A practitioner of Xingyiquan uses
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
behavior of a variety of animals. The training methods allow the student to
progress through increasing difficulty in form sequences, timing and fighting
The exact origin of xingyiquan is unknown. The
earliest written records of it can be traced to the 18th century to Ma Xueli of
Henan Province and Dai Longbang of Shanxi Province. Legend, however, credits the
creation of xingyiquan to the renowned Song Dynasty (960-1279 AD) general Yue
Fei.Throughout the Jin, Yuan and Ming Dynasties few individuals had studied this
art, one of them being Ji Gong (also known as Ji Longfeng and Ji Jike) of Shanxi
Province. 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 Gong.
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 exponent 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 stylist and
its direct fighting philosophy advocates simultaneous attack and defence. There
are few kicks except for extremely low foot kicks (which avoids the hazards of
balance involved with higher kicks) and some mid-level kicks, and techniques are
prized for their deadliness rather than aesthetic value. Xingyiquan favours a
high stance called Sāntìshì (三體式 / 三体式), 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."
Five Element forms
Xingyiquan uses the five classical Chinese elements to metaphorically represent
five different states of combat. Also called the "Five Fists" or "Five Phases,"
the Five Elements are related to Taoist cosmology although the names do not
literally correspond to the cosmological terms.
Xingyiquan practitioners use the five elements as an interpretative framework
for reacting and responding to attacks. This follows the five element theory, a
general combat formula which assumes at least three outcomes of a fight; the
constructive, the neutral, and the destructive. Xingyiquan students train to
react to and execute specific techniques in such a way that a desirable cycle
will form based on the constructive, neutral and destructive interactions of
five element theory. Where to aim, where to hit and with what technique—and how
those motions should work defensively—is determined by what point of which cycle
they see themselves in.
Each of the elements has variant applications that allow it to be used to defend
against all of the elements (including itself), so any set sequences are
entirely arbitrary, though the destructive cycle is often taught to beginners as
it is easier to visualise and consists of easier applications. Some schools will
teach the five elements before the twelve animals because they are easier and
shorter to learn.
The Five Elements of Xingyiquan
Like an axe chopping up and over.
Exploding outward like a cannon while blocking.
Drilling forward horizontally like a geyser.
Crossing across the line of attack while turning over.
Arrows constantly exploding forward.
Xingyiquan is based on twelve distinct animal forms (形; pinyin: xíng). Present
in all regional and family styles, these emulate the techniques and tactics of
the corresponding animal rather than just their physical movements. Many schools
of xingyiquan have only small number of movements for each animal, though some
teach extended sequences of movements. Once the individual animal forms are
taught, a student is often taught an animal linking form (shi'er xing lianhuan)
which connects all the taught animals together in a sequence. Some styles have
longer, or multiple forms for individual animals, such Eight Tiger Forms Huxing
The ten common animals
In Xingyi, "the Bear and Eagle combine," meaning that
the Bear and Eagle techniques are often used in conjunction with each other.
There is a bird called the "Bear Eagle," which covers the characteristics of
Constrictor and Viper styles.
||Features lunging open
handed attacks mimicking the pounce of a tiger
||The only "mythical"
animal taught. In some styles it is practised separately from tiger because they
are said to clash.
||Mimics the pecking
movement of a chicken.
||Uses left to right
movements similar to the tiger form but with closed fists. mimicks the action of
a rearing and striking horse.
||Follows the swift and
random movements of the swallow by rotating position and circling the enemy with
strong but quick foot movement. May refer to the Purple Swamphen (Rallidae)Coot.
||This can mean
'Sparrowhawk,' though the more common word for "Sparrowhawk" used to be Zhān ,
which has fallen from use over the years. The Chinese word for "Goshawk" covers
both the Goshawkand the Sparrowhawk.
Other animals that may be present
in a particular lineage
||The animal it is meant
to represent is the Yangtze River alligator.
Sometimes referred to as a water-skimming insect, or water lizard. The movements
of a yangtze river alligator have been compared to those of a pig crossed with a
||This is a flycatcher native to Asia.
Due to the rarity of this character it may be translated as ostrich, dove, hawk
or even phoenix.
Some schools will teach this in
combination with Tuó, considering them to be the same animal.
Traditionally xingyiquan was an armed art. Students would train initially with
the spear, progressing to shorter weapons and eventually empty-handed fighting.
Xingyiquan emphasises a close relationship between the movements of
armed/unarmed techniques. This technical overlap aims to produce greater
Large Sabre (used by infantry against mounted opponents)
Short Staff (at maximum length you could hold between the palms of your hands at
each end - techniques with this weapon may have been used with a spear that had
Needles (much like a double ended rondel gripped in the centre - on the
battlefield this would mostly have been used like its western equivalent to
finish a fallen opponent through weak points in the armour)
Fuyue (halberds of various types)
Chicken-Sabre Sickle. This weapon was supposedly created by Ji Longfeng and
became the special weapon of the style. Its alternate name is "Binding Flower
Weapon diversity is great, the idea being that an experienced Xingyi fighter
would be able to pick up almost any weapon irrespective of its exact length,
weight and shape.