Beng Quan: An Overview of Xingyi Quan Principles and Practices From Famous Practitioners Part 3

In this series of posts (Part 1, Part 2) 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.

Beng Quan or Crushing Fist: An Introduction

The quintessential punch of Xingyiquan. Often translated as crushing, or smashing fist, it is the main punch of the system, and many have become famous for developing this to near divine-like levels.  The mechanics are in line with excellent straight punching much as in the way that was seen in old school bare-knuckle boxing. The punch is often associated with the drawing of a bow and the launch of an arrow, or like an avalanche.  I like to think of it like a battering ram meant to smash or crush anything in it’s path.  

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.

第二章 形意崩拳學
CHAPTER TWO: CRASHING

崩拳者。屬木一氣之伸縮。兩手往來之理也。式如連珠箭。在腹內則屬肝。在拳中即為崩。所謂崩拳似箭屬木者是也其拳順則肝氣舒。其拳謬則肝氣傷。肝氣傷則脾胃不和矣。其氣不舒。則横拳亦必失和矣。此拳善能平氣舒肝。長精神。強筋骨。壯腦力。故學者。當細研究也。
The crashing technique (which corresponds to the element of wood) is a simultaneous extending and contracting, a principle of the fists coming and going, the posture like a continuous barrage of arrows. Within the body, it corresponds to the liver. Within the boxing art, it is the crashing technique. Thus it is said that crashing is like an arrow and corresponds to wood. If it is practiced smoothly, it makes your liver energy comfortable. If it is practiced with excessiveness, it wounds your liver energy. When the liver energy is wounded, the spleen and stomach are not in harmony. If this energy is not comfortable, the crossing technique will lose its harmoniousness. When this technique is done right, it can balance your energy and clear your liver, develop your spirit, invigorate your body, and strengthen your brain. Therefore you should make a careful study of it.

第一節 崩拳
Section 1

起點時。左右手同時將拳緊緊攥好。如螺絲形。將胳膊伸直前左肘暗含著下垂勁。後右肘往後拉勁。亦要往下垂勁。兩肩鬆開。兩眼往前看左手食指中節。出右手時。左足極力往前進步。右手同時往前靠著脇如箭。與前拳上邊相離寸許出手直去。左手同時拉回。緊緊靠住左脇心口邊。右足亦同時隨後緊跟。到前足後邊相離四五寸許為度。起落時左右手俱齊勿論左右手在前高低。要與心口齊。
To begin, your hands in unison tightly grasp into fists with a screwing action. With your [left] forearm extended, your left elbow has a hidden energy of hanging down, your right elbow having an energy of pulling to the rear as well as an energy of hanging down. Your shoulders loosen. Your gaze goes forward to the middle knuckle of your left forefinger. Your left foot advances as far as it can as your right fist goes forward along your ribs like an arrow, going straight out about an inch over your left fist, which at the same time pulls back to be tight to your left ribs beside your solar plexus. Your right foot at the same time does a tight follow step to be about four or five inches behind your front foot. As they lift and drop into place, your fists work in unison. Regardless of which fist is in front, the height should be at solar plexus level.

《形意拳學》 孫祿堂 (1915) - photo 12

《形意拳學》 孫祿堂 (1915) - photo 13

第二節 崩拳
Section 2

再起時。左足仍極力進步。左足仍在前。右足仍在後。緊跟相離四五寸許。與左式相同。左手起往前如右手直去。右手仍往後拉。如左手。亦拉至右脇心口邊。此形有對待錯綜交互之義。手數多寡。看地形之遠近。自便勿拘。然勿論地之遠近。總要出去右手停住。再回身。
To repeat the technique, your left foot again advances as far as it can. Your left foot is still forward and your right foot is still behind, closely following to be about four or five inches away. It is the same as the posture on the other side. Your left fist lifts and extends forward the same as your right fist did, your right fist drawing back the same as your left fist did, arriving at your right ribs beside your solar plexus. This posture has the intention of opposite sides criss-crossing [i.e. opposite hand and foot forward]. How many times you perform the technique depends on how far your environment will allow you to travel. But regardless of the distance, you should always finish with your right fist in front in order to turn around.

《形意拳學》 孫祿堂 (1915) - photo 14

第三節 崩拳
Section 3

回身時。將左足抅回。亦同九十度之式。如圖形是也。起時再將手心朝裏。順著身由臍往上躦到口。亦如托下頦狀。回身右腿與右手同時往上起。高矮膝與肘相離二寸許。右足尖朝外。斜着極力往上仰。勿伸脚面。此時右手仍如劈拳式躦出停住。右足極力往前進。落下亦如九十度之形式。左手同時與右足齊起齊落。右手同時往回拉至心口為度此時兩手五指張開。仍如劈拳相撕之意。左足同時跟隨在後邊。足尖相對右足外脛骨。足後根欠起寸許兩腿如剪子股式。兩眼仍看前手大指根食指稍。此形是狸猫倒上樹之式也。
To turn, hook your left foot inward ninety degrees, as in the photo. First turn your right fist so the center of the fist is facing inward, then drill upward from your navel toward your mouth, again in the manner of propping up below your chin. In turning your body, your right leg lifts at the same time as your right fist so that the knee is about two inches away from the elbow, the tip of the foot putting its energy into lifting up pointing diagonally outward. Do not stretch the top of the foot. Your right hand at this moment performs as in the chopping technique, drilling out and coming to a halt. Your right foot advances as far as it can, coming down at a ninety-degree angle, your left hand lifting and dropping into place in unison with your right foot, your right hand at the same time drawing back to be level with your solar plexus, with both hands now open. It is again like the ripping intention in the chopping technique. Your left foot at the same time does a follow step, toes pointing toward the outside of your right ankle, heel raised about an inch. Your legs seem to have a scissors posture at the thighs. Your gaze again goes toward your forward hand, along the root of the thumb and the tip of the forefinger. This posture is called LEOPARD CLIMBS BACK DOWN THE TREE.

《形意拳學》 孫祿堂 (1915) - photo 15

第四節 崩拳
Section 4

再往回走時。右足先往前墊步。與劈拳勢步相同。兩手仍攥拳如前。右手與左足同時前進仍如前回身亦如前。
見本章第一節圖
Then to go back the way you came, your right foot first takes a small step, same as in the chopping technique, your hands again grasp into fists, and your right foot advances at the same time as your left foot, same as before. Then you will again turn around the same as before. (See the photo for Section 1.)

第五節 崩拳
Section 5

收式時。回到原起點處。仍回身狸猫倒上樹之式。再如前出去右手。與左足停住。收時先將右足往後撤回。相離遠近。再撤左足之時不費力。為至善處。足落仍如九十度之形式。左足亦往後撤。仍如剪子股式。左手與左足同時往前直出右手與左足同時往後。拉至心口靠住兩手皆拳。每逢剪子股式。左膝緊靠右腿裏曲𦡁內不可有縫。緊緊摽住力亦不可過與不及。此時兩眼仍看前手食指中節。食指中節仍與心口相平直。兩肩兩胯裏根。抽勁仍如前。頂提亦如前。沈沈穩住。片時隨便休息。
To finish, get back to the place you started, again turn around with posture of LEOPARD CLIMBS BACK DOWN THE TREE. Then your right fist and left foot go out as before. Come to a halt. To then finish, first your right foot withdraws, not so far that withdrawing your left foot would require extra effort, the foot coming down still at a ninety-degree angle, then your left foot also withdraws to again make the scissored-thighs posture. With your hands both as fists, your left fist extends forward as your left foot steps back, your right hand pulling back until close to your solar plexus. Whenever there is a scissors shape to your thighs, your left knee is close against the inside bend of your right leg. There must be no gap between your thighs. They are firmly braced together, but this must be neither too forceful nor too slack. Your gaze is again to the middle knuckle of your forward forefinger, which is still extended at solar plexus level. Your shoulders and hips have an energy of drawing in, as before. Continue to “press” and “lift” as before. Sink and be stable in the posture for a moment, then rest.

《形意拳學》 孫祿堂 (1915) - photo 16

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.

第四節 崩拳
Section Four: CRASHING

一 路線
1. Footwork

崩拳極簡單不能分起落勢而回身較他拳為繁故以出勢回身分叚其鍊法左骽在前右骽脚跟進故亦名左骽崩拳如下圖
The crashing technique is so simple that it cannot be divided into postures of starting and finishing, but its turning around is more complex than for the other techniques, and so its postures are divided into the actions of sending out and turning around. Its practice method involves the left leg being in front and the right foot following forward, hence it is also called LEFT-LEG CRASHING. See the diagram:

二 出勢
2. Sending Out

左脚先開右脚隨進
脛對左踵骽曲勢峻
兩掌變拳後陽前順
順者力挽陽者前奮
兩手互易步法莫紊
Your left foot first goes out,
then your right foot advances.
The ankle is next to your left heel,
and though your legs are bent, the posture stands proudly.
Your palms become fists
and your rear fist goes straight forward, the center of the fist facing to the left.
Your left fist forcefully pulls straight back
as your right fist goes vigorously forward.
Your hands switch places with ease
and your footwork is not in disorder.

三 回身勢
3. Turning Around

左脚右横隨勢轉身
右脚横提右拳陽伸
左拳抑抱推挽力均
脚手齊落兩掌變陰
後掌左脇前掌齊心
Your left foot turns sideways to the right,
going along with the [rightward] turning of your body.
Your right foot lifts, turning sideways,
your right fist reaching out with the center of the fist facing upward.
Your left fist is wrapping in,
then your hands push and pull with equal force.
Your foot and hands finish in unison,
your palms turning to be facing downward.
Your rear palm is at your left ribs
and your front palm is at solar plexus level.

回身線
Footwork for turning around:

囬身 turning around 一組 1st time [along new line]

四 收勢
4. Closing Posture

他拳徑收惟崩拳則於二次囘身後打出則左手在前右骽斜退一步脚横落左骽大退一步斜落骽退時兩手存原勢至左脚落時右手猛撤左手力出名曰退步横拳路線如下
The other techniques are concluded simply, but with the crashing technique, after the second time you turn around and strike out, your left hand then goes forward. Your right leg diagonally retreats a step, the foot coming down sideways, then your left leg retreats a large step. When your right foot comes, your hands stay as they are. When your left foot comes down, your right hand fiercely withdraws and your left hand forcefully goes out. This movement is called RETREAT, CROSSING [movement 3 of the Continuous Boxing set]. See the footwork 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.

第二節 崩拳
2. CRASHING

崩之為義山垮也,山之垮其勢必甚猛,而此拳之性似之,故名,須注意者,右肘終須里裹,與劈拳同,庶幾肘穴向上,微見下彎,則全肢不覺僵直矣,此中妙處久習自得(見第六章)足尖平直前射,右足竟可與左足根接觸,壯其勢也,同時身須直挺,頭上頂,切勿下垂,腿勢必微彎,以步過小。
The idea of “crashing” is of a mountain collapsing [as in a landslide or avalanche], a very fearsome dynamic which the personality of this technique resembles – hence the name. Points for attention:
     Your right elbow must end up wrapped inward, same as in the chopping technique, so that the hollow of the elbow is almost facing upward. By manifesting a slight downward bend, all of your limbs will be kept from feeling stiff, a wonderful characteristic which is obtained through long practice. (See Chapter Six.)
    The toes [of your front foot] aim straight forward. Your right foot may touch your left heel due to the vigor of the technique.
    At the same time, your body must be erect. Your head is to be pressing upward and must not hang down. Your legs must be slightly bent. Use a shorter step than before.

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.

二崩拳
2. CRASHING

崩拳屬木而金克木故劈拳破崩拳崩拳似箭以其直而速也其氣發於肝臟骨節用力則肝臟舒故崩拳可以養肝練此拳時以劈拳開勢然後兩手齊握右手平直向前打出虎口朝上左足進步與之相顧同時左拳順胯撤回至肋下手心朝上
The crashing technique corresponds to the element of wood. But metal overcomes wood [as in an axe chopping], therefore the chopping technique defeats the crashing technique. The crashing technique is like an arrow, for it is direct and fast. Its energy is expressed from the liver. When your joints put forth effort, your liver will then be made comfortable. Therefore the crashing technique can nurture the liver. Practice method:
     Use the chopping technique as the beginning posture. [1] Then both hands grasp into fists in unison. Your right hand goes straight forward with a level strike, tiger’s mouth facing up, and your left foot advances along with it. At the same time, your left fist goes along with [the action of] your hips and withdraws below your ribs, the center of the hand facing upward.

再使左拳打出右拳順胯撤回兩拳出入均是左足在前
[2] Then make your left hand strike out as your right fist goes along with [the action of] your hips and withdraws. While both fists come and go, your left foot is always forward.

如此則肩胯相合無限功用連接不斷前進不息如欲後轉則無論左右拳在前均向右轉作龍形勢蓋因左腿在前左轉不便故也此拳貴直貴速宜猛不宜遲手足如一譜云出洞入洞緊隨身兩手不離身手脚去快似風疾上更加疾打倒還嫌遲所以明其貴直貴速也若其應用之妙則功久者自知之
If you do it in this way, your shoulders and hips will be united with each other. There is no limit [as to how many repetitions] to practice, but do it continuously without pausing, advancing unceasingly. When you want to turn around, then regardless of which fist is forward, turn around to the right and make the dragon posture [explained at the beginning of the twelve animals section]. Because your left leg is in front, turning to the left is not convenient. This technique values directness and speed. It should be sudden and not slow in your hands and feet. It is like the Manual says: “When exiting and entering the cave [i.e. alternating punches – as right goes out (exits), left comes back (enters), and vice versa], tightly coordinate with the torso. The hands do not leave the torso [i.e. move independently of]. Hands and feet go out fast as wind. To the urgency is added more urgency. Knock him down, bewaring of being too slow.” Therefore it clearly values directness and speed. If it works superbly in application, then you have trained it for long a time and have come to know it in yourself.


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