In 2020 I have opened up a weekly liuhebafa class in Vancouver. (Check the Home page for class details). Liuhebafa 六合八法 is a rare internal martial art said to come from the legendary Huashan Taoist Chen Tuan. Although it is a martial art, the benefits to health and spiritual development are profound, especially as a means to build foundation for internal alchemy (neidan 內丹).
Liuhebafa is not only good for neidan it is also a complete system of Taoist practice in its own right. To the uninitiated liuhebafa might be mistaken for a dynamic form of tai chi. The movements are slow, but work the body deeply and thoroughly. The liuhebafa practitioner engages the deep sinews of the body by coordinating something called the Five Centres in a dynamic spiralling motion. With sustained practice the art changes the body by realigning muscles and bones, massaging organs, and circulating internal energy.
Liuhebafa was my first love. I was actually looking for tai chi when I stumbled onto the second floor of a Taoist practice studio in downtown Vancouver. The year was 1997. I had seen the distinctive yin/yang symbol emblazoned on the side of the building from the street below and decided to walk in. As it turned out the school taught liuhebafa along with a range of Taoist temple arts, meditation, and neigong practices.
I worked on liuhebafa for three years before moving on to try other stuff. I was young and the vast world of Chinese internal arts beckoned. I eventually moved to Beijing for several years to train full-time in Chen family tai chi. Then after several years returned to Canada and took up Wu family tai chi. With the right teacher tai chi is a deep and profound art, however my body never seemed to open up enough to do it properly. So I decided to return to the beginning: liuhebafa.
In the spring of 2017 I began training with Nelson Ma 馬章英. Nelson is a native of Hong Kong living in Vancouver who is working hard to pass on the complete liuhebafa system. Liuhebafa is a set of internal principles used to work the body and mind to develop a specific method of martial ability.
The liuhebafa system is focused around a set of 66 movements called Building Foundation (zhuji 築基). The 66 form is complex and difficult to learn. To make things easier, practitioners also work with a number of mini forms and auxiliary exercises that have been passed down within the liuhebafa lineage. These supplemental practices allow the practitioner to isolate and refine the various liuhebafa principles.
- Building Foundation (66 move main form)
- Three Divisions and Twelve Forms (12 animal forms)
- Lü Hong Ba Shi
- Dragon and Tiger Fighting
- Coiled Dragon Method
- Coiled Dragon Swimming
- Coiled Dragon Fist
- Heart and Intent Staff
- Dew Mist Saber
- Jade River Sword
- Weituo Gong (standing post practice)
- Yijie Hunyuan Gong
- Xiantian Zuo (sitting practice)
- Taiyang Gong
The core internal mechanism of the liuhebafa system revolves around something called the Five Centres (wutong 五統). The Five Centres are basically the bottoms of the two feet (yongquan 湧泉), the two palms (laogong 勞工), and top of the head (baihui 百會). The liuhebafa practitioner works to both connect and move from these five points. Unlike tai chi the focus is not on the waist or lower abdomen. We are not trying to move from inside the body out to the extremities. In liuhebafa we start from outside the body, and allow the connection of the Five Centres to naturally engage the spine and inside of the body. This coordination is quite different from tai chi, and I needed to reprogram accordingly.
If the key to tai chi is relaxation, then the key to liuhebafa is connection. Connection of the Five Centres is all important. Relaxation is as well, but first we connect. To connect the Five Centres a couple things need to happen. First, the practitioner needs to figure out how to open and properly structure the body. This involves leading the movements with the finger tips, while at the same time sinking the body weight to the ground to engage the feet, and holding everything vertical with the top of the head.
To sink the weight to the ground the pelvis needs to open. If the pelvis is closed then there is no way to develop connection. I remember when my pelvis first began to open. It took time but bit by bit the pelvis and tailbone began to relax and open. Once opened if felt like the weight of my body rested directly on the ground, with my feet and legs becoming elastic and springy.
As the pelvis opens the practitioner needs to figure out how to move from the feet. At this point it is best to empty the upper body, arms and hands, and use the feet to power the movements. Once we feel the ground we can begin to power from the feet with twisting and spiralling movements that work through the whole body. Most internal martial arts use circles and spirals to some extend, however liuhebafa emphasizes spirals even more, hence the dragon being its signature animal.
The movements continually twist and spiral. This is where the martial ability is developed from. However, if we start spiralling before we are properly connected to the feet we end up just using upper-body-external force. The spiral needs to work inside the body, especially through the spine. To get the spiral we need to coordinate the twisting of the Nine Joints (ankles, knees, and hips – wrists, elbows, and shoulders – lower, middle and upper spine) while engaging the Five Centres, however once we get it the feeling is unmistakable. The saying goes that without the Nine Joints and Five Centres there is no liuhebafa.
What surprises me most about liuhebafa, and what keeps me coming back, is the sheer power of the art to transform the body. My main practice is Taoist alchemy. But neidan requires a certain physical foundation to get anywhere with. If the body is not open and structured it is hard to go inside and get anything done. Liuhebafa has opened my body in a whole new way. It’s great to be back.
For a history and overview of the liuhebafa system check out: www.liuhebafachuan.com