Sun, Sep 23, 2007 - Page 18 News List

Master at work

He Jing-han keeps the bagua quan tradition alive in Taiwan

By Jules Quartly  /  CONTRIBUTING REPORTER

Bagua master He Jing-han teaches a class in Taipei. Once a military instructor, He lived with his master for 21 years learning the theory and practice of the martial art.

PHOTO: JULES QUARTLY, TAIPEI TIMES

Taiwan is a repository of martial arts that originated in China. Self-defense was necessary for early settlers from China and this flow of martial artists and related knowledge into the country turned into a flood after World War II.

One of the men who came with this flood was Gong Bao-zhai (宮寶齋), a fourth-generation master of bagua quan (八卦拳). He fled China with the Chinese Nationalist Party in 1949 and eventually agreed to pass on his skills and knowledge to He Jing-han (何靜寒), a retired military instructor and broadcaster who teaches bagua quan here, in the US and Europe.

Taipei Times: How did Gong Bao-zhai come to Taiwan?

He Jing-han: The communists were coming so he had to go. His brother gave him some money and he left Qingdao for Shanghai and then came by boat to Taiwan. He left his wife and children behind but after one year, through an association, he managed to bring over his daughter and one son. His eldest daughter and son stayed in China. Those were tough times. He lost everything in just one minute.

TT: He was in the newspaper business, not in the army, how did he survive?

HJH: He made money as a locksmith and then opened a bicycle shop. Later he opened a hardware store. He lived in Taipei, on Wenchiang Street, near Xinyi Road.

TT: How did you meet him?

HJH: I was in the army, in communications. I did electronic warfare, jamming, radar, detecting, interception, and missile and laser guidance. Many things. Very advanced. I met a professor who introduced me. Gong Bao-zhai wasn't actively practicing at the time. He was about 70 years old.

TT: You practiced tai chi chuan (太極拳) for about seven or eight years and tried other martial arts too. What did Gong teach you?

HJH: Most of the time he sat and told me what to do. Only sometimes would he demonstrate, when he thought I needed it. Through practicing skills you come to knowledge. With understanding, you have more knowledge. Sometimes he would teach me nothing but calligraphy, chess or opera, for a year. I lived with him from 1974 and was his disciple for 21 years, until he died at 96.

TT: Who founded the bagua system?

HJH: In the story, Dong Hai-chuan (董海川) is supposed to have gone into the mountains and met a Daoist priest. Usually the story is like this … . But I believe the bagua system is too sophisticated to have been developed in a short time by one person. Later, Dong was a servant at the imperial palace and on one occasion showed off his martial-arts skills. They were so good the emperor made him his bodyguard. Three generations [of bagua masters] served the emperor in the palace, until the Qing Dynasty collapsed.

TT: What is bagua?

HJH: Bagua is a system from tai chi. Basically, this is the development of the world from nothing. Tai chi is nothing. The starting point. It becomes two forces, the yin and the yang. The two forces collide and push together and become something, as basic as space, a material. Bagua is this result.

TT: What is bagua quan?

HJH: Bagua quan is a system that incorporates the physical martial arts and the bagua philosophy [see I Ching, or Book of Changes]. It's a combination. I think the original masters thought to themselves, "how can we express this theory in practice?" With our body. We call our body a small universe. They wanted to understand the big universe through our small universe.

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