Tim Cartmell on Xingyiquan’s Five Elements


Hey everyone, this is hopefully the first of a few posts on Xingyiquan and Baguazhang specifically.  All of this materially was found on the Shen Wu Discussion Boards, this is just a small bit that I pulled off a few years ago.

The most common translation for the Five Elements Fists is:

  1. Pi Quan: Splitting Fist (“pi” is literally the verb ‘to split’). Energy moving downward.
  2. Zuan Quan: Drilling Fist (“zuan” is the verb used to describe drilling or boring a hole). Energy rising upward.
  3. Beng Quan: Crushing Fist (“beng” is the verb most commonly used to describe the force of an avalanche). Energy moving forward.
  4. Pao Quan: Pounding Fist (“Pao” is the word for a cannon). Energy moving from the inside outward.
  5. Heng Quan: Crossing Fist (“Heng” refers to things that lay or move horizontally). Energy moving from the outside inward.

On Heng Quan

Heng Quan is not a strike in the classic sense, you don’t “punch” someone with it. Heng is the energy of rotation (called “Luo Xuan Jin” or Spiral Power) that moves in a horizontal path. The power is transferred through the rotating arms in opposite directions simultaneously as the arms pass one another (one arm extending, with the forearm rotating palm upward; one arm retracting, with the forearm rotating palm downward). The power of the body transfers through the rotating arms and contacts the opponent at a tangent (along the outsides of the arms) as opposed to through the fist.

The energy is very similar to the “Fan Zhang” or Overturning Palm movement of Ba Gua Zhang and the “Peng” or Wardoff movement of Tai Ji Quan. This type of energy forms the foundation of all three IMA (this is the reason Heng Quan is referred to as the “Mother Element”).

Power Images in the Five Elements

Classically, the Chinese say the power of Pi Quan is like striking downward with an axe, Zuan Quan is like a water spout surging upward, Beng is like shooting an arrow straight forward with a sudden release, Pao explodes outward like a cannon ball and Heng is like rolling a heavy ball along the earth. I’m sure most practitioners have heard these comparisons before, but they really are useful images.

Five Elements of Xingyiquan vs. Five Elements of Traditional Chinese Medicine

The organ/Element connection in Xing Yi Quan refers to the movements of a particular Element form having a beneficial effect on the health and function of a particular organ system. It has nothing to do with power in the Element forms “originating” from an internal organ.

I have never studied TCM, but my own take on the Elements is that they have no special effect on the organs at all. No more than any other type of calisthenic exercise.

On “Wrapping”

“Guo” usually refers to the inward twisting motion of Heng Quan. The “no part is exposed” is a reference to crossing the opponent’s arms or surrounding his body so he is controlled (like wrapping up a package tightly). “Crossing” in the Five Element Fists refers to the actions of the form, in the Seven Key Points it is a reference to controlling the opponent.

On Hand Usage and Formation

            Pi Quan (splitting) uses the open palm, or the bottom of the fist (a “hammer fist”). Normally, the big knuckles of the middle and ring fingers are used for Zhuan Quan (drilling), Beng Quan (crushing) and Pao Quan (pounding). Heng Quan (crossing) is not a punch, force transfers through the forearm.


Xingyiquan often uses Pi Quan (Splitting) as an entry, similar to the jab.  Beng Quan, done to the body rather than the head.

I’ve seen people emphasize extending the index knuckle when practicing Beng Quan, my teachers taught the strike with a regular fist. Of course the idea of extending a knuckle is to focus the force of the blow into a smaller surface area, it makes sense, but I’ve never seen it applied full force for real with any special effect. The problem with extended index knuckle strikes is that the force of the blow (provided you can hit hard) collapses the knuckle back flush with the other knuckles at impact (try it on a heavy bag).

There is also the idea of hitting very small, vulnerable targets with the focused point of the extended index knuckle. This degree of accuracy I think is also very difficult when actually fighting.

When you punch with a regular fist, you also focus the force in the knuckles, but since the force transfers through the big knuckles, they will not give like the middle knuckles.

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