Pi Quan: An Overview of Xingyi Quan Principles and Practices From Famous Practitioners Part 2

In this series of posts (Part 1), I will be posting the various teachings of Xingyi’s teachers and authors who wrote books during the Republican period where Xingyiquan saw some of it’s greatest growth, and probably should be considered it’s golden age since it was often taught at many of the institutes, used in many of the fighting competitions held around that time, and even taught to various soldiers prior to WWII.

Much of what we know about Xingyiquan comes from these various writers.  This is obviously not an exhaustive compendium on Xingyiquan, which is probably impossible considering that there are a great deal of practitioners worldwide who practice the art from various of lineages. However, it gives us an “as close to the source” of Farmer Li as we can get in this day and age, especially since most of this material was either handed down orally or through special texts passed down to those who were considered the lineage-bearers of the arts.  It’s highly likely that a great deal of those texts were lost to time, war, family members selling them, or just overall destruction.  Much of these books can be considered the Xingyiquan “Classics” which is a bit different when we talk about that regarding the Taijiquan Classics but can be important for our own future study. 

The most important aspect to remember, however, is that no text can make up for actual instruction and practice. It’s the action of practice that makes the movements work, that trains the body to understand how to move, and more importantly the knowledge of how to use it.  The founders and developers of Xingyiquan were not as enthralled with various philosophies and concepts unless it had something to offer in improving their ability to fight.  As firearms became more prominent, the necessity to focus the majority of development on fighting became less so.  Therefore, when you read the following texts keep in mind that much of the references to Chinese philosophy and traditional medicine were either added by the authors themselves, their teachers, or their associates/friends.

A huge thanks should be made to Paul Brennan of Brennan Translations since this is where I’ve decided to take these texts from.  The links to the full texts are provided in order for you to read yourself should you choose to.  Keep in mind that a couple of these texts – especially Sun Lutang’s works – have been translated by many and can be found for sale at places where you can buy books.

Pi Quan or Splitting Fist: An Introduction

This single movement pattern is probably the most important in all of Xingyiquan.  If you do not or cannot do Pi Quan, you cannot say that you do Xingyi.  It really is that essential.  

It is typically demonstrated as an open hand or palm strike to the untrained eye.  It is much more than that, however.  It is important to understand that none of the five “elements” (forces is probably a better term, or shapes which is what the Xing 形 in Wu Xing  means) are meant as direct applications or techniques.  Like the other labelled Internal Martial Arts of Taijiquan (Tai Chi Chuan) and Baguazhang, Xingyi is considered a principle and concept based martial art.  This means that the movements are meant to teach the principles of motion, posture (santishi), natural inherent strength (often referred to by Sun Lu Tang as “pre-birth”), intent, and overall body method.

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When it comes to Pi Quan, the first movement I learned from Tim Cartmell (not the one pictured above) was a takedown or knockdown (kao die) technique.  It’s a sudden, fast, and aggressive movement that essentially you use to replace the space where your opponent’s body is with your own.  Tim Cartmell told me that this is the first same technique showed to him by Xu Hong Ji in 1984 before he passed.

xuhongji

Photo Courtesy of Pa Kua Chang Journal Volume 5, Number 4

As in the first part of this series, the point of this article is not to go in depth on my thoughts and understandings of what Pi Quan is, but to allow the practitioners who spent time really developing Xingyi during China’s Republican period.  This is how we can understand the arts on a deeper level, yet not be bogged down silly spiritualism or overly obsessed beliefs in certain philosophical concepts.  It is a martial art after all, and while there is definitely a great philosophy infused by the authors, they saw them as methods of fighting.

Sun Lu Tang

Sun Lu Tang’s book Xing Yi Quan Xue 形意拳學 (A Study of Xing Yi Boxing) is probably one of the more well-known books from the early Republican era.  It is, as far as I know, the first published work on the art.  It contains some excellent pieces of information regarding Xingyi but it does contain references to Traditional Chinese Medicine that were intentionally added by Sun as a way to legitimize the martial arts in China to start the Physical Culture movement that gained strength in the Republican period as a way to strengthen the Chinese population.  It was also a means dissociating it with the people who commonly practiced the art, such as bodyguards, gangsters, and the like.  It was meant to make it look more like an art and less like a method of combat.

第一章 形意勢拳學
CHAPTER ONE: CHOPPING

劈拳者。屬金氣是一之起落也。前四節三體重生萬物張。三體總是陰陽相合。陰陽相合。總是上下內外合為一氣。故其形象太極。是三體合一。是氣之靜也。氣以動而生物。其名為横。横屬土。土生萬物。故內包四德。按其五形循環之數。是土生金也。故先練習劈拳。劈拳者。是氣之起落上下運用之。有劈物之意。故於五行之理屬金。其形象斧。在腹內則屬肺。在拳中即為劈。其勁順。則肺氣和。其勁謬則肺氣乖。夫人以氣為主氣和則體壯。氣乖則體弱。體弱即必病生而拳亦必不通矣。故學者。不可不先務也。
The chopping technique (which corresponds to the element of metal) has an energy of lifting and dropping. In Section 4 above, the three substances generated all things. The three substances are always the union of the passive and active aspects, which are always up and down, inside and out, merging to be a single energy, and are therefore represented by the grand polarity. When the three substances are merged into one, its energy is that of stillness, but when the energy moves, it gives rise to things. That is called “crossing”, which corresponds to the element of earth, and earth gives rise to all things, for it embraces the four virtues [i.e. the other four elements]. When the five elements circulate, it is earth that gives rise to metal. Therefore begin by practicing the chopping technique. The chopping technique is a movement with an energy of lifting and dropping, up and down, and with an intention of chopping something. Therefore within the five elements, it corresponds to metal. Its shape is like a hatchet. Within the body, it corresponds to the lungs. Within the boxing art, it is the chopping technique. If it is practiced smoothly, your lung energy will be harmonious. If it is done in an exaggerated way, your lung energy will be contrary. A person uses energy for living. If the energy is harmonious, your body will be strong. If the energy is contrary, your body will be weak. If your body is weak, sickness will inevitably be generated, and your boxing skill will inevitably be hindered. Therefore you must work at this technique first of all.

第一節 劈拳
Section 1

起點時。先將左手往下直落。到丹田氣海處。俗名小腹再由臍往上躦到口。手如同托下頦狀。再與左足一齊往前起躦。手心朝上攥上拳往前躦。與足相齊。高不過眼。底不過口。左足往前墊步時。遠近隨乎人之高矮。只要身體前走不費力。為至善處。落時左足尖往外扭。足尖相對如九十度之象限。如圖是也。此時𦡁要內開。右手從右邊拉到右脇。手心朝上靠住。
To begin [from the three-substance posture], first your left hand goes straight down to the area of your “elixir field” or “energy sea” (more commonly thought of as the lower abdomen), then from your navel drills upward until by your mouth, as though to prop up your chin, then in unison with your left foot it goes forward, lifting and drilling. Grasped into a fist, with the center of the fist facing upward, it drills forward in unison with your left foot, going no higher than eye level and no lower than mouth level. While your left foot takes a small step forward, the distance depending on your height, it should only move your body forward in such a way that there is no extra effort, and thus it will be right. When it comes down, your left toes twist outward for the foot to be at a ninety degree angle with your rear foot, as in the photo. At this time, your crotch should open inwardly. Your right hand pulls [as a fist] along your right side to your right ribs, the center of the fist facing upward, staying close.

《形意拳學》 孫祿堂 (1915) - photo 6

《形意拳學》 孫祿堂 (1915) - photo 7

第二節 劈拳
Section 2

再出時與右足齊去。右手出時。隨出隨翻到前手時。右手心朝下。右手中指。與左手食指根上出手。徐徐拉開。右手往前推。左手往後拉。手足齊落。仍與三體合一之式相同。是展開四平前後稍也。再往前進。與左式相同。左右進退起落形式。行如槐虫。起如挑擔之意。回身看地之遠近勿拘。
Then your right hand goes out in unison with your right foot, continuously turning over. Upon reaching your front hand, your right palm is facing downward, your right middle finger going out over the root knuckle of your left forefinger. Your hands slowly pull apart, your right hand pushing forward, left hand pulling back, hand and foot dropping in unison. It is again the same as the posture of three substances merged into one, spreading evenly through your front and rear limbs. Then advance, same as on the other side. In its lefts and rights, advancing and retreating, lifting and dropping, the posture moves along like an inchworm walking. In lifting, there is an intention of hoisting a heavy weight. Turn around after you have covered as much ground as space will allow.

《形意拳學》 孫祿堂 (1915) - photo 8

第三節 劈拳
Section 3

無論遠近。出去左手左足再回身。
Regardless of the distance, turn around only after performing the posture on the left side.

《形意拳學》 孫祿堂 (1915) - photo 9

取天左旋之義也。身本右轉因劈拳屬金。故取天左旋之義。
The idea in the turning is that of the sky rotating to the left. [If you watch Polaris for a while, you will observe the sky rotating counterclockwise, or “leftward”.] (Your body turns around to the right because the chopping technique corresponds to metal [fitting within this scheme of things: advancing = fire, retreating = water, going to the left = wood, going to the right = metal, staying in the center = earth], therefore the idea is of the sky rotating to the left.) [Turning to the right produces the effect of your surroundings orbiting around you to the left.]

第四節 劈拳
Section 4

回身時。將左手左足一齊扭回。左足在後如圖形是也。左手挽回在左脇心口邊靠住。右手與右足並身回向後來。右手右足出式。仍如同三體合一之式左手左足起式躦翻相同。左手左足出去。仍與往來練時。左右出手起落相同。往來蹚子多寡。須自己隨便勿拘。若是人數多者。或十數人。或數百人。以至千萬人。往來蹚子多寡。總按操練時預備的口令。教習所教。為定行止可也。
When turning, your left hand and left foot twist inward together until your left foot becomes the rear foot, as in the photo, your left hand pulling back close to your left ribs beside your solar plexus. Your right fist and right foot turn around to the rear with your body, then the same as in the posture of the three substances merged into one, your left hand with your left foot lifts, drills, and overturns, going out the same as before. Practice the technique back and forth, your hands going out, lifting and dropping, the same on both sides. How many times you go back and forth in the exercise must be up to you, and has no limit. If there are many people, tens, hundreds, or even more, how many times they go back and forth in the exercise is always prepared with commands, so that the instruction can determine movements and haltings.

《形意拳學》 孫祿堂 (1915) - photo 10

第五節 劈拳
Section 5

收式時。走到原起點處。回身仍還於起點三體式為止。惟右足要往前跟步。不可離前足太近。心沉沉穩住。提頂合口。鼻孔納息仍如前。片時隨便休息。休息時。提頂出納亦如前。
To finish, return to the place you started, turn around, again rise into the starting position of the three-substance posture, except that your right foot should now do a follow step forward, though must not be too close to your front foot. Your mind settles and becomes stable. Lift your headtop and close your mouth, breathing through your nose, as before. Stay there for a moment, and then when you feel like it, rest. When you rest, keep your headtop lifted.

《形意拳學》 孫祿堂 (1915) - photo 11

先賢云。休息時。眼不可低頭下看。要微微仰頭上看。只因眼上翻屬陰。眼下翻屬陽故也。眼上翻能泄陰火。頭目自清。眼下翻屬陽。陰火上撞。目紅頭暈。此之謂也。
又云舌頂上腭。口內若生津液。務將嚥下腹內。以免喉內乾燥。後倣此。學者謹記。
An early master said: “When resting, your gaze must not lower nor your head look down. Instead you should slightly raise your head to be looking upward.” This is only because your gaze going upward reverses the passive aspect while your gaze going downward reverses the active aspect. Your gaze going upward will dispel the passive fire, and your head and eyes will be clear. Your gaze going downward reverses the active aspect, the passive fire will be crashed into, and consequently your eyes will grow red and your head will be dizzy. This is the meaning. It is also said that to touch your tongue to your upper palate will cause saliva to be generated, which should then be swallowed down to your belly, and this will keep your throat from becoming dry. Conscientiously remember to do it in this way from this point on.

Li Cun Yi

Next to Sun Lu Tang, Li Cun Yi is probably one of the more well-known names in Xingyiquan. Many practitioners can trace their lineages to Li Cun Yi in some way since he was a renowned teacher and well-respected for his fighting ability.  The book this material comes from A Combined Volume: Five Elements Manual/Continuous Boxing Manual 五行連環拳譜合璧 which was written by a student who had the material dictated to him by Li, himself who was probably illiterate; Li was a student of Liu Qilan, and Li’s Xingyi is considered the quintessential of the Hebei methods.

第二節 劈拳
Section Two: CHOPPING

一 路線
1. Footwork

形意與諸拳不同者前脚先進後脚必跟也拳之用也宜速進前脚則便捷靈敏必能取勝拳之進也宜猛跟後脚則氣催身往必不可當不惟劈拳然也劈拳之路線三步為一組前脚進為一後脚進為二旣進之脚復跟為三如下圖
What makes Xingyi different from other boxing arts is that when the front foot advances, the rear foot will follow. When performing a technique, your front foot should quickly advance. You will thus be so nimble and agile that you will always be able to win. When advancing, your rear foot should fiercely follow. Thereby energy will urge your body on and nothing will be able to stand against you, and this is not only true for the chopping technique. The footwork of chopping is to make three steps with each performance of the technique: 1. your front foot advances, 2. your rear foot advances, 3. the foot that first advanced now follows. See the diagram:

開勢 beginning posture
一組 1st time 二組 2nd time 三組 3rd time
一 1st step 二 2nd step 三 3rd step

二 起勢
2. Starting

兩手緊握同變陽拳
拳從口出小指翻天
高不過肩力垂左肩
後拳隨出肘置胸前
眼平舌捲氣降丹田
Your hands grasp tightly into fists,
both with the center of the fist facing upward.
Your fists go out from by your mouth,
rotated so that the little finger is upward.
[Your left fist] goes no higher than shoulder level,
the strength in your left shoulder.
Your rear fist goes out following [your front fist],
the elbow placed in front of your chest.
Your gaze is level, your tongue curled upward,
and energy sinks to your elixir field.

三 落勢
3. Finishing

前脚先開後脚大進
脚手齊落推挽兩迅
後脚斜跟前脚仍順
指開心齊後手脇近
脚手與鼻列成直陣
Your front foot steps out first
and your rear foot advances a large step.
Your feet and hands finish in unison,
one hand pushing out, the other pulling in, both moving quickly.
Your rear foot is at an angle,
but your front is again straight.
[Your front hand] is at solar plexus level, fingers spread,
and your rear hand is near your ribs.
Your feet, hands, and nose
are arranged into a vertical alignment.

四 回身勢
4. Turning Around

右手在前則左轉身(左手在前則右轉身)前脚在後後脚在前仍然前脚進為一後脚進為二旣進之脚復跟為三如下圖
From your right hand being forward, turn around to the left. (If your left hand was in front, you would turn around to the right.) Your front foot becomes the rear foot and your rear foot becomes the front foot. Then process is as before: 1. the front foot advances, 2. the rear foot advances, 3. the new rear foot follows. See the diagram:

Li Jian Qiu

Li was a student of Li Cun Yi, as well as his father Li Yun Shan. Li Yun Shan was a student of Li Kui Yuan (Sun Lu Tang’s original Xingyi teacher) and Li Cun Yi. The author, in his book The Art of Xingyi Boxing, writes in his preface:

The Xingyi boxing art in Hebei began with Li, and when he died, its transmission continued. Beyond Liu Qilan of Boling, it was taught by Guo Yushen, Che Yonghong [Yizhai], Song Shirong, Bai Xiyuan, etc, all who obtained the essentials of Xingyi. Liu Qilan taught all of his sons – Jintang, Dianchen, and Rongtang – as well as Li Cunyi, Zhou Mingtai, Zhang Zhankui, Zhao Zhenbiao, and Geng Jishan [Chengxin]. Guo Yunshen taught Liu Yongqi and Li Kuiyuan. Li Cunyi taught Shang Yunxiang and Hao Enguang, as well as his own son, Lintang. Zhang Zhankui taught Han Muxia, Wang Junchen, Liu Jinqing, Liu Chaohai, and Li Cunfu, as well as his own son, Yuanzhai. Li Kuiyuan taught Sun Lutang, my granduncle, Li Wenbao, and my father, Li Yunshan, both of whom also learned from Li Cunyi and Zhou Mingtai. I received it because it was handed down in my family.
Recalling my youth, I was very ill, and both Chinese and foreign doctors had no method of curing me, so I focused on practicing the Xingyi boxing art. Not only did I recover from my illness, I became quite robust. That Xingyi is therefore of great use is without doubt, and I am preoccupied with sharing it with everyone.
In 1912, Liu Dianchen, Li Cunyi, Zhang Zhankui, Han Muxia, and Wang Junchen launched the Warriors’ Association in Tianjin and then the Esteeming-the-Martial Society in Beijing. Later, Sun Lutang wrote A Study of Xingyi Boxing [1915]. It still seems to me that the spread of this art is confined to the north, and that Sun Lutang’s writings have not yet spread very far, and so I, despite my ignorance and shallow level of ability, have endeavored to make this book.

第一節 劈拳
1. CHOPPING

拳名劈者,以其掌之下,如斧之劈也,練時眼看平,或看前手,頭向上頂,胸任開展,小腹鼓氣,臀向前挺,兩膝稍屈,而兩胯相夾甚緊,足隨手前推前進,其前進之形如箭,蓋其進也直而速,及其著地,則如箭之中物,足趾緊扣住地,固而不易拔矣,步之大小,隨身之長短,前腿雖有前進意,而亦含后扣意,在后之腿雖屹立不前,而頗有前催意,前后相夾,不亦穩手,其余各部,其用力始終依前所雲,收回手時,收法在用力拳屈各指如拉重物然,收至心口,掌復變為拳矣,于是更自心口發,出須留意者,凡后拉而變掌為拳時,其掌皆含有下壓之力,凡拳前伸時,皆含有上挑之力,其故維何?蓋以其掌在前所止之處,較心口稍高也,進大步時后足即上墊,使兩足距離有定,以免不穩之患,劈拳中凡隨拳而出之步,皆屬墊步,在劈拳內手足皆相隨而為一者也。余從略。
The technique known as “chopping” goes downward with the palm like the chopping of an axe.
     When practicing it, your eyes look level or to your front hand, your head presses up, your chest opens, your lower abdomen rouses its energy, your buttocks tuck in, your knees slightly bend, and your thighs squeeze toward each other. Your foot advances along with the urging forward of your hand, advancing like an arrow, straight and fast, and when it touches down, it is like an arrow hitting a target. The toes clamp down over the ground solidly and are not easily pulled up. The size of the step depends on your height.
     Although your front leg has an intention of advancing, it maintains an intention of covering the rear. Although your rear leg does not stand in front, it has a strong intention of hastening forward. Forward and rear squeeze toward each other to be that much more stable. As for the other parts of your body, they constantly exert forward as described.
     When the hand withdraws, it exerts to bend into a fist, the fingers seeming to be pulling something heavy, and gathers in until reaching your solar plexus, the palm now changed to a fist. It then lingers a moment before issuing from your solar plexus. When the hand pulls back, changing from palm to fist, it contains a downward pushing strength, and when your fist extends forward, it contains an upward propping strength. The reason for this is that when the palm is forward, its position is slightly higher than your solar plexus.
     When you advance a large step, your rear foot comes forward a small step, causing the distance between the feet to remain consistent, preventing feelings of instability. During the chopping technique, when the step comes out along with the hand, it always involves a small step. The hands and feet go along with each other, moving in unison. For the remaining four, this is left undescribed.

Liu Wen Hua (Dian Chen)

Liu was the son of the famous Liu Qi Lan, teacher to Li Cun Yi, Zhang Zhao Dong, and Geng Ji Shan to name a few.  He is well-known for being extraordinary at Xingyi, and famous especially in the beginning where he practiced just Santishi for several years before moving onto the Five Elements.  In his book, Selected Subtleties of the Xingyi Boxing Art 形意拳術抉微, Liu Dian Chen (A.K.A Liu Wen Hua) describes very briefly the necessary requirements for maintaining Santishi.  There is a great deal more information prior to that section that should be read, but it is beyond the scope of this blog post.

一劈拳
1. CHOPPING

劈拳屬金取其鋒利之意也其氣發於肺臟筋稍用力則肺臟舒故劈拳可以養肺用功時右手陽拳從前心處攅出上與鼻齊曲至百十度左手從右手上攢出然後放掌落下曲約百七十度與左足齊進右手撤回肋下與臍平但不得過胯後前手與心平
The chopping technique corresponds to the element of metal. Its intention is to have a sharp edge. Its energy is expressed from the lungs. When your sinews put forth effort, your lungs will then be made comfortable. Therefore the chopping technique can nurture the lungs. Practice method:
      [1] Your right hand becomes a fist, center of the fist facing upward, and goes from in front of your solar plexus, drilling out upward to nose level, arm bent to an angle of a hundred and ten degrees. Your left hand drills out from over your right hand, then releases into a palm and comes down with the arm bent to an angle of a hundred and seventy degrees while your left foot advances, your right hand withdrawing to be below your ribs at navel level but not going behind your hip. Your front hand is at solar plexus level.

左手攅右手亦如之
[2] Your left hand then drills upward and your right hand performs as your left hand has done [in the previous photo].

頭向上頂下顎要無形向前用力兩足抓地兩手如抓物四肢用力平均作四平式手之虎口作半圓形四指稍炸兩手出入自前心處經過蓋取其兩手護心兩肘護肋目向前直視口須微閉舌頂上嗓使元氣不散口不乾齒叩肩垂則氣下行身勢不前俯不後仰不左斜不右歪直出直入手動足隨循環不己此拳剛中有柔柔中有剛功久而後有成非易為也
Your head presses up and your lower jaw disappears [pulls back as a result of the head pressing up]. With a forward exertion, your feet grab the ground and your hands seem to be grabbing something. Your four limbs use strength evenly, making a “four-level” posture. The tiger’s mouths of your hands make semicircles. Your four limbs slightly inflate [meaning they seem to spread out by way of bending in every joint]. Your hands come and go in front of your solar plexus area and their movement goes through the area to keep it protected. Your elbows protect your ribs. Your eyes look straight ahead. Your mouth must be slightly closed and your tongue touches the upper palate, keeping your primordial energy from dissipating and your mouth from drying. Your teeth are closed together. Your shoulders hang and so the energy goes down. Your torso does not lean forward or back, or lean to either side. Go straight out and straight in. When your hands move, your feet follow. The movement cycles endlessly. In this boxing technique, within hardness there is softness and within softness there is hardness. If you work at it for a long time, you will be successful, but it will not be easy.

 

 


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