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Xingyi Chuan Features, Techniques and Principles

Xingyi Quan is also called Xinyi Quan, Xinyi Liuhe Quan or liuhe Quan. It is created by Ji Jike (1602-1683) from Village Zuncun in Yongji County in Shanxi Province.

xing yi quan competition 2003

xing yi quan competition 2003

A resident of the late Ming Dynasty and early Qing Dynasty, Ji Jike was also known as Ji Longfeng. On his trip south to the Shaolin Temple and Luoyang in Henan Province and Qiupu in Anhui Province, Ji Jike passed his art on to Zeng Jiwu. During the reign of Emperor Qianlong of the Qing Dynasty, Xingyi Quan was spread in Henan, Hebei and Shanxi provinces. Ma Xueli, a Luoyang resident in He-nan, Dai Longbang, a resident of Qixian in Shanxi, and Li Luoneng, Dai’s disciple from Hebei, all contributed to the dissemination and development of the Chuan. Over centuries, this school of Chuan is now practised in different styles. The Shanxi style is compact, delicate and yet forceful while the Henan style is powerful, vigorous and substantial. The Hebei style stresses steadiness, stur-dihess and comfort. As regards routines of fist fight, a similarity is seen between the Shanxi style and the Hebei style, both using three postures of the body, five major movements of axing, bursting, penetrating, hurling and traversing and imitations of 12 animal forms (dragon, tiger, monkey, horse, turtle, chicken, hawk, swallow, snake, owl, eagle and bear. The Henan style mainly imitates 10 animal forms (dragon, tiger, chicken, eagle, snake, horse, cat, monkey, hawk and swallow).

liuhe (six combinations) is a special term used in Wushu, Chinese martial arts. In the Shaolin school of Wushu, there is a special branch called Liuhe Men (six-combination-group), which includes Uuhe Quan (six-combination Chuan), Uuhe spear (six-combination spear), Uuhe sabre (six-combination sabre), etc. One explanation is that the six combinations mean spirit, breath and mind (inner three combination) and hand, eye and body (outer three combination). Another explanation is that the six combinations are the combinations of eye and heart (or mind), heart (or mind) and breath, breath and body, body and hand, hand and foot, foot and hip.
Xingyiquan (Chinese: 形意拳; Pinyin: Xíng yì quán; Wade-Giles: Hsing I Ch’üan) is one of the three major “internal” (nèijiā) Chinese martial arts. The other two are T’ai Chi Ch’üan and Baguazhang. Xingyiquan translates approximately to “Form/Intention Boxing”, or “Shape/Will Boxing”, and is characterised by aggressive, seemingly linear movements and explosive power.

Its origins are traceable to the 18th century and may go back even further. There is no single organizational body governing the teaching of the art, and several variant styles exist.

A Xingyiquan fighter uses efficient coordinated movements to generate bursts of power intended to overwhelm the opponent, simultaneously attacking and defending. Forms vary from school to school, but include barehanded sequences and versions of the same sequences with a variety of weapons. These sequences are based upon the movements and fighting behaviour of a variety of animals. The training methods allow the student to progress through increasing difficulty in form sequences, timing and fighting strategy.


Although the exact origin of Xingyiquan is uncertain, the earliest written records of Xingyiquan can be traced to the 18th century to Ma Xueli of Henan Province and Dai Longbang of Shanxi Province. Legend, however, credits the invention of Xingyiquan to the renowned Song Dynasty (960-1279 AD) general Yue Fei. According to the book Henan Orthodox Xingyi Quan written by Pei Xirong (Chinese: 裴锡荣) and Li Ying’ang (Chinese: 李英昂), Xingyi Master Dai Longbang ”

“…wrote the Preface to Six Harmonies Boxing in the 15th reign year of the Qianlong Emperor [1750]. Inside it says, ‘…when [Yue Fei] was a child, he received special instructions from Zhou Tong. Extremely skilled in spearfighting, he used the spear to create fist techniques and established a skill called Yi Quan [意拳]. Meticulous and unfathomable, this technique far outstripped ancient ones.”
Throughout the Jin, Yuan and Ming Dynasties few had his art, one of them being Ji Gong [Ji Longfeng]. After Yue Fei’s death, the art was lost for half a millennium. Then, during the Ming and Qing Dynasties in Shaanxi Province’s Zhongnan Mountains, Yue Fei’s boxing manual was discovered by Ji Longfeng (also known as Ji Jike) of neighbouring Shanxi Province.

Dr. Yang Jwing-Ming argues that aspects of Xingyiquan (particularly the animal styles) are identifiable as far back as the Liang Dynasty at the Shaolin Temple. Yue Fei, therefore, did not strictly invent Xingyiquan, but synthesised and perfected existing Shaolin principles into his own style of gongfu which he popularised during his military service. Nonetheless, according to Yang, Yue Fei is usually identified as the creator because of his considerable understanding of the art (as shown in the work The Ten Theses of Xingyiquan, credited to Yue) and his cultural status as a Chinese war hero.

Other martial artists and historians of Chinese martial arts, such as Miller, Cartmell, and Kennedy, hold that this story is largely legendary; while xingyiquan may well have evolved from military spear techniques, there is no period evidence to support that Yue Fei was involved or that the art dates to the Song dynasty. These authors also point out that the works describing Yue Fei’s role or attributed to him long postdate his life (some being as recent as the Republican era), and that it was common practice in China to attribute new works to a famous or legendary personage, rather than take credit for one’s self.[citation needed]

With the late Ming-era and Ji Longfeng, evidence for the art’s history grows firmer. Ji Longfeng’s contributions to the art are described in the Ji Clan Chronicles (姬氏族谱; pinyin: Ji Shi Jiapu). Like the Preface, the Chronicles describes Xingyiquan as a martial art based on the combat principles of the spear. The Chronicles, however, attributes this stylistic influence to Ji himself, who was known as the “Divine Spear” (神槍; pinyin: Shén Qiāng) for his extraordinary skill with the weapon.

The master who taught Xingyiquan to Ma Xueli is conventionally identified as Ji Longfeng himself. However, the traditions of the Ma family itself say only that Xueli learned from a wandering master whose name is unknown. Ji Longfeng referred to his art as Liu He, The Six Harmonies.

The Preface identifies Cao Ji Wu as a student of Ji Longfeng and the master who taught Xingyiquan to Dai Longbang. However, other sources identify Dai’s teacher variously as Li Zheng or Niu Xixian.

Xingyiquan remained fairly obscure until Li Luoneng (also known as Li Nengran) learned the art from the Dai family in the 19th century. It was Li Luoneng and his successors—which include Guo Yunshen, Li Cunyi, Zhang Zhaodong, Sun Lutang, and Shang Yunxiang—who would popularise Xingyiquan across Northern China. Sun Lutang exchanged knowledge with Fu Chen Sung, who subsequently took this branch of h’sing yi ch’uan to southern China.

Characteristics and Principles

Xingyiquan features aggressive shocking attacks and direct footwork. The linear nature of Xingyiquan hints at both the military origins and the influence of spear technique alluded to in its mythology. Despite its hard, angular appearance, cultivating “soft” internal strength or qi is essential to achieving power in Xingyiquan.

The goal of the Xingyiquan fighter is to reach the opponent quickly and drive powerfully through them in a single burst — the analogy with spear fighting is useful here. This is achieved by coordinating one’s body as a single unit and the intense focusing of one’s qi.

Efficiency and economy of movement are the qualities of a Xingyiquan fighter and its direct fighting philosophy advocates simultaneous attack and defense. There are few kicks except for an extremely low foot kick (which avoids the hazards of balance involved with higher kicks), and techniques are prized for their deadliness rather than aesthetic value. Xingyiquan favours a high stance called Sāntǐshì (三體式), literally “three bodies power,” referring to how the stance holds the head, torso and feet along the same vertical plane. A common saying of Xingyiquan is that “the hands do not leave the heart and the elbows do not leave the ribs.” Another characteristic common to many styles of XingYi is a stance called “Dragon Body”. This is a forward stance similar to a bow stance with a straight line from the head to the heel of the back foot and the front foot perpendicular to the ground. This is not so much a separate stance or technique in itself as a principle of movement to provide power to techniques.

It is worth noting the use of the Santishi as the main stance and training method originated from Li Luoneng’s branch of Xingyi. Early branches such as Dai family style do not use Santi as the primary stance nor as a training method.

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