Xia Bohua

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xiabohua bagua

Xia Bohua 1984

xiabohua bydenis

taken by Denis Gelinas, 1982

xiabohua bydenis2

taken by Denis Gelinas, 1982


Xia Bohua 1982


Xia Bohua 1986

Xia Bohua is one of the legendary generation of modern great masters. He taught at the Beijing Sport University during the 1980s (when it was called the Beijing Institute of Physical Culture), and I was lucky to have him assigned to teach me. I learned so much, it is hard to express my gratitude to him. He is a true martial artist. He was one of the 'four oxen (born in the year of the ox)', along with Wu Bin (the coach of the Beijing Wushu Team), Men Huifeng (the leader of the millenium 10,000 person taijiquan performance), and Cai Longyun (famous grand master in Shanghai). He is a most giving and strict teacher, and all those lucky enough to be taught by him are certain to have good basics, good attitude towards training, and a handle on the applications. He continued to teach me in his spare time after I graduated from the university, which is why I went back there a couple of times after graduation. I lived there, but trained baguazhang on the sly in the mornings with him. In those days you were not supposed to teach foreigners yourself. It was alright if you were assigned, but you weren't supposed to actually want to teach them, like them, or make friends with them. 

He was the person who started me on the path to baguazhang. We were attending a competition in 1981 and there was a young girl performing with a sabre as long as she was tall (I swear it was not the standard three-quarter body-height length), flowing like a dragon playing in water. I asked Xia what that was, and he said, baguazhang. I sighed and said that one day I would love to learn to move like that. He replied, well, I know baguazhang, I could teach you, we just need to adjust your curriculum if you want to switch to internal styles. That was it for me - I never stopped or lost my passion for baguazhang.

I have no photos from the three years of training from 1980 to 1983. The eighties were a time that you seldom took photos, and I would never take a camera to class anyway. The two great photos here were taken by Denis Gelinas, who was on a short term visit, so bringing along a camera was more acceptable. In 1984 or 86 a Japanese friend was taking a series of photos, so I ran and got my camera and got a 36 roll shot as well. You weren't allowed to take a movie, and Xia was not supposed to pose for technical photos, but they pretended that the guy was asking questions about techniques, and Xia did each one (in order, and quite extensively), and pretended not to notice the camera. This is one of the great regrets of my life – I took the negatives in to a shop to get them all printed while I was in Vancouver in 1990 doing my masters degree, and somehow in the rush of finishing the degree, packing, taking my stuff to storage, and going back to Shanghai, the negatives were lost. The photo is the only one I have, since it was printed as a test. In my idle moments I sometimes think of going to Vancouver to find the little shop, if it is still there, and see if they have a store room of negatives that customers didn't pick up.

(Because I trained with Xia Bohua and Men Huifeng, who were fifteen years my senior, I am considered the next generation. I was nicknamed 'Xia's apprentice', and have never become apprentice to anyone of my generation. This is why I train as a friend with Di Guoyong - not that I think I'm as good as him, but we are of the same generation. I did take apprenticeship with Huan Dahai, who was much older, in Shanghai.)

I was also lucky to take advantage of a bit of emnity between Xia and Men. Men Huifeng was a Party member and Xia was an easygoing martial artist. I think if they had been in the story 'Outlaws of the Marsh' Men would have been an official and Xia would have been a hero of the marsh. Men was convinced that Xia was not teaching me good xingyiquan (he was), and gave me extra classes of extra strictness to show off that he was traditionally trained and knew more than Xia. I had to stand santishi in full summer heat with only mosquitoes and Men as company, telling me to concentrate and settle my qi to my dantian while they sucked my blood. Men hasn't really softened since the 1980s. In 2004 I introduced Andrew Gordon to him, and he took taijiquan classes, and Men would practically shout 'relax!', then moan 'oh, he'll never get it' as Andrew held himself rigidly relaxed.

Now when I go back to Beijing I like to drop by for a visit with Xia. He is one of the most fit seventy plus year olds that I have ever seen, I practically run to keep up with him just strolling through the streets.

Each time I visit Beijing we say we should get together to train bagua. I forgot to take a photo the last couple of times I visited him. He is still in top shape and working hard to try to keep traditional styles pure.


Xia Bohua 2004

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