Feng Keshan (冯克善, 1776~1858), was said to have studied a multitude of martial arts since his youth, he had a natural talent and could acquire the essence of both letters and combat quickly. During his adolesence and young years Feng Keshan was a ruffian, often being involved in quarrels, fights and troubles within the community, yet he acquired quite a following and this later led to the interest in his skills and qualities by rebellious leaders.
In the Chuojiao tradition it is thought that Feng Keshan studied from many teachers since his youth, but was principally a disciple (in 1797) of Master Wang Xiang from Rencheng (today's Jinning, Shandong), Master Tang Hengdong from Hua County (Huaxian, Henan) and Master Wang and Li from Hejian. The various boxing systems from those teachers and others included Erlangquan, Huaquan, Yanqingquan, Meihuazhuang, BaFanshou, Hongquan and Zhiziquan (Chuojiao) which are the basis of the skills that Feng Keshan later propagated across the Cangzhou and Baoding regions of Hebei Province.
As his teacher Wang Xiang was a well respected and capable boxing master, as well as a prominent figure in the Bailian Jiao (White Lotus) and later the Bagua Jiao (8 Trigrams). Feng Keshan became associated with Lin Qing and Li Wencheng, to become the leader of the Li Trigram. However, after his teachers death in the 4th month of 1813, Feng Keshan became disinterested in the Uprising plans and abandoned the cause. Official Qing government records indicated that Feng Keshan was executed by the Qing government in 1814, but this was common practice to proclaim the death of rebellious leaders to demonstrate success over rebellions.
Feng Keshan and some members of his sect dispersed to Zhili (Hebei province). As a result, Feng Keshan (or Zhao Canyi in the Raoyang tradition) was the father of Chuojiao Men. research has confirmed the various village records (Shen County, Raoyang and Li County), traditions (both Meihuazhuang and Chuojiao) passed on amongst martial arts practitioners that Feng Ke Shan was indeed Zhao Canyi, Zhao Laoxian, Feng Keming and Wandering Shaolin Monk Fa Jing , as those were all aliases that were used to hide his identity from authorities after the failed Bagua ‘8 Trigrams’ uprising.
In 1813 Feng Keshan had travelled from Dezhou county in Shandong province to various counties across Hebei Province. He changed his names many times and as a result was known in each area often by a different name. Only his closest disciples would know his actual name. In Dezhou he taught Liu Tang Gen (6 Sequences of Roots). In Raoyang he first taught Huaquan (Marvellous Boxing) in 12 Tangzi (Routines) in the Southern villages. In the Northern villages he taught Jinggang Jia (Jingang frames) and Jing Gang Chui (Jingang Strikes). In Shen county, in addition to Jingang Chui he taught various boxing methods - Erlang quan and Bafan shou.
Master Feng Keshan’s earlier students in 1811, were Song Yulin and Song Yuelong in Dezhou , whom had joined the Li Trigram division of the 8 Trigrams Sect. After Song Yuelong having lost a duel with Feng Keshan his followers all were to join the Li Trigram. They were recorded as having studied the Liu Tang Gen methods from Feng Keshan. Later around 1815 in Raoyang his disciples included the Duan Family, the Duan brothers (Duan Yonghe & Duan Yongqing) received tuition in Chuojiao as they were taught privately (Zhao Canyi (name in Raoyang) was hired as a private martial arts teacher for the household). Also around the time there was a famous Hongquan (Red) and Huaquan (Flower) boxing teacher Zhou Laoting, who became Master Feng’s senior disciple and contributed to further developing the Chuojiao art in Raoyang. Feng Keshan then in approx. 1825 headed to Lixian (Li county), northwest from Raoyang. He was introduced to the Liu family (to teach their three sons) by Duan Yonghe to become resident teacher there.
The Liu family records state three teachers of the household Feng keshan, Yang Jing and Tang Youyi. This time Master Feng taught a complete and ordered system which included Liu Tang Gen, Jing Gang Jia as fundamentals and then 18 sequences of Chuo jiao divided into scholarly and military (Wen/Wu Tangzi). In addition Yia zi Chui, San lan Shou and other great works were developed. Although teachers of the Liu family proper other locals were also taught. Some of the disciples in Li county included Wei Chang Yi and Wei Laofang amongst many others. Another Master Wang Zhiguo of the same generation as Master Zhao Canyi, was also a practitioner of the Chuojiao and Fanzi martial arts and contributed to various branches of the style. His sons were sent to study with Zhao Canyi and developed excellent skills. Since Zhao Canyi spent many years in Hebei teaching in different areas, the variations to Chuojiao are numerous. Fundamentally, however they have all become similar in concept and essence whilst the structure and organization of the systems contents may differ.
Development of the superb system of Chuojiao Men
To hide from authorities, Feng Keshan when he commenced teaching in the Baoding prefecture of Hebei Province undertook a few precautions. This included changing his name (such as Zhao Canyi) which took many different versions including that of buddhist priest (Fa Jing) as well as teaching different martial arts or aspects in every location. This resulted in both confusion over his identity but also over his boxing methods. It was later in his life when located in Li County that he started to apply his real name, even then it was as Feng Keming, prior to reverting to Feng Keshan.
In the early teaching period, some of the student from different villages/counties compared what they had learnt and approached Master Feng about the problem. Essentially disciples in one village studied the boxing methods (forms or routines) whilst the other only studied combat methods/applications - thus they enquired as to which is better. Master Feng responded that neither is better, nor are either deficient and that in fact they should mutually exchange. It was after this period that the comprehensive Chuojiao system started to take shape. Together with his fellow comrades from the 8 Trigrams Sect (Tang, Yang) and excellent disciples (Duan, Zhou) coupled with the students in Li county further developed the style into the complete art which then became a very comprehensive system of martial arts known as “Chuo Jiao Men”.
Thus, although Chuojiao is recognized is a specific martial art it in fact encompassed a great many martial arts systems from the Central China Plains (Hebei, Shandong, Shanxi and Henan Provinces). Presently there are 3 main branches of Chuo jiao teachings. Hebei Chuojiao, Dongbei Chuojiao and Beiping (Beijing) Chuojiao. Hebei Chuojiao is classified as the ‘Original’ with two main sub-branches, the Raoyang school and the Lixian school. Both counties are recognized as “Wushu Zhi Xiang” (Chuojiao zhi xiang) a term used in China to indicate the concentration of martial arts skills in areas. They are known as representative of the Hebei branch of Chuojiao and probably the most original. Of the students in Lixian, the Liu Family continued the teachings proper and following the Wen/Wu classification of the sets. Zhou Laoting's disciple Zhao returned to his county Gao Yang and only passed the art to his sons and their family, being supplemented later by his descendants and the boxing styles from neighbouring villages. Wei Changyi taught the style which later became the Beijing Chuo Jiao Fan Zi style as passed on by Wu Binlou, who had researched all branches and attempted to restore or develop the style. Master Wu Binlou was famous in Beijing and taught many students. The arts contents differ in structure and the forms contain many ‘fanzi’ based names. Although a division of Chuojiao it is known as Chuojiaofanziquan. Since the developments above Master Feng Keshan (Zhao Canyi) is regarded as the first patriarch/generation master of Chuojiao.(In some lineages it is Master Wang Zhiguo).
In 1843, Feng Keshan already advanced in age left Li county, and records suggest he travelled to Sunning or Gu'an counties, others suggest that he journeyed to the west (Sichuan province). A formidable fighter, a keeper of many martial arts systems, a rebel, a leader, a teacher, a wanted man, a monk, a healer, a wanderer, a begger, a sage - Feng Keshan's legacy is left through the Chuojiao system.
The Disciples of Chuojiao Men
As Master Feng Keshan (Zhao Canyi) taught martial arts for a living there were no shortage of students, however, since some of the private disciples (such as the Duan and Liu households) were very priviledged, they achieved a great deal of mentoring. There are said to have been about 20 or so disciples that had studied to mastery the comprehensive Chuojiao system. Often many of the disciples were existing masters in their own right or had acquired previous skills prior to meeting Master Feng.
The key disciples were Song Yuelong, Song Yulin, Zhou Laoting, Duan Zhixu, Duan Zhiyong, Liu Pangui, Liu Guanlan, Liu Guixing, Yin Chunzhang, Wei Laofang, Wei Changyi, Wang Zhanao, Wang Zhanxiong and Gao Qintian. Each had their own distinct stylistic approaches and obtained mastery in their own right further developing the Chuojiao system and propagating the art to latter generations.
Song Yuelong (宋跃隆, 1778-1835) and Song Yulin (宋玉林,1803-1859) had studied for only a short time with Feng Keshan in Dezhou county (in Shandong province, near the border of Hebei province. This was in 1811-1812, still prior to the Bagua Uprising. They had focused on some of the Bafan Shou methods (originally from Hejian county, Hebei Province) that Feng Keshan taught.
Zhou Laoting (周老亭, 1789-1861) was Huaquan expert in Beihuanzhuang, Raoyang County. After hearing of a well known master in the Northern districts of Raoyang, It was said that Feng Keshan had passed by where Zhou Laoting was teaching and commented whether his techniques could cut it on the battlefield. After a short challenge, Feng Keshan with his powerful and furious Chuojiao methods overcame the techniques of Zhou Laoting who then became one of Feng's disciples. In fact Zhou's students also studied under Feng Keshan thereafter. Zhou Laoting studied for over 8 years with Feng Keshan and became an expert and one of his most skilled disciples.
Duan Zhixu (段志绪, 1806-1867) and Duan Zhiyong (段志勇,1808-1892) (known as the Duan brothers) were residents in Raoyang, whose father (a martial arts expert in his right) had organized for Master Feng keshan to be their private Martial arts teacher. The diligent brothers became some of the most endeared disciples of Master Feng.
Liu Pangui (1826-1873), Liu Guanlan (刘观澜, 1820-1910) and Liu Guixing (1818-1859) (known as the Liu brothers) were from Li County, and their father was acquainted with the Duan family. As a result Feng Keshan was later hired to become the private tutor for the Liu brothers in Li County. Wei Laofang and Wei Changyi were also disciples in Li County.
During his time in each of the various locations - Dezhou, Hejian, Shen, Raoyang and Li counties and surrounding areas (such as Jinning and Gaoyang), Feng Keshan had taken up other disciples as well as those from his employer. Wang Zhanao and Wang Zhanxiong (Wang brothers, sons of the famous Wang Zhiguo) had taken tutelage from Feng Keshan but also received instruction from the Duan brothers and Wei Laofang.
Also, the teachings of martial arts masters Tang Youyi (Ditangquan) and Yang Jing (Taijiquan) were incorporated into the already comprehensive Chuojiao system.
The descendants of Chuojiao
Resultant from both the variety and non cohesive teaching methods of Master Feng Keshan, coupled with the skills from other styles that were held in some of the key disciples it has resulted that there are a few different variations. In general thought, these variations are but stylistic and the core are still in common amongst the styles.
Raoyang Chuojiao, also known as Duan Family Chuojiao are predominanlty descended from the teachings of the the Duan brothers who taught in Raoyang county and elsewhere to their key disciples including Liu Laowang, Li Timing, jia Laokai, Zhang Laoxiao, Wang Laoyuan, Zhao Laozhi and others.
Lixian Chuojiao, also known as Liu Family Chuojiao are the practitioners descended from the Liu brothers ( Liu Guanlan in particular) spread the art in their county and elsewhere (as they worked in security escort business). Lixian Chuojiao is the most widely spread.
Sunning Chuojiao, also known as Yin family Chuojiao and Gu Zhizi is descended from Yin Chunzhang who is said to have studied with Feng Keshan in his advanced age (some researchers suggest he studied from Liu Guanlan). Yun Chunzhang then taught his son Yin Ruyan.
Baoding Chuojiao, also known as Gaoyang Chuojiao, or Zhao Family Chuojiao is descended from Zhou Laoting and his disciples Zhao Zhenhui (also known as Zhao Yiguan), Jiang Zhihui and Li Kun.
Wei Family Chuojiao - Wei Laofang was a notable disciple of Feng Keshan in Li county. He later taught others including Wang Zhanao, Wang Zhanxiong, Xing Laohai and Han Zhantai. .
Wang Family Chuojiao - The Wang brothers (from Gaoyang) studied with their father, Wang Zhiguo and later with Feng Keshan's disciples. Zhang Jingtian and Wang Zhongli are other disciples of Wang Zhiguo which emphasised Chuojiao methods. Notable disciples of Wang Zhanao include Xu Zhaoxiong.
Zhao Family Chuojiao - Zhou Laoting propagated the style to disciples, many of which obtained instruction from Feng Keshan directly. Later his teachings were propagated in Gaoyang county. Key descendants included Zhao Zhenhui, Li Kun, Jiang Zhihui.
Wei Family Chuojiao - Wei Changyi had studied in Li County with Feng Keshan. His most notable disciple was Wei Zankui, whose most well known disciple Wu Binlou (吴斌楼) taught throughout Beijing. Commonly known as Beijing Chuojiao Fanzi.
The derivations of Chuojiao
Yangzhou Chuojiao - Zhang Family Chuojiao - Zhang Jing Tian, was a disciple of Master Wang Zhi Guo. He passed his skills toZhang Heng Qing, nicknamed “Iron Leg Zhang Heng Qing” taught Chuojiao in Yangzhou to Wang Qing Fu, He Yu Shan, Tian Chun and others
Digong Chuojiao - Gao Family Chuojiao -In Shenyang a master from Li county by the name of Gao Bai Quan passed on a Chuo jiao style named “Di Gong Chuo Jiao” (Ground Skill Chuo Jiao). Master Gao was born in Li county and commenced the pracitce of Chuo Jiao at the age of 11 under master Wang Yong Cen (a disciple of Wei Lao Fang who studied with Zhao Can Yi).
Dongbei Chuojiao - Xu Family Chuojiao - Xu Zhaoxiong, was a sudent of Wang Zhanao (Son of Wang Zhiguo and disciple of Feng Keshan, Wei Laofang). Master Xu brought his Chuojiao and propagated the art in Dongbei areas (Liaoning etc). This is also known as Dongbei Chuojiao.
Dongbei Chuojiao - Hu Family Chuojiao - Hu Feng San, nicknamed “Hua Qiang Hu” (Flower Spear Hu) for his command of the spear, was a master of other martial arts (Shaolin, Xingyi etc) prior to studying with the Duan brothers inRaoyang. He taught sequences of Wen Tang Zi (Scholarly Sequences) to students in the city of Shenyang inLiaoning Province, that he was said to have created after studying with the Duan brothers in Rao Yang. It is said that he mastered great Duan family’s short kicks. This is also known as Dongbei Chuojiao.
The above are basically the specific Chuojiao branches, additionally there are also styles which have incorporated or combined with Chuojiao such as:
Chuojiao Tanglang (Chuojiao Praying Mantis), Shuihuquan (Water Margin Boxing), Ma Shi Tongbei (Ma Family Tongbei), Chuojiao Dai Fanshou (Chuojiao with Rotating Hands), Yuanyang Tui (Mandarin Duck Kicks), Ditangquan (Ground Tumbling Boxing) and others.