China has one of the world’s longest recorded histories. Couple that with the world’s largest population and the breadth and diversity of Chinese traditions are overwhelming. This makes the cultural depth of Chinese martial arts unrivaled by any other fighting style on the planet. It also presents a challenge. When it comes to Chinese martial arts, pithy assumptions barely scratch the surface. The study of Chinese martial arts is a Chinese box; open one to discover another nested inside.
Qingcheng Pai not only retains its connection to Daoism, its lineage begins over a millennium before Zhang Sanfeng or the founder of the oldest familial style, Chen Wangting (1580–1660 CE) (陈王庭). “The Chuzu (initial ancestor 初祖) of our lineage is Zhang Daoling (34–156 CE) (张道陵), who lived in the time of the Eastern Han (25–220 CE).” Liu is quick to admit that this lineage is incomplete and that many of the names of the 35 lineage holders that preceded him are lost. As with most martial progenitors (including Zhang Sanfeng), Zhang Daoling is likely a symbolic figure. Beyond the martial world, he a legendary Daoist figure who founded the Way of Celestial Masters (Tianshi Dao 天師道) in 142 CE. This is a prominent sect of Daoism that came to Zhang while he was secluded in the Celestial Cave (Tianshi Dong 天師洞) on Qingcheng Mountain. Like with Shaolin Kung Fu’s founder Bodhidhama, whether Zhang was truly a martial artist is dubious. However, Qingcheng Pai also acknowledges earlier ancestors that were martial masters. The oldest venerated martial masters of Qingcheng Pai, known as Junyuanzu (sovereign distant ancestor 君远祖), are Rong Chenggong (容成公) and Zhu Fengzhen (宁封真), who date back as far as the Yellow Emperor period (2698–2598 BCE).
Qingcheng Pai is not just a martial art. It encompasses philosophy, art, music, medicine, astrology and many other cultural forms of expression. The same is true for Shaolin, Wudang, and many other prominent Chinese martial arts; however, both Eastern and Western pop culture usually only focuses on the martial aspects as that provides the greatest spectacle. So while it may be difficult to determine exactly when Qingcheng Pai martial arts may have emerged amongst all of its other disciplines, Grandmaster Liu is firm about the tradition as a whole. “Qingcheng Pai started from the Han Dynasty.” This makes it one of the oldest extant traditions connected to any martial art today.
Qingcheng Mountain is one of the most important Daoist centers in China. It is blanketed with dozens of ancient sacred temples. The mountain range has thirty-six peaks, the tallest of which stands over 4000 feet high. Rising majestically from the plains of Chengdu in Sichuan province, Qingcheng is intimately connected to the Dujiangyan irrigation system (都江堰), one of the world’s oldest, dating back to 256 BCE and still functioning today. In 2000, Qingcheng and Dujiangyan were inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
Qingcheng Goes Global
Grandmaster Liu has only twenty-two indoor disciples but thousands of students. Of the 650,000 residents of Dujiangyan region, Liu says over 200,000 study Qingcheng Pai, so many that, two years ago, China held a Tai chi Elite competition there and last year the World Championship. Liu also says that Qingzhen Pai is in some fifty countries now, with some 100,000 outside of China, and 20,000 in France alone.
Qingcheng Pai Taiji had a role in the 2011 international blockbuster film Kung Fu Panda 2. Sichuan is home to many of the world’s last surviving wild giant pandas. The Dujiangyan Giant Panda Center is a facility that is working to preserve the species, so when the Dreamworks team was developing the film, they visited the area for research and Raymond Zibach, the production designer for the film, modelled some of the Taiji postures on Qingcheng Taiji as performed by Liu and his disciples.
Liu has also cultivated some very affluent patrons including some of the richest entrepreneurs in China today, top ranking government officials from thirteen Asian nations, and ambassadors and their spouses from thirty-two countries and counting. He has developed health programs for Shell, BMW and Mercedes-Benz. Already the author of several books, Liu works to keep his time-honored tradition current by developing smart phone training apps and special health programs.
His foremost health cultivation program is Six Form Qingcheng Taiji (Zhanzhuang Gong Liu Shi 青城太极站桩功六式). “I created this six movement method out of thirty-six movements from the first Taiji lu. A lot of my CEO students suffer health issues. With the men, it’s usually inflamed shoulders. With the women, it is often cold feet and poor circulation. Most Taiji methods say to drop the shoulder and elbow, but this Qingcheng training is different. The goal is to use the least movements over the shortest time requirements in the smallest practice space to obtain qi energy in the fastest way. It only takes two minutes of practice a day.
Some obstinate martial artists still feel that Taiji should only be practiced as a martial art. But many forward-thinking masters like Grandmaster Liu see that it can help heal a broken world. “No matter how much the world is changing, everyone still wants a healthy body. Zhang Sanfeng wanted warriors to have a long life. Taiji is based on Daoist wisdom and culture.”