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Chuojiao (Feet Poking Chuan)

Chuojiao or feet poking is one of the oldest Chuan styles practised in north China. It is known for its range of feet and leg plays. Most of the Chuan styles of the north feature these, so their style is called "Northern Feet." Chuan proverbs about this school say: "Fist plays account for 30 percent whereas feet plays for 70 percent"; "The hands are used as doors for protection but it is always the feet used for attack.".

Chuojiao originated in the Song Dynasty (960-1279) and became popular during the Ming and Qing dynasties (1368-1911). It is said that Deng Liang created the Chuan on the basis of the 18 basic feet plays. He developed the basics according to calculations of the Chinese abacus to form a chain of feet plays incorporating 108 tricks. It was passed on to Zhou Tong who taught Song Dynasty General Yue Fei who became revered as the founder of the school. As some of the outlaws described in the classic novel Outlaws of the Marsh were specialists in feet poking, it has been known as the water margin outlaw school of Chuan.

Shi Dakai, one of the leaders of the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom (1851-1864) in the Qing Dynasty, is known for his scholastic and martial arts abilities. He taught the jade ring and mandarin ducks tricks as his consummate skills to his selected soldiers in training. In Volume 20 of the Unofficial History of the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom, it recounts how Shi's soldiers fought Qing Dynasty troops. They stood in front of the enemy line with their eyes covered by their hands, and then jumped back about 100 steps. When the enemy came close, they used both feet to kick the enemy soldiers in the abdomen or groin. If the enemy soldiers were stronger, they doubled their kicks and turned their rings simultaneously to defeat their enemy. These selected soldiers were called the braves of Shi and won many battles against the Qing army.

Zhao Canyi, a general in the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom, was also good at Chuojiao. After the northern expedition of the Taiping army failed to take the city of Tianjin, Zhao Canyi lived in seclusion at Raoyang in Hebei, where he taught the feet poking Chuan to Duan Yongqing and Duan Yonghe and the Yan Qing tumbling Chuan to Wang Laozi and Wang Zhan'ao. The Duan's and the Wang's often taught each other while practising their own styles of Chuan. As a result, their followers mastered both Chuqjiao and Fanzi Quan. At the end of the Qing Dynasty, Chuqjiao was spread to Shenyang in northeast China.

The northeast China style of Chuqjiao falls into two categories-martial and scholarly routines. The Beijing Chuqjiao does not have any such division. It is called Chuqjiao Fanzi, which is short for Chuqjiao (feet poking Chuan) and Fanzi Quan (tumbling Chuan). There is still another style which combines the martial and scholarly routines.

The martial routine was the origin of Chuqjiao (feet poking Chuan). The martial routine in Shenyang later became known as the Hao-style Chuqjiao, namely feet poking Chuan named after Hao Mingjiu. It features powerful but comfortable moves and its blows are accurate and incorporate a variety of subtle feet tricks. Hands and feet cooperate well for better advantage and longer reach. Its strikes are short but fatal. Hardness is the core of Chuqjiao which it combines with suppleness. Its routine consists of nine inter-connected twin feet routines. These routines can be practised either one by one, or linked together. The feet plays call for close cooperation between the feet which is why it is called twin feet play. Another feet poking Chuan is called nine-tumble 18-fall Chuan.

The scholarly routine is a derivative from the mar tial routine. It is said that during the reign of Emperor Guangxu (1875-1908) of the Qing Dynasty, boxer Hu Fengsan of Shenyang learned of the fame of Chuqjiao masters, the Duans in Hebei Province, and traveled 500 kilometers to study with him. After years of hard work, Hu came to understand the secrets of Chuqjiao and went back to his native town, where he further developed the art into the scholarly routine, known later as the Hu-style Chuojiao. It is characterized by its exquisite and compact stances and clear-cut, accurate and varied movements. It is also very fast in delivering both fist and feet blows. The scholarly style features such routines as 12-move Chuan, 18-move Chuan, flying swallow Chuan (small flying swallow Chuan), arm Chuan, turning-ring Chuan, jade-ring Chuan, six-method Chuan, two-eight Chuan, two-eight feet plays, 16-move Chuan, 24-move Chuan, 32-move Chuan, soft tumbling Chuan, one-legged 80-move feet plays, one-handed 81-move fist plays, etc.

The martial-scholar tumbling Chuan has combined the strengths of the martial and scholar routines, especially the combative techniques. It is arranged according to the rhythms of offence and defence of the martial arts and combines high-low, release-catch, extension-flexion and straight-rounded movements. Its tricks, combinations of motions, still exercises, hardness, suppleness, substantial and insubstantial moves are well planned and accurate. New tricks include ground skill feet poking, feet poking tumbles, Shaolin feet poking, leg flicking feet poking, free-mind feet poking, eight-diagram feet poking, etc. All these have their own styles, forms, rhythms and techniques.

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