Tim Cartmell on the Xingyiquan Fighter

Hey everyone, here is another my posts on Xingyiquan and Baguazhang specifically.  This time let’s discuss Tim’s view on the Xingyi oriented fighter and what that means.  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.


Strategy and Technique

The underlying strategy of Xing Yi Quan is based around ending a martial confrontation in the most expedient manner possible (usually, while inflicting the maximum amount of damage to the opponent). It is not so much a system of self-defense as aggressive offense. The founder of the Art, Ji Ji Ke (Ji Long Feng), was a famous warrior, and his warrior’s mentality carried over into the boxing style he created. The “self-defense mentality” is one of escaping from a violent encounter unharmed. The ‘warrior’ mentality is one of taking out the opponent as quickly and efficiently as possible. Although, to a certain extent either of the above strategies can be applied to similar techniques, Xing Yi Quan’s techniques were developed with the latter strategy in mind.

Since the principles of this Art were gleaned from battlefield experience, and because the Art was designed to be applied against a potentially armed and armored opponent, it favored direct, incapacitating techniques which would quickly end the encounter. Striking precise vital points (often protected by armor), complicated leverage techniques, prolonged grappling encounters and the use of force against force were all impractical under the above mentioned battlefield conditions. Continuous, vicious attacks with shocking strikes and quick debilitating takedowns were the techniques of choice.

The powerful ‘shocking’ strikes of Xing Yi Quan will damage and disorient the opponent no matter where they connect. These blows are generally not aimed at specific ‘vital points,’ but rather through the enemy’s center of mass; this insures maximum shock and transfer of energy into the opponent. Xing Yi Quan grappling techniques involve rapid, bone jarring takedowns. The lifts and hip techniques of the wrestling arts are not commonly found in the Xing Yi Quan arsenal. From the point of view of the warrior on the battlefield, the longer he is engaged in a grappling encounter, the longer he is exposed and vulnerable to attack from a third party.

Xing Yi Quan techniques are based on continuous attack, or simultaneous attack and defense if the opponent manages to launch an attack first. Techniques which block first and then counterattack with a ‘one-two’ timing are not emphasized. The Art also contains a set of techniques that allow the Xing Yi fighter to attack the opponent even as he retreats. These techniques are introduced in the “Jin Tui Lian Huan” (Advanced Retreat Linked Form).


Let’s look at the strategies and techniques of Xing Yi Quan as applied to specific situations. If an opponent closes the distance with a committed attack (a committed punch, kick, push, tackle…), the basic aggressive nature of Xing Yi Quan’s strategy prefers a simultaneous defense and counterattack. Ideally, at the point in time the opponent expects to connect with his own technique, he finds his attack neutralized and in the same instant feels the pain of the counterattack. Once the opponent is stunned, the Xing Yi Quan fighter follows up relentlessly until the opponent is defeated. In a ‘hands up’ fight, the Xing Yi Quan fighter prefers to attack first, thereby drawing the opponent into reacting. Using the opponent’s reaction to his own advantage, the Xing Yi Quan fighter continues pressing the attack, never allowing the opponent time to regroup. In standing grappling situations, the Xing Yi Quan fighter seeks to avoid clinching and wrestling for an advantageous position; holds are preempted or broken by ‘shocking’ the opponent from close range with one of the ‘Seven Stars’ (head, shoulder, elbow, hand, hip, knee and foot), thus giving the Xing Yi Quan fighter the advantage and opportunity to follow up, and, as usual, he continues to press the attack. The overall flow of the typical Xing Yi Quan technique generally follows the pattern of first making a physical connection with the opponent, then immediately (or simultaneously) setting up a shocking strike and ending the fight with finishing strikes and/or a fast and hard takedown. Although the Art has few ground grappling techniques per se, it does include a set of techniques for defending oneself from the ground if taken down by an opponent. These techniques are known as the ‘Ground Dragon’ method.

Xingyi Centerline Theory

The Xing Yi Quan fighter will aim his force in a unified flow from his center toward his opponent’s center line. The opponent’s centerline is not on the front surface of his body, it is the line that runs through the center of his mass. So it doesn’t matter what angle the opponent is turned toward, the Xing Yi fighter (generally) aims his force through the opponent’s center of mass.

Imagine kicking a ball. In order to kick it most effectively (put the most force through the ball) you need to kick it through its center. It doesn’t matter if you kick the ‘front’ or ‘back’ of the ball, as long as you kick it square in its centerline.

Xingyi Footwork

In my experience, the Xing Yi footwork is very useful for avoiding kicks. The follow step keeps the feet from remaining too far apart, which limits mobility. Xing Yi footwork allows for great mobility in every direction.

Some people confuse the training footwork in the basic forms to the footwork used in fighting.

In the Shanxi schools footwork is supposed to be silent. The theory is stamping the ground diverts energy into the ground and away from the opponent (unless the technique is to stomp on someone’s foot).

On Conditioning and Training

If you want to pursue Xingyiquan as a martial art, it is absolutely essential to supplement whatever basic movement and forms training you may practice with a range of conditioning methods, in preparation for full contact sparring.

I recommend spending a lot of time working on a heavy bag.

In addition to bag work, I’d also recommend spending a great amount of time doing partner training with focus mits or Thai pads and a lot of supplementary cardio work, as well as some type of strength training.



  1. There are basic two-person drills that emphasize repeating a single technique over and over.
  2. There are reaction/timing drills designed to instill the actions used to counter attacks.
  3. There are longer, two-person matched “forms” that teach strategy, awareness of distance and timing.
  4. There are many free fighting drills that are contact sparring within certain parameters (which force the student to focus on particular aspects of the fight).
  5. Finally, there is contact free-sparring.

Although I believe contact sparring is the best way to develop a fighting mindset, other practices are beneficial. For example, practicing skill based exercises and forms with the proper focus of the intent will go a long way toward training students to avoid either rage or denial when they actually do spar or fight. Also, use of the imagination during solo practice (visualization stuff, imagine the heavy bag is an enemy etc) also helps develop the fighting mindset. I think it is also important that the teacher remind the students on a regular basis of the dangers of real violence. It is important to have a healthy respect for what could happen to you, and it helps balance the fear/aggression ratio.

Although we start new students off with basic sparring drills and techniques their first week of class, we are careful not to let it get too intense too soon. First defensive skills are taught. As the student becomes proficient, the speed and force of the attacks are gradually increased. Besides defense against striking attacks, there is a heavy emphasis on defending and countering standing grappling attacks (the common ones, headlocks, bearhugs, grab and punch…) as these are the most likely attacks one will run into on the street. At the same time, basic escapes and reversals from the most common ground positions are also taught and practiced (head and arm position, top mount…). Just as with the striking, gradually the amount of resistance is increased. This type of training leads into free sparring in a relatively short period of time. Intermediate students also begin practicing ‘scenario’ types of free sparring, designed to hone specific skill sets. For example, one student wears gloves and is only allowed to strike while his opponent is only allowed to wrestle. Within the constraints of the drill, any appropriate technique is allowed. Advanced students spar with varying amounts of force, depending on the amount of protective gear worn, and most often it is in a free format; the fighters are allowed to punch, kick, knee, throw and strike and grapple on the ground until there is a submission.

Fighting a Larger or Multiple Opponents

First off, the main fighting strategy of Xing Yi Quan (at least as I learned it) is not to “move right into the opponent.” The strategy of Xing Yi Quan is to obtain a superior angle, one at which you can apply your entire body force and at which the opponent cannot use the bulk of his mass or power. The confusion comes in, I think, because most of the techniques of Xing Yi advocate taking the smallest angle possible and then closing in. When you’re good at it, it often appears to be a straightforward attack.

Anyone who is larger and heavier than you has more potential force than you do, so the strategy of obtaining a superior position becomes even more important. Assuming the smaller fighter is strong enough to apply his techniques in the first place, he needs to do so without contesting the larger fighter force against force. In order to beat anyone (with the exception of a total suprise attack, which I always advocate as the first choice in a real fight), you have to be superior in some area. If you are lighter and weaker, you have to be more agile and more sensitive, and you have to respect your opponent’s force while keeping the single minded focus on putting him down.

How would I deal with a big guy? Assuming I couldn’t get away I would most likely attack, attempt to injure or otherwise unbalance him then put him on the ground as quickly as possible. Of course, what anyone would do will depend on their own experience and level of particular skills, this is what has worked for me.

All of my students train with all other students. So smaller and larger students train together regularly. This is true for technique as well as sparring practice.

We don’t do alot of “multiple attacker” training in class, although I do place an emphasis on escaping from situations which involve more than one potential attacker, and on why some types of techniques are superior to others in a group situation.

In most cases, I don’t believe one person can effectively ‘fight’ with multiple attackers in the way they can fight with a single attacker. And I’m talking about fighting more than one opponent at the same time, not several in a row (like you normally see demonstrated in “multiple attacker” demonstrations. Having opponents attack you one after another is not the same as having two guys actually attack you at once). We’re into the hit and run type of strategy in these cases.

“Zheng” refers to being “proper/regular,” or “straightforward.” “Chi” refers to the “strange/irregular” as opposed to the regular, or to being “clever.” In military strategy, Chi refers to surprise attacks or unorthodox use of troops.

Applied to Xingyiquan, the strategy is to alternate between using straight forward tactics and surprise or unorthodox tactics when fighting. The Chi/Zheng strategy can also be adapted to the individual opponent.

For example, if you are larger, stronger and technically superior, you would employ the Zheng strategy and attack directly (keeping with the Xingyiquan example, you’d opt for driving through the opponent with the Tiger or Bear).

If you were smaller and weaker than your opponent, you could employ the Chi strategy and use feints, indirect attacks and hit and run tactics (Monkey techniques for example).

2 thoughts on “Tim Cartmell on the Xingyiquan Fighter

  1. I am forever grateful that Tim is my teacher and has been so for 25 years!!!!! I always learn something new he’s a great martial artist, man, and I am honored to call him friend.

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