Master Li Guichang was born in 1914 in Shanxi province and died in 2000 at the age of 86. He began his study of Martial Arts at the age of thirteen when he took up the art of Chang Quan, Yue Style Eight Overturning Hands and weapons. About 1927 he began to study Xingyi and Shaolin Five Elements Soft Art with the famous Xingyi Master Dong Xuisheng. When Li Guchang was young he opened a pawn shop business because his father had owned one. Later he left the business to travel and study with Dong Xuisheng. (on the other hand i have also heard that his family were well off merchants and that was why he could afford to study) It was said that they were like father and son. When was Master Li was 18 he won several fighting contests and to honor him Dong Xuisheng set up a banquet
Dong was a practitioner of traditional Chinese medicine and spent most of his life traveling in Northern China studying martial arts and treating patients. He was a Xingyi student of Geng Jishen (disciple of Liu Qilan) Li Cunyi and Liu Wenhua. Liu Wenhua was the son of Liu Qilan who was one of the most famous disciples of Li Luoneng (Li Nengran), the creator of what we know as Xingyi Quan or Form Intent boxing, a martial art derived from the Dai family style of Xin Yi. In addition Dong Xuisheng also learned Ba Gua from his friend Sun Lutang. All of these teachers were from Hebei province.
Dong Xuisheng was also a disciple of Song Hucheng of Shanxi province. Song Hucheng's father Song Shirong was a disciple of Li Luoneng and founder of the Song style of Xingyi. Master Li Guichang as Dong Xuisheng's disciple was also part of the Song family.
Master Li Guichang studied with Dong Xuisheng from 1927 until 1936. Dong Xuisheng died in 1938 at the age of 58 of ill health brought on by the poverty he suffered at that time. After Dong Xuisheng died Master Li visited many famous teachers and studied with Xing Shaoxuan a disciple of Liu Wenhua. He also studied the Yang style of Tai Chi with Liu Donghan.
Liu's teacher was Yang Zhaolin. Yang Zhaolin was the only son of Yang Luchan's eldest son, Yang Fenghou. However Yang Fenghou died at an early age so Yang Zhaolin learned most of his taiji from his uncles Yang Banhou and Yang Jianhou.
From 1941 to 1946, Master Li was employed by the first and second school of Qing Xu as a teacher of national art. In 1949, he was employed in Taijin Sanjin Middle School as a martial arts teacher. From 1958 to 1959, he was hired as the coach of the Shanxi Wushu Training Team.He served as the vice chairman of the Taiyuan Wushu Association, the vice president of the Shanxi Xingyiquan Association, the president of the Taiyuan Pushing Association, the director of the Shanxi Tianlong Martial Arts Hall, the consultant of the Shandong Xingyiquan Research Association, and the special coach of the North American Tang Shou Dao Association. In May 1995, he was included in the "Chinese Encyclopedia Experts' Collection". In 1997, he was included in the "Chinese Folk Martial Arts Masters". (these are published by the Chinese Government)
His Xingyi was soft but very powerful and sensitive. When he touched someone he could immediately control their "power path" and throw them out with ease. His Fa Li was highly refined. He said, "I use the body method to seize the opponent. In all respects it determines the strike. When to strike and how to strike are all within my grasp."
I met Master Li Guichang for the first time in 1994 while traveling with my good friend and training partner Tom Bisio. I had, by that time, been studying one style of Xingyi for about seven years, and other martial arts for a long time before that, and I was immediately impressed not only by his very high level of skill but also by his personality, warm, open and confident. He was very honest in his teaching and pleased that people would come so far to study his art. Watching him it became truly clear to me the relationships within the internal family of arts; Xingyi, Tai Chi, and Ba Gua Zhang.
Master Li Guichang was of course old when I met him and in order to facilitate our learning he recommended that we also study with his disciple Song Zhiyong. Master Li said, "Song is the standard for my system." Song Zhiyong has been very open in his teaching so that he could fulfill Master Li's wish that we might grasp his method of Xingyi. Song Zhiyong has a deep and full understanding of his master's art both in theory and application and his shen fa is highly developed. As one older Tai Chi practitioner told me once in Taiyuan, "Song's skill is rare, even in China".
When I first began to study Xingyi I thought of it as only firm and powerful, whole body power used with the proper angle to take the opponent's center and roll through and destroy him. I got to the point where I could accomplish this fairly well. But I found that if the opponent was bigger and stronger than myself, and just as skilled, I was at a disadvantage. I also saw that those of my school brothers and sisters who were smaller were often at a disadvantage as well. I found that if people were successful using firm power they tended to never move beyond it. Master Li Guichang and his teacher Dong Xuisheng were small men and dealt with the same problem. Many of the practitioners in Hebei were big and powerful so they practiced to be firm on the outside and soft within. Master Li Guichang and his teacher stressed the opposite, soft on the outside and firm within and the use of subtlety and cleverness. Also their expression of Fa Li delivers great "shock power" while remaining very relaxed and their ability to stick, adhere, connect and follow, allows one to strike with any of the seven stars at the most advantageous moment. Dong Xuisheng had in many ways an almost unique experience of Xingyi and was able to combine concepts and training from both the Hebei and Shanxi traditions. Master Li also felt that Tai Chi and Xingyi in fact share many principles. His expression of Xingyi shows this clearly.