia, Russia, Singapore, Sweden, Taiwan, and the United States.

Gao Xiaojun (高小軍), the Chairman of the Chinese Wushu Association and Director of Wushu Sports Management Center of State General Administration of Sports, asked, "How can we promote an age-old tradition globally without a solid fan base at home?  Chinese martial arts won't be able to survive if our next generation has no interest in it.  We have to shift our focus from making it popular abroad to making it widely accepted and practiced by our youngsters."  In hopes of achieving this, the Chinese Wushu Duanwei system (段位制度) was established in 1998.  This is a ranking system that evaluates practitioners' qualifications, combat skills, theoretical knowledge and morality.  In addition, just like the installation of Wu Yihui Huayue Liuhe Bafa Quan in Huainan, Chinese martial arts are being added into many elementary and middle school curriculums across the nation.  Martial proponents are advocating that students who obtain high levels in these martial art programs should also be awarded extra points in the college entrance exams.

Grandmaster Wu is ready to ride these new policies.  “The first thing to do is to standardize the 16 movements.  We need to come up a unified form for Wu Yihui Huayue Liuhe Bafa Quan.  Second, it’s to come up with a grade system.”  The original form is 66 movements, but Wu hopes to take a different route than the other modern standardized forms like the Taiji 24 and 42, Yang, Chen, Wu, and Sun Taiji competition routines that were compiled and edited from different sources.  “Instead we are not going to change nor edit the original 66 movements.  We will just take the first 16 movements and standardized it.  This short form will be easier to promote.”

In Wu Yihui Huayue Liuhe Bafa Quan, each movement can be practiced individually.  It takes over three minutes to recite the first 16 movements which is within competition and group performance time requirements.  Wu Yihui Huayue Liuhe Bafa Quan would have its own competition division instead of falling under the “other internal fists” division.  “There are so many different forms of Liuhe Bafa Quan, more than any other styles.  Our advantage is my father left individual movement images and detailed manuscripts.  The basic form of 16 movements has to be regulated.  It has to be taught exactly the same in each college.  Wu Yihui Huayue Liuhe Bafa Qua has a beginning standing meditation posture, 16 movements, 66 movements, swordplay, Luhong 8 methods (呂紅八式) for Sanda and combat training and wooden ball [a 22.5 cm diameter tool for testing energy to find the ball’s focal point – ed].  In my lifetime, I have to reveal them all gradually.  You know, my father passed away too early when I was very young.  My immediate next project is to work with all father’s students to come up the standard Sword forms.

“We are setting up a website to list all the movements of Wu Yihui Huayue Liuhe Bafa Quan and include hyperlinks to the websites of all our members.  Our headquarters is in Hong Kong because many few renowned Liuhe Bafa masters from my father’s lineage lived there.  Huainan, the place I live, has the most Wu Yihui Huayue Liuhe Bafa Quan practitioners.  I just built up a platform for everyone.  We need time sit down to study how to improve and move forward.  Otherwise, even with a glorious title of ‘Intangible Cultural Heritage’ it is still a dying art.”

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Kung Fu Tai Chi Magazine March + April 2015

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About Gigi Oh with Gene Ching :
Grandmaster Wu Yinghua can be contacted at 251, Xueyuan South Rd., Tian Jia An District, Huainan City, Anhui Province, China, Postal Code:23200 (安徽省淮南市田家庵區學院南路251 號, 郵區: 23200). Additional exclusive articles related to this story are published on For more from Wu Yinghua, read Three Faults in Chinese Martial Arts Today by Gigi Oh with Gene Ching. For more on Liuhe Bafa, read Three Masters Discuss Six Harmonies and Eight Methods: Masters Kam Tong (金彤), Mok Kifai (莫其輝), and Zhang Lijuan (臧麗娟) by Gigi Oh with Gene Ching. The authors gratefully acknowledge Wang Hui (王輝) and Kam Tong (金彤) for their assistance with this article.

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