Second Look: A Big Book on a Misunderstood Art

I often jokingly called YiQuan “the old martial artist’s pasture” because it seemed that only people who wanted minimal practice, yet expected super-human powers, ever ordered any related products. I have to admit that at this point I never really “got” YiQuan. Even though I’ve been in the field for a long time, this seemingly stripped-down training style just did not do it for me.

art_YQ6But C. S. Tang’s book has dispelled the darkness. Hallelujah.

Still, it’s fun to dwell on the darkness. It wasn’t entirely my fault. At Plum, we had seen a number of unimpressive Yiquan “representatives.” Also there are a few head-scratching paradoxes if you don’t really understand the program. Finally, YiQuan is not a completely unified whole. There are stylistic and historical differences even if no breaks in principle. YiQuan may be a single thing but with many faces, like a crystal.

“The Complete Book of YiQuan” takes care of this. C. S. Tang does it through just hard work by listing every important aspect of the style and then defining and describing each component. Just surveying the topics in the TOC show the great lengths Sifu Tang has gone to while attempting to represent the entire body of YiQuan.

The History of YiQuan
YiQuan Master Liang Zi Ping: The Legend
Bruce Lee and YiQuan
My Way of YiQuan
Wang’s Valuable Words
YiQuan System Overview
Overview of Training
Quick Start: Liang’s Three Treasures
Static Stance
YiQuan General Standard Requirements
Preparation, Care, and Workout: Preparing for Practice
Zhan Zhuang: Static Stance Postures
Shi Zhuang: Test Stance
art_YQ5Master’s Postures
Shi Li: Test Strength
The Powerful Ten Combat Shi Li
Mo Ca Bu: Footwork
Pali: Emit Strength
Fa Sheng: Emit Sound
Tui Shou: Push Hand
Dan Cao: Punc Fight
Duan Shou: Combat Free Sparring
YiQuan Tactics and Strategies
Dai Bu Zhang: Big Step Stances
Quan Zhang: Fist Stances
Jian Wu: Fist Dance
YiQuan Weapons
Health Aspects
Supernatural Power
Grading of YiQuan
Teaching and Seminars


As you can see; the word is “thorough.”

The first six chapters concentrate on the creation of YQ which, due to its historical place in time, was actually fascinating.

“Some of them (Japanese challengers) wanted to become Wang’s students, but only one was accepted‑Kenichi Sawai, who later created his own version of YQ, known as Taiki-ken.”

(art_YQ4Anyone who has not seen Sawai’s wonderful book should try for a used copy. Not one of the applications are posed, all are in real time.)

Sifu Tang shares many stories about teachers in Hong Kong. Tang’s main teacher, Liang Zi Ping also taught Bruce Lee. These sections have many stories and photos of teachers during this period. It showed YiQuan as almost a collaborative effort.

“Bruce (Lee) became more and more interested in his (Liang’s) speech. However, Liang insisted that Bruce must first throw away all that he had learnt before, and change his strength from external to internal. Of course, Bruce was not willing to do so. But he always remembered Liang’s philosophy. Bruce often attended Liang’s student gatherings and he assimilated many principles concerning the secrets of internal and external martial arts.”

art_YQ3From this point, C. S. Tang lists a number of specifics on what Bruce might have adopted in his Jun Fan and, later, Jeet Kune Do approaches.

The next section goes into YiQuan training, with much attention and description of warm ups, basic stance training, and foundational moves, immediately starting to build functional skills…

“When you practice a stance, it is not just for relaxation—you have to keep in mind that you are training. Every time you practice, there should be benefit for every minute of stance. SO you must use your intent to practice. All processes of the stance should be full of internal movement. This is called Life Stance.”

Next is a good section on general requirements such as hand, leg and stance formations. Once these have been absorbed the training moves toward Test Stance.

“After you stand for a while in each stance you will reach a stage of silence and feel very quiet. You are fully concentrated on the flow of Qi inside your body; you can then start to seek power.”

Sifu Tang helps at this stage by including many photographs of YiQuan masters in comparative positions. He shows the special methods of testing strength in these postures. He also includes information on ten excellent combat frames.

art_YQ2Footwork (similar to Bagua’s) and Strength Emitting is next and we now move into the peculiar signature YiQuan’s issue of power generation. Also, we become acquainted with some lesser known aspects such as making sounds and YiQuan’s version of Push Hands. In addition there are two other forms of sparring known as Punch Sparring and Combat Free Sparring. As Sifu Tang says,

“Duan Shou literally means “severed fighting.” This is full-contact sparring which is performed without contacting hands before the fight. Training the Static Stance is to practice isometric power, to increase a steel-shape body, the elasticity of muscle, and the flexibility and extendable length of limits. Training Shi Li and Fali are ways to develop strong explosive power. Footwork will enable quick and stable movement. Punches and kicks are techniques ready to be used in Duan Shou. Duan Shou is the ultimate objective of practicing the Static Stance of YiQuan.”

 From here we learn of YiQuan martial strategy and the large influence from historical military knowledge such as The Art of War. There is an explanation of health methods, the unique way in which forms are demonstrated in YQ, Some features addressed are topics like weapons and the “supernatural.” As far as classical forms, YiQuan returns to more ancient practices like “war dance” where movements are not formally sequenced, just expressed.

I’ve given a lot of space here because this is a big book with a great deal of information. Sifu Tang is not a dilettante. He has a library of writings, photographs and film on the method. Absorbing this entire text might not be easy for someone with minimal training since some art_YQ1sections are solely filled out with photographs and will take an experienced eye to translate into movement. Nonetheless, C. S. Tang set out to write a comprehensive text and—rare event—actually did that. If you have an interest in this subject, you will circle through this book many times.

A final note: I’m still not sure where I stand on the issue of YiQuan but I do see it as expressing a general spirit in the Chinese martial arts to return to the stream and bring back core training. In some cases this may mean discounting certain practices even though we love and admire them. If nothing else, YiQuan strives for a historical reality where true training takes the place of stories and performances.

One Response to “Second Look: A Big Book on a Misunderstood Art”

  1. Patrick says:

    Tough training for sure!

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