Xingyi Quan History

Xingyi Quan (Xing, form or shape, Yi, intent or mind, Quan, boxing) is one of the major internal martial arts (Neijia) of China. Some of the others are Ba Gua, Taiji, Tongbei, Li Ho Pa Fa and Yi Chuan. Xingyi as we know it today traces back to Li Nengran also known as Li Feiyou or Li Luoneng. It is composed of the Five Phases (or Elements): Pi, Beng, Zuan, Pao and Heng (Metal, Wood, Water, Fire and Earth) and the Twelve Animals: Dragon, Tiger, Monkey, Horse, Water Lizard, Chicken, Sparrow Hawk, Swallow, Snake, Tai Bird, Eagle and Bear. The last two are often, but not always, combined. Also some styles may teach several versions of a single animal. It's most distinctive practice is Santi Shi ("three body pattern") a standing posture that if done correctly develops the necessary neuro muscular changes for the practice of Xingyi.


Generally speaking, there are two main branches of the art (I am excluding the Henan style which, although often grouped with Xingyi is more properly referred to as Xinyi). Shanxi with the Song and Che styles from Li Luoneng's disciples Che Yizhi and Song Shirong and Hebei with the Lui Qilan and Guo Yunshen schools (his two main disciples in Hebei). Li Luoneng was from Hebei but the roots of Xingyi are in the Dai Family style of Xinyi (Xin, heart and Yi, intent or mind) in Shanxi. Although Xingyi is clearly derived from Xinyi the two arts have many differences.

Master Li Guichang felt that the Shanxi and Hebei styles shared many similarities but that the Hebei styles tended to be firm on the outside and soft within and Shanxi tended to be soft on the outside and firm within. There is some argument as to which of the two styles is "original" the Hebei or the Shanxi. I asked some of the disciples that question and their reply was that the only art native to Shanxi was Dai Style.

Before going into an abbreviated history of Xingyi Quan I would like to advise visitors to check out Jarek Szymanski's website www.ChinaFromInside.com where you will find some very in depth information.


Xingyi, like most other Chinese martial arts, has two histories. One is a semi mythical story about the founding of the art tracing it's origins back to General Yui Fei (1103-1142 Northern Song Dynasty) who is one of the great heroes of China. According to this version, Ji Ji Ke (1620-1680), who was an official in Shanxi province, was traveling about China when on a visit to a friend in Xi An he was caught in a downpour. He went into a nearby temple for shelter and while there he saw a stature of Yui Fei, to whom the temple was dedicated. He noticed a crack in the statue and when he peered into it he saw a manuscript! The manuscript was a secret boxing manual titled "Yui Fei's Six Harmony Xinyi". Using this manual Ji Ji Ke masters Xinyi, which he later teaches to Cao Jiwu who is said to have studied with Ji Ji Ke for twelve years. Cao Jiwu then teaches the art to Dai Longbang (1713-1802) where it becomes the Dai Family style of Xinyi (Heart-Intention) boxing. Dai Longbang then teaches Li Luoneng (also known as Li Nengran, or Li Feiyu, 1808-1890) nicknamed "Divine Fist Li". Li Luoneng has many students, makes changes to the art and renames it Xingyi (Form-Intent) boxing.


That is a short version of the history usually told by Li Luoneng's disciples in Hebei. It is however a mixture of truth and myth. Certainly the part about the boxing manual is very unlikely. Ji Ji Ke, who was very skilled with the spear (he was nicknamed "Divine Spear"), may have developed Xinyi on his own based on that weapon and other martial arts he studied.  Dai certainly made changes to the art he learned. (Dai may not even have been a student of Cao Jiwu. He may have learned from Li Zhang a famous Xinyi Liu He boxer from Henan who was a student of Zhang Zhicheng a student of Ma Xueli who was supposed to be a direct student of Ji Jike. Or perhaps he studied with with Niu Xixian whose ancestor Niu Gao served as an officer under Yue Fei! Or maybe he spent time with all of the above.) Dai Longbang seems to have inherited his family art and then learned Xinyiquan from Cao Jiwu (although according to Szymanski old boxing manuals and oral tradition in Shanxi say he learned from Li Zhang) and in addition Praying Mantis style from Jin Shikui.


Of course the Xingyi question is who really taught Li Luoneng?