Xing Yi Quan

XING YI CHUAN or XINGYIQUAN. Both are pronounced HSING EEEE CHWAN and literally refer to the Shape (Hsing) of the Intent ( I ) or Will. Simply put, the idea is that the mind of the practitioner creates an instantaneous attack and or defense from the mutable changes of the moment.
(See Heritage Chart at the bottom of this article.)

ORIGIN: DIVERSE STORIES There are a number of speculations on the origin of Xing Yi, one of Chinese most recognized martial arts. Some say it was developed in the Sung Dynasty and attribute it to the famous protector general Yueh Fei who almost single handedly retarded the progress of the invading Mongols. Some attribute it to the Shaolin Temple which claims its own distinctive form of Xing Yi.

Everyone agrees that Xing Yi is a dynamic and powerful style of martial arts. It’s movements aren’t just brisk but, when demonstrated by a master, almost incredibly rapid and clear. Xing Yi is a system with evident integrity. Where other styles sometimes seem obscure and of questionable application Xing Yi is powerful and aggressive without being crude or simplistic. Xing Yi also takes a very ancient and historically more realistic attitude towards forms practice. While Xing Yi certainly boasts a full range of forms and some excellent ones at that, it emphasizes practice that returns continually to basics, recognizable fundamentals. Xing Yi students are always aware of which movements are basics in their styles without having to “decode” such movements from a forest of actions.

A number of scholars, and some solid historical evidence also trace Xing Yi to around 1600 and attribute its creation, or at least drastic restructuring, to one Ji Long Feng (Ji Ji Ke).

The most basic of these basics are clearly defined in the Five Elements known as the Wu Xing a series of fundamental movements based on ancient Chinese philosophy. This philosophy, which developed over two thousand years ago, sees the changes in Nature as being a series of primary transformations. Each of these forms of transformation is known as an “element” and is symbolically based on an element found in Nature. These elements: Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal and Water are initially taught to the student as five separate actions called Five Elements Fist or sometimes Five Mother Fists.

CheICha1The first form of these is simply a series of “roads”up and back each with one of these distinctive and sophisticated “elemental” fists. These movements, like everything in Xing Yi, are incredibly compressed with information. They are the martial arts equivalents of holographs. Metal, for instance, combines the 6/4 stance,
explosive forward movement, drilling
action upward, falling action downward, centerline theory, Reeling Silk Energy and many other key points of Kung Fu skills.

Each of Xing Yi’s Five fists is similar. Loosely based on Chinese philosophical beliefs they are grouped into two cycles CREATIVE and DESTRUCTIVE. In one cycle a certain type of energy, enbodied in each element, is said to engender another energy.

The CREATIVE cycle runs thus:
METAL collects WATER
WATER feeds WOOD etc.

The so called DESTRUCTIVE cycle is said to consist of elements which suppress or endanger another. They are set up like this:

Some practitioners mistakenly take this to mean that a WOOD movement, for instance, should be chose to squelch a FIRE action. Fighting doesn’t work this way. But the idea of immediate, powerful and clear transformation is indeed embodied within Xing Yi’s excellent basics. And, as these elements are correlated to the same organ systems of Chinese traditional medicine where, for instance, Metal = Lungs; certainly advanced health practices are already being practiced even by a beginning student.

On a non-philosophical level these actions are dynamic methods of motion each of which can be considered solely from the standpoint of martial skill. These down to earth correspondences are:
Metal = SPLITTING (Pi)
Wood = CRUSHING (Beng)
Water = DRILLING (Tsuan)
Fire = POUNDING (Pao)
Earth = CROSSING (Heng)

SunShaoFu1TWELVE ANIMALS The next fundamental level of Xing Yi training is embodied in the 12 animals. Each of these takes Xing Yi’s symbolic idea still further and integrates animal imitating movements which express distinctive forms of movement and unique JINS (refined transfers of energy). Mostly commonly (these differ from style to style with some even having more or less) the 12 animals are named:

Among other versions we have the mythical TAI bird and even the ALLIGATOR. These movements carry forward the essential energetics of Xing Yi but add a little more zest to its actions.

Like the Mother Fists the initial animal movements are often taught in what many people would call a “form” but among martial instructors is often known as a LINKING FORM: that is, simply a series of movements in their rawest form and without esthetic selection to act as continual practice methods.

Besides actions Xing Yi spends a lot of time on structural issues often considered quite advanced in other styles. Part of Xing Yi’s overall flavor and strength as a martial art is its reliance on the idea of STRONG SHAPES, that is postural formation which do a great deal of martial work just by the nature of their structure. In this general area Xing Yi starts with an excellent posture appropriate for both Chi Kung and martial training, namely the SAN IT formation. SAN IT (which means Three Powers, those being Heaven, Earth and Mankind) is a stance with 60 per cent of the weight on the back leg, the front hand lightly extended and the rear hand pulling back toward the Tan Tien. This posture contains a series of animal shapes which act as reminders of general Xing Yi postural principles.
CHICKEN LEG = One firmly planted and the other lighter.
BEAR SHOULDERS = Shoulders rounded but stretched with energy.
EAGLE CLAWS = Fingers throbbing with power
TIGER EMBRACE = Arms folded and enlivened with potential energy

Other postural considerations include
Pressing the head upward, the tongue forward and the arms forward.
Strengthening the shoulders, extremities and teeth.
Rounding the back, breast and Tiger Mouth (space between thumb and index finger).
Sinking the Ch’I, shoulders and elbows.
Curving the knees, shoulders and elbows.
Straightening the neck, spine and joints.
Embracing the chest with the arms, the navel with the qi and the body with courage.

Xing Yi also incorporates the famous and fundamental Six Harmonies idea of Chinese Kung Fu. These are simple correspondences that are useful for proper body alignment and power generation.

Shoulder to Hip
Elbow to Knee
Hand to Foot

Heart to Mind
Mind to Ch’i
Ch’i to Strength

Another guide line for Xing Yi practice is San Dian or Three Points. This suggests that nose, fist and foot are always on line with one another. The body and Ch’I interplay subtlely in Xing Yi as the texts say when the body sinks the ch’I rises and vice versa.

THREE LEGGED BOXING One of the distinctive features of Xing Yi is the fast and very direct footwork. People unfamiliar with the art might at first seen it as something like the Kung Fu equivalent of Karate, so linear are the steps and so compact the motions. Initially most footwork is executed in the 60/40 stance with the weight slightly on the back. Due to the explosive forward movement of Xing Yi this seems paradoxical to the beginning student. As he or she develops forward motion they are still never allowed to completely shift the weight to the front foot. Once this segmented “bamboo step” is studied it is augmented by a small finishing step that requires the back, weighted leg to be brought up another few inches just synchronized on the end of each forward burst of motion. This step step adjust foot pattern has suggested the name “Three Legged Boxing” to Xing Yi practitioners. Thus early Xing Yi training, quite in contrast to say T’ai Chi completely emphasizes forward motion and explosive, determined speed.

As the Xing Yi stylist begins to really delve into the practice he may find himself, or herself, doing the same action over and over again for hundreds and even thousands of repetitions. This driving forward motion coupled with the seemingly simple but highly concentrated actions of the arms shows us much about Xing Yi’s basic training philosophy. While some styles of martial arts may emphasize strategy, ingenuity and diversion: Xing Yi lays emphasis on neurological re structuring. It strives to make certain types of actions the boxing equivalent of pulling one’s hand off a hot stove. The genius of Xing Yi is that the actions developed for the Wu Xing as so close to normal hand movements and yet so profoundly structured that repetition actually becomes one of the Xing Yi stylists secret weapons. At a certain point move have actually become completely natural. One famous instructor of the 19th century, Guo Yun Shen, studied under a teacher who didn’t particularly like him and thus only taught him one move in the first three years. In fact, had the teacher’s wife not gotten fed up and demanded Guo be taught more he would hardly have learned even the Mother Fists. Nonetheless Guo was so effective with his one punch that he didn’t need any other technique for the first half of his career. Xing Yi movements are said to be so fast and powerful because the are absolutely spontaneous.

See Branches. The main divisions of Xing Yi are named after local, just as the main branches of T’ai Chi are named after families. In Xing Yi we have the ShanXi, HeNan and HeBei divisions. If, as some say, Chi Long Feng was the creator in the early 1600’s then ShanXi would be the primordial Xing Yi style. One of his students, Ma Hsueh, left after mastering the art and traveled to HeNan to create that style (which even now contains only 10 animal forms possibly because Ma never learned the other two?). Another student, Ts’ao Chi Wu, transmitted the art to one T’ai Ling Pang who really refined the Mother Fists. He called the art, as has happened before in history, XIN Yi (Heart Will) Boxing and his students referred to it then, as now, as Tai Chi (Tai Family) Xin Yi (Heart Will or Mind) Boxing. One of Tai’s student was named Lin Lao Neng (or Li Neng Ran) who was, without a doubt, one of the most famous and influential Xing Yi artists of all time.

Not only did Li teach a slew of top students (see heritage information below) but he added and refined its formal exercises. In other word he refined Xing Yi’s curriuculum. His contributions include Wu Xing LianHuan (Five Element Linking Form), Wu Xing Shen Ke, An Shen Pao (Partner Form), Za Shi Chui and he added the Tuo (Water Lizard) and Tai (Legendary Bird) animals.

The three styles are all Xing Yi but have each distinctive characteristics. HeBei, the most common, is harder and more “Gang” firm. ShanXI is softer and more fluid with more apparent complexity. And HeNan is still quite rarely seen and might be considered “hidden”. But all Xing Yi stylists share a common feeling for the efficacy and directness of their mutual heritage.


Another interesting factor in Xing Yi training is its integration of stillness and movement. While historically most styles, after taking many decades and centuries to see how QiGong training could be added to martial training nonetheless kept these two separate. Xing Yi is a key style with actual integration of this Yin and Yang of training. In Xing Yi a practitioner will move with the speed of lightning and then halt, absolutely still, gathering and relaxing simultaneously.

To some this seems in stark contrast to Xing Yi’s apparently forceful forward thrust. But it is this relaxed and yet fully aware state that Xing Yi gathers its energy and deepens its physical commitment. To do a move simply,smartly and directly requires a clarity that is only augmented by the San Ti stance and the subtle preparedness of the Xing Yi stationary sections.

Also, due to its emphasis on Strong Shapes and repetitive movement Xing Yi boasts one of the quickest methods for students to actually feel the inner connectedness between the internal and external aspects of their art. In truth, though often linked with Ba Gua and T’ai Chi as INTERNAL SCHOOLS, we subscribe to that older, and in our opinion, historically more accurate picture that says there are NO “internal” or “external” schools of martial arts just internal and external levels of performance. After all everyone starts externally, moving limbs, torso and pelvis. And then progresses, if they practice hard, to the subtler and more internalized aspects of the art. But some styles, like Xing Yi, make the transformation a little clearer though, of course, guarantee nothing.


There are many forms in Xing Yi and, due to its basic flexibility, the line between formal and spontaneous can be blurred. But here are some of the name of traditional forms one might encounter in training:
Xing Yi Spear
Xing Yi Sword
Xing Yi Saber
Xing Yi Staff
Five Elements Fist
Wu Xing LianHuan Five Elements Linking Fist
Twelve Animals Fist
Elements and Animals Linking Fist
Eight Fists
Eight Skills Fist
Wu Xing Shen Ke
An Shen Pao (Partner Form)
Za Shi Chui

Further Information about this “big” art…

CheICha1Che I Chai (Che Yong Hong) 1833 1914 was born in Tai Gu, Shan Xi Province.
Che Branch of Xing Yi
Each style of XY has it peculiarities. In Che, for instance, standing still is not encouraged for long periods of time. The San Ti, often performed for twenty minutes to half an hour in some branches (such as HeBei) , is held for five or so minutes. The striking of hard objects and weight lifting are strictly discouraged. Practicing when tired is considered counter productive. Much attention is spent on controlling and guarding center line.
Che style started with the famous teacher Che I Chai but is also the work of his two top students Li Fu Zhen and Bu Xue Kuan. It emphasizes movement connected to movement and natural, healthful actions which slowly build the skill and the intent. It is centered around Tai Gu still and a major training center is located there.

Some of the elements
of Che style are Marrow Washing Exercises, Partner Practices, Linked Hands and Lion Swallows Hand; all developed by Bu Shih Fu who was also a student of Sun Lu Tang.


See our Lineage Chart