Translating literally as ‘Six Harmonies Eight Methods‘, Liu He Ba Fa is an internally-focussed martial art and is also referred to as ‘Water Boxing’. One of its intentions is for the practitioner to move as smoothly as water flows – embodying the very nature of water: soft one second and thunderously powerful the next. It is believed to have been developed by the Taoist sage Chen Tuan during the Song Dynasty, an associate of the Hua Shan Taoist Monastery on Mount Hua, Shaanxi Province.
Over the centuries Liu He Ba Fa was taught only to a select few who also introduced their own styles to the mix, including Tai Chi, Xing Yi and Ba Gua. As a result of its scarcity the practice was regarded somewhat as a myth rather than a genuine martial art. But then a Grandmaster called Wu Yihui began to teach it more openly in Shanghai and Nanjing in the 1930s, and its fame grew. Many of his students had martial arts backgrounds and modified Wu Yihui’s teachings to merge with their own knowledge. This is a possible explanation for its similarities with other martial arts such as Xingyiquan, Baguazhang, Tai Chi and Yiquan. Liu He Ba Fa then spread gradually to the West, yet still retains an element of myth as there are very few schools that teach it.
Here are brief descriptions the six harmonies and the eight methods from which the art takes its name:
Body and Mind Combine – Kinetic awareness; moving with precision and control.
Mind and Intent Combine – Exercises of intent and will. Every movement has a purpose and focus that can stimulate one’s inner strength.
Intent and Chi Combine – Learning to control one’s Chi and harnessing it as part of the body’s movement.
Chi and Spirit Combine – As Chi is united with the spirit the practitioner senses a feeling of vitality, clarity and focus.
Spirit and Movement Combine – The practitioner’s spirit begins to express itself fully through the physical movements. The practice takes on an element of individuality; an expression of the artist’s true self.
Movement and Emptiness Combine – No longer is there separation between practitioner and the present moment; the practitioner is at one with their surroundings.
Chi – The mind leads the chi. Where the mind directs, the chi will follow.
Bone – Directing Chi through the bones is believed to strengthen and condition them.
Shape – The shape of each movement impacts the flow of Chi in one’s body.
Follow – The practitioner must follow the movements of their opponent as well as the flow of their own Chi.
Rise – A sense of rising and of lift throughout one’s body can raise the Chi upwards and improve posture and balance.
Return – Returning Chi to the Dan Tien; deflecting a strike and returning an opponent’s energy; returning to one’s practice of the form.
Retain – Preserving physical and mental energy; maintaining calmness whilst waiting.
Conceal – Concealing is to control or to hide your energy until the moment you need it.
The Six Harmonies refer to the practitioner’s sense of unity and the Eight Methods refer to practical applications of the Harmonies. According to the ancient Taoist Li Dong-Feng, a superb technique will allow one to stand above the crowds.
The movements of Liu He Ba Fa are ideally circular, flowing and ever-responsive to changes in circumstance; like this, it becomes difficult for an opponent to predict one’s next movement or direction. Chi should alternately open and close, rise and sink, following one’s intention and directing the movement as opposed to being directed by it. The Chi movement like water of a river – always flowing on, never stopping, and the most important aspect of the style is one’s intention.
As taught by Wu Yihui, Liu He Ba Fa contains bare hand forms and weapon forms as well as Qigong practices. Training necessarily involves cultivation of Chi and as might be revealed by the name the style is extremely detailed.