Higher and Deeper – Mike Farr on Ba Fang Tong Bei Quan

Mike Farr throws student Matt Thomas to the canvas

Mike Farr throws student Matt Thomas to the canvas

“There are millions of moves in Kung Fu, but morality must be the first one.”

This is the key message Mike Farr delivers to students in Cardiff who study Zhong Hua Si Mian Ba Fang Tong Bei Quan – a Chinese martial art with roots tracing back to the eleventh century – under his expert instruction.

Through hard work and dedication Mike, 44, of Marshfield, attained the privileged position of being the only man in the Western world to learn the techniques of this traditional branch of Kung Fu at first hand.

“I’m the only white guy, the only English speaking guy, the only guy outside of China to be taught the system. There are people in China begging to be on it,” he said.

Mike fostered a strong interest in practicing and teaching martial arts, beginning in his late teens. So when he went to China in 2000 to teach English on a Voluntary Service Overseas programme with his wife, he was determined to do some training while he was there.

Upon hearing about Ba Fang Tong Bei Quan – which translates as “Fist from the back in every direction” – through a friend in China, Mike contacted the master Wang Hong Jun to ask if he could learn from him. Despite repeated refusals, Mike persisted and he was eventually accepted to become a disciple and learn the ancient art.

Mike recounted the words his master said when he later asked Wang Hong Jun why he had agreed to teach him. “I looked at you and I could see that you had a good heart and a good head. You’re a moral person,” he said.

To learn from Wang Hong Jun, it was necessary for Mike to become part of the family.

“It was all done behind closed doors, and he had to adopt me to teach me. It’s real Kung Fu, not the crap you see on the telly. It can only be passed from father to son,” said Mike.

Mike spent three years training in China and living in the home of Wang Hong Jun, practicing martial arts skills for 10 hours a day during the week and longer at weekends.

“My wife got through a lot of classics while we were there, but she can handle herself too,” he said.

“We’ve got two daughters, and my youngest copies me. They have no choice – it will be passed on to them!”

Mike now runs two classes of Ba Fang Tong Bei Quan in Cardiff every week. On Wednesdays he instructs the full group in the Eastern Leisure Centre in Llanrumney, and on Mondays he takes his senior members for a smaller session at a church hall in Splott.

In order to honour a promise he made to his master, Mike carefully hand selects those he teaches.

“There’s about 30 under my instruction, and they are my family.” he said.

“But you get people coming in after a Jackie Chan film has been on TV, or sometimes coming in with a fresh black eye saying ‘it’s something I’ve always wanted to do’. Were they saying that before the black eye?

“Everybody is able to achieve it through practice and dedication, but you have to have the right attitude.”

Mike is also reluctant to teach children under the age of 12 because of the potential damage they could do with the skills of Ba Fang Tong Bei Quan.

“I wouldn’t teach this to youngsters for fear of them not just hurting but killing someone,” he said.

“This isn’t a sport. It’s got a severe edge. They wouldn’t let us go anywhere near a competition.”

The classes are run on a subsistence basis, costing just £5 for two hours of instruction. Mike says this is honouring another promise to Wang Hon Jun.

“I do a bit of supply teaching as well as teaching control and self defence classes. But I only do those things to allow me to carry on with Ba Fang Tong Bei Quan.

“It’s not about making money with this – I’m doing my work for my master. He’s not rich at all.”

Matt Williams (left) and Matt Thomas in combat

Matt Williams (left) and Matt Thomas in combat

Matt Williams, 27, is a restaurant manager from Rhiwbina who has been studying under Mike Farr for 10 years. He described the essential elements of starting to learn Ba Fang Tong Bei Quan.

“Practising the two stances we use is the most important first step. Once leg strength is developed it can progress through the body,” he said.

“At the beginning people also learn basic balance points. The idea is to control other people’s bodies through them, so that you are keeping light and not using energy.

“The point is to learn how your own body works so you can improve it and apply it.”

Mike says Ba Fang Tong Bei Quan has made irrevocable but utterly positive changes to his life. He said: “It’s a way of life. It has definitely taken over, but in a good way.”

“I practise all the time. If I’m not physically practising, I’m thinking. If I’m not thinking, I’m physically practising. Quite often I’m doing both.

“It keeps getting higher and deeper. The higher up you climb, the more you see.”


~ by seanbradbury on March 31, 2009.

6 Responses to “Higher and Deeper – Mike Farr on Ba Fang Tong Bei Quan”

  1. Thanks for a good write up and I hope a little more publicity gets more genuine interest so this remarkable opportunity can be shared with good people. Matt

  2. I would like to clarify that this art though called by many as a type of tongbei as are white ape (baiyuan), five elements , ma family and several others are actually schools of tongbi. In Chinese characters these are written differently and have different meanings though the bi character can also be pronounced bei (which is a point of confusion), tongbei also known as heyitongbei (unifying (the body) through the back) is a very different art with a different founder, lineage, movement philosophy and body structure…different forms and number of movements…they are as different as shaolin and taiji.
    As I said there is much confusion about this even in China within the tongbi community, part of the reason for this is the past secretive nature of tongbei practitioners, almost no martial artist even in china can recognize tongbei even if they see it (unless they have learned it before). For my authority on this subject I am a 15th generation master of tongbei quan which exists in three places in the world , shanghai, tianjing and seattle…

    I know this might seem contrary to what many people think but it is good to have clarity of martial arts families so we can celebrate our own characteristics strengths and names.

  3. I am quite confused by Michael Lee’s comments. He seems to be claiming that this art has nothing to do with Tong Bei! Perhaps a litle more information would help clarify the points made by him!
    Firstly, My master is wang Hong Jun, but the master responsible for the Tong bei elements of our system is master Qiu Ji Zhong, who was taught by Sha Guo Zheng (of Bai Yuan – white ape) in Yunnan. I am sure now that Mr Lee is in full possession of this information, he will recognise that our system does practice ‘real’ tong bei and is considereed (even in China) to be authentic.

    I am aware that many people claim to teach different styles of traditional chinese gong fu, and also claim a long and distinguished lineage, however, there are many charlatans out there and many people who practice gong fu without knowing its true history.

    For my part, i am a 13th generation master of the Wang family and of Ba Fang Tong Bei Quan. I was taught by Wang Hong Jun and Qiu Ji Zhong and i can assure you that any chinese martial artist would recognise our system and also recognise the tong bei found within it!

    Lastly, Mr Michael Lee states that he is a 15th generation master of tong bei, i do not doubt this, but it would be nice to know from what family and style of tong bei he hails from.

  4. Not sure what more to clarify, most tongbi practitioners even in china think the name of their art is tongbei, through common usage of the word even in china that us the case. In terms of lineage, characteristics etc. if the arts this is not the case.

    The full name of my art is heyitongbeiquan it could never be called tongbi as that us not what it is. Your BaFaTongBeiQuan could be pronounced as tongbi just search white ape tongbi and tongbei, for that art which is related to yours it is used interchangably both in the western world and in china.

    I lived and practiced in China for 6 years and only one person recognized we were doing tongbei quan and it was only because they were directly introduced to it themselves.

    A young man I’m his twenties who had moved to shanghai sought my teacher WuMaoGui out because of his renoun and because he also did tongbei, when he finally came by to see my teacher my teacher asked him to demonstrate what he had learned and it was clearly a different art, he said the same about ours once he saw it, and he wanted to learn about it.

    It is sad and frustrating for out menpai even in china that there is this confusion, I will be putting out a comparative liniahe with my teacher at some point to help. But the uniqness of these arts should stand on their own.

    You can learn a little more about the differences and a whole lot more about heyitongbei on my website http://www.theinternalconnection.com, check out the common questions are, the heyitongbei intro and if you don’t mind giving me your email
    signing up for free to check out some videos about tongbei, you will see the difference.

    You and your menpai are welcome to your own opinions and interpritations of these things, as is ours. Hope this helped a little and check out the site as I think that will help some as well.

    Tongbei was so secretive in china till the past few years that very few have seen it. So I understand the confusion!

  5. Sorry for the typos, I used my itouch 🙂

  6. Hi there, I’m doing some research for a tv show about impressive skills people have around the world. I’d really like to know a bit more about Wang Hong Jun. What does he do in China apart from practicing martial arts? Would be really great if you could help me out.

    Many thanks


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