Master Li Gui Chang On Xing Yi Quan
Speech of School Uncle, Chen Quan Gong, at Taiyuan Tai Ji Quan Association
By Bai Jian Yun in 2010
Translated by Huang Guoqi
On April 10th, School Uncle, Chen Quan Gong, was invited by the association to give a lecture. As soon as School Uncle got out of the car, he gave me his written manuscript of “In Memory of Late Master Li Gui Chang”. School Uncle Chen is one of the disciples who has learned the art with Master Li for a long period of time and has trained the internal arts for over 40 to 50 years. Although School Uncle is an old man over seventy, he is still strong in his physique, cheerful in his disposition, open-mined in his expression and never styles himself a “senior master”. In shooting the film for Pushing Hand CD recently, he trained continuously for over one hour, and still looked hale and hearty, vigorous and nimble in his movements, and firm and forceful in his strength and free in his applications, vividly expressing the life-preservation effect from training the internal arts.
The meeting was held by Chi Shao Bin. School Uncle Chen gave the lecture. Some members participated in the meeting. The topic was Xing Yi Quan.
The Concepts of Xing Yi Quan
Explanation of Xing Yi Quan
First, School Uncle Cheng asked: “Do you know what Xing Yi Quan is? Who can give me an answer?”
All were silent. I was listening to school uncle’s lecture while reading his article. In the article, School Uncle quoted School Grandpa (Li Guichang): “For state affairs, the monarch should discuss with the ministers. For family affairs, the father should discuss with his sons. For learning the arts, the master should discuss with his disciples.” In the school (在门内Zài mén nèi literally, “in the door”), the masters and school uncles want the disciples to raise issues that come up in training the martial art so that they may use the opportunity to give advice. Reading School Grandpas quotation makes it clear that the school (门内Mén nèi Door) has a very good method for encouraging “question and answer” between the teachers and the disciples.
Seeing nobody gave any answer, School Uncle Chen started to teach: “In order to make this issue clear, it is necessary to understand what Xing (form) means, what Yi (mind) means, and what Quan (fist) means.”
Deng Feng: “Xing means movements, and Yi means thinking.”
Bai Jian Yun: “’Yi’ (mind, intention) in Xing Yi Quan refers to (giving a) command to the inside of the body and the feeling of the body.”
School Uncle Chen: “There is some truth in your understanding, but it’s expressed from the ideological and theoretical point of view, not from what you feel inside your body after training Xing Yi Quan to a certain extent. Master Li understood the issue this way: What is Xing (form)? What is Yi (mind)? What is Quan (fist)? Releasing to the exterior is termed Xing (form). Containing in the interior is termed Yi (mind). This is the explanation of those two characters of Xing and Yi. How can it become Quan (fist)? Yi (mind) “containing in the interior” can be released externally, and Xing (form) “releasing in the exterior” can be contained internally – Only by this way, can there be Xing Yi Quan.”
Bai Jian Yun: “After listening to the explanation on the concept of Xing Yi Quan from School Uncle, can we understand it this way?: the “Form” in Xing Yi Quan is the physical shape in the boxing art, but not completely the same as the physical shape presented by the body in an ordinary boxing art, because in Xing Yi Quan there is an intention contained inside the body. Only when this intention is manifested in the physical shape of the body, can it become Xing Yi Quan. Yi (mind) is also the ideological consciousness, but it is the ideological consciousness to command the internal sensation of the body. Only when this consciousness commanding the physical shape is sensed inside the body, can it be the ‘mind’ in Xing Yi Quan. The intention inside the body is used to command the movement of the physical shapes. The movement of the physical shapes are used to express the purpose of the conscious thought inside the body. Only by a high integration between the consciousness inside the body and the movement of the physical shape can there be Xing Yi Quan.”
(Because this passage is hard to understand I am including another translation for reference:
Bai Jianyun: "can we understand it this way? The shape of Xingyiquan is the form of boxing, but it is not exactly the same as that of the general boxing body, but the body contains consciousness. According to this kind of consciousness, it can become the shape of Xingyiquan. While 'Yi' is also ideology, it is the ideology of sensory command inside the body. Only this kind of consciousness of body command can be inside the body. It is the 'meaning' of Xingyiquan when you experience it; use the meaning of the body to command the formation of physical movement, and use the physical movement to express the purpose of the ideology within the body. This kind of boxing that combines the meaning of the body and the movement of the body. Can become a Xingyiquan.)
The above is a bit hard to understand but is essential for grasping how to cultivate the inner body. Part of the difficulty is to understand what is meant by "Ideological Consciousness" since that is not a meaningful phrase in English. In Chinese it is Yěshì sīxiǎng yìshí 也是思想意识. Which can also be translated as Ideological Awareness (which might be a better way for us to think of it). "Ideological" however does not make sense but is the closest one can get in English it seems. According to Baidu it means: people apply the knowledge stored in the brain to the activities of thinking about the various feelings of life.
Of course that is not clear either. In the sense of Xingyi it does not mean that the brain is controlling the body but rather that the body has its own consciousness in a sense.
There is a type of Yi which is different from the type used in chi gong where the conscious mind, or the brain is used to direct the qi throughout the body. It is a type of "unconscious consciousness" that is an awareness of the internal sensations of the body. This body consciousness when developed or cultivated is what than commands the outward body shapes, the forms and techniques of Xingyi Quan.
School Uncle Chen: “That is ok. Therefore, the form and mind are emphasized and the high integration between the form and mind are trained in Xing Yi Quan. So, Master Li said: ‘In training the standing posture, the vision should be far and the eye expression should be released outward. In striking with the fist, it is necessary to stare at the finger tip or fist root, looking around with the posture, but the split vision should still look forward to the far distance --- this is the training method to release the mind externally.’ This exactly talks about the integration between the consciousness inside the body and body form. He also said: ‘How to have the body form contained internally? This is the stuff the senior masters would not readily instruct. Take Pao Quan (Cannon Fist) for example, two arms always cross forward and advance like a pole, coming out with the hand but not taking the hand back. In fact, after crossing out, there is another movement to jump backward. This is a hidden technique in Pao Quan. If it is termed a movement, it is wrong. It is really fine (微Wēi Tiny, very small), and should not even be done. If it is intended it is enough. Once you can do this, real skill comes out.’ This sentence seems to be talking about the exterior boxing frame but in fact, it means the energy and strength inside the body, mutual support between the crossing out of the two arms and backward jumping of the body. It talks about the internal energy. It also explains the integration of the consciousness inside the body and the physical shape by giving the example of the internal energy required in Pao Quan.”
How to Train Xing Yi Quan
School Uncle Chen: “By the above discussion, all of you have a comparatively clear understanding about the concept of Xing Yi Quan. Then, how to train Xing Yi Quan?”
Bai Jian Yun: “To learn five elements first?”
School Uncle Chen: “Right. Five elements, twelve forms, single training, set form training, and functional usage of the boxing frame (拳架Quán jià fist fight). But if the boxing frame is only known roughly, it is only A and B (皮毛Coat, or the Fur, meaning the outward skin). The fundamental thing is to build up the skill (功夫Gōngfu Kung Fu). Only when the in skill is built up, can the body be healthy, and can there be the physical fitness for learning the techniques, otherwise it is only an empty shell (空架子Kōngjiàzi shell, basket case). Therefore, Master Li said: Currently in learning the martial arts, more attention is spent in training the set forms, not the skill. The students learn the martial forms and usage but the disciples also learn the skill (Gōngfu). Why is there a difference between the students and disciples? In fact, it is just a difference of whether, in learning the martial art, they have been given the key or not. Therefore, the disciples are the apprentices, and the students are the laymen. So, in learning the internal martial arts, the main attention should be focused on building up the skill (Gōngfu), after a few postures are learnt. Then, how do we train the skill? First of all, it is necessary to have an overall understanding about the general pathway for the formation of skill in the internal martial arts. Master Li had a very precise description about the issue of training order for Xing Yi Quan, namely, ‘standing posture skill, slow training, and be in the correct way (入道Rùdào following Taoism, literally “enter Dao”).’ That means to induce (引起Yǐnqǐ Cause or “give rise to”)the changes in the body by training standing posture (站桩Zhàn zhuāng stake standing) and practicing slowly in order to eventually achieve the body respiration and reach the state of Taoist empty, tranquil and void art.”
How to Train the Standing Posture
School Uncle Chen: “Therefore, it is necessary to train the skill (Kung Fu) starting from the standing posture. But, there are many types of standing postures. Each fist form can be a kind of standing posture method if it is stood statically. Then, how to train the standing posture correctly? For the beginners, it is better to stand San Ti Shi (三体式Sān tǐshì three body pattern).”
Xu Xin Min: “Is it okay to stand the muddled standing posture (混元Hun Yuan Zhuang. A standing posture in Taiji)?”
School Uncle Chen: “No (不行Bùxíng means “no” but also “that won’t work”). You can’t develop the skill if you don’t practice correctly. Don’t take a detour.
Xu Xinmin: “Is it possible to get it (练成Liàn chéng means “excel at” or “master”) without doing the standing posture?”
School Uncle Chen: “I have never seen it.”
Deng Feng: “Just now School Uncle Chen was speaking about how the skill of Xing Yi Quan starts from the standing posture and slowly trains the body respiration. Is the standing posture for training the respiration, too?”
School Uncle Chen: “Right.”
Deng Feng: “Is the standing posture (站桩Zhàn zhuāng stake standing) to train the respiration under the static status? Is it necessary to regulate the respiration on purpose?”
School Uncle Chen: “With the body regulate the respiration. Should not intentionally breath. (意识上不Yìshí shàng bù “not consciously”)
Deng Feng: “Is the skill (Gongfu) of Xing Yi Quan the same as Four Forms (四把Si Ba) and Yoga (瑜伽Yújiā Yoga as in Indian Yoga)”
School Uncle Chen: “The practical use of the Four Forms is to regulate the respiration. Yoga is also to regulate the respiration. Four Forms and Yoga are healthcare exercises, beneficial to the skill of Xing Yi Quan.”
Bai Jian Yun: “(You) mean that Four Forms and Yoga are exercises to preserve the health of life (养身Yǎng shēn self conservation, health) and are different from the martial arts, and they cannot build up the martial skill of Xing Yi Quan. They are also different in the training methods. Four Forms and Yoga regulate the respiration using the intention, and Xing Yi Quan regulates the respiration using the movements of the body. Is that right?”
School Uncle Chen: “Right. Next, tell me how to train the standing posture?”
Xu Xin Min: “Void, tranquil and natural, do not think anything.”
Deng Feng: “Loose, smooth and natural. Eight-character poem: Ding (顶 prop, butt, carry on the head), Kou (扣button together, buckle), Yuan (圆round circular), Min (敏quick, smart, nimble), Bao (抱hold with both arms, embrace,), Chui (垂hand down, droop), Qu (曲bend, twist,) and Ting (挺stick out, straighten up).”
School Uncle Chen: “What all of you have said is basically correct. But, to be loose, smooth and natural does not mean that you must not think anything. To be void and tranquil in training the standing posture means not to think about anything other than the standing posture. Attention should be focused on your own body. Therefore, Master Li said: ‘Xing Yi Quan is supposed to think with the body, to understand does not mean the brain understands, instead the body should understand. When the body is able to understand, the body will respond to the slightest stimulus, like when a horse is whipped, the energy (of the horse) will immediately break out.’ Therefore, either in training the standing posture or in training the boxing, it is necessary to experience with the interior of the body the sense of the Master, the boxing manuscript and yourself training, rather than nothing at all. This is also ‘Yi’ (mind) of Xing Yi Quan.”
“The Eight Characters are correct, and they are the requirements of the body. But it seems to be very complex if the meaning of every character has to be remembered and followed in training. The demands Master Li talked about seem easy to follow and more vivid and concrete. He said: ‘have you ever embraced a lady? ‘Embrace’ does not mean to use force in the two arms, it means holding in my arms, with the whole body meeting her. This is a metaphor for the grasping energy in the standing posture. If one is able to grasp this energy, it is possible to nourish the body as soon as you stand. Then, stand like this, keeping standing, gradually stand into it. To a certain extent, the body would immediately open’. What does this saying means? It means that in training San Ti Shi, it’s not just standing naturally by following the body completely. It is necessary to stretch out and hold the energy, stretching out to be an entity, holding up the tail in particular. But, this energy is not the awkward strength of the muscles. It is the combined force of the tendons and bones. However, to do this is not very easy. It needs a lot of hard work.”
“In addition, Master Li also had his own profound experience and secrets to train the spinal vertebras in the standing posture, i.e. ‘in training the standing posture, it is necessary to straighten the coccygeal vertebras, prop up the spinal vertebras one by one from the coccygeal vertebras, all the way to the back of the head. So the spinal vertebras could be naturally arched backward and the brain could be naturally lifted, and the two arms could be naturally extended forward. Then, with the chin hooked and hands pressed downward, (the intention) comes down one by one of the spinal vertebras. If trained this way repeatedly, magic effects will appear. The spinal vertebrae are like a great dragon. When the spine has energy and strength, ‘magic changes’ would occur in contest of the martial arts.’ Of course, this can only be done after all the tendons and bones of the body ‘open’. Therefore, it is not a easy thing to do. But, we should be aware that it is the goal all our efforts.”
“Also, it is necessary to know how to move in the Dantian area in training standing posture. Master Li said: ‘In talking about the Dantian area, it does not mean qi sinking into the Dantian area, it is necessary to twist the Dantian area. Once the anus is lifted, qi can sink downward, without that it is an empty phrase to say “qi sinking into the Dantian area”. To lift upward and sink downward is exactly to twist Dantian. There are many merits in twisting the Dantian area. If one does not know how to twist the Dantian area, it is not possible to achieve the skill (Gongfu). The training will be fruitless.’ This quotation tells the method of ‘qi sinking into the Dantian area’, and also emphasizes the importance of the Dantian area for sucess in training the internal arts. People always say that no skill can be built up without real instruction in the standing posture, and that you might even develop problems. In fact, those demands of Master Li to ‘grasp the energy (劲 Jin) of the spinal vertebras and Dantian area are exactly the secrets that are not easy to teach.”
“At the same time, (we should) to some extent have an outward intention when the standing posture is trained. Master Li said: ‘need to train the expression in the eyes in the standing posture. If the eye expression disperses, there is no energy to do anything. In training the standing posture, the eye expression should be sinister (眼毒Yǎn dú Eye Poison, a poisonous expression in the eyes), but not making a ruthless expression, and if it’s like a tiger staring at its prey, that is not right either, because it is too nervous. To be skillful it should be neither too tense nor too slow. The skillfulness will not come out if the muscles are too tense and if the spirit is too nervous. In training the standing posture, the muscles and spirit should be ‘tough within softness’, and the eyes should be void, that is the proper way. ”
“To a certain extent it is also necessary to have consciousness of fighting while training the standing posture. Master Li said: ‘in training the standing posture, it is also necessary to have the intention to move forward and dodge sideways. The outside does not seem to move. In fact the body form changes in the interior. It is necessary to be tranquil as much as possible, to have long expiration and long inspiration, and to be empty in yourself in standing.’ ”
“Master Li also had demands for the state of mind in training the standing posture, saying: ‘It is necessary to stand with inspiration without action, and to stand to purposely empty yourself.’”
“Thus, after training the standing posture for a long time, some changes will take place in the body and it will naturally produce some phenomena. Master Li described it this way: ‘In winter, the insects drill into the ground and seem dead, but when the spring comes and the vitality rises in the ground, the insects will live again. In training the standing posture, it is necessary to stand having this vitality, like the insects recovering and revitalizing, so the body can be energetic.’ Master Li also said: ‘After training the standing posture for a while, naturally (you can) sense a flowing sensation, smooth in some places and abnormal in some places of the body, (you should) turn slightly or shake a little bit, till it feels smooth everywhere, in order to regulate the internal functions with the external body shape.’ Master Li described how in training standing posture, this phenomenon occurs naturally in the body. This insect-creeping and flowing sensation is instinctive and is not generated by the imagination. In training the standing posture, it is necessary to stand having the energy, the creeping sensation will come naturally. Of course, the initial period of training the standing posture is painful. This type of pain varies from person to person. Those who are older feel more pain and those who are younger feel less pain. It is also more painful if the muscles are obvious (明显的Míngxiǎn de apparent or conspicuous) and less painful if the muscles are not obvious. But, this pain will decrease gradually and is periodical. After going through this period, (you) will feel comfortable, and then (you) have a beginning, and finally (you) will enjoy it a great deal and will walk lightly and freely after training the standing posture. A very clear benefit”
Bai Yun Jian: “Can the painful sensation appearing during training the standing posture be understood as being caused by improper ways in the bones, blood vessels and tendons, and it will no longer be painful after being smoothed by adjustment?”
School Uncle Chen: “Therefore, if discomfort occurs during training the standing posture, (you) can turn slightly and shake a little bit. Master Li said: ‘There is one important point in training the standing posture, shake the whole body often. It was said that in hibernation in the winter time, a bear would spontaneously shake the whole body every several days. Otherwise, if the body is stagnant and does not move, a problem will occur in the body. Similarly, why (are you) unable to keep training the standing posture? It is exactly because this shaking is lacking. By shaking the body delicately and slightly, (you) can enjoy the regimen of the standing posture skill. In fact, it is also this type of shaking in releasing the force in the martial contest,.’ The truth of this ‘shaking’ is to relax your own body, when any problem occurs during training the standing posture. Therefore, Master Li requested, ‘After training the standing posture, necessary to stroll a lot. This stroll is also able to build up the skill. Stroll is the final goal of training the standing posture’”.
Some Theoretical Understanding on Standing Posture
School Uncle Chen: “I talked to all of you about how to train the standing posture in the above, and the methods for dealing with the situations and discomfort present in training the standing posture. Then, how long does it take to be successfuly accomplished in training the standing posture? ‘Is there any standard to be successful in training the standing posture? No. Usually, after being able to stand for two hours, when you have a floating sensation in the body, it means you have achievements in the body. There is another sign to show the skill is built, e.g. keep standing til (you) have the cells throbbing in the whole body (high-density and high-depth trembling), from throbbing to no throbbing, till smooth circulation in the meridians. Then the skill (Gongfu) is built up.’ But, those phenomena cannot be generalized and are not necessarily inevitable in everyone. Generally, you are successful if you can feel the ‘body-respiration’ from training the standing posture and exercises.”
“Besides, all of you should understand from the above-mentioned methods for training standing posture that in training the standing posture, the body is basically immobile, but not completely immobile. Master Li said: ‘all the above methods for training the standing posture are mobile, but very slow and slight, and can not be seen by outsiders. The skill of training the standing posture is ‘slow training’, These are magic ways to get started. The effects can come out once the training is done.’ ”
Deng Feng: “To seek motion from tranquility?”
Shao Shao Bin: “The standing posture is a relatively tranquil status, but it does not mean no motion at all, it is not wooden. The standing posture in the internal martial arts has the internal motion inside the body.”
Bai Jian Yun: “Slow training is also supposed to intentionally adjust the bones, to get the energy and force smooth.”
School Uncle Chen: “Of course. What you said is correct. Therefore, the standing posture is not completey tranquil (静Jìng static, quiet) power (功Gōng). To use ‘intention’ and not to use strength means not to use awkward (拙Zhuō clumsy) strength. When ‘the spirit’ is in the right place, it means intention, (and you are) able to use the internal energy.”
Bai Jian Yun: “Does awkward strength mean to deliberately use the strength of the local muscle?”
School Uncle Chen: “It is inevitable at the very beginning. So, Master Li said: ‘If (you) do not move at all in training the standing posture, the muscles will suffer and the spirit will be frustrated. The standing posture method is a mobile, not a static skill. It is slow training. Slow training is a marvelous method to increase the strength. The movement is guided with the spirit and mind for stretching out the four limbs. The standing posture method is moving but moving very slowly, with the spirit and mind, and is not visible to outsiders. Seven characters are worthy of ten thousand gold.’ Therefore, the standing posture skill is a movement to regulate the internal organism inside the body (using) the intention, based upon the largely immobile physical appearance.”
Effects of San Ti Standing Posture Skill
School Uncle Chen: “San Ti Shi is an important form for training the skill (Gongfu) of Xing Yi Quan, expecially important for the enhancement of the physical fitness and physical capacity. Master Li said: ‘It is difficult to learn the standing posture skill. The standing posture skill can help the development of the cerebellum, kidney and gonads. Therefore, ‘to kill a person within one years training of Xing Yi’ does not mean that the techniques are “ferocious” (厉害Lìhài powerful). It means that Xing Yi Quan can change (a person) from being weak to being strong in a short period of time, with infinite energy and force, and powerful physical capacity.’ Concerning the effectivness of the standing posture skill to enhance physical fitness he concluded: the standing posture skill can ‘make the Zangfu organs clear and unobstructed, the meridians smooth, the bone marrow full, and the essence sufficient, for realizing the effect of sensitive nerves.’ ”
How to Train the Fist Frame
School Uncle Chen: “Of course, the standing posture method is not enough for Xing Yi skill. The standing posture skill is an important method to build up the skill, and is also an important foundation for applications. But, it could not replace the training of the application methods. And the training of the application methods is mainly processed by training the fist frames and techniques. Therefore, Master Li said: ‘The standing posture methods must be dissolved into the fist methods.’ ”
“In the fist frame (拳架Quán jià fist fight) of Xing Yi Quan, there are five elements, twelve animals, and also many single training drills and two-person training drills. What are the fist frame and techniques trained for? Of course, it is necessary to learn the basic forms. But, what to train after the basic forms are known? Master Li said: ‘teach ‘moving energy’ first in Xing Yi Quan, and when the energy moves correctly, it is easy to find the body method.’ Namely, the energy and strength should be trained in various fist frames. And there are many fist frames and techniques in Xing Yi Quan. Where to start? Start from the mother fist of Xing Yi Quan, ‘five element fist’. And the mother fist of Xing Yi Quan is also Heng Quan (Crossing Fist). Master Li said: ‘the mother of Xing Yi Quan is five elements, and the mother of five elements is Heng.’ But, it is necessary to understand this ‘Heng Quan’. This Heng Quan is not a simple external Heng Quan, referring to the Dantian area. Therefore, the five-element fist can never be separated from the Dantian area. In terms of the modes of energy and strength, there are only three types of fists actually. The energy and strength in Zuan Quan and Heng Quan are basically similar; outward rotation on the straight line, and both Pao Quan and Beng Quan are basically similar; inward rotation on the straight line. Therefore, what is sought is basically the energy and strength of Pi Quan, Zuan Quan and Beng Quan.”
“How to train Pi Quan? Master Li believed: ‘Pi Quan is exactly to rise and fall, and to do Pi Quan with the body trunk is a combined form of bear and eagle. Need to drill while rising, need to turn while falling, to rise like a blocking file, and to fall like a hooking stick. To rise and fall like water waves. Don’t only use the body trunk, but also strike with Pi Quan using the inside of the body trunk. Its necessary to train the skill, and not just train the fist.
“He also taught a concrete method to train Pi Quan, e.g. ‘strike with Pi Quan like pushing the mountains, with the body moving forwards, pushing slowly one fen by one fen (1/10 cm), pushing as strenuously as possible. Thus, the skill will be built up.’ ”
“In the method to train Beng Quan, his demands are comparatively simple, ‘to train the fist in straight route circularly, and to train the fist in circle route straightly. This is the training method for Beng Quan.’ ”
“In the method to train Zuan Quan, he mainly stressed: ‘Zuan Quan is not to drill with the fist, it is to drill with the body.’ ”
“Master Li emphasized that the main points in those three fists was focused on the overall energy and strength, not ignoring the energy as a whole. It is necessary to understand it correctly. By the way, I will talk about the training methods for overall energy and strength in Tai Ji Quan, Ba Gua Zhang and Xing Yi Quan because we train the internal arts in our school. Tai Ji Quan, Ba Gua Zhang, Xing Yi Quan and South Shao Lin are the basic fists of the internal arts. Therefore, it is also necessary to know (about them). Master Li said: ‘in the field of the martial arts, there is one sentence that teases (取笑Qǔxiào make fun of) the postures of Xing Yi Quan, Tai Ji Quan and Ba Gua Zhang , saying Tai Ji is like catching fish, Ba Gua is like pushing the millstone, and Xing Yi is like catching shrimp. Talking about this, there are the following explanations:’ ”
‘Tai Ji like catching fish (摸鱼Mō yú fishing in troubled waters), it is necessary to explore with the hand into the water and move slowly. The pushing hand in Tai Ji is exactly to ‘listen’ with the hand like catching fish. In training it is also necessary to have ‘the energy’ of catching fish in water. Once you have such an intension, your skill is built up.’ “‘To listen with the hand’ in the pushing hand is exactly to carefully test the power of the opponent with the hand. In training the fist, (you must) listen to the reaction of your own body.”
‘Ba Gua is like pushing the millstone, beside pushing forward, it is also necessary to push downward with a grinding force. While walking out in Ba Gua Zhang, there should be two strands of energy, that can change at any time. When the theory on two strands of energy is understood, it is possible to understand how the techniques are changed numerously.’ Two strands of the energy refer to the vertical energy (Shu Jin) and transverse energy (Heng Jin). The forward-pushing strength is the transverse energy, and the downward-grinding strength is the vertical energy. The two strands of energy are mutually functional.
‘In training Xing Yi Quan, like catching shrimp, the hand goes out very quickly, and takes ‘the stuff’ in the hand and then comes back. Four Chinese characters meaning ‘going out lightly and coming back heavily’ are exactly the poem for training the fist, very very valuable.’ “Going out lightly” refers to the stretching and pulling force of the tendons and bones, a clear-cut energy in striking file. ‘Coming back heavily’ refers to the inward-contracting energy of the tendons and bones, a tug-of-war force of the hooking stick.
“From Master Li’s exposition on how to train the fist, we can understand that in training the skill of Xing Yi Quan or training the internal martial arts, it does not mean we should know as many techniques as possible. First of all, we need to know the basic energy of the basic fist frame. Based upon this, the techniques of the fist art can be increased. Therefore, it is necessary to ‘know yourself’, and understand insufficiency of yourself. This is very important. Therefore, Master Li said: ‘In training the art, the first progress is self awareness, to know your own problems.’ After understanding this, if you feel ‘no progress in training the fist art, it is necessary to stand still again and adjust the fist frame, and figure out each method. The motion is it, the tranquility is also it. Otherwise, it is not possible to move up again after being quiet.’ Only by this way, can the skill be built up. Therefore, the fist frames and techniques should be trained slowly and carefully figured out, too.”
How to Train the Applications?
“Once you find the energy and strength in the fist frame and have gotten it in the body, you have the basic skill of the internal martial arts. But when you have this skill, it does not mean you can fight. Therefore, Master Li said: ‘Good skill is equivalent to a person with a fortune. The martial contest is equivalent to whether this person knows how to invest. Even with good skill and good talent in the martial contest, it still takes a period of painstaking efforts.’ It means that good skill is just a foundation. A good talent in a contest, still needs to train and sense (醒悟Xǐngwù wake up, come to realize the truth) in the idea and practice. But, this kind of hardship and sense are multiple. First of all, it is necessary to know the basic applications of the basic techniques.
“First, let’s talk about Pi Quan. Master Li said: ‘the striking method of Pi Quan is ‘Pi Quan like splitting axe’. The mountain people chop the firewood, like swinging a whip, for a crisp energy. Otherwise, the axe can only cut into the wood and cannot split it into two halves.’ This means that in using Pi Quan, it is necessary to have that inertial striking and drawing energy and strength. Master Li also said: ‘when the hand rises, changes start, shrink (缩Suō contract) the body and walk forward propping with the bar. The hand goes out and does not come back. In fact, the bar goes out later, and there is also a movement that the body bows backward. This the hidden technique to gather energy and advance with the body in Pi Quan.’ This is the application of Pi Quan agility (身法Shēn fǎ also, body methods) in actual combat.”
“Next, let’s talk about Beng Quan. Master Li said: ‘Beng Quan is the most convenient in the martial contest. It is there when the hand extends out. Beng Quan is like an arrow. At the time when it hits the target its nimbleness is a high level thing, which can only be achieved after painstaking cultivation. The main point of Beng Quan lies in ‘ring-circling Beng (smashing)’. It is the spear method. In spear methods, there is ring-circling spear. Namely, when the spear is poked out and blocked by the weapon of the opponent, (you) don’t need to change the movement, just turn the spear stick and poke with the posture. To rotate this invisible big spear stick is exactly the ring-circling Beng (smashing)’. The ring-circling Beng (smashing) is powerful, its just like playing with the big spear. Beng Quan is seemingly simple but in fact its not. It must be sensed from your own energy and strength to be used in actual combat application. Master Li appraised it is as high level stuff, which could only be attained after painstaking cultivation.”
“Next is Zuan Quan. Master Li said: ‘Zuan Quan is not drilling with the fist, it is drilling with the body. On the one hand, press and hold the opponent with the front hand, pulling and taking the rear hand to drill into the opponent like drilling an awl. On the other hand, shake the front hand, and you would bump into his rear hand, it seems like magic, not a covering-up method (障眼法Zhàngyǎnfǎ camouflage, cloaking so someone will not see the truth), but he changes his body form (different in real and false status). When it is cold in the winter, a heavy cotton curtain is on the door, a person enters into the door and the door curtain just falls down. A person can come in, just through a slit. This is a phenomenon of transformation between the false and the real in life. This is exactly what ‘changing the shadow’ means in Xing Yi Quan.’ This is the transmission between the false and the real, after the energy and strength of the enemy and mine stick and link in actual combat. In fact, this is the same principle as in pushing hands in Tai Ji Quan.”
“In addition, Master Li also had his demands on footwork, body methods and distance to the opponent in the martial contest of Xing Yi Quan, saying: ‘walk the middle gate in Xing Yi Quan, to occupy the middle road theoretically and to strike the fast with the slow speed. The key lies in the steps. Once the method is decided, have it in the body, and it will be powerful if the hand and foot arrive simultaneously.’ This means that in combat, it is necessary to display the features of the cooperative movement of the whole body in Xing Yi Quan, to bring to bear the advantage of whole energy and strength in Xing Yi Quan. He also said: ‘to strike a person is like kissing a person, e.g. to keep pursuing (穷追不舍Qióng zhuī bù shě chasing him closely, seek, trace) . Therefore, it is said that to train the fist is like kissing a person.’ This means that in combat with both Xing Yi Quan and Tai Ji Quan, it is necessary to stick, link and follow the body of the opponent, not letting him away from the control of my own energy and strength.”
“Also, Master Li believed that the energy and strength were different between training and actual combat. He said: ‘the training methods and striking methods are totally different in Xing Yi Quan. For instance, in the training method you want ‘to push the shoulder with the body, push the elbow with the shoulder, push the hand with the elbow, till the degree of endless flow, and in the striking method you want to throw out the hand like throwing a whip, and then to pursue (追Zhuī, chase, trace seek) the hand with the elbow, to pursue the elbow with the shoulder, and to pursue the shoulder with the body.’ For instance, it is very loud when two hands clap together. To clap the hands with the body is the striking method (very loud)’.”
“Master Li had his own understanding of the tactical principles of fighting,. He said: ‘generally, talk while seeing the (enemies) hand, and when the hand comes, the dissolving method and striking method should be combined. This is exactly that: ‘the meaning of the fist methods originally comes from the five elements, with delicate changes in inter-promotion, interaction, wrapping and drilling. To know and identify the real implication is only within one-inch distance in front of the eyes. It is really skillful when the hand and foot arrive simultaneously.’’ The combination of dissolving and striking methods is the fighting principle. The key in throwing and hitting the person is the overall strength from the bottom to the upper part of the body.”
“Master Li also had his own methods to build up the sense of actual fighting. He said: ‘How to initiate the intention in training the fist? In training the fist, assume a person is in front (of you), release every hand as a real hand, like (you are) releasing for real but not releasing for real. You need to imagine several opponents and train the fist slowly, and when one fist comes out, you should feel you are knocking down one of them with extremely fast speed, and the rest of them are still just watching you. Do not think about the real martial contest, (you) need to imagine you are intrigued (遭人暗算Zāo rén ànsuàn being plotted against). In the real fighting the brain should be empty. All techniques should appear according to what the opponent does. Wait for the opponent to offer the techniques. Once the opponent moves, he looks to take a beating. This is exactly what ‘cicada feels first, even though the autumn wind has not moved yet’ means. The martial contest is just to test whoever knows first. To gain mastery by striking only after the enemy has attacked does not mean that I start to strike after the opponent has already struck. Instead, as soon as the opponent signals (the impulse) to strike, you need to respond with whatever is appropriate.’ Of course, this awarness training is a foundation to find the energy and strength of the fist frame and should not be placed upside down (本末倒置Běnmòdàozhì”Don’t put the cart before the horse”), with the training conducted based upon awareness of the fist frame and applications then the training procedure.”
In short, there is a process from being skillful (Gongfu) to the actual martial contest. After the skill is built up, the (physical and mental) awareness is very important. Therefore, Master Li instructed us: ‘When times are ordinary (平时Píngshí in peacetime), (you) need to frequently train on purpose, and (your actions) will be appropriate as soon as the hand goes out. Only by thinking of every aspect of training the fist, will it be possible to conjure up something at the moment of thunder and lightning in the marital contest’.
“Master Li’s experience with the training of skills and in actual combat is summarized from his long-term training and is real knowledge. The enthusiasts of the internal martial arts must firmly remember that. Not only do we need to know that the marital skills are the foundation of actual combat, we also need to know that the skills cannot replace actual combat, and only by sensing and experiencing the skills in practice, can we change them into useful things in actual fighting.”
Regimen (养生Yǎngshēng Health) of Xing Yi Quan
School Uncle Chen: “Nei Jia Quan (Internal Martial Arts) are martial arts, and fighting is their primary role. But the internal arts are also a kind of specific (health) regimen. With the development of the times, the superiority of this (health) regimen is demonstrated increasingly. The superiority of this (health) regimen in the internal arts mainly comes from its specific sports connotation. Namely, it is a unique (health) regimen developed from Taoist philosophical thoughts plus Taoist internal energy skill. But, people’s understanding is vague about how the internal arts can become a kind of Taoist (health) regimen,. Master Li said: ‘many people know that Xing Yi Quan is an internal martial art, and this art is linked with ‘Taoism’, but, in the boxing manuals, there are only the fist methods, and they simply list the quotations from Taoist canons. As for how this art is linked with ‘Taoism’, they are not clear. As to the question about how Xing Yi Quan is linked with ‘Taoism’, Master Li answered this question with his own body practice. He said: ‘‘body respiration’ is the initial approach (法门Fǎmén Dharma, the law) that links Xing Yi Quan with ‘Taoism’. Cloud steaming and evaporation from the hair pores of the whole body is the respiration. This skill is the real respiration of the spirit, this ‘Taoism’ cannot be easily approached without real instruction and cannot be easily realized without persistence. Those who learn ‘Taoism’ must act with their best.’”
“So, Master Li requested: ‘in training the fist, it is not right to train ‘energy’ only, and it is necessary to train the essence into qi, train qi into the spirit and train the spirit into voidness,’ ‘To train the essence into qi, train qi into the spirit and train the spirit into voidness’ is a Taoist phrase describing the process of building up the internal energy. It is very difficult for the average person to understand. So, Master Li simplified it: ‘the changes should take place in the body, then it is possible to explain this major theory of ‘training the essence into qi, training qi into the spirit and training the spirit into voidness’’ The physical change Master Li talked about is very meaningful.”
Deng Feng: “Does it mean changing people’s temperment?”
School Uncle Chen: “Right! Master Li said: ‘it is necessary to train the essence into qi, train qi into the spirit and train the spirit into voidness in Xing Yi Quan. Qi does not (only) refer to “qi of respiration”. For instance the handsomeness and elegance of men and the gracefulness and prettiness of women are just a function of qi, so energetic and vigorous.’ This is the function of Xing Yi Quan in changing the temperament (气质Qìzhí qualities, disposition). The change of a human beingings temperament in Xing Yi Quan is realized by the changes in the body. For instance, those who do not train the skill look unenergetic, like when they tilt their head backward and their shoulders are hunched listlessly. But those who train the boxing and the standing posture uplift their heads and stretch the energy and strength of the whole body into an entity (整体Zhěngtǐ whole,integrated), moreover they are energetic, vigorous, quick thinking and nimble in their movements. These are all manifestations of a change in temperament. The change of ‘qi’ in the physical manifestations of essence, qi and spirit, is mainly ‘qi breathing’. Therefore, Master Li believed that from this perspective the standing posture and Pi Quan are for training qi breathing. Master Li said: Pi Quan is to train qi breathing. Qi breathing can become increasingly longer and profound, so the energy is sufficient. The movements in the hand stimulate the whole body, gradually you feel vigorous in breathing and the pores in the whole body open and close.’ ‘Qi breathing’ of Master Li contains two meanings: one is ‘qi of the respiration, termed ‘breathing’, another meaning is (sensory) information. Qi breathing, ‘vigorous in breathing and the pores in the whole body opening and closing’, is the material foundation of the body’s ability to feel the external sensory information. What should be trained, when Xing Yi Quan is trained to a high level, it is to train ‘information’, to see what information you can get. Once the opponent shows a little information, you can know what you want to do.”
Deng Feng: “Can this status (body breathing and the level of awareness) be achieved by training the fist?”
School Uncle Chen: “Right. Are you sure you are active or not, while training to reach this state? This is the standing posture. It is necessary to know the main points in training the boxing. You won’t understand with the brain, you will understand with the body.”
Deng Feng: “Understand with the body?”
School Uncle Chen: “That’s right.”
Deng Feng: “ I’m a little bit confused.”
School Uncle Chen: “Keep training the standing posture, and the boxing. With the passage of time you will understand and no longer be confused.”
Bai Jian Yun: “Is the respiration of the Dantian in the body-respiration related to the respiration of the pores in rhythm, and is the frequency and direction of the movement identical (相互联系的，一致的Xiānghù liánxì de, yīzhì de inter-related and consistent)?”
School Uncle Chen: “Certainly. Most people breathe with chest breathing at the beginning, then they learn abdominal breathing, and later how to breathe with the pores. The final stage is to forget breathing. But, “to forget breathing” does not mean there is no breathing.”
Deng Feng: “Is the entire body like the lungs?”
School Uncle Chen: “Right! Right! Right! That’s the meaning. Therefore, Pi Quan is highly emphasized in our school. Master Li said: ‘In training qi-breathing in Pi Quan, first (you will) expel diseases, and then strengthen the body. By training qi-breathing, qi is built up in the body. Inspiration will then often appear in the brain. In this moment, learning the boxing art becomes endlessly interesting.’ ”
“In the above, I have talked about Master Li’s experience in training, actual fighting and also the (health) regimen of Xing Yi Quan. Next, I will talk about Master Li’s moral requirements in training the internal arts. Master Li said: ‘I’m not sure which of the ancients said: “If those who learn the martial arts easily fall into the trap of right and wrong, then it would be best for them not to learn the arts at all. Even if they did learn them it would be best if they kept it a life long secret. Because once there is a piece of reputation there will be a piece of worry.”
‘In training the boxing, it is not suitable to train in a place where there are a lot of people. Train in the evening, so that nobody will know. Do not occupy other people’s space. In encountering personal affairs, don’t get involved in martial contests. We must learn how to understand others and to pursuade people with morality and reason. It is importent to schedule time to train the martial arts, and not to waste precious time with arguments’. Master Li’s general idea is that the energy and strength should be put into training the martial arts, not competing with others.”
“Master Li also had his own ideas about how to manage affairs in the school. He said: ‘In olden times, the masters asked the disciples to learn from Confucius. Confucius had Zi Gong to help him in associating with the rulers, Yan Hui to help him pass on his knowledge, and Zi Lu to help him manage people. If there are such three people in the school, the school will inevitably flourish.’ ‘It can be seen clearly from “The Analects of Confucius” that when others raised questions, Confucius would patiently gave explanations in simple and precise language. This is the ability to teach the disciples, convince people with a simple sentence, and manage other disciples.’ It is worth learning from these experiences for our own development.”
After the lecture, all of us asked to buy the Pushing Hand CD recorded by School Uncle. School Uncle was every happy, saying modestly: “I have to say my level of skill is less than half of my late master’s, and I feel unable to pass down his complete skill (技艺Jìyì also “artistry”) But, I take comfort that I can leave something behind.” Listening to School Uncle’s speech, I think of how School Uncle concluded his article: “I practiced the martial arts with my late Master, for dozens of years, constantly seeking perfection, without slacking off for even one day. Nowadays, I am old, looking at the past and thinking of old times, Master’s smile and speech seem like just yesterday. Time goes by so fast. My late Master has been gone for over ten years now. Being filled with regrets, I pick up my pen and hastily write this article in memory of my late master.”