This article is from the Martial Arts FAQ, by Matthew Weigel email@example.com with numerous contributions by others.
(Contributor: William Breazeal - firstname.lastname@example.org)
Xingyiquan is one of the three orthodox "internal" styles of
Chinese martial art (the other two being Taijiquan and Baguazhang).
"Xing" refers to form and "Yi" to the mind or intent.
"Quan" literally means fist and denotes a method of unarmed combat.
Xingyiquan is commonly refered to as "Form and Mind" or "Form and
Will" boxing. The name illustrates the strong emphasis placed on
motion being subordinate to mental control.
ORIGIN: Shanxi Province, China.
The exact origins of Xingyiquan are unknown. The creation of the
Art is traditionally attributed to the famous general and patriot Yue
Fei (1103- 1141) of the Song Dynasty. There is, however, no historical
data to support this claim. The style was originally called "Xin Yi Liu
He Quan"(Heart Mind Six Harmonies Boxing). The Six Harmonies
refer to the Three Internal Harmonies (the heart or desire coordinates
with the intent; the intent coordinates with the qi or vital energy;
the qi coordinates with the strength), and the Three External
Harmonies (the shoulders coordinate with the hips; the elbows
coordinate with the knees and the hands coordinate with the feet).
The earliest reliable information we have makes reference to Ji Longfeng
(also known as Ji Jige) of Shanxi Province as being the
first to teach the art of Xin Yi Liu He Quan. Ji Longfeng was
active near the end of the Ming Dynasty (early 1600's) and was a
master of spear fighting (he had the reputation of possessing "divine"
skill with the spear). He is recorded as stating "I have protected
myself in violent times with my spear. Now that we are in a time of
"peace" and our weapons have all been destroyed, if I am unarmed and
meet the unexpected, how shall I defend myself?" In answer to his own
question, Ji Longfeng reportedly created a style of weaponless
combat based on his expertise with the spear. He refered to his art as
"Liu He," the Six Harmonies.
Ji Longfeng had two very famous students. One was from from Hebei
province and was named Cao Jiwu. The other was from Henan
Province and was named Ma Xueli. It was at this point in history
that the Xin Yi Liu He Quan (now also refered to as Xingyiquan)
divided into three related yet separate styles, the Shanxi,
Henan and Hebei schools. After spending 12 years studying
Xingyiquan with Ji Longfeng, Cao Jiwu entered the Imperial Martial
Examinations and placed first (this was the most prestigious honor one
could possibly win as a martial artist in old China, and assured the
victor a high government position). Cao passsed on his art to two
brothers, Dai Longbang and Dai Linbang.
Dai Longbang passed his Art on to Li Luoneng (also known as Li
Nengran). Li holds the distinction of being the greatest Xingyi Boxer in
the styles' history and one of the top Chinese boxers of all time. Li
Luoneng taught his art in his native Shanxi Province and also
taught a great number of students in Hebei Province (his duties as a
bodyguard involved escorting various members of wealthy families to
and from Hebei). Two of Li's most famous Shanxi students were Song
Shirong and Zhe Yizhai. His most famous Hebei student was the
formidable Guo Yunshen (who reportedly defeated all comers with his
"Beng Quan," a straight punch to the body). Guo Yunshen passed on
his art to Wang Fuyuan, Liu Qilan and Sun Ludang among others;
Liu Qilan passed on the Art to the most famous practitioners of
this century, including Li Cunyi and Zhang Zhangui (also known as
Zhang Zhaodong). There are many practitioners of all three
sub-systems active today, and Xingyiquan is still a popular and
well respected style of martial art in China.
The art is divided into two main systems, the Ten Animal and Five
Element respectively. The Five Element system is further divided into
two major branches, the Hebei and Shanxi styles. The Ten animal
style is closest to the original Xin Yi Liu He Quan in form and
practice. The movements in the forms are patterned after the spirit of
various animals in combat, including the Dragon, Tiger, Monkey, Horse,
Chicken, Hawk, Snake, Bear, Eagle and Swallow. The Five Element based
systems have five basic forms (including Splitting, Drilling,
Crushing, Pounding, and Crossing) as the foundation of the art. These
basic energies are later expanded into Twelve Animal forms which
include variations of the animal forms found in the Ten Animal styles
as well as two additional animals, the Tai (a mythical bird) and the
Tuo (a type of water lizard, akin to the aligator). Training in all
systems centers on repetitive practice of single movements which are
later combined into more complicated linked forms.
The direction of movement in Xingyiquan forms is predominately
linear. Practitioners "walk" through the forms coordinating the
motions of their entire bodies into one focused flow. The hands, feet
and torso all "arrive" together and the nose, front hand and front
foot are along one verticle line when viewed from the front (san jian
xiang jiao). The arms are held in front of the body and the
practitioner lines up his or her centerline with opponent's
centerline. A familiar adage of Xingyiquan is that "the hands do
not leave the (area of the) heart and the elbows do not leave the
ribs." There are few kicks in the style and the techniques are of a
predominately percussive nature. Great emphasis is placed upon the
ability to generate power with the whole body and focus it into one
pulse which is released in a sudden burst.
Xingyi is characteristically aggressive in nature and prefers to
move into the opponent with a decisive blow at the earliest
opportunity. The style prizes economy of motion and the concept of
simultaneous attack and defense. As the name of the style implies, the
form or "shape" of the movements is the outward, physical
manifestation of the "shape" of one's intent. A fundamental principle
underlying all styles of Xingyiquan is that the mind controls and
leads the movement of the body.
Training in Henan (Ten Animal) Xin Yi Liu He Quan includes basic
movements designed to condition and develop the striking ability of
the "Seven Stars" (the head, shoulders, elbows, hands, hips, knees and
feet). From there the student will progress to learning the basic
animal forms. Form practice consists of repeating single movements
while walking foward in various straight line patterns. Later, the
single movements are combined into linked forms. The techniques are
relatively simple and straightforeward and rely on the ability to
generate force with almost any part of the body (the Seven Stars).
Also included at more advanced levels are weapons forms (including the
straight sword, staff and spear).
The Five Element based styles of Xingyiquan (Shanxi and Hebei)
traditionally begin training with stance keeping (Zhan Zhuang). The
fundamental posture is called "San Ti" (Three Bodies) or "San Cai"
(Three Powers, refering to heaven, earth and man). It is from this
posture that all of the movements in the style are created and most
teachers place great emphasis upon it. After stance keeping the
student begins to learn the Five Elements (Wu Xing). These are the
basic movements of the art and express all the possible combinations
of motion which produce percussive power. After a certain level of
proficiency is acquired in the practice of the Five Elements, the
student goes on to learn the Twelve Animal and linked forms. The
Twelve Animal forms are variations of the Five Elements expressed
through the format of the spirit of animals in combat. There are
several two-person combat forms which teach the student the correct
methods of attack and defense and the applications of the techniques
practiced in the solo forms. Five Element based styles also include
weapons training (the same weapons as the Henan styles).
As mentioned above, Xingyiquan is divided into three related yet
distinct styles: Henan Xin Yi Liu He Quan and Shanxi/Hebei
Henan Xin Yi Liu He Quan is characterized by powerful swinging
movements of the arms and the ability to strike effectively with every
part of the body. This system is very powerful and aggressive in
nature and the movements are simple and straightforeward.
Hebei style Five Element Xingyiquan emphasizes larger and more
extended postures, strict and precise movements and powerful palm and
Shanxi style Five Element Xingyiquan is characterized by
smaller postures with the arms held closer to the body, light and
agile footwork and a relatively "softer" approach to applying
technique (Shanxi Xingyi places a greater emphasis on evasiveness
than the other styles).