Boxing Manual and Key Principles of Boxing Methods

Luo Zhengcheng

Introduction to the Boxing Manual and Key Principles of Methods.

The present edition was issued by Tan Yin Lu (蟫隱廬) in Shanghai during the twenty-fifth year of the Republic (1936), and was reprinted from an original copy published in the twenty-sixth year of the Guangxu period (1900).
The Tan Yin Lu series were edited by Luo Zhengchang, a well known scholar and book collector of the near-modern period. He was a native from Shanglu, Zhejiang province, and the younger brother of Luo Zhengyu, who was an outstanding scholar in the study of inscribed steles of the Jin period.

In the introduction Luo Zhengchang says that the Boxing Manual is made up of just one chapter called Key Principles of Boxing Methods《拳法備要》, and that the original was a private hand written copy. Furthermore, he states that the methods it contains belong to the Shaolin style. Allegedly, the manual was compiled by Zhang Kongzhao and annotated by Cao Huangzhu, and judging from its contents, the methods it describes were derived from Kongzhao but written down by Huangdou. In the Chinese textual tradition, annotations are usually inserted below the original text for ease of identification. In this case, however, the original text and the annotations are put together without a clear boundary separating the two. No author is given for Key Principles of Boxing Methods《拳法備要》, though the fact all the illustrations were added by Cao suggests that he might perhaps also have written the text. An original mnemonic rhyme appended to the section entitled ‘the secret methods of the double channels’ (shuangguan mifa) 《雙管秘法》which was attributed to master Zhang, suggests that the original text was not written by Zhang, for it was customary for a disciple to record the techniques orally transmitted by the master. However, Cao and Zhang did not live in the same period, and it was stated in the introduction that the author learned the techniques from a combination of reading Zhang’s book and instruction. We may conjecture thus that Cao probably learned Zhang’s techniques from one of his students, some of whom might have still been alive in emperor Qianlong’s reign. Otherwise, it was unlikely that the author could have learned the techniques from reading the text alone (we may discard the reference to the author learning the skills from two old men who appeared in his dreams). The martial arts flourished during Kangxi’s reign but declined thereafter. A line towards the end of the book states that a certain Wang hand copied this book in the twenty-sixth year of the Guangxu period –– the year when the boxer rebellion broke out. In fact, the claim the book was copied from an ancient text dating to the mid-Qing dynasty was probably apocryphal, though the methods it contains are genuine, as opposed to other martial arts texts published under the boxer influence at that time. In any case, regardless of its genesis, the book is encyclopedic in scope and contains a wealth of information ranging from analysis of the functionality of different human parts (encapsulated in the twelve secret methods), to advanced techniques in body exercise, generating force, and stepping movements. In addition, the etched illustrations are well executed and exceptionally detailed, and it is a complete martial arts manual of the finest quality. The book has previously been published in China and Taiwan.

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