Wild History or...
Random Speculations on the History of our Llineage
I think our Gao houtian were just a development that coalesced from existing fighting information and applications already in use among different teachers at the time. It was likely in my mind that Dong Haichuan, Cheng Tinghua, Liu Dekuan, Zhou Yuxiang, Song Changrong, Li Cunyi and Zhang Zhaodong all had some influence towards Gao Yisheng's development of his straight line houtian fighting palms.
It was said that Dong had taught single "applications" or "drills" to his students at their request to give them an idea of how he would handle certain things. I suspect it went beyond that as well.
Cheng Tinghua died rather early, but I suspect again that he, at the least, carried on that tradition. More likely he began to teach some of what he had learned more clearly, not only in terms of theory development, but in terms of forms and drills - a physical thing that can be passed on.
Liu Dekuan was said to be the first to develop a straight-line 64 set. Possible, but even if he was the first, it seems others were thinking of it as well. Yin stylists have straight line forms and linear drilling that likely developed independantly and possibly at the same time. My guess is that Cheng Tinghua probably also did something similar to this (since it is my guess that Dong did this as well) and taught straight line drilling of techniques. Therefore Liu's apple didn't necessarily fall far from the tree. Since other lines later adopted his forms, it just proves their worth more.
Song was another student of Dong Haichuan that was Gao's first Bagua teacher. Although he claims to have only learned the circle walking and single palm change in his three years with him... hell, who would wait three years for only that. It's all tat as far as I'm concerned. They didn't study for fun like those of us do in this day and age - they had to use it and their teacher's "face" depended on them developing useful skills. Even if he had only mastered a few forms from Song, I feel that he likely took more than that home with him at the end of the day, even if he didn't fully appreciate it. Even without learning all the forms, you can still pick up fighting skills, training theories, fighting strategies and application drills.
Zhou Yuxiang was said to have taught straight line fighting forms. I can't recall how many, but I don't recall there being a full 64 yet. I do recall there being many though that later "resurfaced" in Gao's 64. Hmmm....
Li Cunyi and Zhang Zhaodong in my mind at this time also likely influenced Gao to a high degree. They were martial brothers of Cheng Tinghua (whom Gao respected to a high degree) and they were also around to provide direct examples and teaching to a young Gao Yisheng. Gao is known to have studied Xingyi from Li Cunyi directly. Li and Zhang were very close brothers and certainly exchanged information and trained together. I always thought Zhang's predilection for extension and full-posture training as something that might have carried on into our YiZong and WuZong lines of Gao style - though admittedly this could have been through Han Muxia and Wu Mengxia's influence. Though that's not like its that far from Li Cunyi and Zhang Zhaodong either.
Although Gao mentions Song Yiren as the teacher of his 64 houtian lines - it is possible that he just made this guy up or that he wasn't a direct teacher. Maybe it was just some Daoist that kicked his a$$ at one point and that he later learned and refined his fighting from. He took the skills, applications and ideas he learned from that dude and then later incorporated that into his larger concept of Baguazhang. Thus his teaching method of Xiantian, Houtian, etc. was born. Maybe the Song Yiren thing was just something that Wu Mengxia later expanded upon to also give credence to his other teacher's claims, Han Muxia, so as to further distinguish him as a reputable martial arts teacher apart from Zhang Zhaodong.
The martial arts of the time and Chinese culture were inseparable. Sometimes individuals can learn much and become great martial artists without necessarily becoming great teachers, or collators of a comprehensive system of martial arts that is both thorough and transmittable through the ages. Its becoming fairly accepted that what Dong Haichuan taught was not a set, monolithic, unflexible system. It had base practices, lots of hands-on work, and deep training in the principles and theories of training and combat. I suspect his teaching changed during his lifetime, and I suspect his disciples taught in different manners from each other, as well as changing their own teaching throughout their lifetimes. This is par for the course in Baguazhang, and often in other martial arts as well.
"Daoists in the Mountains" - This is one of the most common elements of any tale of Dong's learning of Baguazhang. He only stated that he got it from a Daoist in the mountains. Some surmise that therefore there was a lineage of Bagua in existence before Dong's teachings. Some state that Dong was being humble in the accepted Chinese manner (to not claim accomplishments, but to thank one's ancestors for passing them to you). Its not really possible to definitively prove either way. Most people assume that Dong learned various martial arts, refined them, studied Daoism and a circle walking practice, and eventually came up with his own thing. But that does not limit one to assume that Dong did not learn anything that was not part of a more ancient lineage. But anyways, to talk of Bagua and Don'gs origins usually leads to talking in circles... then again, maybe that's part of the beauty of it.
RE: bodyguards, bagua and baji.
I really haven't looked into this that much. I know that Baji was taught to the President's guards in Taiwan because of political connections. I suspect that that has always been a big percentage of the reason for any martial artist to get that position. I also suspect martial skills had more to do with it in those days than they do in later years. By the time PuYi, Chiang Kaishek, Mao, etc. needed bodyguards, they were basically there for good eyes, an aware mind, and a body for taking a bullet. Their skill with firearms would have likely been more important than their skill with either open hand or traditional weapons, but either would have paled in importance to the previous three.
Further thoughts are that Baguazhang has a somewhat larger initial learning curve than Bajiquan. Later bodyguards were not chosen so much as trained. Also the nature of the beast was demonstratably changing. It is no longer "be able to fight quickly like a demon one against many and protect me" but "get in the way of anyone or any bullet coming to me and stand firm." Perhaps my quotes don't fit exactly, but there is a switch in mindset.
Its also possible that Bagua training itself and the practitioners had changed at that time to be less desirable to those in power. YinFu was no longer around, neither was Cheng Tinghua. Their students did not have the same type of connections with those currently in power at the time. A large portion of Cheng Tinghua's group gradually dedicated their training not so much to the martial end, but more the philosophical end. And although I have never researched YinFu's Bagua as thoroughly, it seems to me that not all of his students maintained his notoriety either.
The concentration of the Bagua group itself splintered and was spread about the country. Tianjin was becoming a hotspot for Bagua and Xingyi, first with Li Cunyi and Zhang Zhaodong, then with Han Muxia and Gao Yisheng, as well as others less relevant to our lineage. Bagua spread to the countryside with many of the 2nd and 3rd generation disciples. Some went to other large cities, such as Nanjing or Shanghai. It was no longer the same concentration of high-level teachers and practitioners in one location that it was in the latter half of the 19th century.