Ape Power Journey style (猿力之旅), also known as Yuan Gong, is a traditional Wudang (Taoist Gong Fu) style that has become the main art of Tangshan, in Hebei Province, China. It claims to be one of the first arts systematized in the Qing Dynasty (1644 to 1912 CE).2 Its movements and focus are derived from our closest relatives...the apes. This first connection as we move back to the primal and back in time is a kind of "Missing Link" that acts as a connection to all of nature.
A wonderful origin story, one of core relevance to the Yuan Gong approach to healing, is passed on to us by the main governing body of Yuan Gong, the Tangshan Holy Ape Yuan Gong Research Association, as told by its Director Zhang Baohai. It goes like this:
"According to historical texts as well as practitioner records, ape power system began during the Tang or Song dynasty, in the northeast region of the Youyan area, specifically in a cave in the little Heng mountain (some sources name the cave as "Shimen Cave").* There was an ape-like figure (gorilla man) who often moved around the caves and the forests there. He had quick and nimble limbs. In the beginning, he didn’t interact with the outside world, but only wandered the mountains at his own leisure, collecting positive energies from the heaven and earth, absorbing the vital essence of the sun and moon, observing the skills of beasts that flew and walked alike. From this he created the twelve sets of ape power system, ditangquan (its grounding techniques), embracing strategies, and other tools. After he passed away, he was given the title “heavenly ape master” (also translated as "Immortal" or "Celestial" Ape Master).
The filial son Li Longren** lost his father in his youth. With his mother a widow, the family was quite poor, and he had to chop wood for a living. Every time he braved the high peaks to chop wood, he would see the heavenly ape master practicing the twelve ways of ape power system. He watched closely and memorized it with much effort. Over the course of several years, he managed to memorize most of the moves. One day, the ape-armed master suddenly stood at alert and asked Li Longren, “Over these recent years, have you learned my arts thoroughly? If you’ve memorized them, I am willing to pass on the secrets within the moves to you.” This was what Li Longren had dreamed of all along, and he quickly acknowledged the ape- man as master, practicing his style, gradually experiencing and understanding the fluctuations of yin and yang within the movements.
The heavenly (immortal, celestial) ape-armed master taught him: the name of this style of movement is Ape Power Touches the Earth System (another translation is "Ape Journey System). That is how the name was passed down through generations until today. From the Tang or Song dynasties when this style was first learned until today, it has more than a thousand years of history. After the heavenly ape master helped him thoroughly understand and practice it, Li Longren hid it with the utmost of care. The style was unique and precious, yet not able to substitute for any way to make a living, Li Longren continued without daring to forget his master’s final words. Eventually, his mother was unfortunately confined to her bed by illness and couldn’t go out to chop wood when it was snowing or raining. His only help was Chang Dehou, a village elder. Chang Dehou was kind and charitable, willing to give to him regularly. When Li Longren’s mother finally passed away from sickness, he was the one who paid for the funeral. After his mother died, Li Longren often relied on the Chang family for food and clothes. Eventually Old Chang expressed an interest in arranging a marriage for him, but Li Longren was determined never to marry. Instead he remained happy even in poverty, and went out traveling. For ten winters and summers, he traveled to all the famous mountains and heavenly caves, searching for a glimpse of one like his own master. His original intent was to enter the mountains and never return, but recalled his debt to Old Chang and returned home eventually.
The Chang family was full of loyal, kind people who had few misfortunes aside from a single son who was slightly weak. Old Chang pleaded Li Longren to mentor him in exercising, saying it was essential for someone like him. But Li Longren remembered his master’s words, telling him that this was no cheap art to pass on for the sake of making a living. But the Chang son persisted, attending upon him night and day so that he might teach him, respecting him as a father. Finally, Li Longren could refuse no longer and cleansed his hands to light up some incense, praying to his master’s spirit that to repay his debt to the Chang family, he had to teach his master’s ultimate techniques to them. After his prayer, he took the Chang son as apprentice, accepting him as the third generation in the school of the Ying style names, granting him the apprentice name of Yingsheng. Every day he taught him not just bodily moves, but also the methodology of using weapons such as swords, spears, clubs, and staffs. Chang Yingsheng practiced from morning to night for ten winters and summers, reaching a godly state. Step for step there was no one who could match him.
When Li Longren was forty-three, he dreamed one night as he was sleeping that the heavenly ape-armed master rose from the earth to speak to him, telling him that he had already paid back his debt and passed on the martial arts, enough for a lifetime. He must tell the Chang son that this was not to be spread to outsiders on the pain of betraying one’s master’s words, and that he must swear on it. From then on, Li Longren told Yingsheng that he was not allowed to spread word of ape power boxing to outsiders. After this, he departed to once again ro tour the famous mountains and plains, finally becoming a companion to the heavenly ones and departing the earthly realm once and for all.
From then on, Chang Yingsheng never dared to pass his knowledge on to outsiders. It passed through twenty generations of the Chang family without leaking to outsiders, until the year 1851 during the Qing Dynasty. The twenty-second generation’s successor Chang Yuexian (there are records to prove this) passed his knowledge of ape power boxing to one Ban Yongsheng. Chang Yuexian was the head bodyguard of the Beiping Sansheng Bodyguard Organization. Because of his skill, he was unmatched in combat and ended up attracting the jealousy of others. When he was dining one day, he was poisoned and injured, a wound that refused to heal over a long period of time. He had no other option but to return to the old Chang family home. While he was resting, his friend Ban Yongsheng’s (martial arts name Ziyang) mother gifted him medicine. After taking it, his illness receded. To repay this debt of saving his life, he called Ban Yongsheng to study with his father.
After he recovered somewhat from his illness, he returned to Beijing once more and picked up his old profession. Before he left, Ban Yongsheng’s mother warned him that this illness was prone to relapse, and that he must take medicine at the start of spring each year. Unfortunately, he forgot her words and eventually died of his injuries at the age of 28. The second time Chang Yuexian was suffering from this illness, it was just when one of his enemies who was seeking revenge tried to kill him once again. Thankfully, he was saved by two friends. To repay them, he taught them from his sickbed the secrets of ape power boxing. Before he finally passed away, he said to them, “Brothers, after I die please send my remains back to the Tang mountain’s Chang family dwelling. In addition to that, I have a friend named Ban Yongsheng who wants more than anything to learn ape power boxing. Please teach him the way I taught you.” [from there, there are different versions of the lineages of Ape Power]
It is interesting to note in the story above that the original teacher of the art was a magical ape spirit, and that practitioners should channel the spirit of the ape from within during practice. It allows for a great range of personal interpretation and performance of the art.
Originally, such movement systems were intended as meditations and their fighting applications were a later feature. It is the aim of the Yuan gong Institute to promote the original, peaceful applications of practice.
Not much is known about the originator (or codifier) of the Power Journey system.1 As with many origination stories of Chinese movement arts systems, the real origins are probably based on still older styles, and especially in the case of Yuan Gong, inspired by inner ancestral memories as well.2 All gong fu styles have borrowed and updated material, and have incorporated subsequent changes by disciples in unfolding lineages -- especially before the formal systemization of movement arts during the era of the People's Republic.3 What we are told is that the origin of the ape power cultivation system is attributed to Tangshan resident Li Fu Lin.4 Li Fu Lin is said to have originally been a student of quanwu (emptiness system, 全无), and learned or developed the ape power approach after his earlier quanwu training.5 His son, Li Chiangxui, was the only person he passed the system to, keeping the Ape Power Journey a jealously guarded secret. As was often the case, the system was held within the family and not taught to outsiders for some time.6 It was not uncommon that people would send their children to marry into a family in order to learn a cultivation system that was held as a family lineage, and so it was with the woman who would become Li Chiangxui's wife. After the families were joined in this way, a son of the wife's family was also sent to learn Ape Power. So Li Chiangxui and his wife taught her brother, Chang Yue Xian. The art at some point travelled Northeast with student/apprentice Wang Gui Sheng.
Wang Guisheng developed Yuan Gong through his practice. The only known descendant of Wang Gui Sheng's ape power cultivation system was Zhang Yin Fan.7
Zhang Yin Fan arguably did more to disseminate and popularize the Ape Power system than any practitioner before or since.8 Born in 1914 in the Tangshan Kaiping District, he was a descendant of the Nie Gezhuang people. Zhang Yin Fan loved martial arts from childhood. He liked to study and was an avid reader. He was said to have a great zest for life and learned early the lessons of perseverance. He started out as a student of shen quan (God's system, 神拳) and then later Shaolin quan (Shaolin system, 少林拳). Finally, he studied Ape Power Journey system as a disciple of Wang Gui Sheng.9 He was noted for his excellence in groundwork and skill with the staff, the original tool of the art. Master Zhang was widely respected for his ape power accomplishments by the 1950s, and affectionately called "The Lively primate."10 Based on his knowledge of and skill in the Ape Power system, Zhang Yin Fang was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award in the early 1980s by the Hebei Association for Martial Arts Evaluation. His accomplishments were significant and he had a profound impact on martial arts.11 Zhang Yin Fan died in 1992.
The accepted lineage to contemporary times is, therefore, as follows12:
Li Fu Lin: Creator/Codifier
Li Chiangxui: 2nd generation
Chang Yue Xian: 3rd generation
Wang Gui Sheng: 4th generation
Zhang Yin Fan: 5th generation
A 6th generation student, Liu Guo Hua, headed the main Yuan Gong organizational body for many years, and is the best known master of the art in the United States, owing to his DVD series on the 12 roads (or forms) of Yuan Gong , which were sponsored by the governing body.
Liu Guo Hua
Ape Power Journey: The Art's Salient Features, Elements, and Influences
Much like tongbei baiyuan (through the back, white ape system, 东北白源), Yuan Gong is based on what is referred to as the "Ghost of the Ape" -- the internal experience of "ape power" rather than a strict imitation of ape movements.13 Feeling the flow of primal consciousness is a fundamental basis for the art, which has roots in Daoist traditions.14 While clearly based on the spirit of the "grounded ape," there are some occassional hints of basic monkey styles (i.e.Tai Sheng Pek Kwar (大聖劈掛門), Southern style Houquan Monkey System (猴拳福州), and Siu Lum Yuanhouquan (Shaolin Ape/Monkey System (少林猿猴拳). Visually, the art has the most in common with the shaolin primate style, and Siu Lum Yuanhouquan. Movements that mark traditional monkey styles include theatrical monkey imitation, quick lateral footwork, extremely deep crouching stances, and acrobatic ground techniques, hints of which show up in Yuan Gong sparsely. Passing monkey references in the art may be in part because the art was influenced by Siu Lum (Shaolin) gong fu, even though it was a development from the Taoist martial art of Wudang.15 We know that the eventual center of Ape Power style was only 70 miles from the famed temple and at the time of its formulation martial arts were being strongly disseminated from Siu Lum.16 Additionally, 5th generation Master Zhang Yin Fan was trained at Siu Lum, so it is not possible to tell exactly when these detectable influences may have been incorporated into the art, only that they were. 17 Still, Despite oblique nods to monkey kung fu, Yuan Gong, Ape Power Journey, is quite different -- it is more grounded and less theatrical.
The Ape Power Journey system is a combination of internal and external, or "hard" and "soft" elements. The basic posture, mimicking the ape, requires a sunken chest, curved back, a tightened abdominal area, loose shoulders and arms, relaxed neck to regulate the flow of chi (energy) from the heart, and a strong but flexible waist.18 Footwork involves alternating stomping and grounded steps, as well as quick forward movements.19 Advance is characterized by even strokes of the arms.20 Practitioners use hard during both advance and retreat.21 Unique sliding ground movements (like a baseball player sliding into a base) are referred to as "lotus" moves, and emphasize the grounded nature of the art.22 The style is organic and unpolished and in its extemporaneous character and explosive power somewhat resembles tongbei baiyuan (its internal similarities to tongbei baiyuan are mentioned above). In contrast, it differs from the Northern Mantis White Ape style (北螳螂白猿), which is more formal and even. 23
Beginning Ape Power cultivation is comprised of a series of twelve root forms (or "Roads" 道路) which build on one another and can be practiced in succession.24 Each form contains about fifteen to twenty movements, with some moves repeated in the forms.25 There are six "group wai," or external drill sets, ten splitting or separating techniques, eight striking techniques (ripping hand, flapping hand, crab hand, flying dragon hand, scaling hand, searching hand, picking hand, and smoothing hand). In addition to the 12 roads, there are additional forms, which are based on Daoist principles. In all form sets there are strategic approaches to "contracting" the body. In regard to weapons, there are specialized techniques for the knife and the sword as well as a number of staff/stick weapons.26 Equipment includes the long dao (龍刀, dragon knife), long jian (龍劍, dragon sword), wu mian gun (五面棍, five-sided stick), luxing gun (旅行棍, traveler's stick), men gun (gate staff,門員工), and Qi Mei gun (魑魅滾, eyebrow-level staff).27
Due to the extensive teaching career of Zhang Yin Fan, many of his students have gone on to found their own schools.28 In recent years ape power movement has gained broader interest in China, and has launched its own association of masters and practitioners. 29 Virtually all the reference material on Ape Power Journey is in Chinese, awaiting better translation, and it is unfortunate that this unique style is virtually unknown in the United States.
1 猿功拳 (Ape Power Boxing), 北京百度 (Beijing Baidu Kung Fu Wiki)
3. Chinese Martial Arts, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_martial_arts
4. 猿功拳 (Ape Power Boxing), 北京百度 (Beijing Baidu Kung Fu Wiki)
6."History of the Shaolin Temples." Shaolin Gung Fu Institute. 2007. Shaolin Gung Fu Institute. 19 Jul 2007 <http://shaolin.com/shaolin_history.aspx>.
7. 猿功拳 (Ape Power Boxing), 北京百度 (Beijing Baidu Kung Fu Wiki)
8. 当前位置：在线查询网 > 在线百科全书查询 > “张荫藩”查询结果 "Zhang Yin Fan" www.//532.site.zhongdaokj.com/
12. 猿功拳 (Ape Power Boxing), 北京百度 (Beijing Baidu Kung Fu Wiki)
13. Shi Style Baiyuan Tongbei Quan History and Lineage, International Baiyuan Tongbei Quan Association, http://tongbei.homestead.com
14. "Finding Qi in Internal Martial Arts". Qi-journal.com. Retrieved 2017-8-23.
15. Henning, Stanley (Autumn–Winter 1994). "Ignorance, Legend and Taijiquan" (PDF). Journal of the Chenstyle Taijiquan Research Association of Hawaii. 2 (3): 1–7.
17. 当前位置：在线查询网 > 在线百科全书查询 > “张荫藩”查询结果 "Zhang Yin Fan" www.//532.site.zhongdaokj.com/
18. 王志华深谙猿功拳理套路招法阴阳变化演练困难 (Master Wang Zhi Hua Well Versed in Ape Gong Boxing Practice: Challenging Movements of Yin and Yang), wuhunsohu.com, January 23, 2010 13:45
23. 圣猿门 "Sacred Ape Sect" https://monkeystealspeach.com
24. 王志华深谙猿功拳理套路招法阴阳变化演练困难 (Master Wang Zhi Hua Well Versed in Ape Gong Boxing Practice: Challenging Movements of Yin and Yang), wuhunsohu.com, January 23, 2010 13:45
28. 当前位置：在线查询网 > 在线百科全书查询 > “张荫藩”查询结果 "Zhang Yin Fan" www.//532.site.zhongdaokj.com/
29. 河北省唐山市迁西猿功拳协会国际武术节获佳绩 - 中华气功大全网 (Tangshan City, Hebei Province, Ape Fist Association a Success at the International WuShu Festival) 2015-4-6 www.cn-boxing.com
30. 唐山武林高手齐聚一堂，庆祝猿功拳研究会成立 (Tangshan Martial Arts Masters Gather to Celebrate the Establishing of Tangshan City Ape Gongquan Research Association) Xiang Network Sports, 16-01-12
Story of Yuan Gong's primal origins:
Zhang Baohai is Chairman of the Tangshan Society of the Holy Ape Yuan Gong Research Association and Director of the National Shengjing Gong Yuan Gong Quan.
* There are two actual Shimen Caves...about 100 miles from each other, just North of Fukien Province in the South (and closer to the center of the Wudang arts, in Hubei Province). The Yeren is usually associated with the Shennongjia wilderness area, also in Hubei Province, which is, indeed, close to the Shimen Caves. It may be that "Shimen Cave" is symbolic, though, as it appears to mean "Doorway to the Underground Passage" ( 是 门 洞穴), and could mean the opening to the subconscious mind. In this case, it could mean anywhere. This view might be supported by the fact that two different "mines" are mentioned or alluded to twice in a different translation of the story about Yuan Gong origins (see below), widely separated in time and space (Master Wang Jingui,1921-1976, was invited to Tangjiazhuang Mine in 1953, and "Xiaohengshan," said to be the birthplace of Yuan Gong in the Tang Dynasty, also has a mine.
** "Li Longren" means "Plum Dragon Man" in Chinese. Many times such characters in Gong Fu origin stories are symbols, and "plum" symbolizes virginity and purity in China, while the dragon symbolizes authority and power. It seems significant that there is a line in the story that asserts that Li Longren never married (thus staying pure). There are several references, if you look at both translations, to different planes of existence -- so maybe "Plum Dragon Man" is, on a spiritual level, the "pure authority" of the art, whose spiritual descendants are the practitioners who followed in his footsteps. There are "Dragon sets" in the art (for example there is the dragon sword set in a video below on this page) but at this point it is hard to say if that is connected to Li Longren.
A different translation of the Yuan Gong origin story:
The Origin of Yuan Gong: According to records of teachers and historical records, this art began in the Tang and Song Dynasties. It originated from Shimen Cave in Xiaohengshan, Northeast of Youyan County. *
Once there was a person who looked like a gorilla and dwelt in a nearby cave in the forest. The way the person moved was vigorous and flexible. Without contact with the outside world, the gorilla man spent his time leisurely striding the three local mountains and also travelled around the Five Sacred Mountains, acquiring the righteousness of the heavens and the earth, absorbing the essence of the sun and the moon, observing the habits of flying animals and beasts. This spiritual Gorilla Man created the 12 Roads, the advanced forms that connected one’s chi to the earth, drill movements, and the walking stick and other tools of Yuan Gong.
For his efforts he was called the Hidden Magical Master.
Li Longren, a filial son, was a young man who had lost his father and lived with his obedient mother. His family was poor and he sold firewood to make a living. Whenever Li Longren played in the woods of the high mountains, he saw the Hidden Master practicing the 12-fold Roads, and he would carefully watch and carefully remember it. This went on for several years. For a long time, he kept his memories of the 12 Roads.
One day, the Hidden Master noticed him practicing the 12 Roads and asked Li Longren: “Over the past few years, have you learned my martial arts? Can you memorize them? I would like to encourage you to use it in secret. "
Li Longren made it a goal and persevered as an apprentice of the Master, [learning the lineage of Sri Lanka?] and the flow of yin and yang in the art, understanding them one by one. Also, the progenitor of the art said, “This art will be called Ape Power Journey.” Hence the name, since then.
Ape Power, handed down from the Tang and Song Dynasties, has a history of more than a thousand years, Li Longren through the original teachings of his master, he, too, became an immortal master proficient in this art. This style is a unique school of internal diologue, really a naked art, and values the original Master’s philosophy.
Later, Li Longren’s mother became gravely ill. There were heavy rains and snow, and he could not go out to gather firewood. An elder in the village, Changde, helped out. When Li Longren’s mother died soon after, Changde paid for her funeral. After she passed, there were more hard times...nothing to eat or drink. The old man Chang asked Li Longren to come and work for him. While he was under old man Chang’s wing, he was still very poor, and Li Longren decided not to marry. He had few responsibilities, so he decided to leave Changde and went back to the mountain cave of the Master. He could not find the immortal realm the Master lived in again, though. He left the mountain, intending never to return.
Remembering Chang's gifts of kindness, Li Longren’s heart became ashamed, and so he returned to serve his benevolent provider. The Chang family learned the art and were loyal to it. The Chang family passed the art down all the way to the Qing Dynasty.