Liuhe and Baji

One of the earliest references to the term liuhe (六合) appears in the book Huai Nan Zi (淮南子).  Written in early Western Han Dynasty (~2,000 years ago).  The book was mostly Daoist in essence, mixing in some Confucian and Legalist ideas.  It contains a collection of Chinese creation myths, what early Chinese thought about the structure and geography of the universe (heaven, earth, underworld).

As the book  explains, liuhe means the 4 cardinal directions in the earthly realm, plus above and below.  Baji are the outermost boundaries of earthly realm in the eight directions (4 cardinal + 4 corners).  You can tell from these designations that back then people thought earth was flat, and had no understanding of the implications of a three dimensional universe (where there would not be any absolute ‘up’ and ‘downs’).

So in every day usage, liuhe is synonymous with ‘universe’ – everything within all directions.  Since they all refer to directions, six and eight can both mean all directions.  A lot of times we use them interchangeably to avoid word repetition in a sentence, as in the popular phrase “eyes observing 6 directions, ears listening in eight directions” (be alert, take in everything, have complete awareness).

Naming a martial art after such terms serves as least two purposes.  Firstly you want something that conveys power and grandeur.  There’s a popular phrase that describes a great man’s largeness of spirit, that his “qi covers all of liuhe”.  In the case of Baji Quan, you’re saying so great are your powers, they extend to all the way to the very boundaries of our world.

The second purpose has to do with key principle of the art.  In martial art liuhe has special meanings not found at all in everyday usage.  Here the key is the word ‘he’.  The English word “harmony” is not a perfect one-to-one match for the word He.  The literal translation is closing, as in two halves of a box connected by a hinge closing toward each other.  The broader meaning is integration.  Because each part should not act independently, separately of the other, their effort should be combined harmoniously to serve a unified purpose (snapping the box shut).  So the word he also implies coordination.

I’m not qualified to discuss the many levels of liuhe practice in the various arts.  Here’s an article written by one of my elder gongfu brothers on practicing for 3 external integrations in Taiji Quan.


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