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Xingyiquan (Hsing-i Quan), Traditional Chinese Martial Art

Updated on October 20, 2011

Xingyiquan (also hsing i ch’uan) is probably the least known Chinese martial art in the West. It is a complicated art form, as it uses a combination of bare-handed and weapon techniques that apply more linear and angular force than the other two main martial disciplines: baguazhang (pa kua ch’uan) and taijiquan (tai chi ch’uan).

Countless branches or lineages of xingyiquan exist, named for the various provinces in China where they were developed. Xingyi places a great emphasis on extraordinary power applied explosively.

The beginning of Xingyiquan and its schools

General Yue Fei. the originator of xingyiquan is believed to have developed the boxing system from the various move of the spear under the Song dynasty (920–1127).

Legend has it that he developed both xingyiquan and Eagle Claw, the former for his officers, the latter for his troops. His teachings were passed down in secrecy until a Daoist master taught xingyiquan to General Ji Jike (1600–1660) and handed him a copy of Yue Fei’s secret book.

Ma Xueli of the Henan province and Cao Jiwu of the Shanxi province were Ji Jike’s students. Cao Jiwu was also a commanding officer of the army in the Shanxi province, and he instructed his officers in the ways of xingyiquan. From Cao Jiwu comes the Shanxi or Orthodox style of xingyiquan.

Ma Xueli originally became a servant in Feng’s household, where he secretly watched the xingyiquan classes. Because of his exceptional ability to learn he was later formally accepted, and from him comes the Henan school, which has become closely associated with Chinese Muslims.

General Yue Fei, the Father of Xingyiquan
General Yue Fei, the Father of Xingyiquan

The formation of different Xingyiquan schools

Cao Jiwu had a novice named Dai Longbang, previously a taijiquan master. He instructed his two sons, who introduced him to a farmer named Li Luoneng (Li Lao Nan).

Li Luoneng studied xingyiquan for 10 years and took it back to his home province of Hebei, where xingyiquan absorbed some of the local techniques of another martial art form, baguazhang, to give birth to the Hebei style.

According to legend, Dong Haichuan, the founder of baguazhang, fought Li Luoneng’s best disciple, Guo Yunshen, for 3 days, with neither being able to gain the upper hand. Having realized their inability to defeat each other, they started cross-training their novices in the two disciplines.

The Yiquan (I Ch’uan) school originated from Guo Yunshen’s kinsman and apprentice, Wang Xiangzhai. His style emphasizes static meditation in a standing posture.

During World War II, Wang defeated many Japanese swordsmen and judoka, practitioners of judo, but he refused to teach his art in Japan. One of his opponents, however, Kenichi Sawai, became the master's student and introduced his style of xingyiquan into Japan as Taiki-Ken.

History of Xingyiquan Video

Xingyiquan techniques

Training in xingyiquan involves a number of standing meditations called standing stakes, stretching and conditioning exercises called qigong or chi kung, a number of forms, and one- and two-man drills.

Each of the Shanxi, Hebei, and Yiquan schools teaches the five basic fists: beng quan, or crushing fist; pi, or chopping; pao, or pounding, zuan, or drilling; and heng, or crossing. These are named for the elements of Taoist cosmology: wood, metal, fire, water, and earth.

Forms are based on 12 different animals in these styles: dragon, sparrow, alligator, eagle, horse, ostrich, bear, hawk, monkey, tiger, snake, and chicken. Some schools merge the bear and eagle styles into one bear-eagle form.

Generally speaking, the Shanxi styles have the most complex animal sets and the biggest number of weapon forms, whereas the Yiquan styles are in every sense the simplest. Henan style, practiced among Chinese Muslims, doesn't use the five elemental fists and its animal forms consist of only 10 animals. 

Weapons of Xingyiquan

Traditional xingyiquan weapons include the spear, the archetypal xingyiquan weapon, the staff, the broadsword, the double-edged sword, needles, and the halberd. Moreover, a Hebei stylist may also be instructed in the basics of baguazhang, in walking the circle and the Eight Palms Form.

Xingyiquan training

Xingyiquan training begins by learning the basic standing techniques such as the fundamental stance called san ti, or three essentials, which helps develop posture and alignment.

The basic exercises, such as "dragon turns head", "boa waves head", "looking at moon in sea", "lion plays with ball", and the turning exercise, are taught to train the student in proper body movement.

Next are taught the five fists, showing the student the concepts of power generation in all directions.

Xingyiquan: Five Elements Linking Form Video

When the student has learned these basics, he or she is introduced to more complex forms and exercises. Three one-man forms are taught: the "Twelve Animal Form", the "Five Element Linking Form", and the assorted form. A number of two-man forms may also become part of the training including "Two Hand Cannon", the "Conquering Cycle Form", and so forth.

Shifu Kenny Gong of the Hebei school suggests that the art of xingyiquan has three special attributes: the ability to sense and take an opponent’s balance, to act and strike instantly, and to stun an opponent with a shout.

The first two are said to make the xingyiquan master as if he or she was not fighting when he fights. The third is said to be lost to the current generation.

Xingyiquan Demonstration Video


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