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January 22,

2010
SHANG WU ZHAI – TRADITIONAL CHINESE MARTIAL ARTS ACADEMY

By Nitzan Oren - Shang Wu Zhai Academy, Israel


Translation and minor additions by Jonathan Bluestein

Xing - Shape or Form.


Yi - Intension or Will. The Chinese letter for "Yi" is comprised of two sections. The top one means
"Sound", and the bottom one means "Heart"/"Mind"/"Knowledge". Intent is the sound of the mind.
Quan - Fist. Denotes the art as being a Chinese Martial Art. It's as in saying: "Xing Yi Fist", "The Fist of
Xing Yi", or "Xing Yi Boxing". A common addition to the names of Chinese martial arts, just like Japanese
martial arts' names are usually followed by "Do" (Dao in Chinese - Way, Road) or "Jutsu" (Shu in Chinese
- Skill, Art) in arts like Ninjutsu and Aikido.

The name "Xing Yi Quan" literally translates as "The martial art of the form and Intension", meaning that
Xing Yi is a martial art that uses the power of Intension in order to move the body.

Xing Yi Quan is a martial art that puts much emphasis on moving the whole body as one single unit,
while the practitioner advances directly towards the opponent, as in trying to go through and past him,
like he's not even there. Most defenses are done while simultaneously attacking, or as a part of the
attack itself. The opponent's attacks are diverted with minor circular movements that are kept to a
minimum, and the practitioner's attacks are supported by his whole body.

The way power is issued in Xing Yi can be imagined as the circular motion of a huge wave crashing on
the shore. In more advanced stages the practitioner gains the ability to issue power (attack) from any
area or point on his body, from any posture and any range he wishes or is forced to work from.
Zhan Zhuan - Standing pole.

Training in Xing Yi starts with practicing Zhan Zhuang. Holding these postures is the basis for developing
the power used in Xing Yi, improving of one's control over his intension, and teaching the whole body to

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become as one. As the practitioner improves his ability in holding Zhang Zhuang and understanding its
principles, the way he practices it changes, and the difficulty level and demands rise.

The practice of Zhan Zhuang exists in all schools of Xing Yi, and although the exact shape or form of
practice may vary a bit, they all put the same emphasis on the demands described by the Verse of Eight
Words (Ba zi jue - "Eight Words skills"). Most schools practice the following stances: WuJi, SanTi Shir,
Hun Yuan, Xiang Long and Fu Hu.

The famous Tianjin martial artist Xue Dian described this practice as a very slow movement, which the
outside onlooker cannot notice. In his description, he tried to clarify that standing in this manner is not
"static and relaxed", but is about a slow and intensive internal movement.

The next step (after Zhang Zhuang) is moving the body on the basis of five different forms of movement
("The Five Phases"). Without this practice, the moment one starts to move, all the abilities acquired by
the practice of Zhan Zhuang are lost. Therefore, one must learn to maintain the structure built with Zhan
Zhuang even when performing large movements. In this practice, one develops five different powers,
which he will afterwards use as the basis for all the other movements.

When one begins practicing Xing Yi, there is much importance to the direction of every movement, and
the accuracy of every posture. This stems from the fact that the direction of movement and angles of
the arms, legs and body are the basis for the correct expression of the practitioner's intension. One can
think of the intension as being a liquid, and the form as a vessel. You pour your liquid (Intension) into
the Vessel (Form). A crooked vessel (Form) will distort and wrongfully display the Liquid (Intension).
Correct body alignment also enables the practitioner the channel power better, just as the supporting
beams of a bridge allow the pressure worked upon it to be channeled to the ground. Another important
emphasis in practice is maintaining the "Six Harmonies" a major principle in Xing Yi.

The unity between Mind and Intension, Intension with Qi, and the Chi with Power is referred to as "The
Three Internal Harmonies". The unity between the palm and the foot, the elbow and knee, and the
shoulder and hips joints is called "The Three External Harmonies". This means that the palm is always
above and correlated with the foot - when one moves, the other also moves with it. When one stops,
the other also stops. While performing any movement, there should always be harmony between the
Internal and the External.

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The movement of Xing Yi Quan is based on the movement of a fighter holding a long spear. Spear
practice helps a lot with developing and improving the abilities gained by practicing the five fists as well
as building up their power. Common practices with the spear are "Spear Rubbing" (Hua gan) and a form
called "10 Trios of Xing Yi". The practice of spear rubbing is considered part of the basics of the art. The
practitioner holds a flexible Chinese Spear at one end, and rubs the other end on a tree using a waist
movement, in order to feel resistance. The form 10 Trios of Xing Yi is usually practiced with a white and
flexible spear made of a populous tree, that is longer than 3 meters (9.84ft). Since the spear is flexible,
shaking it returns a strong vibration, forcing the practitioner to learn how to stay stable and absorb the
power issued at him.

After the student has learned the Five Fist and have understood the Five Powers, he may begin the
study of the 12 animal forms of Xing Yi. The animal forms teach us variations of the five powers
previously learned. The animals that are taught are: Dragon, Tiger, Monkey, Horse, Turtle, Chicken,
Sparrow Hawk, Swallow, Snake, Tai bird, Eagle and Bear. Despite these forms being named after
animals, it is not to be assumed that one is trying to imitate the way they move, but rather to mimic the
character and skills traditionally associated with that animal – to learn the nature of the animal and use
it one’s advantage, not copy its movements.

This is a practice of eight new movements, that develop eight useful power to be of aid to the
practitioner. The Eight Powers

The picture below shows “rooting” in the stance called “SanTi”, which is the basic stance of all
Xing Yi styles and lineages. The other pictures show correct body alignment (The bottom one is
in Hun Yuan stance, another basic standing practice of Xing Yi).

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Jiang Rong Qiao demonstrating the Five Fists of Xing Yi:

Liu Dian Chen (son of Liu Chi Lan) demonstrating the Five Fists of Xing Yi in his book (1920):

Li Shan Qing demonstrating the Five Fists of Xing Yi in his book (1929):

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The origin of the style is usually attributed to the


famous general Yue Fei of the Song Dynasty. Although
this claim is very popular, there is no evidence to
suggest Yue Fei ever practiced Xing Yi. It is a custom in
Chinese culture to attribute great deeds and works of
art to respected and mythical figures, and Yue Fei, being
one of the more popular of these figures, had been
proclaimed as the originator of Xing Yi, Eagle Claw (Yue
jia san shou) and countless writings. The founder of the
style was probably Ji Long Feng1 (Ji Ji Ke), who used the
writings of Yue Fei (and others) when he developed his
system. In fact, the history of the style up to Li Luo
Neng5 (see lineage chart) is pretty vague, and full of
conflicting claims regarding origins and lineages (martial
arts’ politics are nothing new).

A recurring claim throughout its history is that Xing Yi is


based on the movement of a warrior wielding a long
spear. In his time, Ji Long Feng1 was nicknamed “Devine
Spear” for his invincible spear technique. Today the The famous Chinese general Yue Fei.
spear is the first weapon taught in Xing Yi, and is of an
immeasurable importance for developing one’s skill in the art, both
with weapons and empty-handed. The name Xing Yi Quan first
appeared at the time of Li Luo Neng5. Some say this was because
at the province of Shanxi (the birthplace of Xing Yi) there is no
difference between the sound of the character “Xin” and that of
the character “Xing” (previously the style was known as Xin Yi
Quan or Xin Yi Liu He Quan). Up to the time of Li Luo Neng5, the
style was kept secret and only taught within the Dai clan and the
Hui muslim minority in Henan province. Li Luo Neng5 (from Heibei
province) was the first outsider to study the style, and afterwards
spread it to other places. His students gained a reputation as
invincible fighters, and among them were Che Yi Zhai (Che style of
Shanxi), Song Shi Rong (Song style of Shanxi), Guo Yunshen (of
Hebei), Liu Qi Lan (of Hebei) and many others.

Famous grandmaster Sun Lutang


demonstrating the Tiger form of Xing Yi

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In the picture – late Xing Yi grandmasters Guo YunShen and Che YiZhai overseeing students
practice (between the two men sitting in the middle, Guo is the one on the right). Guo YunShen
is a famous figure in the history of Xing Yi Quan. A common tale tells of Guo being locked in
prison for a number of years for killing a man. He was housed in a very confined space, thus
only able to practice one move – half-step Beng Quan (one of the Five Fists). It is said that when
he came out of prison, his Beng Quan gained a legendary status, earning him the title “Half step
Beng Quan flattening all under the heavens”. Another popular tale is of a fight that took place
between Guo and Dong HaiQuan (the founder of Bagua Zhang). This is unlikely for many
reasons. In his book “The Power of Internal Martial Arts and Chi”, Bruce Kumar Frantzis also
addresses the issue and claims such encounter had probably never taken place. Guo was the
teacher of other three equally famous masters:
1. Li Cun Yi – also known as "Single saber Li" who carried on with his Xing Yi lineage. Li Was
famous for his Saber skills and Bagua and was considered as a hero for fighting Foreign
(Germans) invaders to China.
2. Sun Lu Tang – A great martial artist and scholar who studied all three internal martial
arts (Taiji Quan, Xing Yi Quan and Bagua Zhang), and combined his knowledge of them
all to create his own unique lineage, Sun style.
3. Wang Xiang Zhai – who later created his new martial art, Da Cheng Quan, on the basis of
his Xing Yi.

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First things first – most westerners think of “Kung Fu” (actually correctly pronounced “Gong-
Fu”) as some form of Chinese Martial Arts. Although the term is nowadays sometimes used as
an umbrella term for Chinese Martial Art, its’ meaning is far more broad. What Gong Fu actually
means is “skill acquired through long and hard practice”. Thus, Gong Fu is not limited to the
world of martial arts. One might say a famous chef has “good gong fu”, or be thrilled from a
stunning dancing performance and whisper: “Wow, these dancers have great gong fu”. Taking
ourselves back to the original topic, the gong fu of Xing Yi are the basic body skills of the art,
which include techniques and principles. In the case of Xing Yi, we tend to deal more with
principles and less with specific techniques in comparison to other arts.

The process of advancing your skill in the Internal Martial Arts can be imagined as the
construction of a building. One must first clear the ground on which the structure will stand,
removing all obstacles. Then one should mold strong foundations that will be able to support
the structure once it’s built. The next stage consists of constructing the rough skeleton of the
building. Only when all these stages are achieved, one can put the finishing touches. So much is
the same for gong fu practice. The stages through which one advances are in a logical and ideal
order. Skipping some of these stages or changing the order of practice may do harm, and
prevent the student from reaching his desired goals.

Relaxing the muscles – At this stage one is taught to


remove unnecessary tension from muscles that should be at
rest - learning to release tension from muscles that oppose the
working muscles in a movement (antagonist muscles). This
decreases unwanted resistance to the movement. The muscles
loosen-up and can go through greater ranges of motion, thus
achieving greater speed and better contraction, increasing
general movement speed.

“Wu Ji” stance is one of the basic Zhan Zhuang postures


practiced in the Song (Shanxi) lineage of Xing Yi. This posture
teaches how to loosen up the upper body, until there is
absolutely no tension left in the arm muscles. Doing away with In the picture – master Wu Bing Wen
this tension helps Qi and blood flow to the arms, and removes standing in “Wu Ji”

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unwanted use of the antagonist muscles. This practice help the arms become “heavy” as iron
chains, enabling every movement to penetrate through the intended target.

Improving the stamina of the Core Muscles – This is achieved through Isometric-
Aerobic (endurance or stamina) exercise. By strengthening the muscles that hold the joints
together within a pre-determined form, one creates a springy and flexible structure that can
withstand shocks and efficiently absorb outside pressures. Practice revolves around an
isometric-aerobic effort, that is, a long continues effort of low-stress nature, maintained
without movement or change in the angle between bones throughout the exercise.

Besides the muscles we normally use for moving, there are also the core muscles. These are
used to maintain balance and equilibrium in space. In contrast to other skeletal muscles, the
core muscles do not tire easily. This is partially because only a small part of them is active at any
given moment. When a group of core muscle tires, another group takes its’ place to avoid
exhaustion.

Bad posture and movement habits, which most people accumulate over the years, affects the
body in such way that instead of using stabilizing (core) muscles, people use movement
(skeletal) muscles in day to day use. This will result in unwanted tension of skeletal muscles,
bringing about muscle pain and tiredness. One of the ways to fix these habits is purposely tiring
the movement muscle by holding a posture steady for a long period of time (more than few
minutes). At first the practitioner usually feels his muscles tiring quickly, to the point they
eventually tremble and give away. With time one learns to consciously loosen his movement
muscles, and only use the core muscles needed to maintain stability and thus further
strengthen them.

Working on the “Yi” of Xing Yi, the Intention – Adding the Intention component to the
mix helps at improving both controlled and reflexive reaction speeds. It also develops the ability
to sense minute changes in the enemy’s stability and power
after first contact (listening power).

Differing from a thought or imagination, which are brain


activities that do not present a physical expression, the
Intention (or will) is the origin of any body movement. The
intention is the transitional phase between the thought of a
movement and its’ execution. Since the movement stems
from muscle action, we conclude that the intention
influences the muscles.

Scientific research has shown that watching sports, for


example, can have influence over muscle tension. The
viewer identifies with the athletes, and his muscles contract
in a similar manner to which they would if he was to

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perform the action himself. When one tries to feel the sensation of pushing unto a heavy load,
his body equilibrium and muscle tension will change and prepare themselves for the wanted
movement. The Internal Martial Arts use this principle to their advantage in order to help the
practitioner control his muscles in a certain manner. At this stage, the practitioner actively
imagines himself doing certain actions, creating a “ready”
state within all the needed muscles and ligaments and
building a strong structure. This is similar to what predators
do in the wild. A tiger lying in grass, waiting for just the right
moment to leap on his prey – he is calm and calculated. All
the muscles and ligaments he needs to aid him perform the
leap are in a “ready” state – relaxed, activated, but not too
tight. In our tiger’s mind, he is already tearing that prey
apart. All he needs is the trigger that will unleash him, taking
him from a state of intention to actual physical movement.

Yi will only count as intention if the imagination will include the Will to perform the movement
and trying to feel the sensation that appears while doing the movement. Let’s say someone
tries to “feel” an inflating beach ball. This will have intention only if he or she are trying to
sense the ball’s flexibility at touch, the pressure of the ball acting against the push, and the
ball’s texture. The intention shouldn’t be, nevertheless, too detailed or sensible, but exist in
vague manner, like it’s there but not actually there.

Physiologically speaking, the action of Intention is a controlled command given to nervous


system that turns on muscle-tension sensors (muscles spindle).

In the picture – a practitioner standing in


Hun Yuan stance, one of the basic Zhan
Zhuang stances of Xing Yi. The ball he holds
is not real. It is an imaginary metaphor that
helps him achieve correct posture and
intent. The ball is like a soap bubble – if he’ll
squeeze it too hard, it’ll pop. If he’ll let go
too much, it’ll float away. After some time
practicing, one can actually feel as if the ball
is really there, hence creating the correct
body alignment and muscle response.

After these are activated, they can identify


the lengthening of a muscle and issue an
order to contract it so it will return to its’
original size. When outside pressure is
applied, the muscles supporting the
structure will contract just enough to keep
the opponent at bay, while trying to regain

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their original position. The outcome of this mechanism is a creation of a spring-like structure
that always aspires to return to its original form.

Strengthening the skeletal muscles (isometric anaerobic exercise) – This practice


helps one’s structure to be able to support high pressure at specific points, such as the final
position of a punch strike (impact point). Training in this manner also improve Cun power (inch
power).

In order for the arm joints to be able to support the heavy load at impact without collapsing
under the pressure, one must learn to tighten the joints using the muscles surrounding them.
This is done by standing in the same posture you arrive at the end of a movement (say a
punch), and stretching the limbs in the intended power vector. This small and repetitive stretch
is used to strengthen the structure and stability at the end of movement, and teaches how to
release short-range power (Fa Jing) even after the movement is seemingly finished. Differing
from what’s often done in Bodybuilding, here instead of isolating certain muscle, we wish to
exercise the maximum amount of muscles the
support the movement.

In the picture – well known boxing coach Ross


Enamait using a form of isometric training to
improve his punching ability. Xing Yi and Western
Boxing are not related in any way, but share some
similarities. Both were originally conceived with pure
fighting in mind, and both focus on utilizing and
perfecting few movements rather than stacking up
thousands of techniques to practice. Yi Quan, a
martial art developed from Xing Yi by Wang Xiang
Zhai (student of Guo Yunshen) was heavily
influenced and has integrated concepts from
Western Boxing. The picture was taken from an
article titled “A twist to complex training” at:
http://www.rossboxing.com/thegym/thegym25.htm

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Hanging of the muscles of the skeleton – training methods that improve the
practitioner’s ability to issue a loosened and heavy movement. This practice improves
penetrating power.

Moving the structure – after the student has gained the ability to unite the whole body as
one, he should learn how to move this whole structure quickly without breaking it. This enables
him to absorb external pressures whilst deflecting and releasing them in another direction
using quick and tiny circular movements.

Feeling (stroke) the power – a slow-motion exercise in which one gently contracts all the
muscles needed to perform an action. This kind of practice helps improving controlled motion
and reaction speeds related to that movement.

This practice is essential to Xing Yi’s Gong Fu. Through the previous practice of Zhan Zhuang
(Standing Pole) the practitioner acquires the
initial sense of Whole Body Power. After
continuous practice he can feel resistance to
his movement coming from all directions. On
this basis he should begin practicing “feeling
the power”. The name derives from the
practice itself – the student repeats a single
movement numerous times in a slow
manner, as a man grasping through the
darkness that might bump into something at
any moment.

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