Ma Gui (1851-1941), also named Ma ShiQing, was the owner of his family business, the Yongyi lumber company. His company had the honor of supplying wood for the emperor’s palace. This gave him frequent entry to the palace. Because of his family business his martial arts peers gave him the nickname ‘Wood Ma’.
When he was young the family business did well and they were prosperous, which afforded him a good education. At twelve years old he started to learn baguazhang with Dong Haichuan. Because his father was a sworn brother with Yin Fu (at this time in China it was common for men to become sworn brothers, to support each other no matter what), and to keep with proper Chinese customs and respect, as well as to maintain the proper generation order, Yin Fu was named as his teacher instead of Dong.
In Dong Haichuan’s later years baguazhang was very popular in Beijing. Many wanted to make a living teaching it. But since most of his apprentices came from the lower levels of society they were always trying to prove themselves and it was hard to avoid injury or even death in fights to prove themselves, in order to make a name and a living. This went against the wishes of Dong Haichuan. He decided to teach someone who was literate, did not get into fights, and had no problems of livelihood, so he chose Ma Gui as his lineage holder.
Ma Gui’s natural talent surpassed many, and with Dong’s personal tuition and diligent training, he became the instrument for recording baguazhang. He received the most systematic development in baguazhang. His deep skills eventually surpassed all of Dong’s apprentices and others to come.
Once Ma Gui’s skills were fully developed his arms were said to be like an apes, hanging to his knees, his abdomen and back were thick and strong, his body light as a swallow, and his eyes flashed out from a benevolent face. He participated in many challenge matches and was never bested. Countless martial arts masters all fell in defeat from Ma Gui’s outstanding abilities.
Ma Gui was the only one to gain Dong Haichuan’s internal training such as lightness skills, hard palms, wrist hitting, fire wheel palms, pressure points, joint controls, controlling, grabbing, and meridian path manipulation. He became famous for these. He was also well known for his crab posture zhuangzhang (ramming palms), which were heavy, full, hard, and fierce. His skills were truly superlative.
Ma Gui alone gained the secrets of baguazhang. He treasured the teaching of Dong Haichuan his whole life. He was high-minded and loved the martial arts so much so, that he was unwilling to lightly transmit his learning. He would advise other students of baguazhang, but respected his teacher’s wish of ‘do not transmit to those unworthy’, and was known for being stingy about passing on skills or taking students of his own.
Because of Ma Gui’s upbringing and education, as well as his position with the Imperial household he developed, refined tastes and interests. One example is he enjoyed painting. He would often paint crabs and because of his skill in the crab postures and crab style of walking the circle, he earned a new nickname of ‘Crab Ma’.
The above image shows Ma Gui in 1930 at the gathering in Beijing to erect Dong Haichuan’s memorial stele.
Because of his position as leader of baguazhang at the time, he gathered together as many other practitioners as he could to erect the memorial stele.
He had these twenty words written on the front side of the stele:
“Hai Fu Shou Shan Yong, Qiang Ding Guo Ji, Ming Guang Da, Dao De Jian Wu Ji”.
These twenty words have a very deep meaning. Because of this we will write more about them at a later time. Basically though they are the words of succession, Ma Gui had them written to prevent baguazhang from the splitting into branches and the dilution of the system.
The first word ‘Hai’ is from Dong Haichuan’s name, as the first generation, the ‘Fu’ is from Yin Fu’s, representing the second generation, but the rest are for further generations to use. Each word has a meaning, and they can also be broken into four sets of five, which also has a meaning of its own.
That Ma Gui could write something like this really shows his understanding and the power he had over the Bagua world.
The later half of Ma Gui’s life (1910-1941) was full of hardships. He lost his family business due to the end of the Qing dynasty. Since he was supplying wood for the Imperial family, when power changed hands he was out of business. In his later years he ultimately lost everything and became destitute.
In his hour of greatest need though, two people came to Ma Gui’s side that had noble characters. This created the opportunity for the lifeblood of baguazhang to continue to flow.