Gao Yi Sheng was born in Shandong province, China in 1866. When he was young his leg was broken by a mule cart and the bone was set incorrectly so Gao walked with a cane the rest of his life. As a boy he learned the art of Da Hung Chuan (Big Red Fist) in his home village.
In 1892 when Gao was twenty-six years old he began his study of Bagua Zhang with Dong Hai Chuan’s student Sung Zhang Jun. After three years of practice with Sung all he had learned was basic circle walking and the single palm change. Gao asked for more instruction, but Sung refused and Gao left to find another teacher.
At age thirty, in 1896, Gao met Zhou Yu Xiang. Zhou was a talented student of Cheng Ting Hua. Zhou’s skill in fighting had earned him the nickname “Peerless Palm” Zhou. Gao and Zhou “crossed hands” three times and Gao was defeated each time. Gao knelt and asked to become Zhou’s disciple. Zhou said they were to close in age for him to bring him into the system so Zhou took Gao to Beijing to meet his teacher Cheng Ting Hua. Cheng accepted him as his student because of his previous experience with Sung and on Zhou Yu Xiang’s recommendation. Gao learned the majority of the system from Zhuo and would travel to Beijing periodically to study with Cheng, until Cheng’s death four years later.
Gao began teaching Cheng Ting Hua Style Bagua Zhang in Shao-gao township, Wu Ching County, Hebei province. Some time between 1902 and 1911 Gao also studied Xing Yi Quan with Li Cun Yi. In 1911 he returned to his home village Shandong province at the age of forty five and started teaching his version of Bagua Zhang.
Gao claimed he met Sung Yi Ren, a Taoist from Guang Hua Mountain who gave him the Hou Tien straight line Bagua Zhang sets. It is likely that this is a fabrication because the Chinese attribute many of their martial arts to famous yet obscure sources. There are many Bagua Zhang systems with application based short forms similar to Gao’s Hou Tien Sets. Gao had probably learned some of them from Cheng or Zhuo so it is possible that Gao may have standardized the Hou Tien sets from his experience with these two teachers.
In 1917, at age fifty-one Gao moved to Yang village, Wu Ching county, Hebei province, about ten miles from Tianjin city. He taught in Yang village and in Tianjin city. Gao would also periodically return to his home village in Da Shan Township, Shandong province to teach. Tianjin was a rough and violent place with many experienced martial artists, gangsters and tough people. Anyone who taught martial arts in Tianjin had to have real fighting skill.
In 1942 he got into a fight with a Tai Ji Chuan teacher in the park. Gao defeated him but injured him so badly he died three days later. To avoid the police Gao fled to Wu Ching village outside Tianjin city. He never returned to Tianjin and spent his remaining years living in the back of a Chinese medicine shop; he died in 1951 at the age of eighty-five.