Luoxuanzhang: “Spiral Mystery Palm”

Luoxuanzhang Calligraphy by Yang Fukui

Calligraphy by Yang Fukui

Luoxuanzhang is the martial arts equivalent of eating braised short ribs: you can’t believe all that flavor is packed into such a small package. It is astounding how much energy is unleashed in a few movements.
When Master Yang Fukui first showed it to me I was dazzled. What was happening? The movements were exquisite and dynamic and…strange. They didn’t seem to follow the rules I had then accepted as fundamental. How could such power be manifested while violating so many of the hoary “truths” I held as gospel?

I had to know more. And what I have found so far has opened my gongfu up to a whole new level of height, depth, and breadth.
Master Yang learned it from his grandfather in Tianjin, China, where he grew up. Tianjin has a rich martial arts history, colorfully depicted in Jet Li’s “Fearless,” a story about the legendary Huo Yuanjia. Oral tradition says that luoxuanzhang appeared about 1938 and is credited to Zhiu Zhe He. (I was unable to locate information online about this.)

Zhiu Zhi He Calligraphy by Yang Fukui

Zhiu Zhi He
Calligraphy by Yang Fukui

It can be described as a synthesis of elements of baguazhang, xingyiquan, taijiquan, and yiquan. The closest English translation Master Yang could come up with was “Spiral Mystery Palm,”: spirals within spirals within spirals all originating in “The Mystery,” (Dao) the ineffable state of awareness that is beyond all distinctions. It is a zhang (palm) rather than a quan (fist), since it is primarily done with an open hand.

Luoxuanzhang, like so many Chinese martial arts, uses animal imagery to describe the energies employed in the different postures: “Tiger Pushes Mountain,” “Dragon Seeks Pearl,” etc. We get to visit a whole game preserve in our passage through the form: bear, goose, rooster, monkey, ape, eagle, and more. Luoxuanzhang does not try to mimic the physical actions of these animals, but rather uses the underlying energies that characterize them.

The subtleties of these distinctions is unbelievably fine. This is where having a teacher of Yang Fukui’s vast experience is invaluable. His grandfather would take him to a zoo to observe the animals for hours. When he demonstrates “rooster” energy or “eagle,” there is no doubt, or confusion. He embodies them, even without movement. When he demonstrates the “cold, cruel” energy of the tiger, the hairs on your arms are at attention.

Luoxuanzhang, like all internal arts, generates energy by holding poles in opposition, but in a unique way. In taijiquan, we identify yin/yang and substantial/insubstantial. If you don’t, as Yang Ban-Hou said, you waste your gongfu. That is, you never move past the most superficial understanding of the art. When you “ward off” with your left arm that is the yang, or extending, pole. It is the “business end.” Your right arm is the yin, or receptive, pole. It’s job is to ground the energy of the yang pole, thereby amplifying its power.

Without the polarity established by the two poles, there is no energy flow. And what establishes the polarity? You do, by bringing your awareness to their opposition. Without those competing intentions (reaching forward with the left arm and reaching down with the right) you have an empty shape with only crude muscular force to work with. And that is shockingly weak. (This is very easy to demonstrate.) It is not the mechanical structure that generates the internal power, but rather the choice to create a polarity.

The unique, and paradoxical, way that luoxuanzhang generates its characteristic spiral power is by using the arms and the torso as opposing poles. That is, if my right arm is the yang pole extending to the right, then my torso is the yin pole turning to the left. This is the opposite of the taijiquan approach, where the body supports the arm by moving in the same direction, like you would if you were trying to push something with your muscles. If you want to push a couch, you back up your arms by moving your legs and torso in the same direction. Paradoxically, luoxuanzhang does the opposite: arm turns left, torso turns right.

In this photo, the left arm is the yang pole. For the moment, it is spiraling left, while the body is turning right. The yin arm (right) is spiraling to the right, but that is about to change when it becomes the yang pole.Luoxuanzhang

I think it’s somewhat similar to the way energy is generated by a bullwhip: the crack comes from the hand moving abruptly in the opposite direction of the tip. It’s not an ideal analogy because your hand is not a whip, nor does its power come from the supersonic speed of the whip tip. But it does show how you can effectively generate energy by moving two poles in opposition.

Luoxuanzhang is more complex than a simple whip action, since you are also coordinating oppositions between the arms and torso, the two arms, and the arms and the legs, while also embodying a characteristic animal energy and some awareness of what the motion is actually doing (strike, throw, kick, sweep, break, seize, etc.) If that seems too much for a normal mind to do all at once, it is. I submit that one must enter a a highly coherent, transpersonal/transrational state of awareness to effectively do all that.

And that is the “Mystery” part of the title. It requires a shift from the limitations of your ordinary thinking mind. In a highly coherent state, you have access to multi-dimensional awareness and the capacity to do many things at the same time. Each time we enter that state, we enter the “field of all possibilities.”

You should practice diligently; it would be too bad if you wasted time.

If you do not practice for a day, then you are a ghost for a day; if you do practice for a single breath, then you are a realized immortal for a breath.

The Secret of the Golden Flower

In this video, I demonstrate luoxuanzhang at dawn with the exquisite mountains of Sedona as my backdrop. Thanks to Greg McGuffey for the camera work.